The air is crisp, the mountains may be dusted with a seasonal layer of snow, making the month of December a beautiful time to take a European river cruise. A special kind of festive magic is in the air as each town is bejeweled in twinkling Christmas lights, welcoming visitors to partake in the good tidings of the season. Enjoy hot mulled wine whilst the smell of gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and bratwurst lingers in the air.
One of the most exciting highlights on a European cruise in December is the abundance of Christmas markets. Many of these markets have been operating for centuries upholding the seasonal traditions and values of the local people. Scheduled shore excursions will feature visits to the most famous, authentic and simply stunningly decorated Christmas markets. The stalls sell high quality, locally made, hand crafted items that make wonderful gifts and souvenirs for your loved ones back home. For those not wanting to visit the markets alternative excursions and activities are available, or you can simply relax and enjoy the views on board.
Here are our top 10 picks:
Budapest – Advent and Christmas Fair on Vorosmarty Square
Budapest is situated right on the Danube River. The Vorosmarty Square Christmas Market is considered one of the most beautiful markets in Europe. It features more than a hundred selected artisans that must adhere to strict regulations ensuring only the finest handmade original crafts are on sale. Here you will find a diversity of unique gifts including traditional Hungarian textile products, crafted wooden toys, beautiful jewelry, ceramic and glass ornaments. You will also find an array of gingerbread, marzipan and chocolate goodies to enjoy or if you can delay the gratification take home! There will be a variety of live stage performances and activities for the children. Entry is free. Dates for 2019 are anticipated to be 8th November 2019 to January 1st, 2020.
For more information: https://www.budapestinfo.hu/advent-and-christmas-fair
The following cruises visit the Budapest Christmas market:
Vienna – Viennese Dream, Schonbrunn Palace and the Maria -Theresien Platz Christmas Markets
Vienna is also located on the Danube River. Christmas markets in Vienna are a long-held tradition originating back to the Middle Ages. In 1298 Albrecht I granted the Viennese people the right to hold a December market, known then as “Krippenmarkt”. Nowadays there are 20 markets operating in Vienna. Our favorites include the Viennese Dream Christmas market, which is held in the backdrop of the spectacularly lit City Hall. Children can enjoy learning to make Christmas cookies or candles and a festive spirit is imbued by choirs singing carols. This market opens mid-November and runs through until Christmas. For more information about the Viennese Dream Christmas Market: https://www.wienerweihnachtstraum.at/en/viennese-christmas-market-and-ice-dream/
The Schönbrunn Christmas and New Year’s market is held right in front of the famous palace. It features 80 exhibitors selling traditional handicrafts as well as Austrian delicacies. Don’t forget to try the freshly baked Vanillekipferl a wonderfully light, crescent shaped Christmas cookie dusted in vanilla sugar. Delicious! The Schönbrunn Palace Christmas and New Year’s market opens on 23rd November 2019 and runs to 5th January 2020. For more information: http://www.weihnachtsmarkt.co.at/en/
The beautifully decorated Maria Theresien Platz Christmas Village and Market is set amongst the world famous Ringstrasse and the illuminated Rathaus. It is Vienna’s largest Christmas market and one not to be missed. 10 restaurateurs offer an array of delicacies and mulled wines. Artisans display a variety of lovingly decorated wooden, glass and ceramic items. The market opens 20th November 2019 through to 6th January 2020.
