Day 1: Amsterdam
Arrive at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. If your cruise/tour package includes a group arrival transfer or if you have purchased a private arrival transfer, you will be greeted by a Uniworld representative and transferred to the ship.
Day 2: Amsterdam
Enjoy the luxury of a full day in the “Venice of the North,” starting with a private “Morning with the Masters” tour of the Van Gogh Museum. You’ll have the museum’s extraordinary collection all to yourself, with an art historian to show you the highlights. Afterwards, explore the city with a canal ride or on foot with a local expert.Featured Excursions:Exclusive “Morning with the Masters” at the Van Gogh MuseumThe doors open early to give you a crowd-free viewing of an extraordinary collection. A curator will provide an expert introduction, then you can view the collection at your leisure with a guided audio tour. You’ll also have a chance to do the new all-compassing 3-D “Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience,” which uses innovative and interactive techniques to tell the artist’s life story like never before. Wander with Vincent from the rural Netherlands to the streets of Paris. Pull up a seat at The Potato Eaters’ table or at Café Le Tambourin in Montmartre. Investigate the details of Van Gogh’s paintings using a microscope and step into the life-sized Yellow House and engage with a dramatic shadow play. It’s a wonderful way to savor Vincent’s legacy and contemplate his role as an enduring source of inspiration.Amsterdam canal cruiseIt’s called the “Venice of the North” for a reason: Canals crisscross the heart of the old city, and bridges link some 90 islands. As the principal city in a newly independent Holland, Amsterdam was a boom town in the early 17th century, rapidly outgrowing its medieval walls. The city’s fathers responded by demolishing most of the old city and building an entirely new one, creating Europe’s first planned city. That “new” district is now 400 years old, and as you glide along the main canals, you’ll pass stately merchants’ houses built centuries ago (some of them are now house museums you can visit on your own). But the canals are not merely scenic; they are essential thoroughfares—people take water buses to work and live in houseboats along the banks—so a canal cruise also gives you a look at the busy modern city.Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Amsterdam walking tourUncover some of Amsterdam’s most charming and little-known treasures with a stroll through the canal district that will take you to two very different historic residences. One is an oasis of quiet just steps from the city’s bustle: the Begijnhof, a residential court dating to the 14th century that was once home to a quasi-religious group, where you’ll find 47 townhouses (including the oldest wooden house in Amsterdam) surrounding a serene grassy courtyard. The other is the Museum Van Loon, a remarkable house museum that shows you how wealthy Amsterdam families have lived over the centuries. Willem van Loon was a founder of the Dutch East India Company, and the family’s history can be seen in the portraits, silver, porcelain and beautiful furniture found throughout the house. Behind the house, a formal garden leads to the classical façade of the coach house, which is now a gallery. This combination—house, garden and coach house—makes the Museum Van Loon unique; no other house museum in the city has managed to keep all three elements intact. Between your two destinations, you’ll pause for coffee and Dutch apple pie at a local café.
Day 3: Cologne
You simply cannot visit Cologne without paying homage to its most notorious site, the Gothic masterpiece that serves as the city’s cathedral. A local expert will show you favorite haunts around the Old Town, introduce you to the famous local brew, and share some of the cathedral’s most intriguing and Magi-cal secrets with you. Cologne is the largest and oldest city of the Rhineland and a cultural mecca, with more than 30 museums and hundreds of art galleries. A congenial atmosphere and a mix of ancient, modern and reconstructed buildings characterize the heart of the city.Featured Excursions:Cologne walking tour with Cologne Cathedral and Kölsch beer tastingAs you walk through the narrow lanes of the Old Town, you’ll find it hard to believe that more than 70 percent of the city was destroyed by bombs during WWII. Three medieval gates remain standing, as does the old city hall with its Renaissance façade. The famous 12 Romanesque churches were reconstructed from the rubble, and the cathedral, Cologne’s iconic landmark, rises magnificently in the city center. Though it was badly damaged in WWII, the great UNESCO-designated cathedral retains many of its original treasures—the relics of the Magi and other sacred figures, which inspired its building in the 12th century, the 14th-century stained-glass windows that were stored safely throughout the war and the beautifully painted choir stalls—though other treasures are displayed separately. Enter the awe-inspiring nave and learn about the history of the cathedral and its art collections, especially the pieces surrounding the Shrine of the Magi. Mingle with the locals at a tavern for an exclusive tasting of Kölsch, the celebrated pale ale that is unique to the city. It’s one of the few German beers to have a regional appellation similar to that given to wines; its characteristic flavor comes from the unique yeast used in its brewing. It is always served in a straight-sided narrow glass called a stange, meaning a rod or stick. A special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening. Note: The number of visitors allowed in Cologne Cathedral is regulated by a very strict schedule of time slots. Sightseeing will be arranged around the time slots obtained. On Sundays and Catholic holidays, guided tours inside the cathedral are not allowed, but individual visits are still welcomed.
