When can you visit the Christmas markets on a river cruise?

Christmas markets in Europe tend to start mid-November and stay open until the end of December, with some closing just before Christmas day. They are the perfect place to enjoy a Christmas river cruise, while still experiencing the ports along the way. Popular Christmas markets include:

  • Strasbourg, France – Rhine River – 22 November to 30 December (2019)
  • Budapest, Hungary – Danube River – 23 November to 6 January (2019)
  • Vienna, Austria – Danube River – 16 November to 24 December (2019)
  • Metz, France – Moselle River – 20 November to 29 December (2019)
  • Dresden, Germany – Elbe River – 27 November to 24 December (2019)
  • Basel, Switzerland – Rhine River – 28 November to 23 December (2019)
  • Colonge, Germany – Rhine River – 26 November to 23 December (2019)

What popular gifts can you buy from the Christmas markets?

With Christmas around the corner and the bustle of the high street beckoning, why not escape to one of these European hot-spots for a shopping trip with a difference?

Germany – Nutcrackers

Traditional gift - German nutcracker on a stall

A motif used throughout Christmas decorations, the Nutcracker is a popular painted figurine which is more ornamental than functional. Depicting military figures with gaping mouths, these can be spotted throughout German Christmas markets.

According to German folklore, these items were given as keepsakes to bring good luck to your family and home, with the trinket representing power and strength. Their whimsical expressions, colourful costumes and rich history are an ideal novelty for anyone’s Christmas stocking.

Austria – Hand-painted glass baubles

Traditional Christmas gift - Glass bauble

Intricate and delicately designed, glass baubles are commonplace on many trees during Christmas. The markets in Vienna showcase many beautifully blown ornaments to carefully select with your loved ones in mind.

Schönbrunn Palace markets play to the tune of Mozart in the day, with a backdrop of the yellow Palace enveloping the stalls, and by night, twinkling lights create a glowing atmosphere as locals and tourists meander through the market.

Italy – Nativity figurines

Traditional Christmas gift - a wooden nativity

Mark Hogan / Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

Set the scene with a nativity set including a biblical cast of disciples and donkeys. Rome plays host to several stalls that showcase wooden figurines and hand-carved scenes. Visit the Piazza Navona, the main market in Rome, and select your personalised nativity set, with endless varieties and styles available. One of the most popular selections is the Jesus in a nutshell, which places the tiny tot cradled in a nutshell – a precious addition to any collection.

Across Europe – Gingerbread

Traditional Christmas gift - gingerbread heart

One of the things you will see dotted everywhere during Christmas is the gingerbread heart, sold in many Christmas markets around Europe.

Famous for its gingerbread is Gdansk, even featuring a 400-year-old Gingerbread bakery that also functions as a museum. Though not featured directly on a river cruise, you could take a trip while exploring the Elbe or Danube.

You could also opt for warmly-spiced lebkuchen, found in Nuremburg, which is sold in giant loaves.

Germany – Stollen

Traditional Christmas gift - Stollen

Heather Cowper / Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

Another German favourite is stollen, a heavy yeasted cake that is filled with fruit and marzipan. The finest is considered to originate from Dresden, where on the 8th December locals and tourists alike gather to worship a giant stollen. Stollenfest celebrates the food, parading it through the city to the Striezelmarkt, the ancient market, where the Stollenmädchen (stolen maiden) cuts the first slice.

Across Europe – Beeswax candles

Traditional Christmas gift - Beeswax candles

Jorbasa Fotografie / Flickr.com, CC BY-ND 2.0

Creating a golden glow and burning with a sweet honey fragrance, beeswax candles are a pleasant treat to gift to your family at Christmas time. This time of year, it wouldn’t be the same unless illuminated with the flickering sparkle of candlelight, and stalls are laden with traditional beeswax candles throughout Europe, each producing their own festive twist.

Exploring cities and towns during the winter months presents many magical moments, from snowy window frames to heavenly scents of Glühwein. Enjoy walking between the festive stalls of Europe’s best Christmas markets while selecting pretty presents for your family and friends back home.

A Christmas market next to the river in Holland

Would you like to sail on a river cruise during Christmas? Have you experienced a festive river cruise? Let us know in the comments below!

Post updated: 13/08/2019

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About Emma Smith

Emma has more than seven years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for nearly five years. She loves learning about new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Princess Cruises, Cunard, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Avalon Waterways and Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in her diary for 2024! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.

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