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Winter cruises 2021: Where to enjoy Europe's best Christmas markets

Author: Harriet Mallinson

Published on:

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Winter cruises sum up the glorious image of sparkling snowy landscapes, twinkling Christmas markets and indulgent mulled wine - so where's best to go?

Winter cruise holidays in Europe have so much to offer travellers at this time of year if you're wanting to embrace all the magic the season has to offer.

Luckily you're spoiled for choice when it comes to cruise lines offering festive sailings.

MSC Cruises ship MSC Magnifica sails from November on a seven-night Northern Europe itinerary.

The cruise departs every week from Southampton’s new Horizon Terminal, whisking holidaymakers off to the winter wonderlands of the continent.

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MSC Magnifica will cruise to five of the most popular European cities: Hamburg, Germany; IJmuiden/Amsterdam, Netherlands; Zeebrugge for Bruges and Brussels, Belgium; Le Havre for Paris, France; Southampton for London, UK.

Christmas markets were sorely missed last year with the vast majority across the continent cancelled due to Covid. Thankfully most are back up and running this Yuletide!

Hamburg boasts more than 30 Christmas markets where you can shop for presents and fuel up on roasted chestnuts and mulled wine.

In Amsterdam, a Christmas market is held every December in front of the Rijksmuseum at the Museumplein. Cosy winter chalets brim with goodies and there's live entertainment to keep you going. Oh and there's an ice rink!

In Amsterdam, a Christmas market is held every December in front of the Rijksmuseum. Credit: Shutterstock

The festive season also welcomes the Amsterdam Light Festival which sees artworks and installations by national and international artists illuminating the gorgeous canal city.

Meanwhile, the historic city centre of Bruges will be transformed into a giant Christmas market from the end of November. Don't miss stalls selling homemade hot chocolate, ice-cold jenever (a Dutch gin), spiced glühwein (mulled wine to the Brits!).

Over in Brussels, expect of a smorgasbord of festivity - there's a Christmas market with more than 200 chalets, fairground attractions, an ice rink, a large Christmas tree at the Grand-Place and a sound and light show.

Paris too is bristling with Christmas markets. At La Defense’s there's an ice skating rink where revellers can skate under the “Grande Arche,” with views to the Arc de Triomphe. If you want somthing calmer the Christmas market in the Montmartre neighbourhood is more tranquil and you can drink mulled wine by Sacre Coeur.

Winter cruises: Paris too is bristling with Christmas markets. Credit: Shutterstock

MSC cruisers benefit from extended stays in port up to 12 hours, so these winter sailings will allow all guests to really make the most of their time ashore alone.

Prices start from £359pp. for a seven nights cruise from Southampton.

Alternatively, Riviera Travel is offering an Enchanting Rhine & Yuletide Markets River Cruise.

The five-star cruise starts in Cologne where a magnificent cathedral awaits before sailing into the winter wonderland of the Rhine Gorge.

Valleys here are covered with vineyards and topped with ruined castles. Guests get a guided tour in Rüdesheim where you'll find a gorgeous picture-postcard worthy Christmas market.

Be sure to sample a slice of gingerbread or a warming Rüdesheim coffee complete with a fortifying shot of locally distilled Asbach brandy and whipped cream.

Next up is Koblenz - its Christmas market is one of the largest in the Rhineland. Tuck into hot chestnuts and mouth-watering sausages and don't miss the famous Stollen – delicious bread made with candied and dried fruit, nuts and marzipan, traditionally eaten at this time of year.

On the final day you'll visit Bonn, the birthplace of Beethoven (the pianist not the dog) - look out for the huge Romanesque minster, it's one of the oldest churches in the country.

There's no shortage of festive spirit here - the old town hall’s windows are transformed into a giant Advent calendar and there's a giant Christmas tree.

Prices for this five day Riviera Travel cruise start from only £759pp.

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