Christmas markets are the highlight of Europe's winter calendar. As the world's biggest river cruise line, Viking offers the largest choice of vacations to visit the best-known cities for Christmas markets -- along with interesting lesser-known destinations -- to soak up the magical festive atmosphere.
Running through December, you will be immersed in traditions dating back hundreds of years. On Viking Christmas market cruises you'll stroll through historic cobblestone streets illuminated by twinkling holiday lights, sample yuletide cookies, cakes and other freshly baked treats, join local carol singers and shop for hand-made toys and crafts that you won't find back home. An added bonus is you can visit several markets on one cruise and only have to pack and unpack once.
You'll sail on one of Viking's state-of-the-art Longships which moor in the heart of towns so you're close to all the sights. Back onboard, the ships are beautifully decorated and the daily program will feature special events such as Christmas music performances, tree trimming and cookery demonstrations. Here's a preview of the Viking Christmas market cruise experience.
As one of Europe's best-known waterways the Rhine is a popular Viking river cruise Christmas market destination. The new seven-night itinerary takes in familiar favorites such as Cologne, where a giant Christmas tree is at the center of the main market held in front of the city’s landmark cathedral, along with the less-visited river cruise city of Dusseldorf where pretty themed markets include a children's market and little angel market. There's a scenic drive through wintery countryside to medieval Freiburg, on the edge of Germany's Black Forest, for a market visit and festive organ recital.
Moving away from Germany, which is the heartland of European festive markets, this immersive cultural sailing from Amsterdam to Basel also visits Strasbourg. Founded in 1570, this Christmas market is the oldest in France. Set against the backdrop of Strasbourg's unusual one-spired cathedral you can sample local festive specialties such as bredele, star-shaped spiced cookies.
Flowing through grand capital cities, including Budapest, Vienna and Bratislava, the Danube is another big Viking river cruise Christmas markets destination. So much so, the line has a pair of all-new week-long festive itineraries to choose from. The Christmas on the Danube sailing runs between Budapest and Regensburg, with the chance to see the Hungarian and Austrian capitals.
If you want to visit the tiny Slovakian first city of Bratislava you can opt for the Danube Christmas Delights cruise between Budapest and Passau. As well as Christmas markets, these sailings offer unique insights into the various destinations, such as behind-the-scenes stable tour at Vienna's Spanish Riding School to meet some of the snow-white Lipizzaner stallions. No visit to Austria -- birthplace of composers including Mozart and Strass -- would be complete without music and both itineraries include a classical concert.
Think of Viking river cruises' Christmas markets' itineraries and is likely that Germany and Austria will spring to mind. Yet France has an equally long and historic tradition of "marche de noel". Viking's new itinerary, Christmas on the Seine starts and finishes in Paris, where the ship moors overnight, providing plenty of time to see all the sights.
Admire the beautiful holiday window displays in famous-name stores such as Galeries Lafayette and visit some of the city's many markets. Tuileries Garden is the largest, combining traditional market stalls with fairground attractions including a ferris wheel. Atmospheric Montmartre, once the home of famous artists such as Picasso and Dali, is the place to find one-of-a-kind fashion and jewelry. In Rouen, where half-timbered houses are adorned with decorations, you'll visit the market in front of the landmark three-towered cathedral. There's also a foodie walking tour in medieval Vernon, stopping along the way for steaming mulled wine and festive treats.
The Elbe is a fascinating Viking river cruise Christmas market destination and ideal for anyone who has already traveled on the Rhine. Rising in the Czech Republic and flowing through Germany, the cruise is book-ended by overnight moorings in the respective capital cities of Prague and Berlin. Prague Castle is the world's largest ancient castle and the narrow streets leading down from the stronghold are lined with small shops, which are particularly colorful at Christmas. Medieval Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, with its ornate 600-year-old astronomical clock, provide wonderful backdrops to seasonal markets. Look out for cut glass ornaments, delicate decorations made from straw and try the special Christmas fish soup.
Berlin hosts more than 60 festive markets and the biggest is in central Potsdamer Platz where there's an open-air skating rink. This cruise also showcases Dresden, known as the "Florence of the Elbe" and Meissen where you'll learn about the city's world-famous porcelain.
This is another new Viking cruise, Christmas markets option, Christmas on the Main & Moselle which is a great choice for anyone that has already sailed on the Rhine or is looking for an extended vacation covering several countries in 12 days. After a motorcoach transfer from Paris you'll board your Viking Longship in Reims. This is the perfect spot to raise a glass and toast Christmas as it is the "capital" of the Champagne wine-growing region and home to one of France's largest Christmas markets.
This cruise explores the offshoots of the Rhine and the gently curving Moselle leads to Cochem, where the quaint old town resembles a fairy-tale. In the market try a glass of white mulled wine, a Moselle specialty. On the Main there's another unique beverage to try in Bamberg, which is famous for producing a beer using smoked malt. The itinerary ends with a transfer to Prague and an overnight stay in the Czech capital known as the "city of a hundred spires".