wine and cheese

Visit the best Christmas markets in Europe

Christmas shopping in the UK is often associated with queues, stress and a distinct lack of festive spirit, but many people are beginning to find relief from this with the German Christmas markets becoming a regular feature in Britain. Instead of heading to one of these reproductions, however, why not discover the real thing and check out the best German Christmas markets in Europe?

Vienna Christmas Market

The Schönbrunn Christmas and New Year's Market in Vienna runs from the end of November until Boxing Day and attracts thousands of visitors every year to its stunning location in front of the famed Schönbrunn Palace. The Christmas Market, which is running from the 22nd November until the 26th December 2014, is followed by the New Year’s Market between the 27th December and the 1st January. Daily choral performances, gospel groups and brass bands will act as the musical backdrop to your Christmas shopping while jazz sounds will fill the air throughout the New Year’s Market.

We asked the market’s organisers: Why should European river cruise guests visit your Christmas market?

“The Christmas Market Schloß Schönbrunn enchants the hearts of young and old alike with its magical Christmas atmosphere and a varied programme. Since 2012 TripAdvisor has been honouring the Christmas Market Schloß Schönbrunn with its “Certificate of Excellence“ due to its unique imperial setting and the great variety of handicrafts. The high visitor numbers – about 1 million visitors per year - confirm the success of the market.” - Christmas Market Schloß Schönbrunn

Another fantastic market based in Vienna is the Christmas Market at Spittelberg. Also attracting thousands of visitors every year it is no wonder that when the Vienna Chamber of Commerce asked Viennese Christmas market visitors which market was their favourite in 2012, The Christmas Market at Spittelberg came out as number one. 

Need more persuasion? Here is why you should visit Spittelberg Christmas Market during your stop in Vienna.

“Spittelberg Christmas Market is the most romantic Christmas experience one can imagine in Vienna. A traditional Christmas market embedded in the awesome historic quarter of Spittelberg. About 500,000 visitors enjoy their walks through small lanes with historic houses erected between 1700 and 1900.

“140 booths offer handcrafted items from Austria and the surrounding countries such as Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Germany, Italy, Croatia. It is this great variety of different countries together with the special mix of traditional and young modern artisans that make Spittelberg Christmas Market unique.” - Spittelberg Christmas Market

Budapest Christmas Market

Budapest also knows how to celebrate Christmas in style as the city not only boasts the fantastic ‘The Christmas Market’ on Vorosmarty Square, but also because the Nutcracker shows, the unique thermal baths, the beautiful Ice Rink and its Palace make this time of year ideal for visitors.

The market itself has been voted among the best Christmas markets in Europe and here Budapest Christmas explain why:

“The Christmas market of Budapest has been voted among the top Christmas markets in Europe for several years where over a 100 authentic handcraft stalls, lovely winter foods, and free concerts entertain the crowds, in addition to the laser ray shows projected on the historical buildings surrounding the market on Vorosmarty Square and at the majestic St Stephen's Basilica.” –

Nuremberg Christmas Market

Over two million people visit Nuremberg every year before Christmas because of its reputation for being one of the best markets of its kind in the world. All of the best parts of a German Christmas Market can be found in at the Nuremberg Christmas market,“Christkindlesmarkt",  including spiced gingerbread, Christmas tree decorations, festive lights, mulled wine and an old-fashioned carousel.

Around 180 stalls appear at the market, all of which are carefully monitored by Nuremberg's own Christmas Market Council. They make sure that no mass-produced toys, non-stop Christmas chart music or cheap plastic decorations are found on any of the stalls. When it comes to a traditional German market, it doesn't get much better than Nuremberg.

Keep a special look out for the famous 'Nuremberg Plum People', which are little figurines made from dried plums and be sure to attend the world-famous opening ceremony, which is ‘an impressive event, both for Nuremberg inhabitants and tourists from Europe and abroad.’

For all the latest information on the “Christkindlesmarkt" see their Facebook page, which is updated regularly with the dates and timings of all the different events going on.