Day 4: Cruising the Romantic Rhine River, Rüdesheim
Experience Germany’s fabled Rheingau in one of two ways today. Take in spectacular views of the region’s famous vineyards from the perspective of an aerial cable car, or venture within an atmospheric medieval monastery and taste the Rieslings made on site. Like many cities along the Rhine, Rüdesheim has a lengthy history that stretches back to Roman times. These days, the town is best known for its narrow avenue of shops and wine bars called the Drosselgasse and its impressive Niederwald Monument. Later in the day, you’ll experience the most spectacular scenery on the Rhine.Featured Excursions:Aerial cable car ride to the Niederwald MonumentThe huge statue of Germania atop the hill above Rüdesheim is visible for miles. Erected by Wilhelm I to commemorate the unification of Germany following the Franco-Prussian War in 1877, the monument may perfectly embody 19th-century imperial grandiosity—but the ride to and from it is the real point of your expedition. Hop aboard a cable car and begin your ascent to Niederwald Heights. You’ll get a great view of the town and the entire Rheingau wine-growing region as you climb high into the air, with the precipitous vineyards falling away below you and spectacular views of the Rhine valley spreading into the distance. Don’t worry if you find there are far too many glorious things to see as you ascend; anything you miss while going up, you’ll have a chance to catch coming back down. Explore the historic Niederwald Monument, then head back down into Rüdesheim, where you can enjoy some free time. Note: The aerial cable car to Niederwald Monument is covered but not heated. Cars are open on the sides, and it is recommended that you dress warmly. Afterwards, you’ll have time for some leisurely exploration of Rüdesheim’s cobblestone streets. Try a Rüdesheim coffee—a local specialty requiring elaborate preparation that is as fun to watch as the coffee is to drink—or stop by a wine tavern for a glass of the local Riesling. The Rheingau is one of the smallest wine-growing districts in the world, but it is also one of the best.Kloster Eberbach medieval monastery tour with Riesling tastingKloster Eberback is a former Cistercian monastery built in the Romanesque and early Gothic style, and is considered one of the most significant architectural sites in the region. In fact, some of the interior scenes of the 1986 movie The Name of the Rose—based on the best-selling novel by Umberto Eco—were filmed here. You’ll have a guided tour of the monastery followed by a tasting of locally grown Rieslings. Back onboard, settle down on the Sun Deck and prepare to be dazzled after you leave Rüdesheim and enter the sublime landscape of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. Byron described it as “a work divine, a blending of all beauties.” Turner painted it. Wagner used it as inspiration for his opera Götterdämmerung. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this scenic 40-mile (65-kilometer) stretch of the Rhine features a stunning, castle-dotted landscape that 19th-century composers, painters and poets considered the embodiment of an ideal romantic spirit, which was later dubbed “Rhine Romanticism.” Legend plays its part here too, with shipwrecks and lost lovers attributed to the Lorelei who, so the tale goes, lured all to their doom in the Rhine. Each bend and twist of the river affords new delights: Steep riverbanks are graced with sloping vineyards and picturesque towns, and hill tops are crowned by fairytale castles. Each one of those castles tells a tale: of great families raising fortresses, of warfare and ruin, and of rebuilding through the centuries. Some castles have been entirely reconstructed; others tower above the water in majestic ruin, still an inspiration for romantics.
