Christmas Markets Rhine River Cruise with AmaWaterways and Photos

The idea of a Christmas Markets river cruise in Europe didn’t really interest me. In my mind, I visualized tacky trinket markets in every town and city, overrun with aggressive shoppers, cheapskate lookers, sloppy drunks and of course, tourists. 

I was curious but reluctant to go. To dispel any of my preconceived notions, I decided to experience this seasonal phenomenon. 

Hopefully, I’d prove myself wrong. And I did. Keep reading to follow my journey on a Christmas Markets river cruise.

Carosel in Mannheim Germany Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets Rhine River Cruise Review

My original Christmas Markets river cruise plan was a seven-night trip along the Rhine river from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Basel, Switzerland traveling with AmaWaterways. 

Scheduled for the end of November, I hoped that the cities we’d visit would have their decorations set up and their markets in full swing. 

Several months earlier, I booked my return from Europe on the westbound Queen Mary 2. The ship was scheduled to depart from Southampton on December 15th, so I had to adhere to the schedule, or be “stuck” in Europe til the spring.

RELATED POSTWhat to Expect on a Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic Crossing 

On the day I boarded AmaCerto, an unexpected change of plans happened. Without warning, I would be on back-to-back Christmas Markets river cruises through December 10th. Not a bad way to spend an extra week in Europe. 

All that was needed to remain aboard AmaCerto for two weeks was an easy stateroom change between cruises at the turnaround point in Basel. And an unexpected day at a new Christmas Market city.

Five days to be in transit was plenty of time to get from Amsterdam to Southampton.

AmaCerto Christmas and Hanukkah decorations
AmaCerto sparkled with Christmas and Hanukkah decorations in the main lounge.

This was probably my 10th trip up and down the Rhine between Basel and Amsterdam. The more I traverse this historic stretch of river, the more I learn about each ancient and medieval city, town, castle, cathedral and ruins.

I’m never bored and it gives me oodles of not-to-be-missed things to see and do to share with others.

When are Christmas Markets River Cruises?

Sounds like a simple question, right? But to be on the rivers in Europe at the right time for the optimal Christmas Markets experience takes a little knowledge and planning.

Christmas Markets in Europe, especially Germany, generally open the third weekend of November and run through mid-December. But not right up until Christmas. Almost every city closes its Christmas Markets a full week before Christmas. No last minute rush to buy gifts.

This distinctly European extravaganza reaches its seasonal crescendo by the second weekend of December. That’s prime time for Europe Christmas Markets.

Vendors from all around the continent flock to these extravagant events, whether in Germany, France or even England. Sellers haul their wares and set up elaborate little huts, many of which look like gingerbread cottages and mini log cabins.

You can find almost anything at the Christmas Markets. From hand-tooled leather wallets and fluffy alpaca socks to steaming mugs of gluhwein (hot mulled wine), crispy potato pancakes and plates swamped with gooey melted cheese and dill pickles. It’s sensory overload in every direction. What you won’t find are cheesy, plastic ornaments.

Day One:  Embarkation Day in Amsterdam

Our itinerary, the “Enchanting Rhine”, began in Amsterdam and ended 764-miles upriver in Basel, Switzerland. The headwaters of the Rhine is not far from Basel, in Lake Constance, sourced from the Alps.

Here’s our “Enchanting Rhine” cruise itinerary:

Amsterdam, Netherlands (overnight onboard)
• Cologne, Germany
• Rüdesheim / Rhine Gorge Cruising
• Speyer / Heidelburg
• Kehl / Strasbourg, France
• Breisach, Germany
• Basel, Switzerland

River cruise dock in Amsterdam
On a windy, misty late November day, guests arrived early to board our river ship, AmaCerto in Amsterdam.

It wasn’t exactly a day for hoofing it around Amsterdam. Late November and inclement weather is the norm. Sunny days are a welcome surprise. We would have both over the next two weeks.

Day 1 in Amsterdam was a complimentary tour day for AmaCerto guests. I chose to simply walk around, and I needed to buy a winter coat!

Amsterdam Canal cruise and walking tour
Almost everyone opted to take the complimentary Amsterdam Canal cruise and city tour.

Everyone was back onboard by 5:00pm to get ready for the customary pre-dinner meeting in the lounge. These meetings occur every night, and follow the same lounge-to-dining-room procession throughout the cruise. 

This evening ritual the same no matter which river cruise line you choose. 

Sometime during the chilly night, AmaCerto was quietly untied and began the slow cruise upstream. Yes, upstream. The Rhine river flows “downhill” in the north from the Alps into the North Sea.

After a morning of sailing past farmland and industrial swatches in the Netherlands and northern Germany, we neared Cologne. 

AmaCerto reached its first stop in Cologne by late afternoon. Christmas markets here really kick into high gear after 5pm and last all day and night on weekends. Since this was the last week in November, even though just about every stall and food stand was set up, there weren’t wall-to-wall crowds as I expected. Not yet.

