I’ve always heard that the European Christmas markets are spectacular but to be honest, I’d never had a strong desire to see them since I’m more of a warm weather kind of guy. I’d rather visit Europe in the spring, summer or autumn and save my winter travel for places like the South Pacific or Southeast Asia. Well, I’m glad my wife (@NatalieDiScala) talked me into accepting our Viking River Cruise invite because it turned out to be one of our most magical and memorable trips.
Last summer, I got over my “only for old people” stereotype of river cruises when I took a Scenic Cruise up the Danube (here’s that story). This Viking River Cruise was practically the same itinerary except that we went down the Danube River and added one more stop, Bratislava.
Here are 20 reasons to go on a Viking River Cruise. Find out what it’s like to sail on Viking and to visit a handful of Europe’s most beautiful Christmas markets. Below, I’ve included our itinerary and if you click the photos or the hyperlinked city names, it will take you to a page with my photos from that destination.
On Viking, you can either do a Christmas market cruise that goes from Passau to Budapest or vice versa (I’m sure the other river cruise companies offer similar itineraries). The eight-day trip takes you through four of Europe’s most enchanting countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. I recommend doing the itinerary that we did because Budapest is sure to be the highlight of your trip and as always, it’s best to finish off with a bang. Arriving into Budapest at night on the top deck of our ship, all bundled up and holding hot drinks, was so spectacular that my wife says it’s one of the top five most memorable moments in her life. Here’s how the trip played out.
DAY 1: Passau, Germany
We flew into Munich, then met a Viking guide outside of baggage claim and boarded the transfer bus with other passengers to our ship in Passau. The ride takes just under two hours and most people slept. Read more >
DAY 2: Passau, Germany
Unfortunately, it was raining heavily and since we had explored much of the town the day before, Natalie and I skipped the walking tour and relaxed on board, catching up on our work. Read more >
DAY 4: Durnstein, Austria
While most of the passengers went on an optional wine tour to sample some local vintages from this famous, wine-producing region, Natalie and I walked into the small village with a population of 250. Read more >
DAY 5: Vienna, Austria
We woke up in the Austrian capital of Vienna. This is the one destination we needed to take a bus into the center of town since it’s a good 20-minute ride without traffic. Read more >
DAY 6: Bratislava, Slovakia
Bratislava is only a 40-minute drive from Vienna so it doesn’t take long to get there by boat. Bratislava is the capital Slovakia and is the only national capital that borders two other countries, Austria and Hungary. Read more >
Good to Know:
- The cruise length was 580km (360 miles).
- The Christmas Market sailing dates are usually between late November and late December.
- Tips are not included and can be over $100 per person.
- Here’s more info about Viking.
- Bring local cash for the markets, though some stalls accept credit cards.
- Our cruise went through 11 locks.
- Here’s the pricing for Viking River Cruises.
- 6 guided tours with audio headset.
- All onboard meals: 7 breakfasts, 5 lunches and 7 dinners, featuring regional specialties and including Welcome Cocktail Reception & Dinner and Captain’s Farewell Dinner.
- Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with onboard dinner and lunch service
- You will visit 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- They have Culture Curriculum: Enjoy musical entertainment highlighting Austrian and Hungarian classics; attend lectures on Mozart and Viennese coffeehouses; learn some basics of German language; find out how Austrians make their apple strudel.
- All port charges are included.
As you can see, going on a Viking River Christmas market cruise is a memorable experience. Yes, the weather is cold but if you dress accordingly you won’t have any problems. On the walking tours, I dressed in layers and brought long underwear as well! And despite the frigid outdoor temperatures, I was never cold on the boat. What’s nice about going in the winter time is that there aren’t that many tourists around, no long lines and you really get into the Christmas spirit because in Europe there’s a strong Christian tradition and they really go all out. Who’s ready for some Glühwein?
WANT TO GO? Interested in going on a cruise? We have partnered with Cruise Planners which is a top rated travel agency to help plan your perfect trip. Contact Mike Gelman (1-800-724-5868) and tell him Johnny Jet sent you.