Amsterdam Christmas Market

There are lots of Christmas markets in Amsterdam - over 20, in fact - which is what you would expect from a city of its size. Albert Cuypmarkt is the biggest and brightest of these, and serves as a normal street market throughout the rest of the year. While the market will not be serving as a traditional Christmas market in 2014 it will still be open aside from the Christmas holidays of the 25th and 26th December and New Year’s Day, offering fantastic local produce to try.

For a break from Christmas shopping, it is also worth looking out for the Leidseplein Amsterdam Christmas market, where visitors can find a large ice rink, Christmas-themed activities and food stalls selling oliebollen (Dutch doughnuts).

Here Amsterdam Cruise Port offer up their opinion on why Leidseplein is a must-visit whilst in Amsterdam over the winter months.

“The special thing about the Leidseplein Christmas Market is that it’s in the heart of Amsterdam. Surrounded by bars, restaurants and theatres, the Leidseplein is the place to visit for every tourist. During the Christmas Market the Leidseplein will be the home of several food stands and an ice rink. Close to the Leidseplein a majestic Christmas tree returns to Amsterdam this year to take its traditional place towering above Dam Square in the city centre. Traditionally grown in the German Ardennes, the tree soars over 20 metres into the Amsterdam sky, decorated by four kilometres of Christmas lights. An imposing feature outside the Amsterdam Royal Palace, the tree is adorned with a whopping 40,000 energy-saving LED fairy lights.” – Amsterdam Cruise Port

For more information on the Leidseplein Christmas Market see the I amsterdam website.

Cologne Christmas Market

Offering seven German Christmas markets in total from its location beside the River Rhine, Cologne is an ideal city to visit for those who are looking for a festive river cruise in Europe. One of the biggest markets has Cologne Cathedral as a backdrop and is a must for those seeking a festive atmosphere. Visitors can purchase a decorative Christmas mug of original 'Christmas Mulled Wine', and are sure to be tempted by the masses of stalls selling Lebkuchen (German Christmas gingerbread), Stollen (German Christmas cake), Wurst (German sausage) and other tasty treats.

Here is what Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market organisers had to say about why European river cruise guests should visit their seasonal market:

“There are many reasons to visit our Christmas market as we can call ourselves the “favourite” Christmas market in Germany with more than 4 million visitors each year at the Roncalliplatz.

“Due to our location, just in front of the Cologne Cathedral and our huge variety of traditional and charming products, arts and craft it is worth visiting our around 150 Christmas booths.

Apart from the selected artisans, culinary highlights and a free entertainment program of more than 100 Christmas events, the market is especially impressive thanks to its unique lighting concept.” - Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market) 

For further information see their Facebook page and Twitter.

The Christmas Market in the Old Town is also worth heading to, where legend has it that the famed 'Heinzelmännchen' gnomes ensure that no modern or mass-produced goods are sold. Neumarkt is best suited to those looking for high-quality, luxury products and the 'stars at night' theme makes it one of the prettiest German Christmas markets in the country.

Here is what their organisers said when we asked why river cruise guests should visit their market:

“The Cologne Old Town is the biggest and most traditional of Cologne’s Christmas markets. The cosy wooden booths stretch all the way from Alter Markt to Heumarkt, creating a wonderful fairy-tale world with their loving decorations and enchanting light effects.

“On Heumarkt, the market has yet another seasonal attraction to offer: a spectacular ice rink, with room for a spacious skating area, extended runs, and alleys for playing Eisstockschiessen - a form of curling - plus also a bridge across the ice from which to watch the goings-on.

“Those responsible for all this festive radiance in the Old Town are Cologne’s famed and fabled house gnomes - the Heinzelmännchen. They maintain the traditional Christmas market customs and see that all newfangled gadgetry is kept away. From their hiding places, they always keep a close eye on the seasonal hustle and bustle - and also the skaters on the ice rink. After all, the little fellows’ favourite pastime is ice skating...” - The Cologne Old Town Market 

For even more to do in Cologne come the Christmas period, Cologne Tourist Board have provided us with their expert opinion:

“In December, Cologne offers its visitors a grand total of seven romantic Christmas Markets in the city centre. Each has its own special atmosphere and its own program.

