You’ve done Paris, you’ve seen Rome but when’s the last time you’ve dug for vintage treasures in Budapest? Or shopped off-the-runway furs in Vienna? For true shopaholics looking to welcome 2015 with a (fashion) bang there’s no better place than Central Europe. With local Christmas markets popping up across the region, from big cities to small hamlets, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.
So, logistics. What’s the best way to navigate the Danube’s best shopping? Take a river cruise, It’s the luxury equivalent of a shopping shuttle and once you’ve done it, it may become your preferred way to see the world. You’ve been warned and we’ve planned your trip.
Expert Tip: To make sure you get the best deal, take a look at this website for amazing Europe River Cruise Deals.
First stop: Budapest
One of our favorite European cities for shopping happened to be our embarkation location for our journey on the Danube, so we decided to spend a few days prior scoping out the retail scene.
Location is key, so home base was the Buddha-Bar Hotel – just a few steps from Vaci Utca aka “Fashion Street.” Housed inside the Klotild Palace (once home to the daughter-in-law of Hungarian King Franz Joseph), the extravagant exterior is a feast for the days. Once inside, dark walls and red leathers adorn a modern, Asian-influenced space. Rooms are spacious and despite its central location, once you’re in, the hotel feels like a private oasis.
We didn’t have to stumble far from Buddha-Bar to hit that retail sweet spot. In fact, we discovered our new favorite clothing line on day 2. Meet Nanushka, an up and coming Hungarian line with the femininity of Chloe and the clean lines of Celine. Creamy knits and smart trousers fill the store for prices starting at $200. Everyone will be asking where you got that top. And is it Marni?!
The major highlight from the end of November through mid-January, however, are the various Christmas markets sprinkled throughout the center. There are leather moto-jackets and coats starting at $100, toasty shearling slippers (that would put your Uggs to shame) and hand-carved bone-handle knives. And that’s just the beginning. Plan to break up your afternoon by picking up a bag of whole roasted chestnuts or indulge in full size goose legs with a side of traditional red cabbage.
Part Two: All Aboard
After a week in bustling Budapest, we were ready to venture further into the heart of the Danube. Upon stepping onboard AmaWaterway’s AmaBella, we knew we were in for something special. State rooms are lined floor to ceiling with windows. The views are absolutely breathtaking, and private French balconies make for unbelievable countryside views (and Instagram posts). AmaBella would host 161 passengers for our 10 day journey down the Danube.
The ship is lovely. The staff is friendly. The views are striking. But it’s waking up that first morning on board that will convert you to river-cruising for life. Akin to peeling open elaborate wrapping paper, drawing the drapes and finding yourself face to face with gilded Baroque buildings or charming Bavarian guest houses is a way to come face to face with travel that we’d never experienced before. (*We chose to cruise the Danube over Christmas, but AmaWaterways offers Danube and other river cruises year round.)
This is the magic of the river cruise. You get to wake up inside the pumping heart of a place. And it’s absolutely addictive. There are no big ports, hordes of tourists or choppy days at sea. The truth is, we’re not ones for big tour buses, large groups or guides with paddle signs. This basically rules out any kind of organized travel that requires punctuality or focus. The beauty of river cruising with AmaWaterways is that the groups are small, the tour options are various and if you’d rather do your own thing, you’re never met with judging eyes from the Cruise Director.
We spent our first excursion day in Vienna. Shopping in the city center feels like you’re inside a jewel box, each building more gilded and gorgeous than the next. The usual suspects are all there, Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Wolford – but for real fashionistas, there is only one destination: Liska. Stocked with off the runway furs and accessories from Fendi, Valentino and Giambattista Valli the selection here is absolutely tremendous. The real ‘wow’ pieces, however, are from Liska’s own line. Mink sweatshirts, color blocked fox coats and an array of Mongolian lambs like we’ve never seen. When we visited, the store was packed with a variety of women from across the world draping themselves with capes, stoles, and shearlings. We could have spent hours inside this treasure of a store, and with locations across Europe (Prague, Budapest and Bratislava) it’s clear that if you need a statement piece, this is the place.
Another ‘must’ in Vienna is the evening Christmas Market. Prepare to be impressed. The lights itself are a sight, and this is the perfect place to stock up on folk crafts like mugs, hand-knit gloves and local honey.
Since every morning is Christmas-morning onboard the AmaBella, on the final day we awoke to a charming Bavarian village dusted with snow. We spent that last morning having coffee on the balcony, looking over the Danube, and plotting our final stop on our Danube shopping trip.
The Finale: Welcome to Heaven aka Praha
By now you know we’re biased. We like luxury travel filled with shopping, eating and beautiful art and culture. For all of the above, Prague is a little piece of heaven on earth – and the perfect way to close the ultimate shopping trip on the Danube. Two hours after disembarking the AmaBella, we found ourselves wandering the windy streets around the Augustine Hotel. Housed in seven different buildings that were formerly a monastery, the Augustine unites classical structural elements with sleek modern luxury. Prague is filled with tourists almost all year around and especially at Christmas, so to experience the old world charm without the hoards of shoppers is key. The Augustine’s location is ideal – just a five minute walk from the Charles Bridge but made extremely discreet with a private driveway. What better way to experience the best of both worlds than to view the ancient glory of the Prague Castle from an oversized marble tub surrounded by heated floors? This is the place to stay in Prague.
Always on the hunt for local, original shopping, Prague is a toughie. The antiques are excellent. The garnets are vast. But the thing to pick up here is glassware. Every shop from high-end boutiques to crowded tourist stalls on the Charles Bridge is packed with glass and crystal. The good stuff, however, stands out and is easy to spot. Artel is known for is striking barware. Every look from modern to classic can be had, and each one is pumped with style. We lusted after black and white deco-patterned decanters and old-fashioned tumblers adorned with cherry red crabs. Luckily they ship worldwide, so for specialty items or wedding gifts that you won’t see anywhere else, this is the retailer to know about.
So if you’re looking to hit the next frontier of shopping while getting off the beaten path, this is the shopping trip for you. Our take? Head down the Daunbe. Until next time! – Gone River Cruisin’ – and don’t forget to check out this website for the best Europe River Cruise Deals.
+ 36 1 799 7300
+36 1 214 1729
+ 43 1 512 4120
Augustine Hotel Prague
+ 420 266 112 233
+ 420 224 815 085
Written by Chloe Popescu & Iris Friedman for EuropeUpClose.com