While many people flock to the tropics during the holiday season, there’s something magical about visiting the charming Christmas markets of Europe. Instead of surfing and sand, think mulled wine, gingerbread, and hand-crafted ornaments. And what better way to see multiple markets than on a river cruise? In this guide, we’ll focus specifically on the Danube and Rhine Rivers, detailing the best markets to see and some of the best itineraries to see them.
Why a River Cruise?
First, let’s discuss the benefits of traveling by river cruise. Some might argue river cruising is the best way to travel in Europe. For one, it’s much easier than navigating by car or train. No need to worry about directions or traffic – simply sit back, relax, and watch the scenery pass by. Additionally, many of the ports are located in the heart of the towns, making it easy to explore without spending extra time (or money) on transportation. River cruising takes you through the countries. Finally, meals and accommodations are included in the price, making it a great value for travelers.
The Danube River
The Danube River runs through ten countries in the heart of Europe, making it an ideal destination for a Christmas market river cruise. Here are a few of the must-see markets along the Danube:
Budapest’s Christmas market offers a unique blend of traditional and modern. Set up in Vörösmarty Square, the market features nearly 150 vendors selling everything from hand-crafted toys to regional treats. But what makes this market stand out is the ice rink that takes over the center of the square. Visitors can take a spin or simply watch from the nearby heated tent.
Vienna is known for its elegant architecture and rich history, and nothing embodies that more than the Christmas markets. There are over a dozen throughout the city, but the most popular is the one in front of City Hall. This market has something for everyone, from gingerbread to mulled wine to hand-carved nativity scenes. To really get in the holiday spirit, take a ride on the Christmas tram – a decorated streetcar that runs through the city.
Regensburg’s Christmas market is held in the Thurn and Taxis Palace, a former Benedictine monastery. The palace, which dates back to the 19th century, provides the perfect backdrop for the market’s 150+ vendors. Travelers can find everything from traditional Bavarian crafts to international foods. But the highlight of the market is the daily nativity play, performed by local children.
The Rhine River
The Rhine River is often considered the most picturesque river in Europe. It flows from the Swiss Alps through Germany, France, and the Netherlands, and is home to some of the most charming Christmas markets you’ll ever see. Here are a few worth visiting:
Cologne is home to not one, not two, but seven Christmas markets! The most popular is located in front of the stunning Cologne Cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece dating back to the 13th century. The market has over 160 stalls selling handmade gifts, sweets, and warm drinks. But the real attraction is the view – the Cathedral in the background provides a stunning backdrop for any holiday photo.
Strasbourg’s Christmas market is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to 1570. The market is spread out over several locations throughout the city, but the most popular is in the Place Kleber. Visitors can sample traditional Alsatian cuisine, shop for handmade crafts, and take in the stunning holiday lights. But what sets Strasbourg apart is the “Christkindelsmärik” – a market dedicated entirely to children.
Basel may not be as well-known as some of the other cities on this list, but its Christmas market is not to be missed. Located along the Rhine River, the market has over 170 vendors selling everything from handmade ornaments to Swiss chocolate. But the real draw is the “Luminaria” – a tunnel made up of 120,000 LED lights. Visitors can walk through the tunnel and take in the holiday spirit from a completely unique perspective.
The Best Itineraries
Now that we’ve covered some of the best markets in the Danube and Rhine, here are a few of the best itineraries to see them all (this is not a comprehensive list):
AMAWaterways – Christmas Markets on the Rhine
This 7-night itinerary takes travelers on a journey down the Rhine, stopping at several must-see Christmas markets along the way, including Cologne and Heidelberg. But what really makes this itinerary special is the opportunity to see the world’s largest Advent calendar lit up every evening, its windows displaying a picture by a famous artist.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises – Rhine Holiday Markets
This 8-day itinerary starts in Basel and ends in Cologne, offering travelers the opportunity to visit two of the best Christmas markets in Europe. In addition to the markets, travelers can take a walking tour of Strasbourg, visit the Heidelberg Castle, and explore the historic city of Koblenz
Emerald Waterways – Christmas Markets on the Danube
This 8-day itinerary takes travelers on a Christmas-themed journey through the Danube. Starting in Budapest and ending in Nuremberg, the cruise stops at several charming markets, including the one at Regensburg. Additionally, travelers can enjoy a traditional Bavarian dinner and take a tour of the Baroque library at the Benedictine Abbey in Melk.
A Christmas market river cruise is a great way to experience the holiday spirit of Europe. Whether you’re wandering through the stalls of Vienna or sipping mulled wine in front of Cologne Cathedral, there’s something for everyone on these cruises. And with so many itineraries to choose from, the hardest part might be deciding where to go! It’s only May, but the holidays are just 6.5 months away. Give me a call and I can help you narrow down your decision and make some Christmas dreams come true.
Looking for some travel inspiration? Check out these articles: