Explore Europe’s Christmas markets by ship

Explore Europe’s Christmas markets by ship

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Imagine a way in which it would be possible to explore two or three Christmas markets per day over a several day period in pampered comfort, the hassle of driving and parking replaced by the dilemma of which treat from the buffet to sample next.

This could, in fact, be your reality, should you opt to book a river cruise in November or December. Once the Christmas markets are up and running, a number of cruise operators offer three-day itineraries calling into certain cities. When passengers aren’t out in one of the ports of call, perusing the market stalls or drinking a glühwein, they’re on board, enjoying delicious meals or perhaps just sitting in a glassed-in lounge, taking in the wintry landscape while remaining toasty warm themselves.

Itineraries are available for routes along the Danube, Mosel and Rhine rivers, and cruises begin and end in the same city. Among the most popular itineraries are Passau, Vienna and Linz (Austria) along the Danube and Cologne, Amsterdam and Nijmegen (Netherlands) along the Rhine. River cruises in France are also an option.

A few years back, my husband and I booked such a cruise along the Rhine. We drove to Cologne, parked in a garage that offered reduced rates for passengers, and boarded our ship, luxuriously appointed and almost brand-new. We were taken aback to discover we were the only native English speakers on board, but in retrospect, it was small wonder, given we’d booked it from a German travel agent. The front office crew, mostly Dutch, were happy to speak English with us. Our cabin was small but beautiful, and the common spaces elegant and decked out for the holidays. We opted to take our meals from a lavish buffet.

Our ports of call were Bonn’s market for several hours on the first the evening, followed by a stop in Rüdesheim the next morning. The market was closed, and not much was happening at that early hour, so we amused ourselves by walking the streets and vineyards and stopping in at a bakery for coffee. Museum visits would have also been an option. From there, the ship headed back in the direction of Cologne, and we had ample time to explore Koblenz in the evening hours before disembarking the following morning. The price tag on our two-night, three-city adventure came in at well under 200 euros per person.

Given most of our fellow passengers were older Germans, we thought if we were to do it again, it would be fun to repeat it amongst a circle of friends. While there are cruises out there marketed toward British and Americans you may well find their options in a completely different price range. The cruise I experienced was offered by Phoenix Reisen, but this is only one of several such operators. The search for a cruise that’s just right for you and yours could start with a visit to a local travel agent.

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