Embark ms Esprit in Amsterdam
Tour begins: 4:00 PM, Amsterdam. A transfer is included from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport or Central Station directly to your Tauck riverboat, ms Esprit, aboard which you'll cruise as far as Budapest. Enjoy a welcome briefing and a leisurely dinner as you settle into your floating hotel for a memorable two-week-cruise on the Main, Rhine and Danube Rivers.
Great art, a canal cruise and more in Amsterdam
Amsterdam... the name itself conjures up images of the Dutch capital's myriad cultural treasures, from gabled houses, markets and cafés to awe-inspiring museums housing a treasure trove of world-famous art - and it's all yours to enjoy today. Your guided tour of the famed Rijksmuseum is really inspiring - a firsthand look at Rembrandt's masterpiece The Night Watch is like meeting the artist himself, and you'll love seeing acclaimed works by other well-known "Old Dutch Masters." Once an exclusive royal privilege, a private sightseeing cruise by canal boat on the city's network of concentric, tree-lined 17th-century canals provides a unique view of Amsterdam's blend of architectural styles - they date all the way back to medieval times - and a unique taste of daily life in this easygoing city. Join us for a welcome reception and dinner tonight as we chart a course to Germany.
A blend of ancient & modern in Köln
After a morning of cruising and lunch aboard the riverboat, your explorations continue in Köln (Cologne), the oldest city in Germany. A guided walking tour of city sights includes a visit to twin-spired Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), boasting one of the world's largest church façades; it is one of Europe's most beloved Gothic cathedrals. You'll have some free time to wander through Cathedral Square and the Hohe Strasse pedestrian area in the afternoon, or enjoy an optional visit to Köln's Roman-Germanic Museum, built around the mosaic floor of a 3rd-century villa and showcasing a large collection of Roman artifacts (closed on Mondays). Dinner aboard ship tonight is followed by an onboard performance by local musicians.
The Lorelei & Rüdesheim's music machines
The perfect Rhine cruise... glide along the river until early afternoon, and relax as your Tauck Director shares a tale or two during the cruise through the scenic - and literally legendary - Lorelei Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arrive in Rüdesheim, where an entertaining lunch in a local German restaurant with an old-world ambiance precedes a visit to Siegfrieds Mechanisches Musikkabinett, an eclectic collection of mechanical musical instruments housed in a 15th-century castle in Rüdesheim, followed by free time; walk back to the ship or ride the mini train. Alternatively, you can choose to join us on a bicycling excursion along the Rhine today. Back aboard the riverboat this evening, enjoy dinner while cruising the Rhine.
A full day cruising the Main
Enjoy the views as your Rhine cruise continues into the Main River, for a full day of cruising through scenic valleys studded with castles, cathedrals, and fortified towns. A Bavarian-themed dinner aboard the riverboat tonight precedes a demonstration of the time-honored skill of glass-blowing, followed by a crew show or an evening of music and dancing.
Rothenburg or Würzburg & a wine tasting
Spend the morning cruising and have lunch aboard the riverboat before arriving in Würzburg for choice of sightseeing. You can choose an excursion to medieval Rothenburg, on Germany's "Romantic Road," to see its Gothic cathedral and gabled houses on a walking tour, and enjoy some free time. Or stay in Würzburg and visit its famous Residenz, where the town's prince bishops lived from 1744. One of the largest and most beautiful Baroque palaces in Germany, it was built and decorated in the 18th century by an international team of architects, painters, and sculptors, and is today recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Later, all will gather in Würzburg for a wine tasting, then return to the riverboat for dinner aboard ship.
Along the Main to Bamberg
Your riverboat cruises along the Main to the Bavarian town of Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated atop seven hills. After discovering the town's lovely gardens, medieval architecture and 13th-century Gothic cathedral with its four imposing towers on a guided walking tour of Old Town, you'll have time to explore this charming town on your own. Back aboard the riverboat, enjoy a barbecue dinner on the Sun Deck tonight, weather permitting.
Historic Nürnberg and the Main-Danube Canal
Tauck's Main, Danube and Rhine cruise arrives this morning in historic Nürnberg, where you'll have a choice of a walking tour through Nürnberg's medieval ramparts to the Imperial Castle and the old city, or view the Courthouse, Zeppelinfeld rally grounds, and other sites associated with World War II and its aftermath, and visit the Documentation Center. Your riverboat negotiates the Main-Danube Canal today, which ultimately links the North Sea with the Black Sea - and which you'll learn all about from a local expert during your transit. The idea goes back as far as Charlemagne, but wasn't realized until this canal was completed in the 1990s; pass through 16 locks as the waterway traverses the mountains. Dinner is aboard the riverboat this evening, with music and dancing to follow in the lounge.
