Oh, there’s no place like boat for the holidays – wait, that’s not right. In any case, a European Christmas market cruise might be the holiday vacation for you.
Christmas markets are a tradition across Europe, and have even spread to the U.S. (Bryant Park’s Winter Village, for example). They can be described as a perfect holiday scene come to life. With handmade trinkets, twinkling lights, the smell of hot cocoa in the air and perhaps some fresh-fallen snow, they’re all the things you’ve read about in storybooks, seen in movies or heard in songs.
One of the most magical ways to tour these markets is on a river cruise, often along the Rhine or the Danube. The slower pace and smaller size of river cruises allows you to travel, stress-free, through the beautiful sights of Europe at Christmastime, as you float from market to market. The best Christmas river cruises in Europe have their own festive events on board, too, like tree-trimming, gingerbread decorating and caroling.
European Christmas Market Hot Spots
Here’s a small selection of some of the most famous holiday market stops 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.
A Few of the Best Christmas River Cruises In Europe
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 European Christmas market cruise before? Tell us about it in the comments.
Featured image: The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is what holiday dreams are made of. (Photo: Uniworld River Cruises)