Europe draws travelers in with the wondrous allure of her history, architecture, art, and culture. Visit Europe, and you can feel the warm sun streaming through the rose windows of Notre Dame Cathedral. Taste rich chocolate sachertorte in a Viennese coffeehouse. Stroll through the vibrant and fragrant Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam. Or bask in the glow of old-world traditions at the holiday markets in Germany. Imagine discovering the unique scenic treasures of Europe from the luxurious serenity of your river cruise ship. Sailing Europe’s glorious rivers—the Danube, Main, Rhine, Moselle, Rhône, Saône, Seine, and Douro—you will discover the heart of Europe’s charming waterside villages and exciting cultural centers while enjoying the most relaxing way to vacation.
Everyone believes in fairytales at Christmas time. Once upon a time, people gathered on cobblestone squares to buy the special tools and ingredients they needed to make the treats of the season. They kept warm with hot spiced wine, music, and games while they shopped and chatted with tradespeople. Those were the first Christmas markets, 500 years ago. Today, though the light comes from twinkling electric bulbs rather than torches, bonhomie and fun still prevail.
Discover villages with fairy-tale houses and a friendly, festive atmosphere. Share traditional holiday goodies with the people who made them. Watch as modern children abandon their usual electronics and discover the enchantment of hand-carved wooden toys. The scents of cinnamon and roasting nuts fill the air.
Celebrate the holiday season with centuries-old traditions and brand-new style. Budapest has celebrated Christmas for a thousand years, since the time of St. Stephen, the king who founded Hungary and encouraged the spread of Christianity throughout his realm. As you ramble through the Christmas Market on Vörösmarty Square in Budapest, admiring the handmade porcelain, stop to watch as kürtös kalács—a pastry—is baked on rods over an open fire and then coated with sugar before it’s handed to you.
In Bratislava, where a lively young art scene is revitalizing the compact city core, stalls abound with traditional Slovakian Christmas items like medovníky (spiced ginger cookies) and šúpolie (figurines made from corn husks). Sing along with carolers in elegant yet cozy Vienna as you shop for Austrian lace. Follow the lights down the Landstrasse in Linzto the Volksgarten, where you’ll find a fairy-tale Christmas—large, animated displays of scenes from fairytales that will entrance the child in you. Or mail a letter from Christkindl, where children from all over the world send their Christmas wish lists.
Experience the enchantment of the holidays on the Danube. Celebrate a splendid musical heritage as you listen to the largest organ in Europe fill a Baroque cathedral with glorious sound. Lift your voice and sing “Silent Night” in the village where the beloved Christmas carol was composed, and delight in the music of Strauss and Mozart in the city where the composers lived.
Sip a cocktail with a princess in the seven-towered Artstetten Castle. Sample the finest of the Wachau Valley’s famous white wines in an exquisite Baroque village. Toast the New Year with a gala dinner and dance in a gorgeous ballroom in Budapest, followed by a cruise along the glimmering Danube as the city welcomes 2014 by lighting the famous Chain Bridge, Castle Hill, and the astonishing Parliament building.
Discover the delights of the season in Germany and Austria. “Welcome, young and old, to my little community of wood and cloth.” These are the words that open the Nuremberg Christmas Market, spoken by the Christkind. Though the iconic representative of the market is named for the infant Jesus, e—yes, she— is a pretty girl dressed as a crowned angel. All over Germany, the Christkind is a symbol of the holiday’s magic.
This cruise takes you to some of the most famous and delightful of the holiday markets in Central Europe. At each market, you’ll find wooden stalls displaying traditional crafts that range from quirky little characters made of fruit and dressed in Bavarian costume to beautifully carved and painted Nativity figures. You’ll also find exquisite ornaments and fine contemporary crafts, along with fairy-tale villages decked in holiday finery. Sparkling lights illuminate ancient cathedral squares, and the sound of children’s laughter mingles with carols. Sample Linzer torte in the city where it was invented; see Vienna at its most magical.
Discover heaven on earth with a grand cruise through picture-perfect Christmas country. Escape the hurry and hassle of the holidays as you relax onboard a luxurious ship and cruise through the ravishing landscape of the Danube. On Christmas Eve, walk through the quiet Medieval streets of Regensburg to the Gothic cathedral for midnight mass. As you pass through the magnificent doors, look up; you’ll see chalk marks invoking age-old blessings for all who enter.
Listen to the harness bells chime as you ride through the serene Bavarian Forest in a horse-drawn carriage. Wander through locations from The Sound of Music in beautiful Salzburg and then warm up with rum-laced coffee. Meet Habsburg royalty during a private reception in a castle overlooking the UNESCO-designated Wachau Valley. Visit stunning churches and sample delicious wines in enchanting Baroque villages. Dance the New Year in a Viennese palace, and see how a dusting of snow adds to the glamour of Hungary’s historic capital.
Paris is a dazzling package just waiting to be unwrapped. The “City of Light” glows with extra magic during the holidays. Every town in France boasts a Marché de Noël in December, but Paris, naturally, boasts many, each one typical of its neighborhood. Ramble down the Champs Élysée for your Christmas shopping this year, or visit one of the boutiques on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Walk through the Tuileries Gardens and marvel at the spectacular holiday décor of the great department stores in the city where they were invented. For a quieter moment, discover the lovely, serene snow scenes of the Impressionists at the Musée d’Orsay.
Sample the seasonal treats of Normandy as you peruse the artisan ceramics on display at the Rouen Marché de Noël, which takes place directly in front the famous cathedral; if you feel like revisiting your childhood, take a spin on the skating rink.
Succumb to enchantment as you cruise the Rhine River through a winter wonderland. Leave the mall behind and discover the roots of our Christmas traditions. Was the first Christmas tree decorated in Strasbourg? Strasbourg’s citizens think so, though towns in Germany would dispute that claim. Sip vin chaud as you stroll to Place Kléber to behold the enormous and brilliantly lighted tree that Strasbourg offers modern celebrants. Find unexpected treasures in the red-roofed stalls clustered around Cologne’s magnificent cathedral. Listen to musicians in Medieval costume play sackbuts and lutes while you watch jugglers toss and catch flaming torches.
Munch your way through an array of once-a-year treats, and see how the Baroque town hall of Koblenz is turned into an Advent calendar. Revel in brightly painted carousels and handmade ornaments, Medieval squares illuminated by twinkling lights, life-size Nativity figures and joyful brass choirs.