Ancient Regensburg and on to Passau
With its roots as a Roman encampment on the Danube, the quintessential Bavarian town of Regensburg is home to more than 1,400 original historic buildings. Walking here is a delight and is the only way to view the sights up-close. A local guide will lead the way as you see the town's 12th-century Steinerne Brücke (Germany's oldest surviving stone bridge), the 15th-century Altes Rathaus (Town Hall), the towering Dom St. Peter, and the remains of the Roman wall. Visit the princely house of Thurn und Taxis on a guided tour, followed by free time. Enjoy an onboard musical performance by a local quartet before your ship sets off for Passau.
Explore Baroque Passau & cruise the Danube
The riverboat docks in the port city of Passau, dating way back to Roman times. Spend time exploring this lovely Bavarian town - well-known for its Baroque architecture including unique four-story homes, scores of churches and marvelous stained glass - on a walking tour; inside St. Stephan's Cathedral, you'll see (and perhaps hear in a public recital) the largest pipe organ outside of the U.S. (and the world's biggest cathedral organ). Listen to commentary from your Tauck Director and take advantage of other activities as you continue your Danube, Main and Rhine cruise in the afternoon, bound for Melk, Austria. This evening, enjoy a musical performance by a classical trio.
Melk Abbey & a Grand Evening in Vienna
Your next destination is the town of Melk, Austria, where you'll step back in time on a guided tour of its 900-year-old Benedictine Abbey, perched on a rocky outcrop above the river. Inside this Baroque masterpiece are fine frescoes, early manuscripts, and a high altar. Back aboard the riverboat, enjoy views of castles, vineyards, small towns, monasteries and medieval ruins while cruising through the Wachau Valley toward the magnificent Austrian capital city of Vienna. Tonight, a Tauck Exclusive - a private, gala evening in the Baroque Palais Ferstel in the heart of the city, featuring a sumptuous dinner and live entertainment - just might sweep you off your feet!
An "Imperial" day in Vienna
Get an overview of Vienna, Austria's capital and one of Europe's greatest cities, with a morning sightseeing tour of this historic former capital of the Habsburg Empire. Take your choice of a tour of Schönbrunn Palace, built to rival Versailles, or a guided visit to the Sisi Museum and the amazing Imperial Apartments inside the Hofburg, the Habsburgs' former Imperial palace that today is the official residence of Austria's president. Explore the city as you wish this afternoon, or return to the riverboat; dinner is aboard ship tonight.
Across the Centuries in Bratislava, Slovakia
Depart Vienna after breakfast, and spend the morning cruising to Slovakia. Arrive early afternoon in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, where 17 centuries of history are chronicled on a walking tour led by a local guide. Highlights include Baroque palaces from the Habsburg era, along with St. Martin's Cathedral, the Opera House, Slovak Philharmonic Hall, and a visit to Old Town Hall. This evening, a taste of Slovakia with a Slovak dinner followed by entertainment aboard the riverboat; set off for Budapest tonight.
Welcome to Budapest on the Danube
Your remarkable riverboat voyage from the North Sea to the Black Sea cruises into Budapest, Hungary's capital, today - the mid-point of your grand European river cruise. Standing on opposite banks of the Danube, Budapest's two distinct sections - Buda and Pest - were once independent cities. Explore the Pest section on a day of sightseeing that includes views of patriotic Heroes' Square, dominated by statues of great leaders from Hungarian history; City Park; and Central Market Hall. The afternoon is free to explore.
Buda sightseeing & embark ms Joy
Disembark ms Esprit in Budapest this morning. Sightseeing in the city's Buda section today includes the Hungarian Parliament building, a 19th-century neo-Gothic masterpiece on the Danube (when open); and Fisherman's Bastion, standing watch like a sentinel over the river. After spend some time exploring as you please, you'll board another Tauck riverboat - the 443-foot (135-meter) ms Joy - in Budapest to continue your cruise along the lower Danube River.
Antiquities and more in Hungary
Arrive in Mohacs this morning and travel to Pécs for a walking tour. Here you'll also explore the fascinating Christian Necropolis, a complex dating back to the 4th century that includes underground burial chambers and chapels adorned with early Christian art and frescoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the 19th century, Pecs was famous worldwide for the exquisite Zsolnay porcelain manufactured here, and your visit includes a stop at the Zsolnay Museum for a look at its stunning examples of Art Nouveau stoneware, tiles and pottery. Visit a winery in Villány for lunch (this region is renowned for its red wines) then return to Mohacs for dinner aboard ship.
Vukovar, Croatia & on to Novi Sad in Serbia
Your riverboat exploration of the lower Danube cruises into Croatia; an onboard lecture by a local expert provides insights into the country's culture and history. Dock in the Baroque city of Vukovar, once showcasing opulent 18th-century mansions, but now poignantly symbolizing the effects of the 1990s war as it rebuilds; visit the home of a Vukovar family who have recently returned to resume their lives in the city after the conflict, who will share homemade refreshments with you. Reboard your riverboat for lunch and cruise to Novi Sad, Serbia, enhanced by commentary by your Tauck Directors. You'll have a little free time this evening to explore Novi Sad before your cruise continues to Belgrade.
