These Are The World’s 7 Most Festive Ports To Visit At Christmas

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As the holiday season approaches, the world’s ports transform into dazzling destinations, each offering a unique blend of tradition, lights, and celebration.

Barcelona with La Sagrada Familia during christmas season

From the whimsical traditions of Barcelona to the cosy charm of Copenhagen to the vibrant energy of New York City, we’re about to embark on a global tour that promises to redefine your Christmas experience.

So, grab your passport and a cup of hot cocoa, and let’s set sail to explore the magic of these exceptional Christmas destinations!

1. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona at Christmas

Barcelona shines as a unique and vibrant destination for festive cruises in December. This Catalonian capital, steeped in rich traditions and cultural festivities, transforms into a festive wonderland during the Christmas season.

One of the city’s most beloved customs is the Caga Tió, a whimsical Christmas log that children ‘feed’ in the days leading up to Christmas, eagerly anticipating the gifts it will ‘produce’ on Christmas Eve.

Barcelona is renowned for its elaborate Nativity scenes, known as “Pessebres,” which are intricately designed and displayed throughout the city, reflecting the deep religious heritage and artistic flair of the region. 

A centrepiece of Barcelona’s Christmas celebration is the Fira de Santa Llúcia, a bustling outdoor market dating back to 1786. Located in front of the stunning Barcelona Cathedral, this market is a hub of festive activity, offering everything from handcrafted gifts and decorations to typical Catalonian holiday treats. 

In December, several cruise lines, such as MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, P&O Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, include Barcelona in their itineraries. As this is a major departure port, you may wish to spend a few days staying in a Barcelona hotel and exploring the city either before or after your cruise.

2. New York City, USA

NYC Christmas

New York City is an iconic destination for festive cruises in December. Known worldwide for its extravagant holiday displays and celebrations, NYC transforms into a dazzling winter spectacle during the Christmas season. The city’s festive spirit is infectious, with its streets and landmarks adorned with spectacular lights and decorations.

A central feature of New York’s Christmas celebration is the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, an iconic symbol of the holiday season in the city. This towering tree, brilliantly lit and decorated, draws visitors from around the world, serving as a backdrop for countless holiday memories. 

The window displays of stores like Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue are a visual delight, each telling a unique holiday story through intricate designs and animations. The city also hosts a variety of festive shows, including the renowned Radio City Christmas Spectacular, adding to the rich cultural experience of the holiday season in New York.

Several cruise lines, such as Cunard, Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, feature New York City in their December itineraries. 

3. Vienna, Austria

Vienna Christmas

Vienna, known for its imperial architecture, gets a festive makeover during the Christmas season. The city hosts several Christmas markets, with the Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz being particularly magical.

Vienna comes alive with the sound of classic Christmas music, adding to the city’s enchanting charm. Visitors can enjoy traditional Austrian Christmas treats and crafts.

Many river cruise lines like Uniworld, Riviera Travel and Avalon Waterways offer Danube river cruises that stop in Vienna during December.

4. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen captures the essence of ‘hygge’, the Danish concept of cosiness, especially during Christmas.

The Tivoli Gardens are transformed into a dazzling Christmas fair, adorned with festive lights, decorations, and markets. This blend of cosy Danish traditions and a festive atmosphere makes it a must-visit destination. December visitors can enjoy the quintessential Scandinavian Christmas experience.

Cruise lines such as P&O Cruises, Saga Cruises and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines often include Copenhagen in their winter itineraries.

5. Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg, Germany Christmas

Nuremberg is renowned for its Christkindlesmarkt, one of the world’s oldest and most famous Christmas markets. During December, this German city transforms into a magical winter wonderland, filled with festive cheer.

The market is celebrated for its unique handmade ornaments, traditional gingerbread, and the presence of the Christkind, a symbolic figure of Christmas. Visitors can immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere, sampling traditional foods and browsing through a plethora of Christmas crafts.

Major river cruise lines that visit Nuremberg in December include Viking River Cruises and AmaWaterways, offering itineraries that focus on Christmas markets along the Danube.

6. Bruges, Belgium

Bruges at Christmas

Bruges in December is a fairy-tale-like setting, perfect for those seeking a traditional European Christmas experience. The city’s medieval architecture, including its belfry and cobbled streets, provides a picturesque backdrop for its Christmas market. Located in the main square, the market offers a range of festive goods, from Belgian chocolates to handcrafted gifts.

The scent of Belgian waffles and hot chocolate permeates the air, adding to the market’s cosy atmosphere. Ice-skating rinks add to the festive fun, offering a delightful activity for visitors of all ages. The city’s canals and historical buildings are also lit up with Christmas lights, enhancing the magical ambience.

Bruges is a popular stop on cruises during the Christmas season. Cruise lines such as P&O Cruises, MSC Cruises, Cunard and Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines include Bruges in their itineraries.

7. Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, France Christmas

Strasbourg, often referred to as the ‘Capital of Christmas’, hosts Christkindelsmärik, the oldest Christmas market in France. This market is a focal point of the city’s festive celebrations, blending French and German Christmas traditions in a unique way. The city’s half-timbered houses and historic buildings are beautifully decorated, creating a storybook Christmas setting.

The market features an array of stalls selling traditional Alsatian Christmas items, including handmade decorations, local crafts, and seasonal treats like bredele cookies and vin chaud (mulled wine). The city’s streets are adorned with festive lights and decorations, adding to the magical atmosphere.

Beyond the markets, Strasbourg is rich in culture, with museums, galleries, and live performances. Visitors can also enjoy traditional Alsatian cuisine in the city’s many restaurants and bistros.

River cruises are a popular way to visit Strasbourg during the Christmas season. Cruise lines like Avalon Waterways and AmaWaterways offer itineraries that include Strasbourg, giving travellers the opportunity to experience its renowned Christmas market and festive atmosphere.

My Recommendation

A Christmas cruise is a fantastic holiday. We took a cruise last Christmas and had a wonderful time. Check out my Guide To Cruising At Christmas for more info about the experience.

Cruising over Christmas can be expensive though. So if your budget doesn’t stretch to it, then cruising earlier in December is a great way to experience the festive atmosphere at sea without blowing your holiday budget for the whole year.

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Cruise Mummy

Jenni Fielding is the founder of Cruise Mummy. She has worked in the cruise industry since 2015 and has taken over 30 cruises. Now, she helps over 1 million people per month to plan their perfect cruise holidays.

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