Christmas Markets on a Viking Rhine River Cruise

by Julie Cohn
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A Viking River Cruise is a wonderful experience any time of year, but is especially during the holidays.  Festive activities on the ship and as port excursions that include five of the best Christmas markets in Europe make a cruise to visit Christmas Markets on a Viking Rhine River Cruise a magical experience.

{I was invited as a guest of Viking River Cruises-my opinions are my own.}


Christmas Markets on a Viking Rhine River Cruise

I started my trip in Basel, Switzerland, on the Viking River ship Eir.  From the moment I boarded the ship, I was immersed in the celebration of the holiday season. The entire ship is festively decorated–Christmas trees glittered  in the lobby and cocktail lounge, twinkle lights and garland glowed on outside ship railings, and an elaborate handmade gingerbread village held center stage in the front lobby.

Throughout the cruise, staff kept the holiday spirit alive with nighttime activities centered around the holidays, such as special holiday foods, an ornament decorating party, and crew-led Christmas caroling in the lounge.  One could not help but get into the holiday spirit!



The European Christmas Markets

Viking Rhine River Cruises visits several ports in Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands during the cruise, including five with holiday Christmas markets.  These markets are not just a few craft booths set up for tourists, they are some of the biggest and most popular Christmas markets in Europe!

For those not familiar, Christmas markets, Christkindlmarkt (German) or March de Noel (France), are holiday festivals featuring artisan crafts and wares, seasonal music, decor, food, and drinks.  The tradition of the Christmas market began in Germany in the middle ages, with the very first market in Bautzen, Germany in 1384.  The Christmas market was a way for Catholic churches to celebrate the season of Advent and allow people to purchase holiday gifts and food before the Christmas holiday.  Today, most major Northern European cities host Christmas markets, with some of the more well-known markets in Strasbourg and Cologne.


Colmar Christmas Market

Our first river port was Breisach, Germany.  After a morning excursion to the Black Forest, we had the afternoon free to visit Colmar for several hours.  The picturesque french village of Colmar is straight out of a fairy tale; the twinkling Christmas lights, narrow streets, medieval buildings, and joyous decor make Colmar absolutely enchanting.  Colmar has five Christmas markets, including a Children’s Market, an Indoor Craft Market, and a traditional nativity with live animals.

Note:  We visited Colmar on a Saturday, which is one of the busiest days for Christmas market.  Watch the crowds and visit the stands away from main pathways if the main areas get too busy.



Strasbourg Christmas Market

Strasbourg boasts one of the oldest Christmas markets in France, with the first market opening in 1570.  Set against the towering Strasbourg Cathedral, the market has over 300 booths, with every kind of Christmas ornament, decoration, and homemade craft you could imagine.   I found security to be tight at the Strasbourg market and felt quite safe.  Be sure to pick up a white stork ornament or stuffed animal–the stork is the Alsatian region’s mascot and symbol of good luck.


Bonus:  Obernai

I participated in one of the optional wine tour excursions available on our cruise.  After the wine tasting, our motor coach stopped in Obernai for a short visit before heading back to the ship.  This pretty little medieval town went all out for the holidays, with sparkling lights decorating every building from one end of town to the other.  Obernai also had several delicious-looking chocolate and pastry shops along the path of the markets.



Heidelberg Christmas Market

Nestled below Heidelberg Castle in the old town section of town is the Heidelburg Christmas market, with seven market areas within short walking distance of each other.  This market is very family-friendly, with ice skating and other children’s activities available.  I especially loved the food at this market, including the spaetzle and German sausage.  Be sure to buy a cup (or two) of glüwein, a hot spiced mulled red or white wine sold at most Christmas markets.  Each market has their own special collectors glüwein cup, so collect one from each market.  If you don’t want glüwein, you can grab a cup of hot cocoa, or le chocolate Chaud.



