A dream we had for years was to visit some of the Christmas markets of Europe. While cruising may not be everyone’s top travel choice, a European river cruise along the Danube River is the perfect way to see many of Europe’s Christmas markets without having to fly or drive long distances and stay at multiple hotels. During our European Christmas market cruise with Viking River Cruises, we were able to visit the Christmas markets of Budapest (Hungary), Vienna (Austria), and Passau, Regensburg, and Nuremberg (Germany).
Budapest Christmas Markets
During our Viking river cruise we spent one night in Budapest, so we were able to get off the boat at night and visit three of Budapest’s Christmas markets, both within easy walking distance from where our ship was docked.
Budapest’s oldest Christmas market is located on Vörösmarty Square. When we first walked into the Christmas market we were greeted by a crispy roasted pig. It looked so delicious that when we came back, it is what we had for dinner. (Sadly, this is also where Rome lost his camera equipment. Read his tale of woe here.) This most delectable sandwich was filled with caramelized onions, sweet pickled cabbage, tender pulled pork (called malac cipóban), gravy, and peppers. It reminded me a little bit of the muffaletta in New Orleans.
The Budapest Christmas market was full of other delicious looking foods and I was just sad I couldn’t eat it all. There was the puffy Hungarian fry bread called langos, which is topped with garlic, sour cream, and cheese. There was also chimney cake, a type of pastry wrapped around a stick and cooked while rotating over a fire.
No visit to a European Christmas market is complete without having a mug of glühwein, and we enjoyed our first in Budapest. However, in Hungary, glühwein is called forralt bor, which translates to boiled wine. Forralt bor is made with wine, cinnamon, sugar, and cloves. Forralt bor is usually made with red wine, but we also found it made with white wine. (To make your own, check out our traditional European Christmas market glühwein recipe.)
Another Christmas market we visited in Budapest is a short distance away on St. Stephen’s Square in front of the towering St. Stephen’s Basilica. In addition to the many wooden market stalls is an ice skating rink and a huge Christmas tree.
We found one more Christmas market in Budapest. This one is in Erzsébet Square near the Sziget Eye, Budapest’s Ferris wheel.
Related: What to Do in Budapest in One Day
Vienna Christmas Markets
While some of the towns and cities along the Danube River may have one or just a handful of Christmas markets, Vienna has over 20 official Advent Markets. We couldn’t visit them all, but we were able to visit quite a few, again thanks to the fact that it was easy to leave our Viking River Cruises ship and head into the city while we were docked overnight.
Our first Viennese Christmas market was the Christmas Market on Stephansplatz, overlooked by the towering St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its colorful tiled roof. The Christmas Market on Stephensplatz is one of the best markets for souvenirs. There were many beautifully-made Christmas ornaments as well as other great traditional and high-quality products.
This was our first introduction to the many shapes of the European Christmas markets’ glühwein mugs. While the forralt bor in Budapest was served in plastic cups, most European Christmas markets serve glühwein in special mugs, many specific to that particular Christmas market. When you purchase a mug of glühwein, you pay not only for the glühwein, but also a deposit for the mug. If you return the mug, you get your deposit back. If you don’t, you get to take home a fun souvenir. You can bet the cute little red boot mugs painted with a Christmas scene of St. Stephen’s Cathedral were not returned by us.
One of Vienna’s other great Christmas markets is the Christmas and New Year’s Market at Schönbrunn Palace. The Christmas market, backdropped by the majestic yellow Schönbrunn Palace is so festive with live Christmas music and the smell of Christmas with the multitude of flavored hot punches and glühwein.
Other Viennese Christmas markets include the Viennese Christmas Market in front of City Hall, the Christmas Village Belvedere Palace, and the Christmas Village Maria-Theresien Platz in front of the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art.
Vienna is also full of festively lit streets, like Graben, where there are also Christmas market stalls.
Passau Christmas Market
Passau is a small city of Germany where the Danube splits to also create the Inn River. The Passau Christmas Market is held every year in the Old Town in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Domplatz.
Regensburg Christmas Markets
Regensburg’s old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has four Christmas markets from which to choose. In Neupfarrplatz is Regensburg’s traditional Christmas Market, Regensburger Christkindlmarkt, in front of Neupfarrkirche and a few blocks away from Regensburg Cathedral. Here you can indulge in a half-meter sausage, a mini-sausage sandwich, and, of course, glühwein.
One of the most atmospheric Christmas markets is Regensburg’s Christmas market in the courtyard of the Thurn and Taxis palace. There’s a reason it’s called the romantic market. There is nothing more romantic than sipping a hot mug of glühwein while standing in front of a fire, surrounded by a regal palace topped with crowns and wooden market stalls decorated in evergreen.
An unusual Christmas market we were excited to visit is the Christmas market at the Spitalgarten. This was an opportunity to visit a biergarten and Christmas market all in one. The Spital Brewery’s biergarten turned Christmas market is in the garden of St. Catherine’s hospital. Here, instead of glühwein, the proper thing to have is glühbier, also a hot, mulled beverage, but this time made with beer instead of wine. In addition to the unusual setting and unusual drink, the Spitalgarten Christmas market has high-quality products for purchase and a manually operated carousel.
Nuremberg Christmas Market
Last, but not least, is Germany’s most famous Christmas market, the Nuremberg Christmas market. Nuremberg’s Christmas market is huge. The main part of the market is in the square in front of Frauenkirche, but it is so big, the stalls continue up the street leading out of the square. An elevated view reveals a sea of candy-stripe covered stalls. The Nuremberg Christmas market is famous for many things including Nuremberg sausages, lebkuchen (gingerbread), and prune men.
Thanks to Viking River Cruises we fulfilled two dreams, taking a European river cruise and visiting some of Europe’s best Christmas markets. The European Christmas markets were everything we had hoped for and more. Visiting them was an experience we will not soon forget. If you love Christmas, make sure to visit some of the Christmas markets of Europe at least once in your life.
Thank you to Viking River Cruises for hosting our Romantic Danube cruise and making this post possible. As always, all opinions are our own.