Belgrade sights & a private palace visit
Dock in Belgrade, Serbia's eclectic, cosmopolitan capital at the juncture of the Danube and Sava rivers. You can choose to spend the morning touring the "New Belgrade" section of the city by bicycle with a local guide (you'll need to be comfortable riding a bicycle in a city environment); or join our local guides for a city tour that includes visits to Tito's Memorial and the formidable Kalemegdan Fortress, and views of busy Slavija Square (now one of the city's major squares, but once a large pool where residents hunted wild ducks!), Parliament, Republic Square and City Hall. After lunch onboard, you have the afternoon free to spend as you please. Following onboard entertainment by Serbian performers during cocktail hour, you'll return to shore for this evening's sparkling Tauck Exclusive - dinner at the Royal White Palace of the Serbian Royal Family in Belgrade, built in the 1930s for members of the Yugoslavian royal family and set within the same complex as the Royal Palace of Dedinje, today home to HRH Crown Prince Alexander II of Serbia and his family.
The Iron Gate of the Danube, King Decebalus and more
Watch the scenic eastern heartland unfold as you spend the day cruising to Bulgaria; en route, fields and vineyards reveal ways of life here that harken back to an earlier age. A highlight is your passage through the Kazan Narrows and Iron Gate, a gorge where the Danube surges down from the mountains with the Transylvanian Alps above and river rapids below, said to be where the terrifying Hydra was slain by Hercules.
Bulgarian art in Ruse or Ivanovo
Your journey along the lower Danube cruises to Bulgaria; largely off limits during four centuries of Ottoman rule and decades behind the Iron Curtain, the country's rich natural beauty and history is yours to discover today. Disembark after lunch in Ruse - often referred to as "Little Vienna" for its Art Nouveau homes, Austro-Hungarian architecture and lively cafés - for a choice of afternoon sightseeing. You may join us for a guided walking tour of Ruse, or a beautiful (but challenging) hike to the celebrated Rock Churches in the village of Ivanovo, whose stony chambers carved into steep, cliffside caves reveal stunning medieval frescoes inside; a visit is richly rewarding.
Constanta & Mamaia on the Black Sea
Depart the riverboat in the key Black Sea port city of Constanta, Romania, for a tour of what originally was the ancient Greek colony of Tomis and home to numerous Greek and Roman antiquities; sights include an Art-Nouveau casino, and a monument to the Roman poet Ovid, who was exiled here by the Emperor Augustus. Then it's on to Mamaia, the largest seaside resort on the Black Sea, for lunch and time at leisure to enjoy the beach before returning to the riverboat for the last night of your cruise. Join us for the ship's farewell reception and dinner this evening as the riverboat spends the night in Constanta.
Disembark for a massive palace in Bucharest
Disembark your riverboat in Cernavoda and travel across fertile plains to Bucharest, capital of Romania and once regarded as the "Paris of the Balkans." A sightseeing tour of city landmarks includes Revolution Square and the Triumphal Arch; erected to commemorate Romania's reunification and those who fell in World War I, it is a smaller but otherwise exact copy of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Lunch in the Old Town, the city's charming historic center; a former enclave of artisans and merchants in the 16th century, it's now a trendy district of old inns, antique shops, galleries, and cafes, riddled with winding networks of vaulted cellars, cobblestone streets and passageways. Settle in for the next two nights at the JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel in the heart of the city, then depart for the massive Palace of Parliament (a.k.a. the People's Palace), built by dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu to be the center of political power in the capital; the Soviet-style white marble complex, 12 stories high, with over a thousand rooms and four underground levels, is the world's largest building after the Pentagon, and some parts of it are still unfinished! An introductory tour concludes with a special farewell reception and dinner at the ubiquitous Palace, complete with musical entertainment.
Transylvania, Targoviste or Peles Castle
A choice of sightseeing today echoes the legacy of 15th-century Romanian prince Vlad Tepes (a.k.a. "Vlad the Impaler"), thought to be the historical model for Bram Stoker's Dracula. You may choose to take a full-day excursion to Transylvania's 14th-century Bran Castle, which Tepes once used as a fortress during his military campaigns; the excursion includes a brief walk and lunch in Brasov. Or you can opt for a trip to Targoviste to see the ruins of Tepes' palace, including its imposing watchtower, restored in the 19th century; you'll also visit the army barracks (now a museum) where Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was tried and executed in 1989. Your third option today is an excursion into the Carpathian Mountains and Transylvania for a visit to Peles Castle and Sinaia, with lunch at a local restaurant and a return to Bucharest for free time and dinner as you please.
Tour ends in Bucharest, Romania. Fly home anytime. A transfer is included from the JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel to Bucharest Henri Coanda International Airport and Bucuresti Gara de Nord; please allow 3 hours for flight check-in at the airport.