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The Perfect European Holiday Vacation: A Christmas Market River Cruise

Merry Christmas in July: The Perfect Time to Plan Your Christmas Market Vacation!


Strasbourg Christmas Tree

Why Christmas Markets?

If you love and celebrate the Christmas season, your Travel Bucket List should absolutely include a trip to Europe’s World Renowned Christmas Markets. While many cities, and even small towns, throughout the United States have created their own Christmas Markets worth visiting (some big cities even have multiple Christmas Markets; I’m looking at you, New York City), the entire Christmas Market Tradition grew out of Europe’s deeply-rooted celebration of the holidays. 

Christmas Market Germany

There is nothing like experiencing the festivities of the Christmas season in the same markets where generations of Christmas shoppers and Holiday revelers have celebrated for centuries. And since these timeless Christmas Markets can be found in many places throughout Europe, the best way to experience the most sought after locations is on a River Cruise that takes you into the heart of some of Europe’s most beautiful cities, hand-selected for their exquisite Christmas Markets. 

Why a River Cruise?

River Cruise with Vineyards

River Cruises have gained popularity recently as River Cruise Lines have become more luxurious, while somehow at the same time, more inviting as well, appealing to a wider age range than ever before, even families with younger children (though some Cruise Lines, and sailings within Cruise Lines, do have age restrictions). 

River Cruises offer a unique path to see cities and locations throughout the world that larger and more traditional Ocean Liner Cruise ships don’t have access to. Because of this, River Cruises are usually able to offer more time in each port after sailing through the night to a new destination. In addition, River Cruises are also usually able to offer an exceptional culturally immersive experience, with excursions led by local guides, local entertainment featured onboard many evenings, and often, River Cruise Chefs showcase local ingredients and traditional cuisine of the areas being visited. 

River Cruise with Castle

Although a River Cruise Ship is obviously smaller than a traditional Ocean Liner Cruise Ship, the lower number of guests usually allows for more personalized service, and an overall more intimate experience. Furthermore, on most River Cruise Lines, whatever excursions or choice of excursions are available, are usually included without additional cost. 

Between the Magic of the Christmas Markets, and the appeal of a luxurious River Cruise, it’s no wonder these two incredible experiences have been brought together by many River Cruise lines who want to provide sailors with the Ultimate European Holiday Vacation.

Let’s Go!

Amsterdam in Winter

Day 1

Arrive in the gorgeous European city of Amsterdam, famous for its beautiful canals, storied history, and incredible architecture and museums, where you will embark on your River Cruise Ship for the start of your journey. 

Holland Windmill

If you have never been to this capital city of Holland, it is well worth arriving early to spend a few days exploring the city before boarding your River Cruise Ship. The museums steeped in famous art and rich in history, the contemporary culinary scene, and the fantastic architecture lining the canals and squares could easily fill an extra few days. And if you’re feeling adventurous, a day trip outside the city, to see the colorful landscape of the Netherlands, dotted with windmills and blanketed in tulips (in their season) or snow, is absolutely worth the extra time. 

However you would like to spend your day or days in Amsterdam, your favorite Love of the Magic Travel Agent can make sure your pre-cruise travel is just as memorable as your River Cruise itself!

Amsterdam Canal Houses

Day 2

Beginning your River Cruise in Amsterdam lends itself to a start that not only includes rivers, but also canals, too. Your first official full day on board will take you on a tour of some of the city’s 165 canals, where you will get to enjoy the famous architecture of the city from the perfect vantage point of the canal. The picturesque narrow houses lining the streets display the signature Dutch Baroque style that characterizes much of the design of the city. After your canal tour, you will officially set sail out of the city, and while you dream away in your cabin, your ship will cruise through the night so you can wake up in your next port!

Cologne Cathedral

Day 3

Today is the day you will visit the first Christmas Market of your voyage. And what better place to begin your Christmas Market experience than in the square of one of the most famous cathedrals in the world, the Gothic masterpiece, Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany.

Cologne Christmas Market

Before jumping right into shopping, you’ll get to choose an excursion that lets your discover what interests you most about the city, from a guided tour of the Old Town, to an historic tour of the Cathedral itself, or if you prefer, a bike ride along the Rhine, with a visit to a local tavern to taste the area’s signature beer, Kolsch, served with potato pancakes and applesauce. 