Day Two:  First Christmas Market – Cologne, Germany

Cologne Christmas Markets Heinzel
Luckily, AmaCerto docked in Cologne until nearly 11:00PM. This gave us a chance to meander through the city with all the sparkles and glow.
Cologne fries and currywurst sauce.
Because it’s all about the food, right? Hot, crunchy French fries with a spoonful of Currywurst sauce. There’s a small curry stand near the Chocolate Museum and I always get the same snack.

Cologne has six Christmas Markets and the largest four are located near the Cologne Cathedral. I managed to find all four major Christmas Markets with no more than 15 minutes walk between each one.

Cologne Christmas Markets Ice Skating Rink
Every year, Cologne sets up this ice skating rink right in the middle of the markets.
Cologne Christmas Markets at Chocolate Museum
One of the Big Four, this Christmas Market is set next to the famous Chocolate Museum. Dangerous calories here.
Cologne Downtown Christmas Markets Lights
As night gradually descended on Cologne, the festive lights slowly began to take on their golden glow.
Cologne Christmas Market food stand
The more I wandered, the more I just had to sample another potato pancake and glüewein.

Day Three:  En route to Rüdesheim, Germany

Rhine Gorge
Past castles and ruins, towns and cathedrals along the Rhine River Gorge.

Our morning was spent cruising the most famous and photo-taking portion of the Rhine River, the Rhine River Gorge. In a span of less than three hours, the AmaCerto slowly cruised past no less than 30 castles and castle ruins. 

And the sun was shining! This stretch of the Rhine can get very windy, so the warmth of the sun was appreciated by all. 

Passengers on deck wearing coats and hats along the Rhine river.
I was so glad that I went shopping for a winter coat in Amsterdam!

Second Christmas Markets: A Day in Rüdesheim

AmaWaterways had a planned evening event in Rüdesheim. After dinner, everyone walked the short distance to Rüdesheimer Schloss for a private pouring of flaming Rüdesheimer coffee (coffee with liquor, set ablaze and then topped with whipped cream). 

A local oompah band, sans tuba, was the entertainment. Take a listen (above).

Rudesheim street with Christmas decorations setting up

Frying those oh so dee-licious potato pancakes.
Frying those oh so dee-licious potato pancakes.

Day Four:  Third Christmas Markets in Speyer, Germany

Speyer is one of my favorite medium-size port towns. Depending upon where your river ships docks, you might be just a short 15 minute walk into town. There’s a huge pedestrian shopping zone and at Christmas Markets time, it’s bustling with store shoppers plus those who come for the markets.

Speyer Christmas Market downtown
And they continue to meander in, hungry and thirsty.
The food stands are the first to get customers. Shopping can wait.
Speyer Christmas Market Food
I know. There’s always room for another potato pancake and gluhwein.

Day Five:  Strasbourg, France

Finally, the day many of us were most excited to see; Strasbourg, France. River ships dock in Kehl, Germany, just across the river from Strasbourg. The two countries are connected by the Bridge of Europe or Pont de l’Europe. It’s only a 15 minute bus ride depending upon traffic crossing the bridge and into Strasbourg.

Christmas Markets in Strasbourg

Almost all river cruises to Strasbourg plan an entire day there. Guests can join a morning walking tour of Strasbourg and then either take the motor coach back to the ship for lunch or have lunch in the quaint and oldest section of Strasbourg, Petite France.

For those returned to the AmaCerto for lunch, a shuttle bus ran back and forth into Strasbourg from 2:30pm until 5:30pm. Since departure isn’t until 4:45am (that’s right, a.m.!), many guests chose to have a truly French evening dining experience ashore and took a taxi back to the AmaCerto.

Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg
Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg towers over the city center.

Strasbourg’s Christmas Markets, “Christkindelmärik”, is one of the oldest in France, began in 1570. There are several Christmas Markets within Strasbourg but the main one is Place de la Cathédrale.

strasbourg christmas markets
From a distance it looks like icicles and snow dripping from stars…
strasbourg in petite France
Did you know…the stork is Strasbourg’s city symbol. Storks are everywhere!
Strasbourg Christmas Markets at Le Gruber
One of my favorite spots for a glass of wine and a tarte flambée (sort of an open-face grilled cheese with thin-sliced onions, set under a flame to crisp) at Le Gruber.

Day Six:  Fifth Christmas Markets in Breisach and/or Riquewihr

Breisach, Germany was the fifth and final port on this seven-day Enchanting Rhine cruise. Guests could choose either an afternoon walking tour of Breisach and then to Freiburg by motor coach.

Another tour was bicycle tour of Breisach or a 45-minute bus ride to Riquewihr, a beautiful small French town in the heart of Alsace. Sort of like the town in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Breisach downtown.
Quiet, residential Breisach wasn’t really up to a full-out Christmas market scene.

Since I knew I’d be back in Breisach in three days to do a walk-around, a re-visit to the charming Alsatian town of Riquewihr was my destination. I was curious how the town would be dressed up for Christmas.

Riquewihr Christmas Market street
Dressed up it was, even for late November. When we arrived around 2pm…the main street was fairly quiet. By 5pm, the crowds again swooped in.
Riquewihr christmas market
Every house, shop and alleyway were decorated. It’s a wonderful town to wander and temporarily lose your bearings.

