Europe’s Christmas Market River Cruises—The Best Kept Secret in River Cruising

by Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

If you love Christmas and want to celebrate the magic of this special holiday season in Europe, there is no better place than on a river cruise.  We have been on 3 river cruises during the Christmas Market season and they are fabulous!  There are two main routes in Europe that offer the best experiences to celebrate the season where most of our Christmas traditions originated.  The two rivers to visit the most Christmas Markets are the Rhine and the Upper Danube.  So, let’s explore these two routes together and learn about Christmas Markets.

What are Christmas Markets?

In Europe, many squares are used for various street markets.  At Christmas time, these squares are transformed into a unique blaze of color, seasonal goods and foods that are offered from small vendors in their booths.  It is a social gathering of Europeans enjoying hot mulled wine, beer, music,  and street food as they browse the various vendors.  All seem to get along wonderfully doing their Christmas shoppingHere is a colorful stall at Schonbrunn Palace Vienna Austria:

Christmas Market Schonbrunn Palace 2012 467

Christmas markets date back to 1300 or so and started in Germany, Austria and the eastern portion of France along the Rhine River.  The Christmas Market season usually starts about November 25 and lasts until 23 or 24 December, roughly following the 4 week Advent season.  Even for a person like me who does not really like shopping, this is so much fun that everyone should try this at least once.  Unlike American Malls, this is not combat shopping and crowds of hassled folks; this is a gathering of folks socializing with food and drink, music, and buying gifts at a much gentler pace.  Seeing the decorations alone is worth the trip but many booths have handmade items that are unique and priceless–the shopping is also great! 

Most vendors sell only with cash, so make sure you have enough local currency to get your purchases.  And, as we have learned though our own mistakes, if you see something you like, buy it or you will often miss out.  Most markets open around 10:00 AM and close around 9:00 PM but it varies a lot.  It is not uncommon for booths to close down for short periods to take a break or get something to eat or an owner to take a day off and not open their booth.

As long as you dress warmly, these markets offer a cultural experience second to none—it is an European experience not to be missed!

The Two Rhine River Routes

Although the Rhine flows through four countries (Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Germany) most of the river is in Germany and Germany has hundreds of Christmas markets.  The most popular route is from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam.  Some of the other towns visited on this cruise include Breisach, Strasbourg (France) Mannheim, Speyer, Rüdesheim, Koblenz, and Cologne. 

We have a group going on AmaWaterways’ The Enchanting Rhine Christmas Market cruise from 14-21 December 2016 starting in Basel and ending in Amsterdam and we would love to have you join us! LEARN MORE

Let’s start in Basel and see some of their Christmas Markets

The other route starts in Nuremberg and continues up to Amsterdam.  Stops on the Nuremberg to Amsterdam route include Bamberg, Kitzingen, Wurzburg, Wertheim, Rüdesheim, and Cologne.

The Upper Danube Route

This route is the most popular river cruise in all Europe.  We have done 3 Christmas Market cruises on this route.  It starts in Nuremberg and ends in Budapest, Hungary.  Ports of call include Regensburg, Passau, Melk, and Vienna.  Many folks start their trip with a stay in Prague in a pre-cruise for a couple of nights, then enjoy the cruise and stay a couple of extra nights in Budapest.  Here are some pictures of the Christmas Market on the Danube:




Castle Thurn and Taxi Christmas Market Regensburg (our favorite Christmas Market)




We hope this has helped understand what a great way a river cruise is to explore the Christmas Markets.  We also hope this will inspire you to try river cruising–we will be glad to help.  Please give Hank a call at 713-397-0188 or email me at so we can help you Savor life . . .make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!


One thought on “Europe’s Christmas Market River Cruises—The Best Kept Secret in River Cruising

  1. This is a very special way to celebrate the season with wonderful friends and family! The Christmas markets truly do get you in the holiday spirit. We can’t wait to go back to Germany again this year with Hank & Anne. Glühwein (hot mulled wine) never tasted so good standing next to a roaring fire in a idyllic German town surrounded by great friends. Dream Destinations set up every detail of your travel leaving you to experience an unforgettable vacation with a lifetime worth of memories.


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