As winter approaches, Europe warms with an irresistible holiday spirit, brightened by the beloved Christkindlesmarkts—or Christmas markets—that pop up in small towns and large cities alike. Cruise the Danube to visit magical merchant villages from Nuremberg to Vienna, and witness the customs that are unique to each festival. Soak in choral music and spice-scented air while browsing stalls filled with everything from glittering ornaments to colorful toy soldiers. Explore your medieval surroundings in charming towns like Regensburg and Melk, and see grand castles decked with tinsel and garland during this enchanting season.
Stroll Europe’s enchanting Christmas markets—from the intimate festivals in Salzburg and Regensburg to Nuremberg’s holiday extravaganza—and revel in each event’s distinct traditions, treats, and crafts.
Enjoy insight on the historical importance of the Danube from a National Geographic expert as you experience the river’s tapestry of medieval, Renaissance, and Roman influences.
Visit Vienna’s Museum of Natural History for an inside look at its meteorite exhibit, co-curated by a National Geographic grantee.
Learn the art of taking nighttime pictures from a National Geographic photographer, then set out to capture storybook villages aglow with twinkling lights and candles.
Itinerary - 8 Days
Day 1 — Nuremberg, Germany
Arrive in Nuremberg in the early afternoon and embark the Scenic Amber. Enjoy a welcome dinner on board this evening.
Day 2 — Nuremberg
Our holiday festivities begin at the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, one of the largest and most popular Christmas markets in all of Europe. The annual gathering of toy and trinket merchants stays true to its centuries-old roots, encouraging the sale of traditional gifts and food. Stroll row after row of candy cane-striped stalls—gingerbread and mulled wine in hand—and peruse intricate ornaments, toy-soldier nutcrackers, and the city’s famous plum people. Later, choose between touring the city’s World War II sites, bicycling along Ludwig Canal, or joining a gingerbread-making class.
Day 3 — Regensburg
Set at the confluence of the Danube, Naab, and Regen rivers, Regensburg once served as a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire. Browse stalls aglow with candles and twinkling lights at the town Christmas market, set in the courtyard of St. Emmeram Palace. Alternatively, set out on a guided walk through the medieval center to see its splendid Gothic cathedral, 12th-century stone bridge, and the ancient Roman gateway to the city. Or tour the historic Kuchlbauer Brewery and its whimsical tower—a tribute to modern art.
Day 4 — Salzburg, Austria or Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
Today, choose between a visit to Salzburg or the Czech town of Český Krumlov—both designated World Heritage sites. Stroll the storybook streets of Salzburg's Old Town, host to one of the continent’s oldest Christmas markets, set in a picturesque square in front of the Salzburg Cathedral and beneath the city’s iconic medieval castle. Or tour Český Krumlov’s historic center, a labyrinth of cobblestoned streets lined with medieval, baroque, and Renaissance houses.
Day 5 — Dürnstein / Melk, Austria
In Austria’s Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, hike to the hilltop ruins of Dürnstein’s medieval castle or embark on an enjoyable bike ride along the river from Dürnstein to Melk. Alternatively, enjoy a guided tour of Melk’s 18th-century Benedictine abbey, one of the world’s most magnificent baroque buildings. You may instead choose to visit a local winery for a guided tour of the cellars and vines, followed by a tasting of the region’s celebrated Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings. This evening, sip a cocktail as we cruise past churches and castles festooned with holiday décor.
Day 6 — Vienna
Arrive in Vienna this morning, and visit Schönbrunn Palace, host to an intimate, upscale Christmas market during the holiday season. You may instead opt to take a specially arranged tour of the Museum of Natural History for an inside look at its meteorite exhibit, co-curated by National Geographic grantee Ludovic Ferrière. Or peruse the galleries of the Belvedere Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings. Later, step into a magical winter wonderland at the city’s Christkindlmarkt, framed by twinkle-lit trees and the soaring neo-Gothic city hall, its lights all aglow. Wander past merchants selling Weihnachtspunsch, a spiked, spicy punch, and roasted chestnuts—the perfect accompaniment as you browse stalls brimming with beeswax candles and hand-blown glass ornaments. Breathe in the opulence and luxury of Palais Liechtenstein while enjoying a glass of fine Austrian Sekt. Then be enthralled by an enchanting private Viennese evening concert featuring the timeless music of Strauss and Mozart. Even in elegant Vienna, Palais Liechtenstein is one of the grandest of all venues. (B,L,D)
Day 7 — Budapest or Szentendre, Hungary
Wake up in Budapest and set out on a walking tour to discover its architectural gems, including the splendid neo-Gothic Parliament building. Climb historic Castle Hill, see the Royal Palace and visit Matthias Church, the stunning setting for the coronations and weddings of the Habsburg royalty; then enjoy a private piano concert. Alternatively, explore Budapest through the lens of its Jewish history; hike the Buda Hills that rise beyond the city center; or venture to the charming riverfront town of Szentendre, home to a thriving artist colony.
Day 8 — Budapest
After breakfast, depart for the airport or your next destination.
This trip is offered in partnership with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours.
Book by June 30, 2018 and receive round-trip economy airfare between the U.S. and Europe for $395 per person. Offer is subject to availability and valid for new bookings only, and may not be combined with other promotions. Please call for details.
Born in Denmark, award-winning photographer Sisse Brimberg has produced and photographed more than 30 stories for National Geographic magazine over the past 40 years, covering a wide range of subjects, from the Hanseatic League and the Vikings to the global flower trade and the prehistoric cave art of southwestern France. As contributing photographer for National Geographic Traveler, she produced stories about Belgium and Austria's Wachau Valley, and sailed down the Rhine for a story about chocolate. Sisse won first prize for “Picture Story of the Year” from the National Press Photographers Association for her story on migrant workers. Brimberg established and managed her own photo studio in Copenhagen after attending photography school. Her photographs have been exhibited around the world in Germany, Greece, Brazil, Mexico, New York City (International Center for Photography), and Washington, D.C. (The Newseum).
Travelers can choose between a light or moderate activity level. For a light level of activity, they should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives on bumpy roads, or easy hikes.
For a moderate level, travelers should be prepared for multiple hours of physical activity (e.g. hiking, kayaking, biking) each day.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.