Effective July 1st. Due to new regulations, prices now include all taxes and fees. Learn more

You may also like
Dismiss
Wooden booths offering souvenirs during Christmas Market in Prague, Czech Republic (Photo: Rostislav Glinsky/Shutterstock)
Wooden booths offering souvenirs during Christmas Market in Prague, Czech Republic (Photo: Rostislav Glinsky/Shutterstock)

8 Reasons to Take a Christmas Markets Cruise

Wooden booths offering souvenirs during Christmas Market in Prague, Czech Republic (Photo: Rostislav Glinsky/Shutterstock)
Wooden booths offering souvenirs during Christmas Market in Prague, Czech Republic (Photo: Rostislav Glinsky/Shutterstock)
Contributor
Melinda Crow
Contributor
Marissa Wright

Last updated
Oct 17, 2023

Read time
7 min read

Mention Christmas market cruises to almost any cruiser and you'll find that many have European Christmas market river cruises on their bucket lists.

Christmas markets are popular events held around the world to celebrate Christmas, but the most popular ones are in Europe. Think mulled wine, decorated Christmas trees, quaint stalls with themed trinkets and an overall jolly atmosphere within medieval Advent markets. Christmas market cruises are convenient ways to experience these seasonal markets in different ports and even European countries.

Whether you’re unsure if a Christmas market river cruise is right for you or you’ve already booked one, here are our top eight reasons to hop on a Christmas markets cruise and spruce up this holiday season.

1. Christmas Market Shopping Leads to Unique Gifts for the Whole Family

Christmas Decorations in a European Market (Photo: dvoevnore/Shutterstock)
Christmas Decorations in a European Market (Photo: dvoevnore/Shutterstock)

Christmas shopping in European markets while on a river cruise almost guarantees that the gifts you put under the tree will be unique and loved. Wooden toys, hand-blown glass, scarves, hats, leather goods, specialty teas, honey, wine and liqueurs -- all superb gifts to pick up for family and friends back home.

One of the top sellers is ornaments, which are made of wood, paper, lace and glass. We recommend browsing the ornament options before making a purchase.

The real secret to market shopping is pacing yourself. On an average seven- or eight-day cruise, you may visit as many as 10 different Christmas markets, and although there is some duplication of the goods from market to market, you will find items that are special to that city or town at each one.

Some market stalls will have English-speaking attendants, others will not, but prices in euros are usually clearly marked. Download a phone app like Google Translate or iTranslate Voice to ask more complicated questions to non-English speakers. Note that listed prices in Europe include tax.

Cash is the most reliable way to shop in the markets, but some stalls may also accept credit cards, particularly for larger items. In Europe, small businesses often charge a fee for customers to pay by credit card.

2. Christmas Markets Cruises Offer Daily Cheerful Decorations and Ambiance

Traditional Gingerbread heart cookies from the Christmas Market in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany (Photo: Corinna Haselmayer/Shutterstock)
Traditional Gingerbread heart cookies from the Christmas Market in Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany (Photo: Corinna Haselmayer/Shutterstock)

There's no shortage of festive decor onboard the ships themselves, but the real treats are the markets and their settings. From the red-and-white canopies of the market in Nuremberg, set in the medieval city center, to stalls in Regensburg's Thurn and Taxis market topped with pine branches in front of a towering palace, each market has an enamoring decorating style.

Most Christmas markets cruises give you the opportunity to visit at least a few markets after dark to enjoy the lights that decorate stalls and the squares and parks where the markets take place. Cities and towns in Europe also adorn public buildings and plazas with wreaths, bows and lights.

Many cities have special lighting ceremonies or decorations carefully strung around the city that you can enjoy as you wander about as well.

3. Visit European Cities at Their Best on Christmas Markets Cruises

Rynek at Night in Wroclaw, Poland (Photo: Mariia Golovianko/Shutterstock)
Rynek at Night in Wroclaw, Poland (Photo: Mariia Golovianko/Shutterstock)

While summer river cruises are popular and allow you to explore lush European cities at your leisure, a Christmas market river cruise in Europe will allow you to see cities in a whole new light.

Instead of being bogged down by humidity, bugs and overcrowded sights, you can visit some of the most idyllic cities in Europe in their holiday glory. There’s nothing quite like strolling through a well-decorated Christmas market (and European city) during the holidays, especially if it's done with a warm cup of mulled wine in hand.

Loading...

4. Mulled Wine: The Real Champion of Christmas Markets Cruises

Friends Socializing in the Christmas Market (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)
Friends Socializing in the Christmas Market (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

Hot spiced wine is a staple of Christmas markets throughout Europe, known by the German name of gluhwein or the Swedish glogg. Even serious oenophiles find joy in wandering through street vendors sipping steaming inexpensive wine from kitschy souvenir mugs.

