Europe’s Christmas markets are easy to reach on a river cruise and guaranteed to fill clients with festive cheer.

River cruises offer a fantastic way to absorb the atmosphere of Europe’s Christmas markets, and many lines offer themed seasonal voyages along the Rhine and Danube that flow through the main festive market heartland of Germany.

Markets typically run from mid-November right up until Christmas and are always held in main squares or town centres, adding plenty of cultural interest. Mainstream river cruises traditionally span seven nights, but seasonal cruises start from three nights, which makes them ideal for new-to-cruise clients who are thinking of taking a river voyage but don’t want to commit to a full week.

Exciting new itineraries

As a result of their broad appeal, Christmas sailings are booming, with many lines adding new and increased itineraries for this year and next.

Dawn Quinn, acting national sales manager for Scenic and Emerald Waterways, said: “Christmas cruises are a fantastic way for guests to see some of the beautiful, traditional markets Europe has to offer, and are also a great product which agents can promote to switch customers who may usually choose a land tour at this time of year.

“Due to the ever-growing popularity of our Christmas river cruises, Scenic has introduced two new itineraries for 2018 along the Danube and Rhine, which visit the traditional Nuremburg and Viennese markets, as well as the famous festive markets in Cologne and Strasbourg.”

Itineraries on sister line Emerald include a 2018 Danube Delights seven-night cruise on Emerald Destiny, the latest addition to the fleet.

Shearings offers flexible travel options by coach, air and rail. Seven-night Rhine cruises, departing 26 November and 3 December 2017, include an excursion to see the house in Koblenz that is turned into a giant advent calendar and start from £583 with coach travel. For 2018, Shearings will introduce week-long festive sailings on the Danube for the first time in partnership with A-ROSA, from £619.

New for Saga this year is a three-night cruise combining picturesque Rudesheim and Heidelberg, where the landmark castle is decorated for Christmas. As the Johannes Brahms carries just 80 passengers it is small enough to sail along the Neckar River to Heidelberg, which adds a unique element. Departing 5 December, fares lead in from £649 with flights.

Titan has four and seven-night sailings on its new, exclusively chartered river cruise ship, MS Serenade 1. Starting from £629 for a no-fly cruise, prices include VIP home pick-up service.

There are ships to suit all budgets. The Brit-popular River Cruise Line has a seven-night Rhine sailing aboard The Lady Anne, departing 23 December, from £749 including coach travel. At the other end of the spectrum, luxury line Crystal offers longer Christmas market sailings of 10 and 16 days.

Clients who cruise with AmaWaterways will enjoy themed shipboard activities such as tree-decorating contests, a captain’s Christmas party, carol singers and various Christmas ‘surprises’ along the way. There are seven-night cruises on both the Danube and Rhine from the end of November through December. Both lead in from £2,045.

A different destination

Other countries also host their own versions of Germany’s Christkindlmarkts, providing alternative destinations for repeat passengers. France has Marches de Noel and CroisiEurope offers a three-night Christmas Market in Alsace round-trip cruise from Strasbourg, which is home to a market that’s been held in front of the cathedral since 1570, making it one of the oldest in France as well as one of the largest. Also available is a four-night Christmas Traditions and Santons of Provence round-trip from Avignon.

Although Portugal does not have the Christmas market tradition of Germany and France, the main cities of Lisbon and Porto are decorated with lights and seasonal items are sold in year-round markets with the chance to try traditional foods, including bolo rei (king cake) and bolo rainha (queen cake).

Lucia Rowe, head of A-ROSA UK said: “The beauty of a river cruise to see the Christmas markets is that you get totally immersed in the tradition of various markets while travelling. There is the chance to visit many, often in more than one country so you can experience different cultures along the way.”

Festive sailings on Uniworld’s new line, U by Uniworld are on sale. Aimed at 21 to 45-year-olds, the revamped River Ambassador will relaunch next year as the sleek black The A. On offer for 2018 is a seven-night Dashing Through the Danube itinerary, including a trek through the Black Forest, taste of Vienna excursion and exclusive Christmas concert in Klosterneuburg Abbey, and a four-night Merry Little Christmas round-trip cruise from Budapest.

If your clients prefer to push the boat out at New Year, Great Rail Journeys, which also offers cruises with A-ROSA, has a one-off escorted seven-night Rhine cruise, departing on 28 December on Amadeus Princess III, with New Year’s Eve in Basel, the city where Switzerland, Germany and France meet. Prices from £1,695, including first class rail travel.


1 Shorter itineraries are a good way to encourage new-to-cruise clients to test the water.

2 There’s a range of travel options including no-fly cruises with coach, ferry and rail travel.

3 Festive markets are held in historic squares, often against the backdrop of cathedrals and other places of interest.

4 Switch-sell to clients who usually take land-based city breaks and emphasise they only need to pack and unpack once on river cruises.

5 On board menus showcase regional specialities and provide a real taste of the destination.