This is the year to give in to those tantalizing aromas of roasted chestnuts, spiced gingerbread and mulled wine. Fares on some seasonal river cruises have fallen by more than 60 percent — and there’s still plenty of capacity.
Because after the canceled Christmas of 2020 and travel uncertainty, many people choose to stay put.
Choose from the Rhine, Main, Elbe and Danube to visit Germany, Austria and Hungary; the Rhone and the Seine in France; or inland waterways in Belgium or the Netherlands, where river ships are decorated with Christmas trees and garlands.
Fares on some seasonal river cruises have fallen by more than 60 percent. Pictured is a cruise boat on the Rhine
All meals are included, with traditional Christmas and regional dishes. Free wine, beer and soft drinks are often served at lunch and dinner. Also look out for offers without a one-time supplement.
Step ashore in town squares turned into Christmas villages, with wooden chalets adorned with twinkling lights and music filling the air. In Germany, Cologne has seven markets, while Mannheim has one of the largest with 200 stalls, vintage carousels and a children’s train.
Head to Austria and you’ll find choirs singing Christmas carols at the Viennese Dream Christmas Market in front of Vienna’s Town Hall. Inside, children can learn to make cookies and candles.
Stroll in the sun or in the snow in the medieval village of Oingt, an hour’s drive from Lyon, in France, where there is a beautiful nativity scene in the church and 150 cribs scattered around.
Step ashore in town squares turned into Christmas villages, with wooden chalets adorned with twinkling lights. Pictured is the market in Frankfurt
Tui River Cruises’ A Festive Fairy Tale sailing on TUI Skyla departs Frankfurt on December 23 for Koblenz, Mainz, Mannheim, Plittersdorf, Rudesheim and Strasbourg. Seven nights from £1,148 pp, with flights from Heathrow and £120 excursion credits (tui .co.uk, 0203 451 2688).
No single supplement
Avalon Envision visits Breisach, the gateway to the Black Forest, during the Christmas season In Alsace and Germany sailing through Switzerland, Germany and France. Five nights will be reduced from £1,513 pp to £569 pp on December 12 from Basel to Frankfurt, with no solo surcharge (avalonwaterways.co.uk, 0330 058 8243).
Learn the recipe
In Dresden, known as the Florence of the Elbe, visit the Striezelmarkt and visit a bakery to learn a traditional recipe for Christstollen (seasoned fruit bread). Viking Astrild’s Christmas Along The ten-day cruise from Berlin to Prague from £2,995 pp, departing December 5, includes seven tours (vikingrivercruises.com, 0800 319 66 60).
Holiday at half price
The SS Maria Theresa Danube Holiday Markets cruise includes plenty of upbeat activities. Pictured is the ship lobby
Book by November 30 to save 50 percent on SS Maria Theresa’s all-inclusive seven-day Danube Holiday Markets cruise on December 16, now £1,849 pp, down from £3,699. Even champagne is included. Visit Budapest’s Vorosmarty Square, where the smell of baked bread and meat over an open fire floats over the market. Watch glassblowers, woodcarvers and confectioners at work in Passau (uniworld.com, 0808 1689110).
Look forward to the Rhone
Sail to the South of France on December 16 on AmaKristina’s Colors Of Provence seven-night cruise from Lyon to Avignon. In Oingt, check out the cribs and drink hot chocolate at Place de la Mairie. From £1,708 pp (amawaterways.co.uk, 0800 626 0126).
Sniff the atmosphere
Get merry: buy gifts for your loved ones in the atmospheric Christkindelsmarik . in Strasbourg
Shop for beautiful hand-painted decorations in Strasbourg’s atmospheric Christkindelsmarik during Emerald Cruises’ seven-day Christmas markets on the Rhine. The journey from Amsterdam to Basel via Cologne, Koblenz, Mannheim, Heidelberg, Kehl and Breisach starts at £1,645 pp (including £800 pp discount and departs on 12 December (emeraldwaterways.co.uk, 0808 301 3352).
Calvados and honey
During Viking Fjorgyn’s tour of Paris along the Seine, stop in Rouen, where the Christmas market takes place in front of the cathedral. It’s just the place to warm up with Normandy mulled wine or warm calvados and honey. Eight days from £2,445 pp on 5 December and 12 sailings (vikingcruises.co.uk, 0800 319 66 60).
take the coach
Germany has some of Europe’s best Christmas markets. Pictured are stalls selling traditional sweets and gingerbread in Koblenz
The new Spirit of the Rhine’s Christmas Markets Of The Rhineland cruise ship departs December 12 and includes visits to markets in Koblenz, Bonn, Cologne and Düsseldorf. Four nights from £499 pp, including insurance and coach travel via Eurotunnel or ferry (saga.co.uk, 0808 258 2978).
Beer and chocolate
The illuminated market square in Bruges, Belgium, where you can get festive beer and chocolate
There is still availability on MS Grace’s new Yuletide Spirit: Brussels to Amsterdam departs for seven nights on December 6, 13 and 20 with prices from £2,190 pp, plus airfare. Visits include Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw for a short concert and a festive fix of beer and chocolate in Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp (tauck.co.uk, 0800 810 8020).
MS William Wordsworth’s Danube’s Imperial Cities & Yuletide Markets sailing from Budapest on December 7 includes tours and markets in Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna. The six-night cruise starts at £1,079 pp, including flights from some regional airports (rivieratravel.co.uk, 01283 523431).
New Year’s Savings
Jade’s Scenic Christmas and New Year River Cruise includes a classical concert at the Palais Liechtenstein, Vienna
Extend your Christmas spirit by sailing Scenic Jade’s 15-day Christmas and New Years cruise, departing December 20. Cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers from Amsterdam to Budapest before ringing in the New Year in Vienna with a private classical concert at the Palais Liechtenstein. Prices from £4,195 pp, including savings of £900 pp (scenic.co.uk, 0808 301 7599).
See the lights
Enjoy the glittering nighttime illuminations during three nights on Crystal Ravel’s all-inclusive cruise. Seven nights are from £2,931 pp, which includes savings of £290 pp and free visits to five Christmas markets. Departs Budapest on December 8, with calls to Dürnstein, Melk, Passau and Vilshofen (crystalcruises.co.uk, 020 7399 7603).
£339 cruise only
Königswinter holds its Christmas market under the illuminated turrets of Drachenburg Castle
The fully refurbished Viva Tiara’s Dusseldorf tour starts at £339 pp (cruise only) including meals, drinks and gratuities. From November 24 to December 18, choose three-night sailings on the 76-cabin ship, with visits including Konigswinter, which holds its Christmas market beneath the illuminated turrets of Drachenburg Castle (viva-cruises.com/en, 0330 818 7271).