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10 Can't-Miss Christmas Market River Cruises
Explore storybook settings, savor mulled drinks and pick up homemade treats in lively European markets.
Embrace time-honored traditions and explore medieval villages on a trip to remember.
Where: Vienna, Austria, on the Danube River
Vienna's ever-expanding variety of Christmas markets, or Krippenmarkt as they were originally called, date back to 1298 and take place across the entire city. The largest of Vienna's 20 Christmas markets are located near some of the Imperial City's most iconic landmarks. Take the majestic Vienna City Hall, which hosts one of the most popular and family-oriented markets. Vendors sell traditional handcrafted Christmas gifts and colorful glass ornaments. What's more, food stalls fill the air with aromas of grilled, sautéed and fried treats. Inside city hall, children's activities include baking cookies and making candles.
Where: Rüdesheim, Germany, on the Rhine River
Every year, Rüdesheim on the Rhine hosts their Christmas Market of Nations. Along the riverfront and up the hill into the old town, vendors from 20 nations set up festive natural wood stalls. With Christmas items that range from German hand-tooled leather belts to Finnish reindeer pelts, shoppers have a host of gifts to pick from. The scent of hot mulled wine fills the air, against a backdrop of harvested vineyards. Foodies can sample treats from various nations from food stalls set up along narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways throughout the old town. Walk along 15th-century Drosselgasse and stop for a local favorite: a flaming cup of Rüdesheimer coffee.
Where: Miltenberg, Germany, on the Main River
Medieval Miltenberg, located in Northern Bavaria on the Main River between the Danube and the Rhine rivers, welcomes visitors to its glowing Christmas markets on the four weekends before Christmas. A short walk from the river dock to the old town, Miltenberg buzzes with festive events and activities for everyone. Vendor stalls line the old market square, where you'll find the oldest coaching inn and pub in Germany located in the center of the town. Take time to admire centuries-old half-timbered homes and medieval architecture along the cobbled streets, while sipping a cup of hot Glühwein.
Where: Strasbourg, France, on the Rhine River
Strasbourg hosts one of the largest and oldest Christmas markets in Europe. Located on the Rhine in the heart of Alsace region, Strasbourg features more than 300 Christmas market stalls. To get to Strasbourg, river cruise passengers take a 15- to 20-minute motor coach ride from the port of Kehl, Germany, and cross the Bridge of Europe into France. From the public bus depot, crisscross the streets and head to the heart of Strasbourg's Christmas markets at the towering, gothic Strasbourg Cathedral. Leave at least a couple of hours to wander through Le Petite France, a not-to-be-missed area with plenty of charm, culture and history.
Where: Budapest, Hungary, on the Danube River
Unlike most German cities where Christmas market season ends on or about Christmas Eve, Budapest extends the festivities for an additional week. While there are several bustling Christmas markets in Budapest, the most popular and least commercialized is located at Vorosmarty Square in the city center. With an emphasis on quality and tradition, products sold in Budapest include everything from beautiful handmade knitted woolens, tooled leather goods, crystal ornaments and wood carvings to Hungarian lace items. Foods also take on the hint of a bygone era. Homemade sausages, traditional Hungarian pastries, cinnamon-infused mulled wine and chargrilled vegetables are just a few specialties.
Where: Nuremberg, Germany, near the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal in Bavaria, Germany
Touted by many as the place to be at Christmas time, Nuremberg's Christkindlesmarkt goes all out for its annual celebration and festivities. Dating back to 1628, this market is among the oldest in Germany. At first glance, the sea of red and white awnings that cover the wooden stalls might be overwhelming. Traditional Christmas gifts might include handmade foil angel ornaments, whimsical Prune Men dolls, delicately carved wooden nutcrackers or decorated tins of Nürnberger Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies). When hunger strikes, try a plate of the little grilled Original Nürnberg sausages with a stack of potato pancakes and applesauce.
Where: Linz, Austria, on the Danube River
With 10 varied Christmas markets, Linz, in Upper Austria, is a must-visit. Christkindlmarkt am Hauptplatz is Linz's main Christmas market and is located in the town's central square. Here you'll find painted pottery, tree ornaments and, of course, hot mulled wine, grilled sausages and potato pancakes. Another popular Christmas market in Linz is the Linzer Volksgarten. Located next to the main train station and the city park, this market focuses on families and children. In fact, medieval machinery is on exhibit to show kids how life existed in Austria hundreds of years ago. What's more, seasonal foods are also available at stalls throughout the Volksgarten.
Where: Basel, Switzerland, on the Rhine River
Cosmopolitan Basel, divided by the Rhine River, hosts one of the most beautiful and largest Christmas markets in Switzerland. The main Christmas market is located in the old town at Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz, a short walk from the river cruise dock. In Basel, vendor stalls are called "chalets" and some are decorated and built to look more like authentic mountain chalets than simple wooden stalls. After sundown, crowds arrive for an outdoor dinner. A must-have treat is Swiss Raclette, a plate of melted Raclette cheese accompanied by three little pearl onions, three pickles and a roasted potato. Also popular is Basel Läckerli gingerbread and a steaming souvenir mug of glühwein and sausages.
Where: Cologne, Germany, on the Rhine River
Cologne is a popular port city on a Rhine river cruise. It's an easy walk from the dock to Cologne's bustling Christmas markets. The main market, Weihnachtsmarkt am Roncalliplatz, is located on the square in front of the twin-spired Cologne Cathedral. Crafts, knitted woolens and wooden toys can be found at this 160-stall market. If time allows, visit the Christmas market right outside the Lindt Chocolate Museum. Each year, 30-plus vendors set up a medieval-themed market with musicians, artisans and traditional crafts, along with food stalls selling fried potato pancakes served with a mound of applesauce. If glühwein isn't your thing, try Cologne's exclusive Kölsch, a beer produced and sold only in Cologne.
Where: Mannheim, Germany, on the Rhine River
Mannheim, in southwest Germany, lays claim to the busiest Christmas market in the region. Mannheim's famous landmark, the rotund Wasserturm (water tower) is the focal point for some 200 wooden stalls. This area, known as Friedrichsplatz, is one of Europe's most beautiful art nouveau areas. Stalls line the wide pedestrian mall and extend all around the Wasserturm. In addition to finding yet another colorfully decorated glühwein mug, there's a huge selection of knitted winter hats, scarves and leather gloves. You can even find fine ceramic table settings and decorative embroidered table runners.
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