Sip some mulled wine, savor the spiced cookies, smell the roasted chestnuts… Nothing brings out the yuletide spirit like a stroll through some of the best Christmas markets in the world. One of the best ways to experience this incredible holiday atmosphere is on a river cruise. In fact, you still can get the benefit of seeing the historic sites you would see at other times of year, but the added bonus is that you can get some holiday shopping for that truly unique gift. There are quite a few options to choose from and each itinerary offers a very different experience. Below I’ve listed a couple of my favorite Christmas market river cruises in no particular order. Enjoy!
Christmas on the Danube – Prague to Vienna
This festive European river cruise vacation begins in Prague, the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic. See famous sights like Old Town’s Astronomical Clock and the Charles Bridge, but also get the unique chance to stroll through the Christmas markets. It’s a treat to see the rows of brightly decorated wooden huts that sell Christmas tree ornaments, wooden toys, and Czech handicrafts. Explore to your heart’s content with a warm cup of svarene vino (hot mulled wine).
Board your river cruise vessel in Nuremberg, Germany, with its medieval fortifications, gothic churches, and palaces. The Old Town is illuminated with festive lights and decorations and the Christmas market, one of the most famous in the world, has dozens of stalls offering traditional wares, such as Lebkuchen (spiced gingerbread), Glühwein (hot mulled wine), and unique decorations and ornaments. Learn about local Christmas traditions, as you cruise to historical Regensburg, the only German city not bombed during WWII. After a guided tour, savor local sausages at Historiche Wurstküche (Old Sausage Kitchen), one of Germany’s oldest restaurants, and enjoy a tasting of German beers. Experience Passau’s charming Christmas market set against the breathtaking backdrop of St. Stephen’s Cathedral—a masterpiece of baroque architecture.
Arrive in Melk, Austria, and tour the magnificent 11th century Benedictine Abbey—one of Europe’s largest monasteries. As you cruise through the wintery landscape of the picturesque Wachau Valley, enjoy a tasting of traditional Austrian cookies. This Christmas river cruise ends in Austria’s magical capital of Vienna, home to the sounds of Mozart and Strauss, the Vienna Boys’ Choir, and the Spanish Riding School. See the famous sights with a Local Guide, or opt to go on a culinary tour through the Christmas markets to get a taste of all the best flavors Austria offers during this time of year.
Christmas Markets on the Rhine – Zurich to Amsterdam
Start your festivities off with a 2 night stay in Zurich, home of an indoor Christmas market where you won’t have to brave the cold (though with some mulled wine or hot cocoa, it’s really not that bad). The festive Christmas Market held at Zürich’s busy Hauptbahnhof Train Station (aka Zürich’s Main Station) is one of the largest indoor Christmas markets in Europe. It may be a White Christmas and winter wonderland outside but keep cozy and warm in here -- with 150 festively decorated market stalls to get in the yuletide spirit. The fragrant scent of cinnamon, glühwein (mulled wine), glögg (another mulled wine), traditional tirggel biscuits (which have been enjoyed here since 1461), Christstollen fruit loaf and roasted almonds waft through the station, beckoning commuting travelers and shoppers alike. Find handmade gifts full of character – including Christmas ornaments, jewelry and handmade candles as you listen to Christmas carols. But of course, the big showstopper here is the 50 foot Christmas tree decorated with between 5,000-7,000 Swarovski crystals and ornaments. Next you’ll take a quick drive to Lucerne where you’ll have a time to browse the local Christmas market in this quaint town while enjoying some glühwein to keep warm.
Board your ship in Basel and set out on the enchanting Rhine, where you’ll have a chance to visit the best Christmas market in Europe, Strasbourg. With old-world charm in spades and pretty chocolate-box architecture, the capital of France’s Alsace region is pretty much the perfect setting for a Christmas market — no wonder they’ve been holding one here annually since 1570. It’s also among the largest in Europe, with around 300 wooden stalls spread across 11 sites. Pick up traditional Alsatian delicacies at the place d’Austerlitz, go ice skating on the place Dauphine or keep kids entertained at the Children’s Village on St Thomas Square.
You’ll cruise through the Rhine Gorge home to some of the most picturesque castles in all of Europe before stopping in Cologne. Set in the shadow of Cologne’s gothic cathedral, Cologne’s Cathedral Market is a traditional showstopper, with wooden stalls and a 25-metre Nordmann fir tree draped in fairy lights as its centerpiece. There are six more to explore in the city. The Harbour Market, on the banks of the Rhine, has an unusual seafaring theme — mulled wine and fishy snacks are served from stalls in a 15-metre-long wooden sailing ship, accompanied by sea shanties and carols. The Christmas Market Express train runs between the four main markets; hop-on, hop-off tickets cost 10€ for adults and 5€ for children up to 12 years old. Finally end your journey in Amsterdam where you can take in the beautiful charm of this canal city and visit the Anne Frank Museum.
As you can see the rich and authentic holiday experience in Europe is like no other. You’ll enjoy some delicious food and wine, while shopping for the best Christmas gift ever. These cruises sell out fast so don’t delay, contact us to reserve your space.