Best Local Foods to Try on a European Christmas Market River Cruise
Updated: Aug 16
With the European Christmas Market season just around the corner, it’s time to dust off your luggage, snag yourself a comfortable pair of walking shoes, and pick up some pants with plenty of stretch in the waistband, because we’ve got a list of mouth-watering, must-try Christmas Market eats you won’t want to miss. So, pour yourself a glass of mulled wine or ‘gluhwein’ and let the ‘feast-ivities’ begin!
What better way to kick off your wander around those festive stalls than with chestnuts roasting on an open fire? You’ll find maroni stalls dotted throughout most German Christmas markets.
Gugelhupf Cake is a classic time-honored Christmas treat found in markets across Germany, Austria, France, Poland, and beyond. Each region has its own variation, but the traditional version is much like a semi-sweet brioche, baked with raisins and dusted with icing sugar.
These deliciously doughy tubes of cake originate in Hungary but are often found in English, Austrian, and Czech Christmas Markets. Depending on the baker, these sweet treats can either be served hollow or stuffed with whipped cream or ice cream and dusted in cinnamon and crushed almonds.
Baked in a clay oven, this Hungarian dish can be likened to a decadent pizza. Topped with caramelized onions, crispy bacon, cheese, and cream. This personal-sized savory snack is perfect any time of day.
The Zegrab Christmas Market was voted Best Christmas Market in Europe three years in a row, and the substantial selection of festive eats was a driving factor. A tasty Croatian specialty you’ll definitely want to start with is plum dumplings; a potato dough rolled into balls, stuffed with sweet plums, and fried to a perfect crispy golden finish.
A Viennese Christmas market is the last place you’ll ever struggle to find an amazing Christmas-themed dish. A local favorite, vanillekipferl is a crescent-shaped cookie or biscuit, made with ground almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts, and served with a dusting of vanilla sugar.
What is Christmas in Europe without sampling cheeses wherever you go? Raclette is a cheese that comes from the alpine meadows of Valais in Switzerland. Vendors will often serve this creamy cheese in grilled cheese sandwiches or on its own as a fondue.
During the holiday season, bakeries and Christmas markets across France fill their shelves and displays with beautiful and delicious holiday sweets. Gingerbread and lemon-flavored Bredele biscuits are a popular sweet treat found both in the Christmas markets, as well as in bakeries across the country.
Flammekueche Germany is well known for its Christmas markets, but did you know Strasbourg, France is considered the “Capital of Christmas?” Strasbourg is home to Christkindelsmärik, a Christmas market first set up in 1570. The array of sweet, savory, salty, and creamy treats will leave your head spinning and your tummy grumbling. Smothered in crème fraîche, sliced onions and crispy lardons, flammekueche (translated as ‘flame cake’ or tarte flambe) is a decadent pick-me-up for those chilly winter nights.
No list of Christmas market delights would be complete without including a traditional three-ton escorted fruitcake. Yes, you read that correctly; three tons of cake. Dresden achieved a World Record for the ‘Largest Stollen’ at a whopping 4.6 tons. If you find yourself in Dresden at the beginning of December, you’ll get to watch a gargantuan Christollen being wheeled to the Striezelmarkt accompanied by a ‘Fruitcake Maiden’ and then sliced to perfection for hungry market-goers. If you miss it, do not fear - More conventionally proportioned stollen (made from a rich yeast dough, mixed with candied fruits and almonds) is sold throughout the Christmas period. Look out for the ones with the marzipan rope in the middle - they’re divine.
Taking a river cruise during the Christmas Market season allows you to see an entirely different side of Europe, experience the origins of Christmas traditions, and gorge on festive eats you wouldn’t be able to try any other time of year.