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The 5 best Christmas Market Cruises in Europe

Cruise Advice

As the festive season approaches, many northern and central European cities, towns and villages start to talk about their Christmas Markets. It sounds captivating - the epitome of Christmas in fact. We picture cobbled streets, decorated trees, sparkling lights, gently falling snow, magical music and delicious smells. Trust us, the reality is even better! These are the 5 best Christmas Market cruises in Europe.

The Christmas market is a 700-year old tradition, building the excitement for Christmas itself, with wonderful food and drink, shopping for last minute presents and conjuring up the sort of Christmas we remember from fairytales and children's books.

The European cruise lines are able to take you into the heart of this magical mood, as you cruise the Rhine, Moselle, Danube and Main rivers and more. You will explore wooden stalls displaying traditional crafts with beautifully carved and painted Nativity figures, glass tree decorations, exquisite ornaments and fine contemporary gifts.

Sparkling lights illuminate ancient cathedral squares and the sound of children's laughter mingles with Christmas carols.

Brussels, Belgium at Christmas

1. Belgium

The holiday season in foodie destination Belgium, is something truly special. Visit such gems as Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp; always captivating but, made even more special by the markets, as well as ice-skating rinks, light displays, Ferris wheels and more. Enjoy the Belgian favourites: chocolates, chips and mayonnaise and fruit beer, adding in seasonal specials, such as vin chaud, hot chocolate, waffles and spiced gingerbread. Check out cruise options with Uniworld and Tauck

Nuremburg Christmas Market, Germany

2. The Main and Danube

The Nuremberg Christmas Market is opened by the Christkind 'the Christchild', traditionally represented by a young woman with golden curls, a spiky crown and a flowing gold and white dress, who opens the market with these words: "Welcome, young and old, to my little community of wood and cloth." Departing from Nuremberg, you will also be captivated by the markets at Bamberg, Rothenburg, Regensburg and more, before sailing on to Passau and Vienna - check out the itineraries with AmaWaterways, Uniworld and Tauck

Budapest Christmas Market, Hungary

3. The Heart of the Danube

On a classic Danube journey between Budapest and Vienna or Passau, you will enjoy a whole variety of takes on 'the Christmas market'. The Advent Feast at the Basilica in Budapest opens with the words 'In love and safety'. Budapest has celebrated Christmas since the reign of St. Stephen, the Christian king who founded Hungary and there are traditional foods, including kürtos kalács (a pastry). In Bratislava, traditional Slovakian Christmas items include medovníky (spiced ginger cookies) and šúpolie (figurines made from corn husks).

Finally in beautiful Vienna, a whole variety of markets fill the squares. The traditional "Vienna Magic of Advent", in the City Hall Square features Christmas gifts, tree decorations, sweets and warming drinks, as well as a carousel, while the trees of the surrounding City Hall park are festively decorated. Or, check out the cultural and Christmas market in front of Schönbrunn Palace. Viking, Scenic, Uniworld and AmaWaterways all offer great options, with side trips to Salzburg and in the case of Scenic, a wonderful optional extension to Prague.

Swiss Christmas Markets

4. Switzerland and the Rhine

Sail from Basel, Switzerland's largest and most beautiful Christmas city, with its lovely Old Town, where nearly a hundred tall pine trees border the streets. The Christmas Market can be found on Barfüsserplatz and on Münsterplatz, where there is a magnificent Christmas tree. Then, in Strasbourg visit a market dating back to 1570, one of the oldest in Europe. The streets, houses, windows and balconies twinkle with lights and decorations competing every year to be even more original. A thirty-metre Christmas tree stands in Place Kleber, the tallest decorated Christmas tree in Europe. Also, try the little Christmas biscuits called bredle. Most of our favourite river cruise lines operate this lovely Christmas markets cruise option

Rhine Christmas Market

5. Classic Rhine Christmas Markets

The Christmas markets in Cologne are amongst the most beautiful in Germany. In this festively decorated "Cathedral City", make sure you don't stop at just one market - there are a whole range, each with its own theme, with arts and crafts from all over Europe, high-quality goods, culinary delights and captivating entertainment programmes. Visit the various city quarters (called "Veedel" in Cologne) for smaller neighbourhood markets.

Your cruise along this stretch of the Rhine will give you access to magical market spots, such as romantic Heidelberg and historic Rudesheim, where you can sample amous Rüdesheim coffee made with locally distilled Asbach Uralt brandy. Travel with AmaWaterways, Uniworld, Scenic, Tauck or Viking

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, SeaDream, Ponant, AmaWaterways and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Danube, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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