This is the year to give in to those tempting aromas of roast chestnuts, spiced gingerbread and gluhwein. Fares for some seasonal river cruises are down by more than 60 per cent — and there’s still plenty of capacity.
That is because, after the cancelled Christmas of 2020 and travel uncertainty, many people are opting to stay put.
Choose from the Rhine, Main, Elbe and Danube rivers to visit Germany, Austria and Hungary; the Rhone and Seine in France; or inland waterways in Belgium or the Netherlands, where river ships are decked with Christmas trees and garlands.
All meals are included, with traditional Christmas and regional fare. Complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks are often served with lunch and dinner. Look out, too, for no-single-supplement offers.
Step ashore into town squares turned into Christmas villages, with wooden chalets festooned with twinkling fairy lights and music filling the air. In Germany, Cologne has seven markets while Mannheim has one of the largest with 200 stalls, vintage merry-go-rounds and a children’s train.
Head to Austria and you’ll find choirs singing carols at the Viennese Dream Christmas market in front of Vienna’s City Hall. Inside, children can learn to make biscuits and candles.
Walk in sunshine or snow in the medieval village of Oingt, an hour from Lyon, in France, where there is a magnificent Nativity scene in the church and 150 cribs dotted about.
Tui River Cruises’ A Festive Fairy Tale sailing on TUI Skyla departs from Frankfurt to Koblenz, Mainz, Mannheim, Plittersdorf, Rudesheim and Strasbourg on December 23. Seven nights are from £1,148 pp, with flights from Heathrow and £120 excursion credit (tui.co.uk, 0203 451 2688).
Avalon Envision visits Breisach, the gateway to the Black Forest, on the Christmastime In Alsace & Germany sailing through Switzerland, Germany and France. Five nights are reduced from £1,513 pp to £569 pp on the December 12 sailing from Basel to Frankfurt, with no solo supplement (avalonwaterways.co.uk, 0330 058 8243).
In Dresden, known as the Florence of the Elbe, visit the Striezelmarkt and visit a bakery to learn a traditional recipe for Christstollen (spiced fruit bread). Viking Astrild’s Christmas Along The Elbe ten-day cruise from Berlin to Prague starts at £2,995 pp, departing December 5, including seven guided tours (vikingrivercruises.com, 0800 319 66 60).
Book by November 30 to save 50 per cent on SS Maria Theresa’s all-inclusive seven-night Danube Holiday Markets cruise on December 16, now £1,849 pp, down from £3,699. Even champagne is included. Visit Budapest’s Vorosmarty Square, where the smell of baked bread and meat on open fires drifts across the market. In Passau, watch glassblowers, woodcarvers and confectioners at work (uniworld.com, 0808 1689110).
Sail to the South of France on AmaKristina’s Colours Of Provence seven-night cruise from Lyon to Avignon on December 16. In Oingt, see the cribs and have hot chocolate in Place de la Mairie. From £1,708 pp (amawaterways.co.uk, 0800 626 0126).
Shop for lovely hand-painted decorations in Strasbourg’s atmospheric Christkindelsmarik during Emerald Cruises’ seven-night Christmas Markets On The Rhine river cruise. The Amsterdam to Basel trip via Cologne, Koblenz, Mannheim, Heidelberg, Kehl and Breisach starts at £1,645 pp (includes £800 pp discount and departs on December 12 (emeraldwaterways.co.uk, 0808 301 3352).
During Viking Fjorgyn’s Paris round-trip along the Seine, stop in Rouen, where the Christmas market takes place in front of the cathedral. It’s just the place to warm up with Normandy mulled cider or hot calvados and honey. Eight days from £2,445 pp on December 5 and 12 sailings (vikingcruises.co.uk, 0800 319 66 60).
New ship Spirit of the Rhine’s Christmas Markets Of The Rhineland cruise departs on December 12 and includes visits to markets in Koblenz, Bonn, Cologne and Dusseldorf. Four nights from £499 pp, including insurance and coach travel via Eurotunnel or ferry (saga.co.uk, 0808 258 2978).
There's still availability on MS Grace’s new Yuletide Spirit: Brussels To Amsterdam seven-night departures are on December 6, 13 and 20 with prices from £2,190 pp, plus air fare. Visits include Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw for a short concert, and a festive fix of beer and chocolate in Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp (tauck.co.uk, 0800 810 8020).
MS William Wordsworth’s Danube’s Imperial Cities & Yuletide Markets sailing from Budapest on December 7 includes guided tours and markets in Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna. The six-night cruise starts at £1,079 pp, including flights from some regional airports (rivieratravel.co.uk, 01283 523431).
Extend your Christmas cheer by sailing on Scenic Jade’s 15-day Christmas & New Year river cruise, departing on December 20. Sail the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers from Amsterdam to Budapest before ringing in the New Year in Vienna with a private classical concert in the Palais Liechtenstein. Prices from £4,195 pp, including savings of £900 pp (scenic.co.uk, 0808 301 7599).
Revel in the glittering night-time illuminations during three overnight moorings on Crystal Ravel’s all-inclusive cruise. Seven nights are from £2,931 pp, including a £290 pp saving and complimentary visits to five Christmas markets. Departs Budapest on December 8, with calls to Dürnstein, Melk, Passau and Vilshofen (crystalcruises.co.uk, 020 7399 7603).
The fully renovated Viva Tiara’s Dusseldorf round trip starts at £339 pp (cruise only) including meals, drinks and tips. Choose from November 24 to December 18 three-night sailings on the 76-cabin vessel, with visits including Konigswinter, which holds its Christmas market beneath the illuminated turrets of Drachenburg Castle (viva-cruises.com/en, 0330 818 7271).