Travelers to Europe during advent can save by booking riverboat cruises as accommodation and transportation option when visiting some of the most famous and romantic Christmas markets in Germany and Austria. The Rhine (Rhein) and Danube (Donau) are the most popular rivers for cruising but the Main and Mosel are also included in some tours. The best Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) are arguably in Frankfurt, Nuremberg (Nürnberg), Cologne (Köln), and Vienna (Wien) but almost every town where a boat anchors will have a Christmas market of some sort in action.
Timing of Riverboat Cruises to European Christmas Markets
German and Austrian Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) are generally held during the advent period leading up to Christmas. Larger cities usually have markets daily while smaller towns may restrict the hours to weekends or often just one or two weekends. The exact dates vary from market to market but are usually from the last week of November to a few days before Christmas.
- German Christmas markets functioning on Christmas Day itself or on December 24 are extremely rare.
Christmas market riverboat cruises are therefore also mostly scheduled from end November to a just before Christmas. Cruises that include spending Christmas itself on a boat are fairly uncommon. However, it is worth noting that cruises including Christmas Day are usually significantly cheaper than similar cruises where New Year’s Day is spent onboard.
- Hotel accommodation in luxury hotels aiming at the business market can be exceptionally cheap over Christmas (and very expensive over New Year) to make for a budget extension to a pre-Christmas cruise. However, do check restaurant availability in advance, especially for the night of December 24.
Booking Riverboat Cruises to European Christmas Markets
It is worth comparing the prices and options offered by different online reservation agencies. It is quite common to sell the same cruise at different rates in different markets. Packages aimed at non-European travelers often include more onshore excursions and meals but are priced higher.
- When booking cruises on French and other non-German or Dutch boats, double-check the size of beds as beds on some boats may not only be narrow but shorter than standard too.
For any special needs such as small children, major birthdays or anniversaries, and single cabins, it is worth comparing offers as not all booking agents pass savings on. It is also worth checking directly with the cruise company if such savings are offered at all – sometimes only traditional travel agents are able to deal with these requests that can amount to significant savings.
- Early-booking discounts are generally available – in some cases the deadline for saving on early reservations can be as late as end October.
Cruises to Christmas markets are often much shorter than riverboat cruises during summer. Cruises can be as short as two-night cruises on the Main-Danube Canal in Germany from Nuremberg to Bamberg but three and four day cruises on the Rhine and Danube rivers are more common. Cruise operators such as Amadeus Waterways and Viking River Cruises specializing in overseas markets often have longer cruises with pre- or post-cruise add-on programs in cities such as Paris and Prague.
- Be careful of cruises that seem unusually cheap. The standard of accommodation and food may be of a much lower standard than the up-market experience international travelers generally associate with riverboat cruising.
The most popular cruise rivers to see European Christmas markets are the Rhine and Danube rivers. Popular stops are in the larger cities, which have the largest Christmas markets with the longest opening hours such as Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, and Vienna.