Day 5: Frankfurt (Heidelberg)
Frankfurt is known as the “Mainhattan” of Europe due to its profusion of bankers and soaring skyscrapers, which co-exist with the city’s traditional Old Town architecture. Experience Frankfurt’s many contrasts today by visiting Germany’s oldest museum or taking a guided “Lets Go” bike ride. Delve into exciting Frankfurt today. A major European financial and trade center, vibrant Frankfurt boasts world-class museums, soaring skyscrapers, cozy wine taverns and lovely parks. Choose a brief tour that gives you an overview or a more in-depth walking tour and then explore on your own. There’s a lot to discover, including a great bike path along the Main, if you’d like to get out and about for some exercise.Featured Excursions:Heidelberg with castle visitWalk up a cobblestone incline to Heidelberg Castle, where you’ll have a guided tour of the courtyard and the Heidelberg Tun—the world’s largest wine barrel. The views from the hilltop castle ruins, which greatly inspired writers and artists of the Romantic era, are simply spectacular. After some free time to explore on your own, we’ll head back to downtown Heidelberg by coach for an Old Town ramble with a local expert. See the Holy Spirit Church and the former students’ prison, then feel free to have lunch in town and browse the town’s many boutiques.Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Frankfurt walking tourAlthough Frankfurt is unabashedly modern, with a dynamic international population and a skyline dominated by skyscrapers, it has a much-loved historic core, and your ship docks within easy walking distance of it. Stroll with your guide through Römer Square, bordered by the 15th-century mansions that constitute the old city hall, to the Klein Market Hall, where locals choose produce and sausage, cider and eggs, flowers and spices, from the covered market’s 154 stalls. Sample Frankfurt’s beloved apple cider and sausages as you take in the colorful scene. Frankfurt’s residents come from more than 200 nations, so you’ll find plenty of international specialties, too, along with regional items. You may stay here on your own or continue with your guide to Goethe House, the house museum devoted to Germany’s national poet, who was born in this city. Though Goethe’s work belongs to the world, Frankfurters take particular pride in their native son; the rooms here display furnishings from the writer’s day, as well as family portraits and the desk where Goethe completed Faust—not to mention a puppet theater with which the four-year- old future poet played. You’ll encounter the city’s bustling present-day economic power as you walk past the Frankfurt stock exchange and continue to Main Tower. Nothing exemplifies Frankfurt more than this lofty skyscraper: The façade of a historic building is incorporated in its base and 56 stories of glass-encased offices soar above it. Ride up to the viewing platform for an amazing view of the city and its surroundings.
Day 6: Wertheim, Cruising the Main River
After today, you may never eat a pretzel again without thinking of the Bavarian town of Wertheim. You’ll meet one of Germany’s best pretzel makers here, as well as the owner of a historic wine estate, followed by a guided vineyard hike. Or, if you’re more in the mood for a scenic bike ride, you are perfectly welcome to do that instead. Your port of call today, Wertheim, nestles at the confluence of the Main and Tauber rivers; it’s a picturesque and friendly town dominated by the ruins of a 13th-century castle.Featured Excursions:Wertheim walking tour with pretzel-making and wine tasting at a private wine estateThis region of Bavaria is known for its amber-colored beer, spicy bratwurst, traditional soft pretzels and unique wine bottles with short necks and round bodies—and you’ll encounter several of these local specialties today. First, though, you get to see a little of Wertheim itself. Despite centuries of flooding, a great deal of the Old Town remains. The Pointed Tower, used as a jail for drunkards and shrews in the 13th century, leans toward its neighbors, not from age but because flood waters have undermined it. It’s not the only architectural wonder you’ll see on your tour. You may choose to spend some leisure time in the village or head straight to nearby Kreuzwertheim, a wine-growing area, for a hike through the vineyards—your efforts will be rewarded with a glass of sparkling wine and a wonderful view of the Main River valley. Whichever option you select, your next stop is a historic winery that produces ne Franconian wines. Its charming sandstone architecture, vaulted cellars and covered courtyard make for a delightful afternoon. You’ve probably tasted some yummy soft pretzels on your trip already, but these are special: Watch a fifth- generation baker make some for you and discover for yourself why he supplies some of Berlin’s top hotels. Then meet the winery’s winemaker, who will present a special wine tasting.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” bicycle tour from Freudenberg to WertheimGet out and about on one of the finest and most popular cycling routes in Germany, the bike path along the Main. Starting in Freudenberg, a fairytale village with half-timbered homes and quirky cobblestone lanes, nestled amidst beautiful mountain scenery. You can pedal your way along flat stretches of the riverside path, passing red sandstone quarries, farms, verdant fields and meadows, and charming villages. Your destination is Wertheim, a lovely medieval city with a historic castle and historic town center.
