My sons and I had wanted to do this for a decade and finally went on a Viking River Cruise last December originating in Budapest and terminating in Munich.
Although we had been to most of the places before, these cities are very different at this time of year with the incredible wooden stalls decked out in Christmas finery.
Pack for both Artic and spring like conditions as weather can be a bit unpredictable. Throw in a few smart outfits for the evenings, but nothing formal. The beauty of river cruises as opposed to ocean ones, is that they are docked in the centre of the city in the midst of the festivities.
The Christmas markets are usually about a ten minute walk from the ship, which is lovely for quick strolls after dinner. The wooden stalls full of toys, ornaments, food and much more are lit up like a fairyland in the evenings. What is nice about these markets is that one is buying directly from the artists, bakers and toymakers. The markets are often in the heart of the city near the shops, which makes ticking items off your holiday gift list quite easy.
A Christmas river cruise is on a ship of around 100 to 150 passengers.
There is much mixing and interactions among the passengers. Meals are open seating with dinner at a specified time with beer and wine included. Activities take place in the lounge and this is a time to mingle with others.
One night we had a German Children’s Choir who sang carols in either German or English. They were adorable. There are a variety of lectures, concerts, folkloric dances, a cooking demonstration and so much more. There is an on board library with reference books and games. There are shelves of books that others can take and replace with one that they have read.
I really like the cappuccino/hot chocolate machine that is available round the clock. In the afternoons, local cookies and pastries are provided. The young European staff are amazing and the concierge will arrange for tickets, taxis, reservations or whatever is desired on shore. The holiday décor on the ship is exquisite.
The itinerary includes city excursions which may very slightly during the winter. In the summer we went to a marvellous organ concert in Passau, Germany. On we went to a gingerbread store that had been in the same family for generations instead. It was interesting learning about the different types of gingerbread and nibbling on the samples.
One Christmas market was a bit of a drive, and that was in lovely Salzburg. Fun to see where “The Sound of Music” was filmed. They had quite an extensive market and a very walkable city.
The markets in various cities have specialities. We got the potato dish in Bratislava and the cheese recolette in Salzburg, and Munich. Bratwurst was prevalent everywhere.
Hot mulled wine was available in all of the markets and even in the gingerbread shop in Passau. Budapest had unique baked goods as did the other markets. Viking gives handouts on what to buy, both in crafts and food at each market. They explain what is unique in the markets and cities being visited. Their history of the regions and maps are helpful.
This trip was my Christmas present to my sons and we arrived home on December 21st. I bought a few treats on the trip for Christmas morning. This river cruise to the Christmas markets was magical and is a worthwhile addition to anyone’s Bucket list.
Wendi Schuller is a nurse, hypnotherapist and is certified in Neuro-linguistic Programing (NLP).
Her most recent book is The Global Guide to Divorce and she has over 200 published articles.
She is a guest on radio programs in the US and UK. Her website is globalguidetodivorce.com.