It’s a great tradition to have family and friends get together for the holidays at the end of each year. This fun time is full of warm feelings and good cheer.
You know what could make it even better?
A cruise to see what the Christmas season is like in Europe.
A Christmas Markets river cruise on the Danube or Rhine could become a new tradition for you. Plus, the market season starts early enough that you could take one of these voyages to get you in the proper holiday spirit and still be home in plenty of time to finish your last-minute shopping and get that turkey in the oven.
If you’ve never been on a Christmas Markets cruise and have always been curious, here is what you need to know.
These are popular itineraries, and they sell out quickly once they are announced. The Christmas Markets typically start at the end of November and run up until Christmas Eve.
Food, Festivals and Gluhwein
This is the good stuff – and why you want to come to Europe at this time of year. Food, beverage, music and holiday traditions will be at the forefront — whether on your cruise ship or in each new city or village you visit along the journey.
This is not the time to be counting calories. At every turn, you are tempted to try all kinds of waffles, pancakes, crepes, candies, sausages, nuts and fruits. The drinks flow freely, too. I love trying the German beers and each market’s gluhwein concoctions. Gluhwein is a warm, red wine mulled with spices like cinnamon and clove. Each region (and market, really) will feature its own version, and you’ll notice almost everyone is enjoying a mug to help keep warm.
Your cruise programming will also offer most or all of these food options, and you also will get to enjoy music and dance performances both onboard and in the town squares that show off the special songs of the season.
The markets are held in almost every village and city of any size throughout much of Europe. On the Danube, this means you can celebrate throughout your voyage by checking in at the markets in Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, Passau, Regensburg and Nuremberg.
On the Rhine, the destinations could be Basel, Amsterdam, Cologne, Strasbourg, Breisach, Koblenz and Heidelberg.
Each city and village offers its own brand of celebration, and some of larger ones have multiple markets. The market season simply serves as a backdrop to the normal touring and sightseeing done during your cruise, and you can visit the markets in addition to enjoying your typical cruise program.
In Vienna, for example, I wandered through the bustling market at Stephansplatz in the heart of the city’s Old Town and also ventured out to enjoy the smaller market in the courtyard of Schonbrunn Palace, the historic summer home of the Hapsburgs.
The market season creates a wonderfully warm and festive environment and gives these destinations a unique glow and feel that you don’t find when you visit in the middle of the summer. You’ll also like to the opportunity to shop for souvenirs and Christmas gifts. Look for beautiful hand-crafted wooden toys and ornaments, for example.
Who Goes There?
All the major river cruise lines offer immersive Christmas Market programs. AmaWaterways, Viking River Cruises, Avalon Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Scenic Cruises and others feature sailings that visit all the major ports along the Rhine and Danube Rivers.
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