If your idea of the perfect festive getaway includes hopping on a Christmas market cruise along Europe's timeless rivers, look no further. We've compiled this list of the best Christmas market cruises so you can set sail to your ideal destinations without the stress of making your own itinerary.
From the fairytale landscapes along the Rhine to the historical elegance of the Danube, these cruises are a holiday dream come true. Imagine exploring medieval towns as they glow under thousands of Christmas lights, sipping hot cocoa as you shop for handcrafted treasures, and experiencing the warmth of holiday traditions in iconic cities.
The Best Christmas Market River Cruises
Embarking on the perfect Christmas market river cruise shouldn't involve navigating a maze of planning details. Luckily, we've done all the work. Discover the most enchanting markets along Europe's scenic rivers without the hassle of meticulous planning.
Featuring Vienna’s twinkling lights and the quaint corners of Cologne, we have the inside scoop on the best cruises, coziest cabins and must-visit holiday markets. Join us as we unwrap the joy of stress-free holiday travel, guiding you towards the Christmas cruise in some of the best places to visit in Europe that feels like it was tailor-made for you.
Looking for a quick Canadian Christmas break to see you through the winter? Check out our guide to the best Christmas markets in Canada for all the festive inspiration you need.
1. Cologne with Tui
Locations: Mainz, Bonn, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Koblenz
Duration: 5 nights
Discover Cologne and other beautiful German cities with Festive Flavours by TUI. You'll find yourself in some of Germany's most iconic places, where incredible landmarks act as backdrops to Christmas markets in the country that invented them.
Cologne is at the centre of this five-night cruise, with its unforgettable Christmas market featuring an 80-foot Christmas tree, over 130 chalets to do your holiday shopping at, and a canopy of lights as far as the eye can see.
2. The Danube and Rhine with Avalon Waterways
Locations: Vienna, Melk, Grein, Passau, Regensburg, Nuremburg, Munich, Bamberg, Würzburg, Miltenberg, Frankfurt, Rudesheim, Speyer, Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Breisach, Black Forest, Basel
Duration: 15 nights
If five nights just aren't long enough, why not spend a whopping fifteen nights cruising your way through the Danube and Rhine rivers with Avalon Waterways? Starting in Vienna, Austria's treasure trove, and wrapping up in the heart of Germany in Frankfurt, this Christmastime adventure is all about the charm.
When you land in Vienna, be sure to visit the Benedictine Abbey, one of Europe’s most architecturally breathtaking monasteries. Then, Nuremberg awaits with one of the world's largest Christmas markets and a day trip to Munich, which adds a Bavarian touch with toasted almonds and gingerbread.
Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasts nativity scenes that are sure to bring out your inner child. In Würzburg, let the ornate Bishop’s Residence take your breath away before sipping hot mulled wine at the Christmas markets. As you meander through charming small towns aglow with Christmas lights, you're sure to make memories that last a lifetime.
3. The Seine with Viking
Locations: Paris, Vernon, Caudebec-en-Caux, Rouen, Les Andelys
Duration: 7 nights
Enjoy Christmas on the Seine with Viking Cruises. Explore one of the most romantic cities in the world, Paris, making time for the abundance of music, film, architecture, literature, dance and visual arts. At the centre of the city is the Champs-Élysées. With its inviting riverside promenade, historic bridges and unparalleled views of all things Parisian, from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre Museum.
You'll sail through Normandy's snow-covered landscapes, admire the cobblestone streets of Vernon, and peruse the 70 market stalls in Rouen's Cathedral Square, overlooked by incredible Gothic architecture. Once you've seen a few more fairytale towns, you'll head back to Paris in time for their Christmas markets, where they combine traditional market stall offerings with carnival-themed attractions.
4. The Danube and Prague with Emerald Cruises
Locations: Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Krems, Dürnstein, Passau, Regensburg, Prague
Duration: 10 nights
Experience five incredible countries on the Christmas Markets on the Danube & Classic Prague cruise by Emerald Cruises. Start in Budapest, the Hungarian capital, where you'll find a unique blend of cultures, cuisine and vibrant lifestyles. Find time for the Christmas market, where you'll find unique handcrafted ornaments and colourful strings of lights lining the streets.
For art lovers, there's no place quite like Vienna, which boasts sweeping boulevards, ornate Baroque palaces and the largest gallery in the world. There are more incredible markets to enjoy in Regensburg before your journey culminates in the postcard-perfect city of Prague, where colourful stalls owned by local artisans are full of handcrafted ornaments and delicious Czech Christmas treats.