River Cruise Town and Castle

Day 4

Get up close and personal with castle after castle as you cruise into your next destination through the majestic Rhine River Gorge. Once docked in the winemaking town of Rudesheim, you’ll set off on your choice of morning activities. Possible choices include wine tasting in a traditional wine cellar, a hike through the vineyards, a gondola ride over the vineyards, or a bike ride through town and along the river. Each activity will be followed by a visit to the Christmas Market in town for the afternoon, and even later, you can choose to visit a Music Box Museum or go for a coffee tasting. 


Day 5

Decisions, decisions! Today offers a variety of excursions, all including time built in for Christmas Markets, of course! You can choose to visit one of Germany’s famously historic cities: Heidelberg, Ladenburg, or Speyer, with each city offering a unique culturally immersive experience. In Heidelberg, you can visit the mighty castle and storied university, or hike along the Neckar River to the Philosopher’s Path, before strolling the Haupstrasse, one of Europe’s longest pedestrian shopping streets where Christmas Markets are added in for the holiday season.

German Christmas Tree Square

Another option for the day is biking along the Neckar River to the medieval town of Ladenburg, with time after for the Christmas Market. Or, visit Speyer, home to Europe’s largest Romanesque cathedral, where you’ll have time to stroll through the Christmas Market in front of “Old Mint” in the famed Maximilianstrasse. 

Strasbourg Noel Sign

Day 6

Your next destination is one of the most quaint, and most photographed, cities throughout Europe: Strasbourg, France. The Christkindelsmarik (Christmas Market) here is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to 1570, and your stroll through it will take you back in time.

Strasbourg Town

You can choose to explore the city by tour bus or by bicycle, taking in the Parc de l’Orangerie (the European Parliament), the Place de la Republique, the town center on the Grande Ile, and then through the picturesque “La Petite France” district (which has served as inspiration for beloved Disney movies like Beauty and the Beast), where you will find the famous astronomical clock of the Cathedrale de Notre Dame.


After your tour, you’ll have plenty of time for the Christmas Market, and also a visit to the town hall for the illuminated Advent Calendar.

Christmas Market Shop

Day 7

Your last full day onboard brings more options as you arrive at your destination of Breisach, where your first choice is a bicycle tour of the Breisach Wine Country. You can also choose to visit the 16th Century Alsatian town of Riquewihr, where you will feel taken back in time as you admire the architectural sites, such as the Dolder Gate, before indulging in the town’s Christmas Market. Or, explore Freiburg, founded in 1120 and known for the Munster, a Gothic Cathedral with an intricate and ornate spire, before taking in the offerings of Freiburg’s Christmas Markets.

Christmas Market Ornaments

Whatever excursion you choose, be sure to pick up whatever last Christmas gifts you need, as this will sadly be your last day to experience the magic of Europe’s Christmas Markets. 

Basel Riverside

Day 8

The last day of your River Cruise will bring you to Basel, Switzerland, where old world meets new in both architecture and art around the city. If you have time after disembarkation from your River Cruise, it’s worth strolling around the city to see the work of world famous architects, or even to visit a museum, depending on the time of your flight home. 

Christmas Market Tree Ornament

Ready to Plan?

Amsterdam Lights and Bridge

If you are ready to plan your Perfect Christmas Market River Cruise Vacation, contact your Love of the Magic Travel Agent today. And whether you want just the River Cruise, or extra days at the start or end of your trip, your LOTMV Travel Agent will work with you to create the unique experience you’re looking for. 

Christmas Market Treats

Looking for more of our Inspiring Itinerary series?

So far, we have:

January – The Perfect London & Paris Vacation Itinerary for Families

February – The Perfect Hawaiian Vacation

March – An Insider’s Guide to the Perfect Alaskan Vacation

April – The Perfect Immersive Italian Vacation 

May – All the Fall Things for the Perfect Autumn Vacation in Orlando

June – The Perfect Mexican Beach Vacation

A new inspiring itinerary comes out each month! Plus, keep your eye out for a BONUS Inspiring Itinerary this month, as promised, and sticking with the Christmas in July theme…Can you guess where to?

Ready to plan your Christmas Market River Cruise? Contact your Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor today or email

Perfect Christmas Market River Cruise



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