Viking has debuted a new river cruise that would make even the Grinch burst with Christmas spirit! And if you already love Christmas like I do, Viking’s new ‘Christmas on the Rhine' river cruise may be the ultimate way to immerse yourself in the beloved and authentic European Christmas traditions right at their source.
From March until November every year, Viking operates river cruises on the Rhine, but in late November, for the four weeks leading up to Christmas, the Scandinavian, family-owned cruise line transforms Rhine river cruises into voyages of Christmas cheer.
Even if you’ve sailed a Viking Rhine river cruise before, this is a whole new way to experience the Rhine. I wasn’t surprised to learn that joining us on board were dozens of guests who’d sailed the Rhine with Viking in the past – but were back just for the unique Christmas experience in ports of call and for the Christmas atmosphere and activities on board the ship.
One of the most iconic rivers in Europe, the Rhine river flows north from Switzerland, forms the border between France and Germany for a ways, then continues flowing through Germany and the Netherlands where it empties into the North Sea.
That means the Christmas on the Rhine cruise takes you into the heart of four countries. And Viking’s excursions ensure you can experience Christmas just as the locals do. At nearly every port along the way, we had the opportunity to take an excursion to local Christmas markets, sometimes more than one, each with its own charms and flavors.
Here are my festive favorites – and I’m sure you’ll find your own.
We embarked on our Christmas market cruise from Basel, the port nearest the source of the Rhine, and our only Swiss port. Basel doesn’t concentrate its Christmas cheer just in one town square. Everywhere you turn, you’ll be delighted to encounter another immense – and real! – Christmas tree brightening streets and squares outside the town hall, the cathedral, and more. Each decorated differently, and putting a smile on your face.
At the town hall, there’s a one-of-a-kind, giant Christmas wishbook, where locals and visitors can write down their heartfelt wishes in nearly every language under the sun.
By day, we have that moment of delight – always one of my favorite moments of a cruise: meeting our Viking ‘Longship,’ Viking Sigyn, on the Rhine near the Old Town, and we embark on our Rhine river cruise.
The only French Christmas market on the route, Strasbourg’s Christmas market is the oldest in France – with a delightful mixture of German Yuletide traditions and French style and savoir vivre reflecting the Alsace region’s historic back-and-forth between two nations.
This is where you’ll find a twist on German ‘gluhwein’ or mulled red wine. One variation found in Strasbourg is mulled white Alsace wine with clementines, perfect for those of us who don’t drink red wine!
Maybe my favorite example of French-German traditions coming together is ‘Beignet Bretzel:’ French doughnuts shaped like German pretzels. My camera guys opted for chocolate – good call!
This charming little medieval town in Germany’s Black Forest is even more charming at Christmas. The Christmas market is held near a regular town market in the cathedral square, where I was smitten by the abundance of Christmas greens, flowers, Advent wreaths, holly, mistletoe, and Christmas floral arrangements that speak to the heart of the earliest winter / Christmas tradition of celebrating ‘ever-greens’ and bringing greens indoors to remember that Nature continues even during the darkest days of the year. (Pictured, top).
I couldn’t resist: I bought a Christmas bouquet of pine, boxwood, berries and scarlet amaryllis and brought it back to the Viking Sigyn, where the front desk staff kindly took the flowers from me and had them put in a vase in my room where they were a perfect Christmas addition!
One of the biggest cities on the Rhine, Cologne’s imposing cathedral is just minutes walking from our prime docking space near the Old Town. It’s one of the perks of taking a river cruise!
We wandered off the ship along the riverbank to a series of festive squares, each with different themes. Cologne really gets into the spirit of winter, not just the holidays, with an outdoor skating rink and curling around the base of an historic statue, in one area.
Nearer to the cathedral, ornate, Olde Tyme market kiosks with many vendors in historic costumes make you feel you’ve stepped back in time. In addition to shopping and delicious seasonal foods and more of that gluhwein mulled warm wine, blacksmiths are smithing, and other artisans are practicing their crafts in costume for visitors.
Each Christmas market along the Rhine is so unique from all the others – yet all are so brimming with Christmas spirit. You won’t want to miss any of them, and our Viking Christmas on the Rhine river cruise is the ideal way to experience the best of the region: unpacking once, and sailing daily into new places to discover local versions of the spirit of Christmas.
Start your Viking Christmas Market River Cruise!
Images: Lynn Elmhirst
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