Day 7: Würzburg
Opulent palace or medieval castle? Whichever you decide to visit today, rest assured it will be completely enchanting. The Würzburg Residence is a 300-room palace with a famous staircase and a gigantic ceiling fresco (even larger than the Sistine Chapel’s). Your ship will dock in the delightful Franconian town of Würzburg, where you will visit the extraordinary Würzburg Residence—one of the most opulent baroque palaces in Europe.Featured Excursions:Würzburg Residence visitThis incredibly lavish 18th-century palace was created under the auspices of two Schönborn prince-bishops, Lothar Franz and Friedrich Carl, who brought enormous knowledge and passion, as well as a budget for the best, to the project. Over the course of 60 years, they fostered the creation of a 300-room palace that contains jaw-dropping baroque art. The magnificent grand staircase boasts the world’s largest ceiling fresco, painted by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Portions of the building were damaged by Allied bombing in 1945, but, fortunately, most of the historic furnishings had been stored off-site and key rooms were unharmed, so you can see the original—and matchless—artwork, gilding and statuary. Check out both the spectacular Hall of Mirrors and the imposing Imperial Hall, which boasts a large oval dome and 20 half-columns. Even the gardens have been restored, right down to the topiary fruit trees in the kitchen garden, which are re-creations of the trees grown there in the 18th century. Return to the ship for a delicious lunch, and then spend the afternoon exploring Würzburg on your own. Head off to the central market square and pop into the local shops. Admire Würzburg Cathedral, a Romanesque structure built in 1040 and dedicated to Saint Kilian, the apostle of Franconia. Or check out Old City Hall and the 15th-century Old Main Bridge, which is adorned with statues of saints. Note: Visitors may not take photos or videos or carry backpacks inside the Würzburg Residence.
Day 8: Cruising the Main River, Kitzingen (Rothenburg)
Step into a fairytale version of the Middle Ages in Rothenburg and visit a medieval castle that’s been described as a miniature Versailles. Spend a relaxing day onboard as your ship wends its way along the Main River between Würzburg and Bamberg. It’s something of a truism to say that this route takes you from wine to beer, and you’ll see the transition as you sail past the vineyard-covered slopes around Würzburg toward Bavaria’s famous beer-brewing center, Bamberg. Along the way, you’ll pass delightful little villages and romantic castle ruins, drift under lovely old bridges, and have plenty of time to observe the fascinating variety of vessels plying the river, from heavily loaded barges to jaunty little pleasure craft.Featured Excursions:Rothenburg medieval city tourStep into a fairytale version of the Middle Ages in Rothenburg. The great stone walls surrounding the medieval core stand tall, linking towers, bastions and parapets. Timber-framed houses line narrow cobblestone lanes and tiny village squares, each with its own fountain. Your first stop is Market Square and the magnificent Town Hall, which combines Gothic, Renaissance and baroque architecture. Close by is the Gothic Franciscan Church, revered for its famous Tilman Riemenschneider altarpiece depicting St. Francis receiving the stigmata. Your tour ends with a traditional Franconian deli lunch, and then you’ll have some time to browse on your own before boarding the motorcoach back to the ship.
