Everything You Need to Know About Christmas Market Cruises

by Donna Heiderstadt

Everything You Need to Know About Christmas Market Cruises

by Donna Heiderstadt

For those who love the Yuletide spirit, there may be no more festive holiday experience than a Christmas market river cruise. Every year, a wide variety of European cities host these Christmas markets starting from late November into the new year, filling the streets with shoppers sampling tasty seasonal treats and picking up ornaments and other decorations. Think this type of cruise might be right for you? Here's what you need to know if you are thinking about taking a Christmas market cruise.

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Vienna's Christmas market / iStock / sborisov
Cologne's Christmas market
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1. Market cruise itineraries are only on certain rivers.

The three main rivers where Christmas market itineraries are offered are the Rhine, Main, and Danube. On each of these rivers, you'll have a variety of choices: Major river lines such as Viking, Avalon, Uniworld, AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope, and Tauck all offer Christmas market cruises.

One caveat: If you want to make the cruise a family trip, Uniworld typically has one market cruise per season that welcomes children, while AmaWaterways offers family-friendly cruises on both the Rhine and the Danube through their partnership with Adventures by Disney.

The three main rivers where Christmas market itineraries are offered are the Rhine, Main, and Danube. On each of these rivers, you'll have a variety of choices: Major river lines such as Viking, Avalon, Uniworld, AmaWaterways, CroisiEurope, and Tauck all offer Christmas market cruises.

One caveat: If you want to make the cruise a family trip, Uniworld typically has one market cruise per season that welcomes children, while AmaWaterways offers family-friendly cruises on both the Rhine and the Danube through their partnership with Adventures by Disney.

Christmas market in Frankfurt
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2. You'll probably get a deal.

Because these itineraries take place during the off-season, prices are as much as $500 to $1,000 per person cheaper than river cruises from May to September — but that also means that temperatures are lower, too. You won't be spending much time on the ship's sundeck, and you'll definitely want to pack warm boots and lots of layers.

Because these itineraries take place during the off-season, prices are as much as $500 to $1,000 per person cheaper than river cruises from May to September — but that also means that temperatures are lower, too. You won't be spending much time on the ship's sundeck, and you'll definitely want to pack warm boots and lots of layers.

Christmas market vendor in Salzburg
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3. When they say “market cruise” they mean it.

You’ll visit a different market in every port, where you’ll typically find a selection of locally made ornaments, ceramics, textiles, and jewelry. There will also be foreign-made goods mixed in that will be cheaper but less authentic, so ask your guide which items come from the town. For example, Nuremberg is known for Rauschgoldengel, an angel made with folded foil, and Budapest specializes in ornaments made from Hungarian ceramic.

You’ll visit a different market in every port, where you’ll typically find a selection of locally made ornaments, ceramics, textiles, and jewelry. There will also be foreign-made goods mixed in that will be cheaper but less authentic, so ask your guide which items come from the town. For example, Nuremberg is known for Rauschgoldengel, an angel made with folded foil, and Budapest specializes in ornaments made from Hungarian ceramic.

Santas for sale in Bavaria
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4. They really are all about Christmas.

These trips appeal to people who can’t wait until it's time to deck the halls with garland, wreaths, and twinkling lights. Besides shopping at the markets, there are also religious events such as church visits and concerts by choirs sing traditional hymns and carols. The holiday is celebrated on board as well, with gingerbread-making classes and public spaces festooned with garland and trees.

These trips appeal to people who can’t wait until it's time to deck the halls with garland, wreaths, and twinkling lights. Besides shopping at the markets, there are also religious events such as church visits and concerts by choirs sing traditional hymns and carols. The holiday is celebrated on board as well, with gingerbread-making classes and public spaces festooned with garland and trees.

Mulled wine at a Budapest Christmas market
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5. The food is as much a draw as the crafts.

Steaming vats of glühwein (spiced mulled wine) are ubiquitous, and a delicious way to warm up. Each port also brings a new delicacy to try: In Budapest, it's kürtoskalács (chimney cakes), while in Frankfurt you should follow your bratwurst with bethmännchen, a Christmas cookie made with marzipan. A can't-miss Bavarian treat is schneeballen, the German word for "snowball." These balls of shortcrust pastry are rolled in powdered sugar (hence the name) or covered in chocolate.

Steaming vats of glühwein (spiced mulled wine) are ubiquitous, and a delicious way to warm up. Each port also brings a new delicacy to try: In Budapest, it's kürtoskalács (chimney cakes), while in Frankfurt you should follow your bratwurst with bethmännchen, a Christmas cookie made with marzipan. A can't-miss Bavarian treat is schneeballen, the German word for "snowball." These balls of shortcrust pastry are rolled in powdered sugar (hence the name) or covered in chocolate.

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