From the first Sunday in Advent through Christmas Eve all across Europe, magical Christmas Markets spring up along the Danube and Rhine rivers allowing you to celebrate in authentic style where many Christmas traditions were first created.
The very best way to travel back centuries and truly experience these traditional holiday towns throughout Germany, Austria, Hungary and other idyllic places, is on a luxurious river cruise visiting the very best of Europe's charming Christmas Markets.
There are dozens of markets to decide from and many ways to experience Europe during the holidays. Whether you choose a Christmas Market river cruise with AmaWaterways, Uniworld, Viking, Crystal or Tauck, you won't be disappointed. You will, however, be dazzled by the bright colors and lights, handcrafted gifts, traditional flavors, historic sites, children's choirs, and intense holiday aromas of Europe at its most festive time of year.
Most of our experts have experienced these river cruises and visited these Christmas Markets firsthand, so call us to plan your perfect holiday journey. And read on for our favorite Christmas Markets and highlights from each.
Set in the city's medieval square, the "little town of wood and cloth" shines in the heart of Nuremberg’s Old Town. This legendary “Christmas City” is the largest and oldest Christmas Market in Germany and is known for its festive atmosphere with over 180 market stalls brightly shining with lights and traditional holiday decorations you won't see anywhere else on earth.
What to buy: One of the most unique and most popular local items is the zwetschgenmännle or "prune man", a small figurine made from dried prunes and figs. With hundreds to choose from, these well-loved, hand-crafted statuettes are said to have been invented by a Nuremberg wire drawer in the 18th century and have been sold at this market for decades.
What to try: The enticing smells of mulled wine, rum punch, roasted almonds and gingerbread will fill the air (and you'll want to fill your stomach), but save room for a Nuremberg favorite that's not-to-be-missed—the delicious drei im weggla—three small Bavarian bratwursts served on warm, homemade rolls.
While there are over a dozen Christmas Markets in Vienna, the market held in front of the baroque Schönbrunn Palace is one of the most elegant. A towering Christmas tree overlooks the square and stalls sell gorgeous handmade items unique to Austria. Lanterns are hung in the trees to create a Christmas spirit as church choirs sing, and on the right night, a light dusting of snow makes this one of the most beautiful places to celebrate the yule in all of Europe.
What to buy: You'll find more crafts than you count at this Christmas Market, including hand-painted, pressed-tin ornaments, artisan nativity sets and more—but this is the place to find an original Viennese snow globe! Invented not too far from Schönbrunn in 1900 by Erwin Perzy I, the first design—the Basilica of Maria Zell—contained snow made from ground rice.
What to try: The fragrance of freshly baked vanillekipferl—Austrian vanilla crescent cookies—along with hot, rum-spiked fruit punch fills the air and creates a wonderful atmosphere, but the tastiest treat to try is baumkuchen, a cone-shaped pastry rolled in nuts or sugar.
Every year the charming courtyard of the famous Palais Thurn und Taxis in this beautifully preserved Medieval city is transformed into a can't-miss Christmas destination. Offering both a bustling market and beautiful cultural events all winter long, this romantic Bavarian palace is still home to the Prince and his family, but during the holiday season serves as the stage for one of the most quaint and quintessential Christmas Markets in all of Europe.
What to buy: There are endless varieties of votive candle holders, ceramics and handmade wooden toys and dolls to be found as well as alpaca wool products like gloves, hats and scarves, but one of the best gifts to bring home from this market is a bottle of the Bavarian spirit known as Karmelitengeist—a delicious local liquor dating back to 1721.
What to try: Here you can eat a flammkuchen, a crispy and smoky German pizza and sip a variety of mulled wines called glühwein. Roughly translated as “glow-wine” due to the hot irons once used for mulling, these German treats are made from red wine, heated and spiced with cinnamon, cloves, star anise, citrus, sugar and vanilla. But the best of the mulled wines may be the heidelbeerglühwein—warm blueberry wine served with a side of roasted chestnuts.
Vörösmarty Tér Christmas Fair
The oldest and most internationally acclaimed Hungarian holiday markets is found in the heart of Budapest in the bustling and beautiful Vörösmarty Square. The Christmas Fair here s considered one of the busiest and best in Central Europe, but what makes this market so magical is that all the products sold there are guaranteed to be traditionally handmade by craftsmen.
What to buy: You'll see an array of carved wood products, beautiful pottery and one-of-a-kind ceramics, but if you want to give something completely unique, find a gorgeous piece of Hungarian folk art or come home with a classic folk-music instrument hand-made by a local artisan.
What to try: You'll want to try the street food: grilled Hungarian sausages, goulash, stuffed cabbage and cinnamon-scented apple punch infused with Hungary’s fruit-based pálinka brandy. But the treat you need to eat is kurtoskalacs (Hungarian “chimney bread”), cylindrical "cakes" grilled over an open fire and then rolled in cinnamon sugar, chopped walnuts, ground almonds or coconut.
Located along the Danube in a beautiful town in Lower Bavaria, also known as the Dreiflüssestadt (or "City of Three Rivers"), this famous Christmas Market annually attracts locals and visitors from all over the globe. Set against the imposing backdrop of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the heart of Passau’s enchanting Old Town, you'll discover a variety of gifts, time-honored craftsmanship, inspirational art and regional delicacies everywhere you look.
What to buy: You'll find locally produced honey and beeswax candles, beautiful blown-glass ornaments and ceramic salt cellars, but one of the favorite gifts are the hand-carved wooden Bavarian nutcrackers, an iconic symbol of the Christmas season.
What to try: You'll want to have a piece of delicious lebkuchen (German gingerbread) but the best bite of all might be the sengzelten, a fresh baked rye flatbread covered with locally sourced ham and cheese and topped with sour cream and chives.
This Christmas, experience the historic magic of the holidays while shopping for one-of-a-kind treasures, tasting delicious treats and discovering the legends behind some of our most popular holiday traditions.
Whether you're there for the tasty treats, the trinkets or the holiday tradition, a Christmas Market cruise through Europe is a timeless journey that will make you believe in the spirit of winter season all over again.
For information or inspiration on the top holiday river cruises and the very best Christmas Markets to visit and when, speak to a CruiseInsider expert at (877) 734-6858.
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