Each vendor uses their own recipe, but expect some version of red wine lightly spiced with cinnamon, cloves and oranges heated to around 170 degrees.

Most sellers also offer wine with a little more kick to it in the form of add-ins like brandy, amaretto, Grand Marnier or vodka. And, of course, there is a nonalcoholic version known as punch or kinderpunsch (in Germany).

In most markets, you pay for the wine and a deposit on the mug, which is then refunded upon return if you don't care to have the Christmas market souvenir. Refills are then available for purchase at subsequent stalls as you wind your way through the market. Anyone who’s not interested in the festive mulled wine can stick to the traditional (and delicious) local beers or beverages.

5. Christmas Markets Cruises Serve Up Special Sweets and Savory Treats

Sweets in European Christmas markets range from simple chocolate-dipped dried fruit on skewers to elaborate pastries. Waffles topped with fruit or Nutella are favorite eat-on-site market foods. In Germany, fried apples, doughnuts and, of course, strudel are abundant. Here's a quick list of common sweets by their typical market names:

  • Schmalzkuchen: vanilla- or lemon-flavored balls of fried dough, rolled in sugar

  • Lebkuchen: gingerbread cookies, often heart-shaped and coated in chocolate or sugar icing

  • Maroni: sweet, roasted chestnuts

  • Heibe Schokolade: Hot chocolate for those not interested in mulled wine

  • Pfannkuchen: crepes, often filled with cream, Nutella or fruit

Sausages top the list of savory treats at the markets. Fat or thin, fried or flame-grilled sausages are normally served in fresh, crusty rolls, topped with optional sauerkraut and mustard. Recipes vary from region to region, so trying one at each stop of your cruise is perfectly acceptable.

Also, look for potato pancakes called kartoffelpfannkuchen and potato dumplings, kartoffelknodel.

6. Christmas Culture: Exciting European Festivities and Events

Santa pours punch onboard a Christmas Markets cruise on Amadeus Cara (Photo/Jeannine Williamson)
Santa pours punch onboard a Christmas Markets cruise on Amadeus Cara (Photo/Jeannine Williamson)

Aficionados of European culture can delight in the traditions and celebrations of the holiday season. Church and family play huge roles in those celebrations, as does food. A Christmas market river cruise is an ideal way to immerse yourself in the cultures you visit, even beyond the markets.

A ship's tours include plenty of stops at cathedrals and abbeys. Onboard entertainment usually includes local singers and musicians brought on in ports of call, most of them performing Christmas music.

European crew members are also eager to share their own holiday traditions with guests, including games, music and visits from Saint Nicholas. And tour guides in every city impart the details of how their city and its inhabitants celebrate.

Keep your eyes and ears open for any local festivities or Christmas celebrations. Famous German celebrations like Krampusnacht and Saint Nicholas Day occur at the beginning of December, typically on December 5th and 6th. All can enjoy Krampusnacht as it happens on busy city streets.

7. Soak in the Winter Scenery Aboard Christmas Markets Cruises

River cruises are never short on scenery along the banks of the rivers they sail, but there is something seasonally romantic about the winter landscapes. Admire the snow-dusted views as you sip coffee or hot chocolate in a festive lounge full of fellow cruisers.

While there are fewer outdoor activities available to passengers on these winter cruises, the itineraries often include a bit more daytime cruising between ports.

One word of caution: Days in December are short, with sunrise near 8 a.m. and sunsets around 4 p.m. Add in the potential for gray skies running days on end, and sunseekers might be disappointed.

Though ships make an effort to open their top decks when conditions allow, these open-air areas that are so popular during the summer cruise season are often off-limits or frigid at best.

8. Marvel in Europe's Must-Sees with Much Smaller Crowds Aboard a Christmas Markets Cruise

Nuremberg's Christmas Market (photo courtesy of AmaWaterways)
Nuremberg's Christmas Market (photo courtesy of AmaWaterways)

While the Christmas market cruise season is fairly busy, it is a far quieter season than summer. That means smaller crowds almost everywhere you go other than the markets. Sightseeing is easier, and lines are shorter at museums, theaters, galleries and other non-shopping areas.

Cruise prices during the Christmas market season are often as much as 30 percent lower than in midsummer and may come with lower airfare and hotel add-ons. Look for Christmas market river cruise deals on lines like Viking, AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Emerald Waterways, Uniworld, Scenic and Tauck, among others.


Get special cruise deals, expert advice, insider tips and more.
By proceeding, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

© 1995—2024, The Independent Traveler, Inc.