A river cruise is a charming and relaxing way (also, efficient and hassle-free) to see numerous historic cities and villages throughout Europe. The voyages are designed to focus on the culture, history and cuisine of the regions you visit.
These journeys take on an added meaning when they are a Christmas Markets cruise. The Christmas Markets season runs during the four weeks of Advent, which leads up to Christmas Eve (generally, from Thanksgiving until Christmas).
While sailing on the Rhine, Danube and Rhone Rivers in November and December means that you’ll be in cooler weather, you’ll be warmed by the spirit of the holidays and the vibrant festivities that are infused throughout the municipalities that you visit.
These markets are on display in the Old Town areas and historic sites in big cities like Vienna, Cologne and Nuremberg as well as small towns throughout Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria.
Christmas Markets are notable because they fill the senses. You get to enjoy holiday music, live song and dance performances and the endless rows of vendors selling fragrant gluhwein, sizzling sausages and decadent sweets. Shoppers will also love the ample supplies of unique handmade toys and crafts on display.
Here are the best river cruises you can take to enjoy the festivities at Europe’s Christmas Markets. Note: These cruises are extremely popular, so you need to plan ahead when you want to book a Christmas Markets cruise.
Viking River Cruises’ “Rhine Getaway” sails from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, on an eight-day voyage that takes you through the heart of the wine and castle regions of one the most scenic waterways in the world. Port cities also include Breisach, Rudesheim, Koblenz and Cologne (Germany), Strasbourg (France) and Kinderdijk (Netherlands).
Cruising during Christmas Markets season means you’ll not only get to visit fortresses, cathedrals and medieval towns of the famed Middle Rhine region, but you get to do so while enjoying a full range of special holiday festivities.
The towns are decked out with decorations, and cobblestone streets and squares are lined with lights and kiosks selling cookies and other treats. Onboard the ship, passengers dig into seasonal cuisine and enjoy guest entertainers singing holiday tunes or offering cooking demonstrations.
AmaWaterways’ “Christmas Markets on the Danube” is a seven-night sailing from Budapest, Hungary, to Vilshofen, Germany. Port stops also include Bratislava (Slovakia), Vienna, Weissenkirchen, Melk and Linz (Austria) and Passau (Germany).
Passengers visit the markets at Vorosmarty Square in Budapest and Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, as well as markets in town squares in Linz, Salzburg and Passau.
The itinerary is filled with excursion opportunities like walking tours, wine tastings, castle hikes and bike tours, as well.
Crystal Cruises’ “Magnificent Christmas Markets” voyages last seven night and travel between Budapest and Passau on the line’s all-inclusive luxury ships. The sailings also visit Bratislava, Vienna and Linz, with overnight stays in Budapest, Vienna and Passau so you can enjoy the market festivities all day and into the night. Excursions along the way include city tours and Christmas Market visits. You’ll marvel at the festivities at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna or Regensburg’s Old Town, the best-preserved medieval town in Germany.
Crystal’s river ships also feature top-end regional cuisine, fitness centers and indoor pools.
Avalon Waterways’ “Christmastime from Vienna to Basel” is a 16-day journey that combines the Danube and Rhine Rivers and give travelers the chance to fully immerse themselves into the joy of the season on an epic cruise. The itinerary includes visits to Melk, Passau, Regensburg, Nuremberg, Bamberg, Wurzburg, Heidelberg, Strasbourg and Breisach.
Passengers sail on ships that are fully decorated for the holiday season. Activities and excursions include numerous chances to visit Christmas Markets, shopping, onboard cookie baking demonstrations and beer tastings.
Emerald Waterways’ “Christmas Markets of Europe” 15-day sailing travels from Amsterdam to Budapest, visiting Cologne, Rudesheim, Miltenberg, Wertheim, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Passau, Linz, Melk, Durnstein, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest.
This cruise offers a fantastic way to see the heart of Bavaria along the Rhine and Danube in an affordable way. Emerald Waterways is known as a great budget option, offering a sleek fleet of ships and Activity Managers who run fun entertainment programs onboard. Plus, you get to enjoy a wide range of some of the best Christmas Markets in Europe.
John Roberts is a freelance writer and operator of InTheLoopTravel.com. He writes about cruising and active travel, highlighting how people can connect with the world and other cultures through rewarding travel experiences.