Against the backdrop of the Gothic Cathedral, you will find the ‘Christmas market at the Cologne Cathedral’, which offers a fascinating array of high-quality arts & crafts with many gift ideas, delicious food and drinks as well as more than one hundred stage events under the resplendent starlight tent.

In the old town of Cologne the rustic Christmas market ‘Home of the elves’ welcomes its visitors with its old-world charm. Traditional market stalls of craftsmen and traders fill the atmospheric streets with the colours, sounds and smells of Christmas, while quaint little alleyways and hidden gnomes add to its peculiar charm. Furthermore, the Heumarkt will be transformed into a large, spectacular ice rink to create a unique ice fairy-tale.

At the ‘Angel’s market’ at the Neumarkt visitors will be enchanted by a lovingly decorated Christmas market with charming chalets and high-quality products located.

Just a ten-minute walk from Neumarkt, visitors can find ‘Santa’s Village’. Especially with its reindeers, elves and walkable house of St. Nicholas, this idea of a Christmas market is very appealing to kids.

Right next to the ‘Santa’s Village’ you can find the ‘Christmas Avenue’. Cologne’s gay and lesbian Christmas market is located in the centre of the ‘scene-quarter’ Bermuda Triangle near the Rudolfplatz. The market offers quality products, culinary delights and especially cabaret and shows in a sparkling and atmospheric ambient. Everyone is welcome to celebrate the wonderful Christmastime together.

The ‘Cologne Harbor Christmas market at the Chocolate Museum’ is situated directly at the River Rhine. The very comfortable and elegant maritime Christmas market offers high-quality products and an exciting program.

Last, but not least, the ‘Christmas market at Stadtgarten’ combines different characteristics: Dynamical artful, attractively different, ingeniously stylish and yet bound to nature and tradition.” – Cologne Tourist Board

For the latest Cologne Christmas events and activities see their Christmas in Cologne section.

Koblenz Christmas Market

This is one of the best Christmas markets in terms of sheer size; over 130 stalls can be found in the magical setting of the Old Town. Koblenz sits in the heart of the Rhineland-Palatinate wine region, making Koblenz Christmas market’s mulled wine, known as Glühwein in Germany, one of the best in Europe.

As well as offering the usual Christmas shopping favourites of sausages, gingerbread and nutcrackers, a number of events are planned for the annual Koblenz Christmas market. Ranging from gospel concerts to romantic carriage rides, there is plenty to entertain. Look out for the baroque town hall, where the 24 advent calendar windows will be counting down the days.

Rüdesheim Christmas Market

Set on the banks of the Rhine River, Rüdesheim is another great German Christmas market to head to if sailing on a Christmas Markets of Europe river cruise. The town's old quarter is the perfect setting for an idyllic German Christmas market, but variations of the traditional style can be found here. Over 100 stalls are located on Drosselgasse lane, many of which offer a multicultural approach to Christmas shopping; try specialty Mongolian food or purchase a Finnish treat to take home.

Many people will describe Rüdesheim Christmas Market as one of the best in Europe for its famous Rüdesheim Coffee. The coffee is served in a special Rüdesheim coffee set and is made with whipped cream and locally distilled Asbach Uralt brandy. This brandy can also be found in chocolates that would make a wonderful gift to take home, and it is also available in bottles if a brandy lover appears on your Christmas shopping list.

As a family business and market community here is why the Rehwald Family and Rüdesheim Market Community think river cruise guests need to stop by their impressive Christmas market offering:

“At the heart of continental Europe, right at the shore of romantic River Rhine, in one of the most beautiful medieval landscapes, Rüdesheim Christmas market of Nations is seated right at the heart of the old town, its tiny lanes, yards, courts and places, combining its lovely atmosphere, romantic sites, enchanting ideas and glorious festivities.

“Artists, craftspeople and vendors from five continents and 20 nations offer their goods and specialties, gifts and customs. Locals, dear guests and visitors from all over the world meet to celebrate winter, Advent and Christmastime at the famous, historical landscape of medieval, gothic and romantic Middle Rhine.”
- Rüdesheim Christmas Market 

Image Credit: (c) www.christmasmarket.at_Picture_Fally