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The Best European River Cruise Destinations At Christmas

28th November 2017

Christmas river cruises are very popular, giving travellers the chance to visit a range of different festive markets in one trip whilst only having to unpack once. The atmosphere on board the ship is sure to be a jolly one and there will be some yuletide activities on offer to get you into the festive spirit. But where should you visit? These are some of the best river cruise ports to sail to at this magical time of year.

Colmar, France

Colmar Christmas Market

Image: Colmar Tourisme

The moment you arrive in this typical Alsatian town, you will feel a wave of nostalgia wash over you as you admire the beautiful half-timbered houses. This fairy tale setting is enhanced even more during Christmas, when the local residents and business owners compete against each other in illuminating the façades of their buildings with decorative wreaths, twinkling lights and other festive adornments.

There are five markets in total, collectively named in Europe’s top five in both 2015 and 2016 by travellers. Each one is its own miniature village, offering local crafts and gift ideas. The market at Place Jeanne d’Arc is a great place to try local food and drink, whilst the indoor market at the Koïfhus building will transport you back to Medieval times. Other festive activities include illuminated boats in the Little Venice district, from which children’s choirs sing carols, and the chance to taste some of Alsace’s famous wine in the Christmas Wine Cellars.

Colmar can be visited as part of a shore excursions from Breisach, Germany, during a Rhine River cruise. Try this:

Christmas time in Alsace & Germany

Visiting: Frankfurt on Main - Heidelberg - Mannheim - Strasbourg - Breisach - Basel

Departing: Dec 2018

On Board: Avalon Imagery II

from £1,268pp

Vienna, Austria

Vienna Christmas Market

The city of Vienna has always been synonymous with Christmas and you can’t deny the warm, cosy feeling that spreads across the Austrian capital during December – even if temperatures are close to freezing. With more than ten different markets to explore, amidst resplendent palaces and elaborate buildings, there is sure to be something for every taste.

And speaking of taste, with Vienna being home to a café culture which involves a range of delicious baked goods, there will be plenty of tasty morsels to fuel your Christmas shopping. Away from the markets, try to find time to admire the intricate floral displays in the Hirschstetten Botanical Gardens, which are created in line with a different festive motto every year.

You can visit Vienna as part of a Danube River cruise, just like this one:

Danube Holiday Markets

Visiting : Budapest - Bratislava - Vienna - Krems - Linz - Passau

Departing: Dec 2018

On Board: S.S. Maria Theresa

Uniworld Logo

from £1,268pp

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest Christmas Market

Another stop on many Danube River cruises, Budapest shines brighter than ever during Christmas. Activities at this time of year include a performance of the Nutcracker at the Hungarian State Opera House, pool parties at some of the city’s famous open-air spas and ice skating in the City Park.

However, the highlight has to be the Advent Feast at the Basilica. Saint Stephen's Square will be filled with stalls offering the usual hand-crafted gifts, decorations and toys. Plus, there will be every opportunity to sample Budapest’s famous layered Flódni cake and a cinnamon-crusted Chimney Cake. When evening falls, 3D glasses are handed out and the beautiful basilica is bathed in a fantastic light display. Elsewhere, a special Christmas tram can take you to the other sights in this spectacular capital.

This river cruise starts in Budapest, giving you the chance to add a pre-cruise stay and spend more time exploring the Christmas markets.

15 Nights

Magnificent Europe (Christmas)

Visiting: Budapest - Bratislava - Vienna - Wachau Valley - Melk - Durnstein - Passau - Linz - Regensburg - Nuremberg - Main-Danube Canal - Bamberg - Kitzingen - Wertheim - Miltenberg - Rudesheim - Rhine Gorge - Cologne - Dusseldorf - Amsterdam

Departing: Dec 2018

On Board: AmaSerena


Rothenburg, Germany

Rothenburg Christmas Markets

We’re sure you will agree that the Medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber provides the perfect backdrop for an enchanting Christmas market. Choose a Rhine River cruise that stops in Wurzburg, like the one below, and you may well have the option to take the short trip to Rothenburg as part of a shore excursion.

One of Europe’s oldest Christmas markets is traditionally opened by the Reiterle, a hooded figured who arrives on horseback to declare a start to festivities. This charming setting offers many local delights including traditional sausages and white mulled wine. As well as the stalls on the market square, the Käthe Wohlfahrt Museum and Christmas shop prove that Christmas is not just for Christmastime in Rothenburg.

Try this great option for 2018:

8 Nights

Classic Christmas Markets

Visiting: Frankfurt on Main - Wertheim - Wurzburg - Bamberg - Nuremberg

Departing: Dec 2018

On Board: River Queen

from £2,399pp

It may be too late this year, although we do have some last-minute itineraries still available, but why not make 2018 the year you embark on a Christmas River cruise? Our team will be happy to talk you through the various options, so give them a call on 0800 954 0064.

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