Christmas market river cruises: What to anticipate on a vacation crusing

Crusing down considered one of Europe’s gorgeous rivers is a dream journey irrespective of the time of 12 months, however at Christmas time it is much more particular. Ships take vacationers from port to port to expertise the unbelievable Christmas markets the place stalls are adorned with glittering lights, the smells of sausages and baked items fill the air, and the sounds of carols may be heard.

Beginning in late November by means of Christmas yearly, the cities and cities alongside the Danube, Rhine, Seine and different rivers arrange markets that show every area’s vacation traditions. Lots of the hottest river cruise strains with ships primarily based in Europe schedule festive cruises to take vacationers to buy and dine at these seasonal markets.

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When you’re eager about reserving a Christmas market river cruise however do not know the place to begin, we have you lined. Right here, we have answered the preferred questions on Christmas market river cruises and shared our high suggestions and tips to get probably the most out of the journey.

Is a Christmas market river cruise price it?

The Linz Christmas market. MEGAN DUBOIS/FOR THE POINTS GUY

The number-one query folks requested me in individual and on-line after I did a Christmas market river cruise down the Danube with Viking in December 2023 was: Is the journey price it? I vote sure, however there are some issues you need to know earlier than reserving a Christmas market cruise.

When you’ve had visiting the Christmas markets of Europe in your bucket listing, a river cruise is an effective way to discover a number of markets in a single journey. One of many largest perks of a river cruise versus a land-based journey is that you simply unpack as soon as, and your lodging and eating choices float with you down the river from city to city.

Moreover, the cruise director on board acted extra like a private concierge for visitors who had questions, giving strategies for issues to do, locations to eat and what every Christmas market was identified for.

On my seven-night river cruise, I visited six ports and loved a half day of scenic crusing by means of the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Web site. Our ports of name have been Budapest; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna; Krems, Austria; Linz, Austria; and Passau, Germany. Every port had a minimum of one Christmas market.

I used to be most impressed by Vienna, which had two, however the one close to Metropolis Corridor is the one which makes many of the viral TikTok movies and Instagram reels. The Metropolis Corridor Christmas market is the bigger of the 2 within the metropolis heart and is extra photogenic. However be sure you go to each Christmas markets within the metropolis. They’re a few 10-minute stroll from one another and have totally different meals to attempt to souvenirs to purchase.

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Associated: The very best Christmas market river cruises to e-book

Which rivers are one of the best for a Christmas markets cruise?

The Christmas market in Cologne, Germany. FOKKEBOK/GETTY IMAGES

Selecting a river to your cruise could be a problem, particularly for those who’re not conversant in the locations on the itinerary. Cruises on the Danube and Rhine are the preferred presently of 12 months as a result of their ports of name are the place most of our Christmas traditions have been first created.

On the Danube, you possibly can go to locations like Vienna, Austria and Passau and Regensburg, Germany. Alternatively, on the Rhine, locations of curiosity embrace Amsterdam; Cologne, Germany; Mannheim, Germany; and Strasbourg, France.

After you discover a number of river cruises that suit your journey dates, dig into every vacation spot and what it has to supply. Christmas markets are open from midmorning till between 8 and 10 p.m., however there’s not sufficient to do at every market to fill that total time. I often spent about an hour on the smaller markets in locations like Passau and Linz and about two to 3 hours on the bigger markets in Vienna and Budapest. In every port, you may need to make sure there are extra actions and sights to fill the remainder of your time in port.

Associated: Finest river cruise strains world wide

Which river cruise line is greatest for a Christmas cruise?

A Viking river cruise on the Danube. CHARISSA FAY/VIKING

Cruise strains that supply Christmas market cruises embrace Viking, Avalon Waterways, AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope, Uniworld and Tauck.

Uniworld cruises are the costliest, with costs starting from $3,399 to $7,199 for 8- to 11-day sailings all through the season. Tauck can be pricier than its opponents, however it’s one of many few choices that has a household cruise possibility.

Avalon Waterways presents a extra reasonably priced technique to see the Christmas markets, with cruises beginning at $2,167 for six days of touring from Budapest to Vienna. However be warned, some cruises do promote out virtually a 12 months upfront. CroisiEurope cruises are additionally extra reasonably priced and provide closed-loop cruises the place you begin and finish in the identical vacation spot, which isn’t one thing that almost all different river cruise strains provide for Christmas market cruises.

When you’re on the lookout for a extra energetic cruise, take into account AmaWaterways, the place bikes are all the time accessible to make use of in port. On the Danube Christmas Markets tour, you possibly can bike from Weissenkirchen to Melk, passing picturesque villages and vineyards.

Viking is thought to be slower-paced than its opponents, with a relaxed vibe. Visitor will not have as many selections of actions off or on the ship. The included excursions are largely strolling excursions.

Associated: AmaWaterways vs. Viking: Which of those well-liked river cruise strains is best for you?

How do I get deal on a Christmas market cruise?

Due to the quick season for Christmas market river cruises, getting a deal can show to be a problem. One of the best ways to get a deal is to e-book early.

