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Where to Go on a Christmas Market Cruise

  • Explore a winter wonderland of Yuletide delights on a Rhine or Danube Christmas market cruise
  • Enjoy festivities in Rüdesheim, Koblenz and Bonn on the Rhine – from carol concerts to Europe’s largest nativity scene
  • Celebrate seasonal joy in Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna on the Danube – and try to catch The Nutcracker at the Hungarian State Opera

Go on a Christmas market cruise on the Rhine or Danube and you won’t just return home with unique tree decorations and handcrafted gifts. German Christmas holidays and Yuletide breaks in Europe are magical experiences as towns and cities are transformed into winter wonderlands, adorned with sparkling fairy lights and draped with festive trimmings. A Christmas market cruise creates truly seasonal memories that last for years to come.

On Christmas market cruises, Christmas shopping is made easy. They’re lots of fun, too. Who wouldn’t want to wander around beautifully decorated wooden stalls sipping mulled wine while angelic Christmas carols fill the air? This year, ditch the high street and head on a Christmas cruise instead.

Christmas Market cruise enjoying a cup of gluhwein

Christmas market cruises 2021: the enchanting Rhine river

A five-day Rhine river cruise in the run-up to Christmas is a wonderful way to get into the festive spirit. Step ashore in Rüdesheim, the first delightful destination on a German Christmas market cruise, and you’ll be transported into a Christmas setting that seems straight out of the pages of a Dickens’ novel. Windows of quirky, crooked timbered houses glitter with fairy lights. Over 120 Christmas market stalls – mainly clustered along the quaint alley known as Drosselgasse – vie for your attention, with local craftsmen selling tree decorations, music boxes, wooden nutcrackers and more.

If you see something you like, our advice is to buy it. Don’t wait until the last day of the cruise in the hope of finding that special keepsake again – markets at different destinations on European river cruises specialise in local, often unique, souvenirs. Be aware too that while some stalls accept card payments, it’s wise to bring cash. Many German markets will be closed for the religious holiday called Sunday of the Dead – this year on 24 November.

When in Rüdesheim, visit what is considered to be Europe’s largest nativity scene. To keep warm, sip a traditional coffee with a shot of locally distilled Asbach brandy and a dollop of whipped cream – brandy-filled chocolates also make a great present. Or try a glass of spiced glühwein, made from grapes grown on the Rhine’s vineyards.

Koblenz winter wonderland

Koblenz, also on the itinerary of Christmas market cruises, becomes a merry winter wonderland as Christmas Day approaches. In the atmospheric old town, you’ll find one of the largest Christmas markets in the Rhineland. With an ice rink, open-air carol concerts, horse-drawn carriage rides and displays by glassblowers and wood sculptors, Koblenz celebrates Yuletide in style. Look out for the advent calendar in the 24 dormer windows of the town hall, and pop into the Christmas bakery to stock up on stollen and delicious heart-shaped gingerbread.

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Traditional gingerbread hearts

Bonn Noël

A Christmas market cruise along the Rhine visits Bonn too, where an imposing Christmas tree takes centre stage. In the surrounding city streets, around 180 huts and stalls sell handcrafted gifts and culinary treats. Glass tree ornaments, beeswax candles, leather purses and alpaca knitwear are sure to intrigue festive shoppers, while roasted chestnuts, potato pancakes and baked apples will whet the appetite.

A Rhine Christmas market cruise will stop at Cologne, giving you the opportunity to wander through seven Yuletide markets – each with its own unique theme. The festive stalls found in the picturesque setting near Cologne Cathedral sell high-quality crafts, regional specialities and organically certified food. However, head to the town hall market square where Heinzelmännchen, or house gnomes, will give your shopping experience a nostalgic feel. This is also where you’ll find toy presents, a fair and Santa Claus.

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Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany

Christmas market cruises 2021: on the delightful Danube river

A Christmas market cruise along the Danube is another memorable option, not least because you can enjoy festive shopping in three magnificent cities. Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna are always a joy to stroll around, but especially so when the streets are aglow with twinkling lights.

Budapest’s Advent and Christmas Fair

In Budapest, the Advent and Christmas Fair on Vörösmarty Square is ranked as one of the top 10 most beautiful markets in Europe. It usually opens earlier than many German Christmas markets in the first week of November – ideal if you’re keen to tick off names on your Christmas gift list. Featuring the handiwork of over 100 artisans, only craftworkers whose handmade, high-quality items adhere to strict guidelines are allowed to showcase their wares.

While exploring the aisles between vendors’ rustic wooden cottages, grab a slice of traditional chimney cake or a honey cookie. It’s worth savouring a mug of mulled wine – the price often includes a souvenir cup to take home.

If time allows, watching a performance of The Nutcracker at the Hungarian State Opera will be a magical experience. Otherwise, try to catch a free Christmas concert at one of the open-air stages in the market squares.

Christmas market cruise Chimney cake at christmas fare

Chimney cake

Explore Bratislava at Christmas

The churches in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava are joyous places to visit on a Danube river cruise, as it’s here you can view traditional nativity cribs. However, if you want to shop at a Christmas market – where scented candles, jewellery, scarves and handmade wooden toys will all make great gifts for loved ones – just follow the smell of cinnamon wafting through the air until you reach the main square. Local delicacies such as poppyseed strudel and lokša (potato pancakes) may tempt your taste buds. Wash a treat down with a hot, sweet mead. Make sure you take a free ride on the city’s illuminated Christmas tram – no Yuletide trip to Bratislava would be complete though without.

Christmas in Vienna

Vienna is another glittering destination on a Christmas market cruise that is sure to put you in a festive mood, and as there’s been a Yuletide market here since the Middle Ages, the city certainly knows how to celebrate. Indeed, Vienna now holds 20 markets during the festive period, each selling a huge range of seasonal gifts and mouth-watering edibles.

The Town Hall is the splendid advent calendar setting of one of the most popular Christmas markets, with over 150 stalls. However, if you want to buy more traditional handicrafts, Christmas decorations, nativity sets and nostalgic toys, don’t miss the imaginative market at Schönbrunn Palace.

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Vienna, Austria

Plan your Christmas market cruise

Although Christmas may be months away and you’re not writing your Christmas shopping list quite yet, now is the time to book a Christmas market cruise – perhaps as a festive trip for yourself, or an early gift for a loved one. If you’ve made it onto Santa’s nice list this year, treat yourself to a cruise along the Rhine or Danube, and start looking forward to a merry Christmas!

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.