Rhine River Christmas Market Cruise: 7-Day Itinerary

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Curated By

Lee Newell

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  • France

  • Germany

  • Netherlands

  • Amsterdam

  • Active Travel

  • All-Inclusive Travel

  • Cruises

  • Food & Wine

  • International Travel

  • Multi-Destination

  • Local Culture

  • Christmas

market with Christmas decorations
Curator’s statement

Visiting the Christmas Markets in Europe was a bucket-list trip, and I finally took the plunge. After considerable research, I decided an intimate River Cruise along the Rhine was the perfect way to see Christmas markets in Switzerland, France & Germany. I wanted to extend our time before and after the cruise so booked a night in Basel, Switzerland followed by a full day and evening in Amsterdam (not nearly enough time as we fell in LOVE with this amazing city in the Netherlands). While there are a few River Cruise Lines that do these European tours, I chose Ama Waterways and was not disappointed.

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Where to stay

GAIA Hotel Basel

Relaxed hotel near the Basel train station with classically decorated rooms and sustainable initiatives.

AmaWaterways Cruise

Offering trips down the waterways of Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa, AmaWaterways is known for its upscale ships and innovative itineraries.

Kimpton De Witt

Polished hotel with a casual restaurant and coffee shop in the heart of Amsterdam's city center.

Fora Perks
  • $100 hotel / resort credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out, whenever possible.

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Days 1 & 2: Basel, Switzerland

bridge over body of water during daytime

Day 1 & 2 – We arrived in Basel, Switzerland late evening and checked in to Gaia Hotel. The hotel is in a great location situated directly across from the main train station and mere yards from a major Tram stop.

Woke up to a wonderful organic breakfast at the hotel and took the tram to the Basel Christmas market. The best Christmas market was located behind Basel Minster, a beautiful cathedral built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque & Gothic styles. There were carolers singing in front of the church and the market was much more festive than the others (especially with snow-dusted buildings).

After the markets, it was time to check-in to our cruise on the Rhine in Basel. The tram took us directly from the hotel to the river where our boat was waiting for us. Check-in on the Ama Prima was a breeze. The ship was nice and intimate and decorated beautifully for Christmas. We settled into our room and joined the guests and crew for a lovely champagne send-off before heading to dinner.

Day 3: Riquewihr, France

brick building during nighttime

Our first excursion off the boat was to the beautiful town of Riquewihr, France. Riquewihr, located in the heart of Alsace, is officially one of the most beautiful villages in France. We visited the Christmas market and wandered through the festively decorated town surrounded by half-timbered houses. Riquewihr reminded me of many hillside towns in Tuscany.

Day 4: Strasbourg, France & Gengenbach, Germany

large building with bright lights during nighttime

By far one of my favorite days! We visited Strasbourg, France, which is the Capital of Alsace and sits on the border with Germany.

Some must-see sites include:

  • Petite-France, an area of timber houses inhabited by fishermen, tanners and millers in the 16th century. Stroll along the many shops and restaurants while taking in the romanticism of this neighborhood.

  • Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg is magnificent and is known for its astronomical clock, it is one of the main attractions in Strasbourg. The clock is the product of a collaboration between artists, mathematicians and technicians. The current mechanism dates from 1842. At 12:30 p.m. daily, the complete game of automatons plays, and we were there to see it.

  • Orangerie Park is beautiful in any season but especially magical when covered in snow.

  • Christmas Market situated at the Cathedral – one of the best for food!

In the evening on Day 4, we visited Gengenbach, Germany, which dates back to the 13th century. It was like walking into a storybook! Filled with narrow cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses. The Christmas market is centered around the 18th century Town Hall which doubles as the world’s largest advent calendar – majestically lit at night with 24 colorfully lit windows (pictures don’t do it justice).

Day 5: Heidelberg, Germany

buildings with cloudy skies

On Day 5, we arrived in Heidelberg, Germany. Be sure to visit Heidelberg Castle which is on a hillside overlooking the “old downtown” and the beautiful Neckar Valley. The view from the castle couldn’t be beat and seeing the Great Vat, which is a wine cask from the 18th century that holds 49,000 gallons of wine was pretty neat.

Things to do in the old town:

  • Visit Old Stone Bridge.

  • Visit “Haupstrasse”, one of the longest pedestrian shopping streets in Germany.

  • Visit one of the many breweries to taste authentic German beer.

Day 6: Cologne

people standing near buildings with lights

Arrive in Cologne where we have the entire day and evening to explore. Cologne was a favorite spot as it had so much to see and do.

Our day & evening included:

  • Cologne Cathedral – One of the most impressive gothic-style cathedrals I’ve ever seen.

  • Café Richard – A beautiful café, directly across from the cathedral known for its cakes. We waited online to get in and weren’t disappointed. Their hot chocolate was divine.

  • Farina Fragrance Museum. In 1709 Johann Maria Farina invented the most famous water in the world. This classy perfume is still made today by the same family in the same house.

  • Christmas markets - Cologne has some of Europe’s largest Christmas markets which were a favorite. We visited several until we found our favorite which had antique ornaments.

Day 7: Amsterdam

boats in the water next to colorful buildings

We stayed at the Kimpton DeWitt which I highly recommend. Great location, great service, large rooms and the breakfast buffet was one of the best! And all Kimptons host a complimentary wine hour from 4-5.

As part of our cruise, we had a canal tour. A Canal tour is a great way to see Amsterdam. However, I highly recommend exploring Amsterdam on foot. Amsterdam is a very walkable city, and it is so fun to explore the different areas of the city.

Here are our favorites sights in Amsterdam:

  • The quaint "Nine Streets" area was by far our favorite spot in Amsterdam. It was highly recommended, for its picturesque location and shopping and it didn’t disappoint; The Nines straddle Herengracht, Keizersgrach and Prinsengracht in Amsterdam's Central Canal Ring.

  • The Jordan district is in a funky area where you'll stumble upon second-hand stores, artist's studios, small boutiques and galleries. Head to the busy Haarlemmerstraat for more stores and plenty of places to eat after a hard day's shopping.

    • A few of our favorites:

      • Gimme Glitter – a nicely curated vintage shop.

      • Dille & Kamille – housewares, teas and soaps.

      • Madame Blue - Pottery shop with beautiful old and new Delftware. Owned by an artist "Boro" and his wife.

      • Museums: Anne Frank, Van Gough & Erotic Museum.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out my 10-Day Kenya Safari Bucket List Excursion.

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Travel Advisor

Lee Newell

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