READ ABOUT: Five Unusual Museums to Visit in Cologne

The quiet before the crowds arrive. As I walked up, back and across every narrow street, I couldn’t resist a peek into every alleyway.

It’s always sad to say goodbye to new river cruise friends. On small river ships like these, it’s easy to get to know almost everyone.

AmaCerto docked in Breisach Germany
Back to Breisach at sunset
AmaCerto paté appetizer
Captain’s Farewell dinner began with paté alongside colorful Christmas-y crudités.

After the Captain’s Farewell Dinner, it was time to head to my stateroom. With jacket on, I sat on the balcony and enjoyed the crisp breeze as the AmaCerto left Breisach for Basel, Switzerland.

AmaCerto in Basel.
Docked in Basel, waiting for the next group of passengers to arrive.

Day 7:  Basel, Switzerland – Turnaround Day

When we woke up the next morning, we were in Basel. It was important for me to stay out of the way of the crew this morning. Tons of provisions were waiting to be loaded, rooms had to be cleaned as the ship prepared for its next guests. 

The perfect opportunity to check out, wait for it… the Christmas Markets in Basel.

Basel Christmas Market
Only a 10 minute walk from the ship’s docking position and you’ll find Basel’s Christmas Market.
Swiss raclette cheese with potatoes.
More food! Swiss Raclette cheese with roasted potatoes, tiny onions and two little dill pickles. And another souvenir mug of Glüewein of course. More amazing street food.

By tonight, I’d be settled into my new room, ready to re-explore the same Christmas Markets that we visited on our last cruise, except in reverse. This time, I knew where to go for the best potato pancakes and glüewein!

Disclosure: I was a guest aboard AmaWaterways AmaCerto. As always, all opinions and photos are my own. How could I fake this stuff? It was a spectacular pair of cruises on an excellent, award-winning river cruise line.

Seriously. You need to put this on your to-do list. And if you can budget the time and money, reserve a back-to-back river cruise.



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  1. Hi Nancy,
    Thank you for reading my article. From my experience, almost every major river cruise line pushes two twin beds together to create a king bed. Or at least very close to the size of a king. Cruise ships do the same, too. I don’t think it would be an issue because the two twins together are definitely larger than a traditional land-based queen bed.

    If my suggestion still leaves you unsure, your travel agent or someone at a major river cruise line’s reservations department should be able to get the exact width measurements for you. All I know is that, in my experiences, two twins = king bed. I hope this is helpful to you.

    Thank you again for reading my article and taking the time to send your question. Have a wonderful cruise!

  2. With all of your knowledge of river cruises, are there any lines that offer king size beds in their state rooms? My husband and I need this size of bed and we like the small ship. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Hi Marlene,
    Thank you for readying my article. Your question is very interesting and I’m sure applies to many travelers. Going on tours in Europe, especially in small towns could be an issue for finding a public washroom. France and by now probably other countries have pay-per-use restrooms on street corners. You’d just have to have the right currency and be on the closest corner. Motor coaches all seem to have restrooms, but passengers are not always aware. These are located at the back exit door, sort of under a row of seats. Sometimes they are locked and only the driver has the key.

    I would take a very close look at where you’d go before paying anything for a Europe trip. That’s a very tough and personal question to answer. I’m sorry that I can’t say that it would be easy to find a washroom in Europe…unless you could duck into a restaurant to use one. And even then, be sure to have the right currency. For me personally, it hasn’t been an issue. If there’s a facility where we are visiting, I’ll usually take the time. Curiously, another thing I do is if the tour includes lunch, then I just pick at the meal, unless I know there will be a washroom en route. I don’t want to take any chances and have found this to be a good practice.

    Good luck and best wishes for a wonderful trip abroad. Thank you again for reading my article and taking the time to write your question.

  4. Love to live vicariously thru someone elses travels as having choleitis makes it difficult to get around and leads me to this question. Needing washrooms at a moments notice. How did you find them and did you always have to pay? Such an annoyance and always wonder how others contend with such issues. In Canada it’s considered a right to have washrooms at our disposal everywhere. Travelling to europe is never easy as one would like. Would love an info you can share.

  5. Hi Laura,
    Thanks for your comment. The Christmas Markets experience is truly a shopping and food fest, especially if you like potato pancakes! I hope you get to go to one soon. From your email address, it looks like you’re much closer than I am! Happy travels.

  6. I have only taken a summer river cruise with AmaWaterways so far but a Christmas markets cruise is definitely one I’d like to book. Even doing the same itinerary would be be totally different (I’m assuming). I’m not going to lie, I want to visit Rüdesheimer just for the coffee! A very interesting post.

  7. Hi Karen,
    Thanks for reading the article and for your question. The market with the ferris wheel was the Altstadt Market, very close to the river dock…towards the Chocolate Museum end. I hope you get to go, if you haven’t already experienced the Christmas Markets in Germany or France.
    Thanks again for writing.

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