It is common for folks to e-book a Christmas market cruise a 12 months or extra upfront. Some firms will provide a reduced deposit for individuals who e-book early, and others will provide financial financial savings for reserving properly upfront. Search for wave season (January by means of March) or Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Journey Tuesday offers for river cruise reductions or different promotional presents.

Associated: Reserving your first river cruise? Here is what it’s worthwhile to know

Do Christmas cruises promote out?

Sure, Christmas cruises can and do promote out. Most riverboats solely maintain 100 to 200 passengers. One of the best ways to make sure you get the kind of cabin and crusing date that you really want is to e-book early.

The extra fascinating balcony and suite rooms typically promote out first, adopted by rooms with solely higher home windows. Cruises that happen in the midst of the season, which means the primary two to 3 weeks of December, are sometimes extra well-liked than the final week of November or the week of Christmas since some markets may not be open at these occasions.

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How chilly is Europe in winter?


The climate is, after all, decided by when and the place you are going. Center and Jap Europe is usually colder than Western Europe, the latter of which has a milder winter season. The later within the Christmas market season you journey, the extra doubtless you might be to get rain or snow since winter is setting in throughout the continent.

On my Viking river cruise from Budapest to Passau in Jap Europe, the winter climate diverse from days with chilly rain the place I wanted to bundle up with additional waterproof layers, to lovely sunny days the place I might strip off my winter jacket for a number of hours whereas touring the Christmas markets.

I used the climate app on my cellphone to assist me decide what to pack. Even 10 days out from my journey, the app was pretty correct with what the temperatures could be, which ranged from the 20s to the excessive 40s, and what the day would appear like.

What ought to I put on on my river cruise?


Packing for a river cruise in the midst of winter was probably the most difficult a part of the journey for me. Not solely did I’ve to purchase winter garments since I stay in Florida, however I wanted to ensure I introduced sufficient layers to maintain me heat.

For days exploring the ports, I wore denims and waterproof boots with lengthy cozy socks, plus a thermal long-sleeved shirt below a sweater. I additionally introduced a midweight puffy winter jacket to put on off the ship. Equipment like a heat hat or ear heaters, gloves and a shawl have been additionally useful.

Relying on the river cruise line you e-book, the onboard apparel might vary from informal to a bit of extra fancy. Throughout the day on Viking, many individuals wore denims or sweatpants and an off-the-cuff shirt. Evenings introduced out the extra elevated style; girls donned cute sweaters and attire, whereas males wearing denims and nicer tops or sweaters.

When you can, I recommend bringing a minimum of two pairs of outside sneakers in case your waterproof sneakers cannot deal with the snow or a number of days of rain in a row. I introduced a pair of fleece-lined Crocs to put on off the ship in a number of ports the place the climate was hotter with no precipitation.

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When ought to I arrive on the embarkation port?

All the time attempt to arrive a minimum of a day early for any river cruise, particularly for those who’re flying abroad. For some river cruises, the embarkation port is simply that, a spot to get on the ship and go away. When you arrive the day your cruise begins, you might miss out on exploring the town.

Even when your Christmas market river cruise does have an in a single day keep within the embarkation metropolis with excursions the following day, it is nonetheless greatest to reach a day early. Journey days from the USA to Europe may be unpredictable, with delays and missed connections, so you need to give your self loads of time to get to the ship so you do not miss it.

Some river cruise strains provide pre-cruise extensions which you can bundle with the cruise reserving and let you arrive early on the embarkation port. These extensions embrace a lodge keep, and a few embrace a number of meals and a guided tour, plus transfers from the airport to the lodge and from the lodge to the ship.

Are the markets all the identical?

The Budapest Christmas market. MEGAN DUBOIS/FOR THE POINTS GUY

Each Christmas market is totally different within the general vibe and what it has to supply for guests. Perform a little research earlier than you permit house to see what the spotlight of every Christmas market is. I did a whole lot of my analysis on TikTok and Instagram so I might see what the individual was speaking about.

In Budapest, the Christmas market within the sq. in entrance of St. Stephen’s Basilica was mixture of crafts, decorations and attractive meals to attempt. Alternatively, the Christmas market in Bratislava was extra of a meals market with just some stalls for getting goodies to convey house with you.

My favourite Christmas market was the one at Metropolis Corridor in Vienna, which occurs to be one of the crucial well-liked in Europe. It had all the pieces from ice skating and photo-worthy backdrops to prepackaged sweets and loads of Christmas decorations to attempt to match into my already full suitcase.

What are one of the best issues to purchase at European Christmas markets?

Widespread issues to purchase at Christmas markets all through Europe embrace nativity scenes, handmade toys, nutcrackers, candles and glass or wooden ornaments. If one thing catches your eye, purchase it; there is not any assure you may discover a comparable merchandise on the subsequent market.

For instance, in Vienna, I noticed a gold beaded decoration that I liked, and I purchased it for about 10 euros (about $10.86). I by no means noticed some other beaded ornaments on the Christmas markets earlier than or after Vienna, so I used to be glad I bought it once I noticed it.

