Touring European Christmas Markets Along the Danube River

Our family loves the holidays – from twinkling lights and dangling baubles, to spiced gingerbread cookies and spiked eggnog, to the carols and music.  Therefore, we jumped at the chance to visit historic and renowned old-world European Christmas markets during a holiday Danube River cruise this year.  Dating back to the 13th century, these European Christmas markets began in Austria and southern Germany and run from mid-November until Christmas day with some continuing until January for Orthodox Christmas or the Epiphany.  Continue reading for some of the European Christmas markets we’re excited to experience during our holiday Danube River Cruise.

Vienna Christmas Market

Vienna Christmas Market, photo by Marek Slusarczyk [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

DISCLOSURE: I worked with Grand European Travel on this post, however all opinions and content are my own.

Munich, Germany

Our adventure begins in the heart of Bavaria, for one of Munich’s oldest Christmas markets that traces its roots to the “Nicholas Markets” of the 1300’s.  The centerpiece of the Munich Christmas Market in Marienplatz is a nearly 100-foot-tall Christmas tree decorated with 1,000s of candles and lights surrounded by craft vendors in wooden stalls.  A traditional hot, mulled wine known as Glühwein is sold throughout the market in souvenir mugs, and each evening, Christmas carols are performed live from the balcony of the town hall by local artists.  Also in the town hall is a “Heavenly Workshop” where children learn the art of craft-making and traditional cooking.  The Munich Christmas Market runs from November 25 until Christmas Eve, 2016.

Munich Christmas Market

Munich Christmas Market, photo by Ramessos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Salzburg, Austria

As our river cruise docks at Linz, we will take a day trip to Salzburg, Austria, home to one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe.  Advent in the city of Mozart is celebrated at the base of Hohensalzburg fortress and the historic cathedral.  Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt is more intimate than others in Europe, with less than 100 vendors selling candles, crafts, toys, jewelry, and more.  Traditional Austrian food and beverages such as Lebkuchen (gingerbread), roasted chestnuts and almonds, sausages, punch and mulled wine will keep away winter’s chill.  Austrian guides lead tours of the market while a cappella groups and choirs perform the music of Salzburg.  The Salzburg Christmas market opens November 17 and continues until December 26, 2016.

Salzburg Christmas Market

Salzburg Christmas Market, photo by Wald1siedel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Vienna, Austria

We plan on visiting the Christmas and New Year’s market located on the parade court in front of Schönbrunn Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to the Hapsburg Empire of the 1600’s.  The market on the illuminated grounds features 80 vendors selling traditional handicrafts and foods such as almond cookies (Vanillekipferl), fluffy shredded pancakes (Kaiserschmarrn), gingerbread and roasted chestnuts. The Christmas and New Year’s market at Schönbrunn Palace runs from November 19, 2016 – January 1, 2017.  In the evening we’ll enjoy a performance of the Vienna Boys Choir, one of the oldest boys’ choirs in the world at 500 years old, at the Hofburg Palace chapel.  The Hofburg Palace serves as the official residence of the President of Austria (and was residence of the Emperor of Austria until 1918), and the Vienna Boys Choir has sung at the chapel every Sunday since 1498.

Vienna Boys Choir

Vienna Boys Choir, photo by Mnolf (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Budapest, Hungary

Our river cruise ends in Budapest, where this entire section of the Danube is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The Budapest Christmas Fair takes place November 11, 2016 – January 6, 2017 in the heart of the city with a giant Advent Calendar and traditional wooden stalls for craft vendors.  In addition to the mulled wine and gingerbread, Hungary is known for kürtös kalács – a sweet, hollow, cylindrical shaped pastry rolled in sugar (or sometimes walnut, coconut or chocolate).  In the evening, the spectacular architecture of Budapest twinkle as lights and holiday decorations illuminate the waters of the Danube.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest at night

Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest at night, via Wikimedia Commons


Be sure to follow along during our cruise in December, when I’ll be posting live updates along the way.  For even more tour options for European Christmas markets, take a look at the itineraries listed on Grand European Travel.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.