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5. Germany to Hungary with AmaWaterways
Locations: Nuremberg, Passau, Melk, Wachau Valley, Vienna, Budapest
Duration: 7 nights
Step back in time this Christmas with AmaWaterways' Iconic Christmas Markets cruise, where cobblestone streets wind through cities and towns adorned with sparkling Christmas trees and charming wooden huts brimming with handcrafted treasures.
Immerse yourself in enchanting Christmas Markets. Explore Nuremberg's historic Christkindlesmarkt, a time-honoured spectacle and Germany's largest Christmas market, before revelling in the romantic Artisan Christmas Market at Thurn, Austria. Head onto Taxis Castle in Regensburg and discover Vienna's majestic Christmas Markets that seemingly materialize around every corner. Finally, bask in the festive glow of Budapest’s Vörösmarty Square, where market delights are crafted by skilled hands.
6. Switzerland and Germany with Scenic
Locations: Amsterdam, Cologne, Koblenz, Heidelberg, Rastatt, Baden-Baden, Kehl, Strasbourg, Basel Montreaux, Bern, Zurich
Duration: 11 nights
Travel in style with Scenic on their Rhine and Switzerland Christmas market cruise. Your journey begins in the harbour city of Amsterdam, where you can wander the canals, go on a cycling tour, or explore the nearby village of Edam.
Explore the famous Cologne Christmas markets, learn about the rich heritage of the picturesque Baden-Baden and hike to see views of the Black Forest before marvelling at the World Heritage-listed Rhine Gorge.
Throughout your Scenic cruise, you'll encounter the warming aroma of Gluhwein, roasted chestnuts and bustling markets ready to welcome you with open arms.
7. France with European Waterways
Locations: Krafft, Strasbourg, Waltenheim-sur-Zorn, Saverne, Lutzelbourg, Niderviller
Duration: 6 nights
If you want to have the most intimate Christmas cruise experience possible, why not book European Waterways' Christmas Market Cruise in Alsace and Lorraine? Panache is a 12-person luxury hotel barge that you can book for up to 11 of your closest friends. You can even expect a champagne welcome on your first day.
You'll find gourmet foods and festive scenes during your stop at Colmar's six Christmas markets, breathe heavenly scents at the Musée du Chocolat and workshop in Strasbourg and, balance-permitting, hit the ice rink in Saverne if you want to!
On your last full day, you'll embark on a walking tour of the ancient town of Sarrebourg, including visits to the 13th-century chapel containing Marc Chagall’s stained-glass window and the museum of Roman and Medieval artifacts. Your personal chef on board the Panache will cook up a storm for the Captain's Farewell Dinner before you're dropped off the next morning in the Strasbourg location of your choice.
8. The Rhine and Amsterdam with A-Rosa
Locations: Cologne, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Utrecht
Duration: 5 nights
Immerse yourself in a Dutch and Belgian way of life with A-Rosa's Rhine River Cruise. Starting in Cologne will definitely get you into the Christmas spirit as soon as you see the glimmering decorations of the giant Christmas tree. Enjoy the futuristic city of Rotterdam, discover the Dutch-style Christmas markets of Amsterdam and take in the dazzling Amsterdam Light Festival.
See how Utrecht is transformed into a fairytale city during Advent and Christmas as you walk through the back the city’s streets, weaving through Christmas trees, and following the warm glow to the cathedral.
9. Germany with CroisiEurope
Locations: Berlin, Magdeburg, Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Meissen, Dresden
Duration: 6 nights
If you want to head to destinations that nobody you know is heading for, book CrosiEurope's Christmas on the Elbe cruise, one of Europe's lesser-known rivers. You won't be heading to the middle of nowhere, though. Your cruise starts in Berlin, with must-see Christmas markets and the glorious Cecilienhof Palace.
On your travels, you’ll visit the old town of Meissen, which is famous for its porcelain and magnificent markets. Your last full day will take place on Christmas Day in Dresden, where you'll be treated to a Bach concert, and each guest will be given a gift.
10. The Netherlands and the Rhine with Nicko Cruises
Locations: Cologne, Amsterdam, Nijmegen
Duration: 3 nights
If a shorter trip to get into the festive spirit is what you're after, Nicko Cruises' three-night Dutch Advent Taster might be just the one for you. Pass by the Netherlands’ serene winter landscapes, soak up the atmosphere of Cologne at Christmas, and discover the cities of Amsterdam and Nijmegen.
