by Emma Featherstone, The Telegraph, November 13, 2018
So you’ve toured Europe’s Christmas markets, had your fill of mulled wine, bratwurst and steiners – now how about something a little different to get into the festive spirit?
From a castle tour that takes you back to a 19th century yuletide to a Christmas Eve soak in thermal baths, here are six Christmas experiences to try along Europe’s waterways:
Christmas at the castle in Germany’s Rhineland
Ascend the steps of the colourfully-lit Rheinstein castle on the banks of the Rhine where you’ll be greeted by the Hecher family, resident since 1975. Admire their 19th-century costumes (worn especially for the occasion) as they guide you across the drawbridge to the sounds of a fanfare.
Colourfully-lit knights, dragons and princess cutouts surround the castle. The Christmas tree quota doesn’t disappoint either with one on every floor. Children can listen to Cornelia Hecher read fairy tales (a good chance to learn some German phrases) or watch a battle between knight and dragon in the Rhine Tower, accompanied by music and fire.
Stroll through the museum rooms and soak up the history before waffles and wine by the fire in the castle.
The fairy tale Christmas Castle runs from November 24 to December 16, 2019. Adults: €7.00/£6.10; Children (3-5 years): €4.00/£3.50; (6-14 years): €5.50/£4.80; burg-rheinstein.de .
Amawaterway’s seven-night Christmas Markets on the Rhine Cruise sails from Amsterdam or Basel. From £2,045pp, departures in November and December, 2018 ( amawaterways.co.uk ).
Wintry fun in the Museumsquartier, Vienna
Vienna ’s imperial architecture and array of museums will have some added Christmas sparkle until December 23. The area known as the MuseumsQuartier spreads across central Vienna and includes 60 cultural institutions, such as the Museum of Modern Art and Zoom Children’s Museum.
During the Christmas countdown the entertainment includes light shows, concerts, ice pavilions, an ice curling rink and “the winter race” where drivers of remote-controlled cars vie for first place on the MuseumsQuartier pond. Many of the events are free of charge.
Ice curling is €45/£39.50 for 30 minutes (book online) and remote-controlled cars cost €5/£4.40 for 10 minutes use in “the winter race” ( mqw.at ).
Viking Cruises offers a Danube Waltz Voyage with a stop in Vienna. From £3,045pp, departing November 23, 2018, from Passau, Germany ( vikingcruises.co.uk ).
The light fantastic in Amsterdam
Now in its seventh year, Amsterdam ’s annual Light Festival brings spectacular sculptures to the city’s public spaces. From November 29 to January 20, 2019 you can wander around them at your own pace (switch-on is 5pm each evening) or take a guided tour, by foot, bike or boat. Artists, designers and architects from 16 cities are involved. A Starry Night, a creation by Serbian duo Ivana Jelić and Pavle Petrović, is inspired by Van Gogh’s work of the same name, and Spider on the Bridge will involve an an instillation over a bridge on the Herengracht canal.
In the city on December 27? If so, you could join locals on the official Amsterdam Light Walk
Tickets to the Amsterdam Light Walk are €13/£11.40 for 10km (6.2 miles); amsterdamlightwalk.nl .
Scenic offers a seven-night Rhine Christmas Markets cruise, which finishes in Amsterdam. From £2,690pp, departing December 12, 2018 from Basel, Switzerland. ( scenic.co.uk ).
A Christmas soak in Budapest
Soaking up the medicinal qualities of Budapest ’s thermal baths could help undo the effects of too many mince pies. Throw on your swimming gear and head for the baths scattered across the city, many of which are open on Christmas eve and day – check specific baths for opening times before you visit (prices vary, from around £7 to £17.65; bathsbudapest.com .
For those eking out the festivities, SPArty Budapest runs a celebration on five Saturdays in November and December complete with DJs, fire jugglers and acrobats, plus a special pre-New Year’s Eve party on Sunday November 30 (over 18s only, €45/£39.45 to €85/£74.50 for a single ticket; spartybooking.com .
U by Uniworld offers a five-day A Merry Little Christmas Cruise, round-trip from Budapest. From £1,229pp, departing December 16, 2018 ( ubyuniworld.com ).
Find the gingerbread man in Nuremberg
Cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, ginger, and vanilla – it’s a distinctly festive fragrance that rises from the gingerbread cooking classes in Nuremberg. While a year-round speciality in the city, Christmas is the ideal time to join a baking lesson with Cookinista (which runs cooking classes, tours and events).
As you measure, stir and shape your biscuits your chef for the afternoon will reveal the stories and secrets of Nuremberg’s Gingerbread (in the middle-ages there were special guilds of gingerbread bakers, for example). Your take-away batch could even make an extra Christmas present.
Group classes are offered in English; from €15/£13 per person ( cookionista.com ).
Avalon Waterway’s eight-night Christmastime on the Danube voyage includes a stop in Nuremberg. From £3,158pp, departing December 13 from London Gatwick – the cruise departs from Vienna ( avaloncruises.co.uk ).
Join the circus in Rotterdam
Keen on gravity defying acrobatics or performing dogs? From December 22 to 30 there’s an eclectic programme available at Rotterdam ’s Christmas Circus – from Ethiopia’s African Dream Troupe, which performs acrobatic stunts, to Russia’s Diana Vediashkina who performs with a highly obedient pack of dachshunds.
Each year the circus rolls out a new line-up of performers from around the world. Even if you’re travelling with children – under twos get free entry, provided they can sit on someone’s lap – they’ll be a performance to keep everyone entertained.
From €27.95/£24.40; cityguiderotterdam.com .
A five-night Rotterdam, Rouen and Honfleur Christmas Market cruise with Cruise and Maritime Voyages costs from £249pp, departing December 9, 2018 from London Tilbury ( cruiseandmaritime.com ).