Nothing says Christmas in Europe quite like a Christmas markets cruise. Seemingly overnight, magical towns of wood, cloth and dazzling colors pop up in town squares across Europe. The air is filled with the scent of mulled wine and hot sausages and the sounds of Christmas music. It almost feels like Santa’s workshop as children explore the toy-filled stores with wide-eyed wonder.
Christmas markets originated in Germany, Austria and Alsace, and trace their roots back to the Late Middle Ages. Today, Christmas markets cruises have become popular all over Europe. Famous markets along the Danube include the Nuremberg, Regensburg, Salzburg, Vienna and Budapest markets.
Set up in the Nuremberg Main Market Square, the Nuremberg Christmas market is opened by the Christmas Angel on the Friday before the first Advent Sunday every year. This market is the most well known of the Christmas markets in Germany. You’ll find lots of traditional wares at the market, including the Nuremberg spicy gingerbread, and “Plum People” or figurines made from prunes. Snack on roast sausages and keep the chill away with mugs of mulled wine as you browse stalls offering Christmas tree ornaments, handmade toys, and more. City officials keep a watchful eye on the goods for sale, ensuring the highest quality goods and the best atmosphere so you won’t find any plastic fir garlands or piped muzak in this market.
The best thing about Regensburg is that there’s not one but four Christmas markets scattered around the city. The main Regensburg Christmas Market set up around the centuries-old Neupfarr Church was once voted as the one of the loveliest markets in Germany. The Romantic Christmas Market in the courtyard of the Thurn und Taxis Palace is host to a variety of cultural events, including themed nights like the Night of the Choirs. The Advent Market at the Spitalgarden is one of the best places to sample traditional Bavarian offerings while children will find the Craftsmen Lucrezia Christmas Market particularly interesting as artists and craftsmen show off handmade toys like dolls, marionettes and more.
The Salzburg Christmas market is located in the Dom and the Residenz Palace. Visitors will be serenaded by the Christmas carolers and musicians on French horns, trombones and more. The air is perfumed with the scent of roasted almonds and hot chestnuts. You can choose to warm yourself with a cup of Gluhwein (mulled wine), or the more active can take a turn around the skating rink. As always, there is a selection of delicious hot food, hand crafted toys, and other delightful Christmas presents on sale at the market. This market is offered as an optional day tour on a Europe river cruise from Passau.
Vienna comes alive during the Christmas season with markets found on practically every street corner. Don’t miss the decorated trees at the Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt outside the Vienna City Hall tree. A little way outside the city, Shonbrunn castle, the former summer residence of the Austrian Emperors provides the perfect backdrop to a Christmas market. The historic quarter of Spittelburg with its narrow alleyways and many hidden courtyards plays host to one of the city’s largest and most authentic markets. Those on a Europe River cruise will usually enjoy a full day to explore Vienna.
Christmas markets in Budapest offer something a little special – all products are handmade and their quality is guaranteed by the Hungarian Society of Folk Arts. You’ll also find traditional Hungarian foods like strudel, kurtos kalacs pastries, and the deep friend langos dough. Concerts are staged on the outdoor stage and the Christmas scents of mulled wine, cinnamon, fir, and honey cookies fill the air. Don’t miss the Gerbeaud Confectionary’s famous Advent Calendar, where a new decorated window is opened at 5pm every day.