Colorful holiday lights flicker on the water as a longboat floats on the Danube. Travelers enjoy an unprecedented view of the festivities taking place in European cities sprinkled along the shores. At Christmas time, many cities deck the streets with string lights, wreaths and candles while the town squares bustle with cheerful markets. For groups planning to spend the Christmas season in Europe, a river cruise is the best way to see these six can’t-miss cities along the Danube.
The capital of Austria, Vienna is a metropolis filled with charm, vibrancy and history. Synonymous with music, it was home to famed artists such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Johann Strauss. During the holidays, Vienna lights up with “Christkindlmarkets” all over the city. One of the largest can be found in the square in front of City Hall. You can stroll amid elaborately decorated trees while picking up some traditional Christmas keepsakes and sipping on a mug of Glühwein, hot sweet wine. If you have time to venture to Schönbrunn Palace, you will enjoy a quaint Christmas village filled with the scent of gingerbread and the sound of festive music.
Located in the Wachau Valley of Austria, Emmersdorf is a picturesque town dotted with colorful homes, towering churches and historic structures. This charming town is a joy to explore, with small boutiques for Christmas shopping and lovely restaurants where you can refuel and enjoy some local wine. During the holidays, you can enjoy a Glühwein party in the village.
A short distance from Emmersdorf, Durnstein is known for being the home of Melk Abbey. The magnificent and colossal monument is a true symbol of the region. Built on the foundations of a medieval monastery, Melk Abbey is filled with artworks from famed Baroque artists. Visitors can admire the library, which boasts hundreds of thousands of volumes, many of which are not accessible to the public. Outside on the terrace, you can take in stunning views of the Wachau Valley.
Located at the confluence of three rivers (the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz), Passau is a 2,000-year-old city with Gothic and Baroque architecture that will transport you back in time. The main attraction here is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, built by Italian architect Carlo Lugo. The organ at St. Stephen’s holds the record for the largest church pipe organ in Europe with over 17,000 pipes. Just outside of the cathedral is the historic town center, where the city’s Christmas Market sets up shop. Wander through the dozens of little stalls selling special Christmas goods, presents, arts and crafts, and pick up some holiday specialties to enjoy as you peruse.
A true jewel of the Danube, Regensburg is one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities. It features nearly 1,400 historic buildings, and some of the architectural highlights include the first stone bridge built over the river, the Old Town Hall and the Porta Praetoria, one of only two remaining Roman gates in Germany. The Christmas Market here has been described as one of the loveliest in the country. Stalls are set up around the 500-year-old Neupfarr Church, each selling a range of decorations, traditional Nativity scenes and toys. The festivities continue down the many narrow streets of the city, where e more craftsmen set up booths laden with dolls, pottery, paintings and other gifts.
Located on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, Nuremberg is the second largest city in Bavaria. This culturally significant German city features incredible sites, including Nuremberg Castle, St. Laurence Church, Old Town and the 900-year-old ramparts that surround the city. Hauptmarkt Square in the old quarter is home to Nuremberg’s Christkindlmarkt, one of Germany’s most famous and oldest, dating back to 1628. Here you will find nearly 200 stalls offering traditional food, crafts and souvenirs. Nuremberg is known for its toy-making past, and one of the most popular items to purchase is a nutcracker. During your visit, be sure to try some of Nuremberg’s roast sausage and its famed Lebkuchen (gingerbread).
With so many impressive cities along the Danube, it’s difficult to see all of them. Collette’s “Christmas on the Danube” tour will take you to each of these incredible destinations, allowing you to experience the festive holiday markets, historic architecture and unique cultures these places have to offer.
To learn more, visit gocollette.com.