Avid Cruiser Voyages: A Christmas Markets River Cruise

We’ve already touched on European river cruising as an essential Avid Cruiser Voyage, but Europe’s Christmas Markets are worthy of a separate voyage designation in their own right.

Nuremberg has one of Europe's best Christmas Markets.

Nuremberg’s Christmas Market is one of the oldest in Europe — and a popular port of embarkation for many river cruises. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

At the outset, you might be forgiven for assuming that a river cruise during the chill of December could not possibly be as rewarding as a voyage down the Danube or up the Rhine in the warmer summer months. Yes, a European river cruise during the summer months is an endlessly rewarding cruise vacation for those who are experiencing the continent for the first time, or the hundredth.

But a Christmas Markets River Cruise offers so much more.

Passau is home Christmas Markets in Germany.

Guests aboard Tauck’s ms Treasures disembark in Passau on a snowy morning. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

The Allure Of Christmas Markets River Cruises

To start with, these remarkable voyages — which typically begin in late November and run until early January — are operated during what is traditionally referred to as the off-season, though this is changing as river cruising and the Christmas Markets gain in popularity. One advantage of cruising in the off-season is that tourists in major cities like Amsterdam, Vienna and Budapest don’t approach the level found during the spring and summer months (though on our recent December visit to Amsterdam, the line to visit Anne Frank’s house still wrapped around the block.)

The Christmas Markets themselves are part of the allure of these voyages. No two are alike, and each boasts its own unique foods, beverages and wares. Even the mugs that piping hot Gluhwein (spiced, mulled red wine) are served in are unique. In Vienna alone, more than a dozen Christmas Markets are offered within the city — and each has its own distinct mug, theme and feel.

Vienna's Rathaus has one of the largest Christmas Markets in the city.

The market in front of Vienna’s Rathaus is one of the largest in the city. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Visiting Vienna On A Christmas Markets River Cruise

Vienna is an excellent example of just how amazing these voyages are. Beautiful at any time of the year, Vienna during the run up to Christmas positively glows. Elaborate light displays are erected above the shops that line the famous Kärntnerstrasse, while the magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral is decked out in a festive light display that splashes the interior of the church with kaleidoscopic colored light.

In front of the Rathaus is Vienna’s most impressive Christkindlesmarkt. But if you’re willing to walk an easy 10 minutes over to Maria-Theresien-Platz, you can find another stunning Christmas Market in the shadow of the Naturhistoriches Museum and the Kunsthistoriches (or Art) Museum. Just another 10 minutes away, another Christmas Market takes place in front of the Victorian-era Freyung Passage.

Add in a little snow and some chilly temperatures, and you have yourself a veritable storybook Christmas in Europe. And there’s nothing “humbug” about that.

Gluhwein is easy to find at Christmas Markets.

A little Gluhwein to take off the chill in Passau, Germany. Photo © 2012 Aaron Saunders

Nuremberg, One Of Europe’s Oldest Christmas Markets

The German city of Nuremberg boasts one of the largest and oldest Christmas Markets in Europe, and is an absolute must-see. The market is held in the historic Hauptmarkt square, in the shadow of Nuremberg Castle. Here, you can sip some warming Gluhwein (which seems to taste just a little bit spicier than elsewhere), or take home one of the unique “Prune Men” as a souvenir. Be forewarned: The crowds here on weekend calls can be thick.

On a Christmas Markets voyage last year from Nuremberg to Budapest, we barely saw any other river cruise ships. Our recent voyage was a different story, with ships berthed near or next to us in almost any port. It’s a sign of success for the river cruise companies. Clearly, there is demand for these voyages, regardless of the cold or the rain or the snow that can punctuate these sailings.

There can be a lot of magic aboard a European Christmas Markets River Cruise. Try one for yourself, and see why December is quickly becoming our favorite month to take a river cruise.