For more information: https://www.weihnachtsmarkt.at/en/maria-theresien-platz/the-market/information/
The following cruises visit Vienna’s Christmas markets:
Passau – Christkindlmarkt
On the banks of the Danube, the Passau Christmas market is set in the backdrop of St Stephens Cathedral in the old historic heart of this beautiful Baroque town. With the charm of a smaller town the stalls offer high-quality goods and regional specialities. You will find wooden carvings and leather goods, jewelry and festive gifts, as well as hand crafted Christmas ornaments. One of the delights in Passau in December is to follow the Nativity Path (Krippenweg) to see the varied nativity scenes that are exhibited. From contemporary to traditional, the figures and animals are crafted from a variety of materials such as chocolate, glass, tin, silver and ceramics as well as wood. They make a unique and creative festive experience. The Passau Christmas market runs from 27th November 2019 to 23rd December 2019. For more information: http://passauer-christkindlmarkt.de/
The following cruises visit the Passau market:
Strasbourg – Christkindelsmärik
Strasbourg is a French city in the Alsace region located on the Rhine river. It’s also a city that takes Christmas very seriously. It’s thought to have held the earliest Christmas market in all of Europe. The city records show a Klausemarik or a Saint Nicolas market was held on the 6th December every year dating back to the late 12th century. The first Christkindelsmarik was held in 1570. Ever since then local families came together in November to make bredele cakes, to assemble their own Advent wreath and of course put up a Christmas tree. Wandering through the old city center you will find countless festive decorations illuminating the streets. You will hear local choirs singing about the spirit of Christmas “Vive le Vent”. There are around 300 brightly lit and decorated stalls ready to enchant you with authentic, locally made wares. You will even see some of the local craft guilds demonstrating their talents including carpet weaving, woodworking and the ever popular, tasting of locally brewed beers. As in any French city there is an abundance of delicious local specialities to try. In Strasbourg you must sip the hot white Alsatian wine, spiced with cinnamon and lemon. Don’t forget to taste Bredele, Alsatian Christmas cookies. These are made with only four ingredients almonds, sugar, cinnamon and egg whites and then decorated with festive icing. The Strasbourg Christmas markets will open from 22nd November to 30th December 2019. For more information: https://noel.strasbourg.eu/en/accueil
The following cruises visit the Strasbourg Christmas market:
Nuremberg – Christkindlesmarkt
Nuremberg’s Christmas Market is one of Germany’s oldest. Records date the market in this exact same location of Nuremberg’s Main Market Square, from 1628. By attending this market, you are helping to keep alive a custom that has served generations of artisans and the local community. A joyful sound of bells and the clatter of horse hooves can be heard as a stagecoach takes passengers to and from the market. The smell of Nuremberg Bratwurst is in the air, a favorite among shoppers ready for a snack on the go. The roasted almonds are also not to be missed! Other treats include Lebkuchen (gingerbread) and chocolate mice. They really are too cute to eat! The Nuremberg Christmas market is one of the largest in Germany and features a variety of high-quality wares. One rather whimsical Nuremberg specialty to look out for are the Zwetschgenbaum. These well-loved figures are made partially from prunes! More than 350 different figures are available, not for consumption, they make a unique souvenir that needs little care and will amuse for years to come. The Nuremberg Christmas market opens on 29th November 2019 and runs through until 24th December 2019. For more information: https://www.christkindlesmarkt.de/en/
The following cruises visit the Nuremberg Christmas market:
Prague – Christmas Markets in the Old Town Square
Prague in the Czech Republic is a destination city that many Danube Christmas cruises either start or end in. The city has three main Christmas markets located in the heart of the old city. These can be found in Wenceslas Square, Republiky Square and the best one in the Old Town Square. This market is located between Wenceslas Square and Prague’s iconic Charles Bridge. The Old Town Square is worth visiting for just the atmosphere alone. You will find a gigantic Christmas tree fully dressed in lights and seasonal decorations. Underneath the tree there is a beautiful nativity scene, complete with live animals that children will especially enjoy. This market offers a program of entertainment which includes a mix of traditional Czech folk dancing and musical performances. A variety of quality handicrafts, seasonal decorations and gifts are for sale along with fragrant mulled wine, gingerbread and other refreshments to enjoy whilst you browse. All three Prague Christmas markets will open on the 30th November 2019. Wenceslas Square & Old Town Square will run through until 6th January 2020, Republiky Square will close on 30th December 2019.
