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If you want get into the Christmas spirit and celebrate the festive season with old world charm, a river cruise is one of the best ways to explore Europe’s historic Christmas markets.

They are pure magic guaranteed to make you feel like Santa Claus.

From Nuremberg to Vienna, Budapest to Mainz, the festive markets are filled with stalls selling everything Christmas from hand-carved toys, spicy gluhwein (mulled wine) to aromatic gingerbread.

Most Yuletide markets extend from the last week of November through to Christmas time.

Cruises on the Danube and Rhine Rivers are the most popular. On the Danube, there is the Nuremberg Christmas Market and Vienna Christmas Market which dates back to 1298 and is one of Germany’s oldest fairs. Rhine itineraries include visits to the Cologne Christmas markets, the Heidelberg Christmas Market, Basel Christmas Market and the Strasbourg Market with its 30-metre tall Xmas tree.

Often river ships dock close to the heart of the Christmas markets allowing passengers to get to them on foot.

Here are five cruise lines with the best Christmas markets.

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways has a nine-day Christmas time on the Danube departing Vienna to Prague on 15 December 2019 with prices starting at $1568 per person – a discount of $2300.

After taking in the magical sights of Vienna, home to the sounds of Mozart and Strauss and the Vienna Boys Choir, passengers will go on a culinary tour of the Christmas Advent Markets to get a taste of all the best flavours Austria has to offer during the festive season. Sample Sachertorte and Apfelstrudel and don’t be surprised if you come back for more.

When the cruise arrives at Regensburg, passengers will experience Christmas magic in Bavaria’s Medieval Miracle and visit the city’s exciting Christmas markets. Enjoy hot mulled wine, candied almonds, gingerbread or bratwurst. At Nuremberg, passengers will have free time to browse the spruce stalls of the city’s famed Christmas markets and taste Bavarian fare from dozens of bratwurst varieties, gingerbread and mulled blueberry wine.

Uniworld

Uniworld has seven enchanting itineraries on the Rhine, Danube and Seine rivers featuring centuries-old Christmas markets with decadent confectionery and numerous once-a-year delights. At each market, there will be wooden stalls displaying traditional crafts made of fruit and dressed in Bavarian costume to beautifully carved and painted Nativity figures. There are also exquisite festive ornaments and fine contemporary gifts with fairytale villages decked in holiday finery.

There is an eight-day Classic Christmas Markets itinerary on the Main River from Frankfurt to Nuremberg. At one of Europe’s oldest Christmas markets, the heady scent of cinnamon and roasting nuts fill the air as children play with hand-carved wooden toys. Taste Nuremberg’s gingerbread, Bamberg’s specially brewed holiday beer and Frankfurt’s famous apple cider.

Frankfurt’s Christmas Market is one of the largest in Germany featuring a vintage carousel and a beautifully lit Christmas tree. Savour a marzipan-filled pastry and quirky plum-and-nut figures that are traditionally made for the season. You can also go on a walking tour of the Twinkling Star Christmas market at Wiesbaden. The city’s Town Hall and Market Square Church are all festively decorated and beautifully illuminated. Fortify yourself with a mug of mulled wine and a slice of delicious stolen. There are Christmas Market tours at every city from Wertheim, Wurburg, Kitzingen, Bamberg and Nuremberg. Prices for the 8 December 2019 departure start from $5599 per person.

Viking River Cruises

Viking has limited Christmas Market itineraries left for this year. However, for those planning ahead, they can book an eight-day Rhine Getaway Christmas itinerary departing Amsterdam to Basel on 4 December 2020. Prices start from $3,895 per person with flights to Europe at $995pp provided bookings are made before 31 August this year.

Passengers can experience exuberantly decorated Christmas markets nestled in charming cities, taste Yuletide cookies and cakes only baked for the festive season, watch strolling carollers, explore storybook villages making hand-carved toys and ornaments, browse enticing stalls as the aroma of chestnuts and mouth-watering sausages fill the air and chat with rosy-cheeked market vendors over a mug of mulled wine. The cruise will visit Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Speyer, Strasbourg and Breisach – cities brimming with Christmas cheer. In Cologne, home of one of the most photographed cathedrals in Germany, you can explore one or all of seven themed Christmas markets there.

APT

APT has a 22-day Festive Christmas Markets itinerary from Berlin to Amsterdam with prices starting at $13,140 per person departing on 13 December 2019. Passengers will spend three nights in Berlin, one night in Dresden, three nights in Prague before embarking on a 14-night river cruise from Budapest.

Passengers will gain an insight into some of the local German Christmas traditions as they taste Feuerzangenbowle, a traditional alcoholic drink where rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire. They can also visit a Nutcracker workshop where they can try their hands at making the country’s famous wooden Christmas toys. Other highlights include visiting Christmas Markets in Berlin and Vienna.

Scenic

Scenic has a festive 15-day itinerary from Budapest to Amsterdam departing on 18 November 2019 with prices starting at $8195 per person with economy flights included. Passengers can visit Christmas markets at Vienna, Regensburg, Nuremberg, Rudesheim and Cologne and try mulled wine, hot chestnuts and even take part in a gingerbread baking class.