Koblenz Christmas Market

At the crossroads of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers lies Germany’s oldest city of Koblenz, with one of the most ethereal Christmas markets in Europe.  A veritable winter wonderland, Koblenz glowed with twinkling lights from every building in old town Koblenz, while horse-drawn carriages took shoppers to the six Christmas markets spread through the town.  Koblenz is known for its lebkuchenherzen, a heart-shaped gingerbread pastry, as well as its riesling wine cakes, so grab something sweet to nibble on as you shop.



Cologne Christmas Market

One of our last stops on the cruise was to the majestic German city of Cologne.  In addition to touring the Cologne Cathedral, we experienced one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe, with seven Christmas markets spread throughout the city.  Cologne is well-known for its Heinzelmännchen of Köln, or Elves of Cologne, and the elfin theme was whimsically found on wood carved booths, art, and decor throughout the markets.  Because these markets are spread out, visitors can purchase a tram ticket for 10€ to visit one market to another.  The food at the Cologne markets is plentiful and delicious so come on an empty stomach.



Christmas Market Tips

  • Most Christmas markets only take cash, so be sure to have both Euros and French Francs available.
  • The crowds can get heavy, especially on the weekends, so watch out for pickpockets.
  • Christmas markets are scheduled during the Christian advent season, about November 23 – December 24th, so plan your cruise during this time.
  • Christmas markets are a shoppers wonderland, but be aware that certain objects may be too fragile to transport by air.  Ask the vendor if you can have your snow globe or glass ornaments shipped instead of packing them in your suitcase.
  • Most chocolate at the markets include praline (hazelnut), including the hot cocoa, so be aware if you are allergic to nuts.
  • Come hungry, as there are so many delectable treats to eat at the markets.
  • Christmas markets are open on Sundays in France, but many other shops, except restaurants, are closed on Sundays to observe Catholic tradition.
  • Most Christmas market vendors speak English but learn a few words in German and French so you can talk money more accurately.
  • Bring a warm hat, mittens, scarf, and winter coat–the markets can get cold, especially at night!


For more information about Viking River Cruises, please visit their website.  If you would like to book a cruise as a new traveler, please visit my travel advisor Viking page. 

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HonestAndTruly 10/06/2017 at 5:17 pm

I so miss the European markets. What a fabulous experience. I need to go! 😉

Leigh Hines 10/07/2017 at 3:45 pm

This is like my holiday dream. I love this area so much.

aewood02 10/25/2017 at 12:06 am

This looks amazing. I love Christmas and all these markets would be amazing to see. It’s a holiday dream come true.

Fashionable Librarian 10/25/2017 at 10:10 am

This is an amazing post. These Christmas markets are absolutely fantastic. I love Christmas

Neely Moldovan (@Neelykins) 10/25/2017 at 1:39 pm

This looks so idyllic! I love the holidays and this is like stepping into a movie or a book! Fabulous!

Parenting Patch (@ParentingPatch) 10/25/2017 at 4:44 pm

Taking a Viking River Cruise during the holiday season sounds amazing! I would love to check out some of those Christmas markets!

Liz Mays 10/25/2017 at 7:40 pm

This is seriously such a fun way to enjoy the holidays! I would love to to go on one of the Viking River cruises just to check out the fun markets at each port.

Heather DiNuzzo 10/25/2017 at 8:34 pm

This is a dream shopping trip for me. I love shopping for all things Christmas, especially decor and gifts.

Anita Anderson 10/25/2017 at 9:27 pm

Omg, I would be in heaven as Christmas is my favorite time of the year. The market would be lovely to shop for gift exchange.

Brandy (@brandyellen) 10/25/2017 at 9:34 pm

This looks like such a great experience. I haven’t ever been on a viking rhine river cruise, but it looks like it has a lot to offer 🙂

Valerie Gray (@valmg) 10/26/2017 at 1:20 pm

I have been wanting to go on a cruise for some time now. It looks like you saw some great sights and events that will make for many great memories.


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