You'll see Amsterdam illuminated in the evening as you cruise through the seemingly endless network of canals, admire rows and rows of 16th and 17th-century houses, and enjoy seasonal shopping with breaks at idyllic cafes.
Step back in time to Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands, and engross yourself in over two thousand years of history as you walk in the footsteps of medieval people through small, winding streets.
If you’ve just moved to Ontario or you want to get to know the area better, the Ask Genie section of our is the place to be. Here, you’ll find guides on the best spas in Ontario, The Heartland Province’s best resorts, and much more.
Handy Tips for Christmas Market Cruises
Booking a Christmas market cruise can be the ultimate holiday treat. To make sure your trip runs smoothly, check out these seven handy Christmas market cruise tips:
- Plan in advance: Christmas market cruises are popular, and the best ones fill up quickly. Plan and book well in advance to secure your preferred dates and cabins.
- Choose your route wisely: Consider the cities and markets you want to visit. Whether it's the historic charm of German markets or the cultural richness of Austria, pick a route that has the destinations you're after.
- Look for special features: Some cruises offer unique features like themed dinners, local entertainment and special holiday activities. Check the itinerary for these extra touches that can elevate your trip to new heights.
- Research cruise lines: Different cruise lines have varying styles and amenities. Some are more luxurious, while others cater to a more casual atmosphere. Do some research with your preferences and budget in mind.
- Check cabin amenities: Cabins can vary widely in size and features. Decide what's important to you, whether you'd rather have a suite or a cozy space to rest after a day of exploring.
- Review inclusions: Look into what's included in the cruise package. Some cruises include excursions, meals, and drinks, while others may have additional charges.
- Take advantage of early booking deals: Many cruise lines offer early booking incentives, such as discounted prices or added perks. Keep an eye out for these deals to maximize your savings.
Book Your Dream Christmas Market Cruise With Help From Spin Genie
There you have it! The best festive cruises, complete with packed Christmas market itineraries. Whichever one you've got your eye on, the whistlestop tour of the Netherlands with Nicko Cruises or the intimate and luxurious European Waterways trip across France, we hope you have a wonderful time.
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FAQs About Christmas Market Cruises
How Much is a Christmas River Cruise in Europe?
The cost of a European Christmas river cruise can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the cruise line you choose, how long you want to be on the water, the specific itinerary, the type of cabin, and any additional amenities.
On average, you can expect prices to start from a few hundred dollars per person for shorter cruises and can go up to several thousand dollars for longer or more luxurious cruises.
What Are the Best Christmas Market Cruises in Europe?
The 'best' Christmas market cruises will depend on your personal preferences when it comes to destinations, amenities, and sleeping arrangements. Below are a few of the most popular Christmas market cruises in Europe.
- Viking River Cruises: Viking is renowned for its elegant river cruises, and its Christmas market cruises along the Rhine and Danube rivers are popular. Picture exploring festive markets in cities like Cologne, Nuremberg, and Vienna.
- AmaWaterways: AmaWaterways is celebrated for its themed cruises, and their Christmas market cruises are no exception. Sail along the Rhine or the Danube, enjoying the magical atmosphere of European Christmas markets.
- Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection: Uniworld offers luxurious river cruises, and their Christmas cruise offering is a blend of elegance and holiday cheer. Imagine sipping mulled wine as you stroll through markets in cities like Strasbourg and Budapest.
Is the Rhine or Danube Better for Christmas Markets?
Both the Rhine and the Danube rivers offer incredible experiences during the holiday season, and it's tough to determine which one is 'better' as it mostly depends on your tastes!
The Rhine, with its fairytale landscapes and iconic cities like Cologne and Strasbourg, offers a magical backdrop for festive markets. It blends German, French, and Swiss holiday traditions.
The Danube weaves through historic cities like Vienna and Budapest, where grandeur meets history, creating a regal backdrop for Christmas markets. Vienna's elegance and Nuremberg's medieval charm add unique flavours to the holiday festivities.
What Cruise Lines Have Christmas Market Cruises?
These 10 operators offer Christmas market river cruises:
- Ambassador Cruise Line
- Cunard Line
- Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines
- P&O Cruises
- Saga Cruises
- Viking Ocean Cruises
- Avalon Waterways
- Tauck: Danube Family River Cruise
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