Do just remember to’re shopping for native merchandise. On my Viking cruise, we have been instructed that some markets are beginning to promote mass-produced items from China. If you wish to help native artisans, ask the seller or search for stickers that say the place the merchandise have been made.

What ought to I eat or drink at every market?

The Nuremberg Christmas market. CHARISSA FAY/VIKING

Consuming and ingesting is a key element of the Christmas market expertise. Every market sells an abundance of meals, and the meals choices change from city to city.

Earlier than you cruise, make an inventory of regional meals you want to attempt in every market. As soon as on the market, go searching to see which meals stands are well-liked with locals. Comply with their lead as a result of they doubtless know who has one of the best treats.

Listed here are my favourite candy and savory treats from every Christmas market I visited on my Viking cruise.

  • Budapest: chimney cake rolled in crushed hazelnuts
  • Bratislava: pork and garlic spiral sausage, potato pancakes much like latkes however the dimension of a dinner plate
  • Vienna: Champagne cream-filled donut
  • Linz: raclette cheese on toasted bread
  • Passau: cheese, ham and onion sengzelten (a form of flatbread with toppings), conventional German bratwurst

Ingesting at Christmas markets round Europe usually means getting a sizzling glass of glühwein, which is mulled wine made with purple wine, spices and fruit. The drink is generally served in cute mugs which you can maintain as a enjoyable and low-cost memento. When you do not need to maintain your mug, you possibly can return it and get again a euro or two.

What else can I do in every market in addition to store?

The Cologne Christmas Market. MARY QUINCY/VIKING

Every Christmas market is totally different, and the issues to do in addition to buying are additionally diverse.

A lot of the bigger markets, like those in Bratislava and Budapest, have stay music enjoying from a bandstand which you can take pleasure in. In Budapest, the market close to St. Stephen’s Basilica had a projection present on the outside of the church, too.

Whereas touring one of many Linz markets, I stumbled upon a small carnival the place rides and video games have been arrange for teenagers to take pleasure in. Then in Vienna, the Metropolis Corridor Christmas market had an ice skating rink that was well-liked with households and {couples}.

Associated: Are river cruises proper for teenagers?

What occasions do the markets open and shut?

Usually, the Christmas markets open in midmorning, wherever from 9 to 10 a.m., and shut between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Some markets will open earlier, and a few will shut later.

One of the best ways to know the occasions of every market you are visiting is to do a fast web search near the time of your river cruise. Put the identify of the town and the phrases “Christmas Market hours” into your most popular on-line search instrument to get the operational hours for every market.

Do you want money for the Christmas markets?

A drink at Vienna’s Christmas Market. MEGAN DUBOIS/FOR THE POINTS GUY

It is best to all the time carry some money with you for the Christmas markets. Whereas lots of the distributors will take bank cards or Apple Pay, others solely need money.

It is also a good suggestion to know the forex of every vacation spot you are going to. For instance, in Hungary, euros are usually not accepted wherever, so I exchanged {dollars} for Hungarian forints to make use of on the Christmas market.

What can I do in every metropolis earlier than or after the Christmas market?

Your river cruise will provide an included tour every single day. On my Viking river cruise, every day’s included tour was a strolling tour of the town to level out historic landmarks and present folks learn how to get to the Christmas markets.

After a number of days, I discovered the strolling excursions considerably repetitive. All of them confirmed off the most important church within the metropolis heart and described how the town navigated numerous wars. The guides make or break the excursions, and also you by no means know who you may get. So I used the excursions to assist navigate to the town heart, then ventured off alone with my journey companion. We used strolling instructions on Google Maps as a technique to get to locations we have been serious about and to get again to the ship as soon as we have been able to heat up for some time.

River cruises embrace a whole lot of perks, together with docking proper on the fringe of many of the cities you go to. Which means in lots of locations, you possibly can stroll from the ship to the center of city in mere minutes. Earlier than or after visiting the Christmas market, you possibly can spend your time exploring the town, eating in an area restaurant, sipping sizzling espresso in a restaurant or popping into retailers.

For bigger locations like Vienna, Paris or Amsterdam, you may need to do additional analysis on what there’s to do within the metropolis at no cost or at a reduction. Many museums provide free or discounted entry on choose days or to pick out ages.

Backside line

When you’ve ever needed to discover European Christmas markets, a river cruise is a simple technique to do it. Lots of the greatest river cruise manufacturers and guided group tour firms provide Christmas markets river cruises all through Europe.

You will profit from your trip if you perform a little little bit of analysis to find out what there’s to do in every metropolis earlier than or after your market go to, which native meals you need to attempt to what to buy on the markets themselves.

Irrespective of which river you traverse, cruise line you decide, or Christmas markets you go to, you’ll immerse your self in European vacation tradition, studying concerning the food and drinks specialties of the locations you go to and the way every vacation spot celebrates the vacations. And because you’re on a river cruise, you possibly can expertise a number of cities and nations whereas another person does the navigation for you, and also you solely need to unpack as soon as.

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