What To Expect On Christmas Markets River Cruises

What To Expect On Christmas Markets River Cruises
European river cruises are one of today’s most popular cruise vacations. These sailings combine an irresistible blend of history, culture, cuisine, and unique experiences. Cruising along Europe’s waterways during the holiday season adds a wide variety of festive events to the mix. These cruises allow guests to experience dazzling Christmas markets in some of Europe’s most historic cities and towns.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, Viking River Cruises, AmaWaterways, Tauck, and other companies offer European river cruise itineraries during November and December’s Christmas markets season. AmaWaterways, for example, operates seven distinct holiday markets cruise itineraries during this time period. With so many choices, it’s wise to research the available options to learn more about the various ports and itineraries the cruise lines offer.

The holidays are a special time to take a European river cruise. These sailings are a stress-free way to experience many different European cities and Christmas markets in a short period of time. Guests are surrounded by the sights and smells of the Christmas season, both indoors and out. Travelers can enjoy century-old traditions, and everyone gets in the spirit of the season.

If you're considering taking Christmas markets river cruise in Europe, here are 11 things to keep in mind when planning your trip.

1. It's A Different Kind Of River Cruise

Although the river routes may be identical, a European Christmas markets cruise is not the same type of vacation experience as a river cruise taken during the spring, summer, or fall. The emphasis is primarily on the traditions of the holiday season rather than the historic cities and villages themselves. The weather is also different, with ports sometimes blanketed in snow.

This presents a wonderful opportunity for those who love river cruising to visit their favorite European ports during another time. There are so many special activities, excursions, and types of entertainment to enjoy. Of course, festive Christmas markets sailings are appealing to first-time river cruise guests as well.

2. Europe's Christmas Markets Have Set Schedule

If experiencing a wide range of Christmas markets is important, it's key to research the opening dates for markets in each port on your river cruise itinerary. Most European Christmas markets open in late November or early December, but some begin in mid-November. Most Christmas markets stay open until December 23rd or 24th, while a few operate through early January. To avoid disappointment, check the dates for each major Christmas market and keep them in mind when booking your river cruise.

3. Each Christmas Market Is Unique

The start of Advent generally marks the beginning of Europe’s Christmas markets season. Each town’s markets are different, offering a variety of handcrafted gifts and holiday goods. Stalls are filled with vendors selling items such as ornaments, candles, steaming hot drinks, delicious gingerbread and pastries, savory sausages, and various other treats. If you see something you love, buy it. You may never find it again.

While European Christmas markets often feature similar types of goods, prices can be quite different. Certain Christmas markets are known for different kinds of items. If you have a significant purchase in mind, such as a handcrafted nativity scene or inlaid wooden music box, talk with your Cruise Manager to find out which port might be the best place to buy it.

4. Plan To Bring The Right Clothing

Determining what to wear on a European Christmas markets river cruise can be challenging due to weather extremes. Temperatures can be windy and below freezing for a few days, then warm up considerably. Snowy days can make the Christmas markets even more festive, but heavy rain is also possible.

It’s best to dress in layers and be prepared for any kind of weather. Bring along a waterproof down parka, warm hat, phone-compatible gloves, a scarf, long underwear or thermal leggings, numerous pairs of warm socks, and waterproof boots with good treads for walking over cobblestones and dealing with ice and snow. Make sure to break in your boots before your trip.

5. Packing Wisely Is Key

Experienced Christmas markets river cruisers know to set aside lots of space for their purchases. Bring a packable duffle bag and bubble wrap for delicate items. Some guests prefer to pack their heavy winter coats in their checked luggage on the way to Europe, leaving that space for purchases on their return trip. Other items that can be important include a portable phone charger and a universal adaptor for your electronics. Consider bringing your own bag for shopping in the Christmas markets, too.

6. It's Important To Set A Budget

European Christmas markets are filled with beautifully decorated wooden stalls selling a tempting array of merchandise. With all that’s available, it’s easy to get sidetracked into spending more than you had planned. Determine your budget before your trip and allocate some funds for food purchases.

Cash is king at European Christmas markets since few vendors accept credit cards. It’s important to be aware of this in advance and plan accordingly. Look for banks with secure, well-monitored indoor ATMs in ports of call or plan to arrive in Europe with Euros.

7. Shopping Opportunities Abound

Shopping at your first Christmas market can be overwhelming, particularly if your cruise starts in Nuremberg. Nuremberg has one of Europe’s largest Christmas markets, with nearly 200 wooden stalls selling everything from traditional German nutcrackers and handmade Christmas ornaments to warm hats and embroidered scarves. Don't spend all of your money at the beginning of your cruise. Research the markets you’ll be visiting in advance, and make sure to set aside some of your shopping budget for Christmas markets you’ll be visiting later in your cruise.

Christmas market stalls are loaded with beautiful merchandise, and so are the stores along the streets nearby. Don't miss them. I made some my best purchases in little boutiques I discovered while wandering along the cobblestone streets in charming ports of call. If you’re planning to purchase handmade traditional German Christmas ornaments and gifts, look for Käthe Wohlfahrt stores and stalls in Germany and Switzerland. Ask your Cruise Manager about other stores as well.

8. Be Prepared For Crowds

Europe's Christmas markets are popular events. Some of the biggest Christmas markets, including Prague, Nuremberg, Dresden, and Strasbourg, each attract millions of people yearly. Visiting the markets during weekdays is best.

If your ship's itinerary includes visiting major markets on the weekends, expect them to be packed with masses of people. Crowds also come to the Christmas markets in the evenings to enjoy the lights and holiday ambiance. As with any crowded environment, it's essential to keep an eye on your belongings.

9. The Holiday Decorations Are Amazing

During the Christmas markets season, historic cities and towns turn into fairy winter wonderlands filled with festive holiday decorations. Each city is beautifully decorated. Some markets also have unique decorations and features to appreciate. Some of these include Basel's Wish Book, Trier's puppet show, and Nuremberg's Christkind.

10. Food Is Half The Fun

One of the main draws of a European Christmas markets cruise is the food. The drinks are incredible as well. Christmas markets are filled with stalls selling roasted chestnuts, decorated gingerbread men, mugs of warm spiced wine, pastries, sausages, chocolates, and more. The countries and cities offer somewhat different fare. Nuremberg is known for its delicious gingerbread and Rostbratwurst, while Frankfurt is famed for its apple wine and Bethmännchen marzipan Christmas cookies.

Each European Christmas market has its own unique mug for hot mulled wine called Glühwein, punch, and other hot drinks. These mugs make wonderful souvenirs, and you’ll remember your trip each time you use them at home. When you purchase a mug of Glühwein at a European Christmas market, a cash deposit is required to ensure the mug’s return. That gives you the option of keeping it. Occasionally, some stands will allow you to exchange your used wine-stained cup for a new, clean one. Since there are many Glühwein stands in every market, you may wish to ask about that possibility before purchasing.

11. Ships Continue The Festive Holiday Spirit On Board

Holiday food is a highlight aboard river cruise ships. Dining experiences are extraordinary, featuring regional food and wine selections and plenty of festive fare. On Christmas markets river cruises, guests enjoy Glühwein, hot chocolate, hot apple cider, traditional gingerbread, extravagant holiday dinners, German Christmas Stollen, holiday cookies, and other traditional treats.

Decorations on the ships tend to be lavish as well. River cruise lines go all-out with holiday decorations, and many ships' decorations are handmade. Onboard activities also add to the festive nature of these Christmas markets cruises. Some of these include gingerbread-making classes, tree decorating contests, caroling, and themed parties.

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