For more information: https://www.trhypraha.cz/en/
The following cruises visit the Prague Christmas markets:
Cologne – Cathedral Christmas Market
Cologne is situated on the Rhine River in Germany. The city is punctuated by the impressive Cologne Gothic cathedral which can be seen for miles around. Right in front of this imposing structure you will find the city’s beloved Christmas market with 150 “buden” or wooden stalls. Here you can watch glassblowers demonstrating the art of making the perfect festive ornament. The emphasis here is on offering quality, locally made products. This is a place where craftsmanship is revered. A large variety of gift ideas will be available, including wood carvings, children’s toys and hand-made soaps. Don’t miss the hot roasted chestnuts and the regional specialities made with certified organic produce. Christmas music and performances will entertain shoppers and a towering 82-foot Nordmann fir will proudly twinkle in the glow of 50,000 environmentally friendly LED lights! Cologne’s Christmas markets will operate from 26th November to 23rd December 2019. For more information: https://www.cologne.de/events/christmas-markets
The following cruises visit the Cologne Christmas market:
Salzburg – Christkindlmarkt
Salzburg is usually a scheduled excursion from either Linz or Passau on a Danube river cruise. Located in Austria and known as the city of Mozart, Salzburg shines during the festive season. The key market with 95 exhibitors is in the historic part of the city at the foot of the Hohensalzburg fortress, and around the Salzburg cathedral. You will find an engaging mix of locally made handicrafts from Winter knitted fashions to leather goods, wooden toys and hand-painted ornaments. In a city famous for classical music you can be sure to hear bells being rung, local choirs singing and the sounds of “Salzburger Turmblasen” playing brass from the towers around the Residenzplatz. A second Christmas market location can be found in the courtyard of the beautiful Hellbrunn Palace. Hellbrunn was one of the locations used in filming the ever-popular Sound of Music movie. The palace exterior is decorated with 700 conifers embellished with 10,000 red baubles and fairy lights turning it into a magical wonderland. If you are lucky enough, Mother Nature may have flocked the trees in snow. On display in the wooden stalls you will browse through the woodcrafts, glass, stone and ceramic art, jewelry and many more local Schafwolle Produkte! All Salzburg Christmas markets will open on 21st November to 26th December 2019. For more information:
The following cruises have excursions to visit the Salzburg Christmas markets:
Riquewihr – Christmas Market
It’s possible you may not have heard of this tiny little French town and you might be wondering why we’ve included it on this list. Quietly nestled between the Vosges mountains in Alsace, this little gem is often referred to as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Located off the Rhine, South of Strasbourg an excursion here features on our AMA Christmas Markets on the Rhine river cruise. This cobblestone village consists of half-timbered houses dating back to the 15th – 18th century complete with a 13th century “Dolder” or defensive gate. Now imagine this historic town sprinkled in a dusting of snow and illuminated with thousands of fairy lights and you have yourself a living Christmas card. This Christmas market will open November 29th, 2019.
For more information:
The following cruise excursion visits the Riquewihr Christmas market:
Bratislava – Christmas Market
Bratislava is a unique city that sits on the Danube in Slovakia, with Austria and Hungary on its borders. The ancient part of the city is pedestrianized, and the main Christmas market can be found at the Main Square and in front of the 9th century Bratislava Castle. This market is known for traditional crafts and home-made gifts, children singing folk music and local acapella singers entertaining with Christmas songs. Don’t miss the wide variety of local delicacies to try. These include Loksa a dense salty pancake with roasted pork. Or perhaps goose wing in red wine sauce. Ciganska peclenka (Roma styled pork) is very popular as a snack on the go. It includes chicken or pork in a bun with onion and mustard. For the sweet tooth don’t miss the strudel with a cup of mead (honey wine), a sweet drink served hot to keep out the chill. It is considered one of the oldest local alcoholic drinks. Bratislava has not yet announced its 2019 Christmas market dates. The market usually runs from mid-November through until the end of December.
For more information:
The following cruises visit the Bratislava Christmas markets:
For more information about the Christmas market cruises and the delightful places they visit please contact Blue Danube Holidays
See the magic for yourself on this AmaWaterways Christmas cruise video: https://youtu.be/OEHzxCYLOj0