Oh, there’s no place like boat for the holidays – wait, that’s not right. In any case, a cruise might be the perfect holiday vacation for you. Many tropical and Caribbean ocean cruises host Christmas cruises with trees, lavish decorations and elaborate Christmas parties. Yet, other than the mistletoe and holly on board, they’re not much different than regular ocean cruises. If you want a beachy, warm Christmas (and many people do), then these cruises might just be for you. If you’re looking for something off of a Christmas card – snow, lights, hot chocolate – you’ll find just that on a European holiday market Christmas cruise.
Holiday markets are a Christmas tradition across Europe, and have even spread to the U.S. (Bryant Park’s Winter Village, for example). One of the best ways to tour Europe’s holiday markets is on special Christmas cruises. These are usually river cruises, often along the Rhine or the Danube.
The cruising element allows you to travel, stress-free, through the beautiful sights of Europe in Christmastime. Often, cruises will have their own Christmas events, like tree-trimming, gingerbread decorating and caroling. The small size of river cruise ships also allows you to really get to know your fellow passengers in between your holiday market trips.
Christmas market hot spots
Holiday markets are all full of street food, souvenirs and handmade treasures. Here’s a small selection of some of the most famous holiday markets that you’ll find on many Christmas cruises.
Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt is perhaps the most famous holiday market in all of Europe. Enjoy a classic German Christmas with mulled wine, rum punch, Nuremberg sausages and gingerbread delicacies called “lebkuchen.” Take a ride in a stagecoach, or visit their international Market of Sister Cities. If you have little ones with you, take them to the Children’s Christmas Market, which features a merry-go-round and a Santa Claus house. You can even meet the golden-haired Christkind, a gift-giving Christmas angel.
Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt is similar in tone and traditions to Nuremberg’s holiday market. Set against the backdrop of Vienna’s city hall, you’ll find Austrian treats like weinachtspunsch (or spiked Christmas punch). Strap on some skates and take a turn around The Little Ice Dream, the Christkindlmarkt’s very own ice-skating rink. At Christmas World, you can enjoy a carousel, a reindeer train, a Ferris wheel and more. You can also meet Austria’s version of the Christkind, the Christkindl.
Strasbourg’s Christmas Market has been running since 1570, making it the oldest holiday market in Europe, and the very first of its kind in France. Strasbourg bills itself as “the capital of Christmas,” and it shows – from the amazing lights that line the city streets to the number of giant Christmas trees that appear every year. While you’re enjoying the atmosphere and the roaming Christmas choirs, you can pick up Alsatian beer steins and white Alsace stork toys for the kids.
Christmas cruises to holiday markets
Most river cruise operators have Christmas cruises through Europe’s holiday markets, but there’s just so much to choose from! Here are a few of our favorite Christmas cruise itineraries.
AmaWaterways’ Iconic Christmas Markets
Sails from Nuremberg to Budapest along the Danube and hits Nuremberg, Regensburg, Passau, Melk, Vienna and Budapest. Sample holiday markets in every city and take advantage of the walking and biking tours that are offered.
AmaWaterways’ Magnificent Europe (Christmas Cruise)
Sails from Budapest to Amsterdam along the Rhine, Danube and Main rivers. During this 14-night cruise, you’ll visit many cities across Austria, Germany, Hungary and the Netherlands. The highlights are Budapest, Vienna, Nuremberg, Cologne and Amsterdam. In addition to holiday markets, you’ll visit palaces, cathedrals, abbeys and museums.
Viking River Cruises’ Rhine Getaway
Sails from Basel to Amsterdam along the Rhine. You’ll visit Basel, Breisach, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Cologne, Kinderdijk and Amsterdam. Enjoy holiday festivities on and off the boat as you tour through a variety of holiday markets. On board, you can experience live Christmas music and delicious holiday treats.
Uniworld’s Rhine Holiday Markets
Sails from Basel to Cologne along the Rhine. You’ll visit Basel, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Mainz, Rüdesheim, Koblenz and Cologne. In addition to tours through a myriad of holiday markets, you’ll be treated to wine tastings, cooking classes, art tours and even lessons in European holiday traditions.
Uniworld’s Grand Christmas and New Year’s
Sails from Nuremberg to Budapest along the Danube. You’ll visit Nuremberg, Regensburg, Deggendorf, Passau, Salzburg, Vienna and Budapest. It’s the perfect way to string Christmas and New Year’s together, with visits to holiday markets, glass-blowing workshops, authentic Christmas celebrations, live concerts and so much more.
Have you ever gone on a Christmas cruise before? What was it like? Let us know in the comments!