Day 9: Bamberg
Your floating time machine takes you to Bamberg today, a well-preserved town that offers a fascinating glimpse of medieval times. Explore the city on foot or opt to head deeper into the Franconian countryside to experience an authentic slice of rural life—including a tractor ride! Today, your ship will dock in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Bamberg, which has one of the largest intact medieval town centers in Europe. Like Rome, the city is built on seven hills—but in Bamberg, a church tops each one. During the Middle Ages, Bamberg was split in two, divided by the Regnitz River, one side controlled by the prince-bishop and the other by the burghers (a formally de ned class in medieval Germany). As a result of this division, the Old Town Hall was built on a tiny island in the middle of the Regnitz to serve both sides of town. Marvel at this medieval city’s striking architecture and stirring history on a walking tour through Bamberg’s Old Town. Or leave the city behind for an experience of Franconian rural life with a visit to a charming village in the verdant hills just outside of town.Featured Excursions:Bamberg walking discovery tourNow a pleasant city with a lively student population and a world-famous symphony orchestra, Bamberg was the center of economic and political life for a huge swath of Central Europe in the Middle Ages. Spared WWII bombing, the entire heart of historic Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The medieval layout of the city remains intact, along with 2,000 historic buildings; it is yours to explore today. In the splendid late- Romanesque Imperial Cathedral you will nd the only papal tomb in Germany, that of Pope Clement II (who was the bishop of Bamberg before he became pope), as well the tomb of Emperor Henry II (who established the bishopric). Near it are two magnificent palaces: The Old Palace, the late-Gothic imperial residence (if you saw the 2011 3-D version of The Three Musketeers, you’ll recognize it immediately), sits across from the New Residence, where the 17th-century prince-bishops lived, separated by a lovely rose garden. Cross the cobblestone footbridge to the Old Town Hall, which is adorned with colorful frescoes, and ramble along the narrow lanes lined with picturesque half-timbered houses.Exclusive Franconian “Village Day”If you’re interested in exploring a small village and getting to know more about the landscape and local farming techniques in the beautiful Steigerwald region, this visit to a Franconian village is perfect for you. Meet a local farmer who is determined to make sure that his way of life continues for future generations; he’s dedicated to restoring the natural environment around him and making sure that school kids know more about where their food comes from. Join him as he introduces his village to you: the typical farmhouses and the crops, the hardships of the life as well as the pleasures of living among the vineyards and forests. Take a tractor ride over the rolling hills to a small-scale vintner’s where you can sample the wine they make strictly for home consumption. There you’ll share a hearty snack and learn what it takes to run a traditional farm in the 21st century. This is a unique look at daily life in a very special and historic region. You’ll spend the rest of the day on the peaceful Main River, cruising past quiet Franconian hamlets and picturesque countryside. It’s the perfect time to indulge in the many comforts of your luxury ship while watching some of Europe’s loveliest scenery glide by.
Day 10: Nuremberg, Cruising the Main-Danube Canal
Head up to the top deck or find a seat with a good view—you won’t want to miss seeing the ship navigate its way through a marvel of modern engineering, the Main-Danube Canal. Your destination today is the historic city of Nuremberg, which you can explore in two different ways. Your ship docks in Nuremberg. One of Germany’s leading cities for many centuries, Nuremberg’s glowing heritage as a center of German arts, culture and economy was, sadly, also responsible for its disastrous experience in the 1930s and 1940s. Which aspect do you wish to explore? You must choose between two very different but equally fascinating excursions.Featured Excursions:Nuremberg city tourIt was never officially the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, but German rulers made Nuremberg their base for 500 years. They surrounded the medieval city with stout walls and built a great castle on a hilltop, which they expanded again and again over the centuries. Prosperous, secure and vibrant, Nuremberg lured artists and thinkers, merchants and scientists, for centuries. This is the archetypal medieval German city that you’ll discover today as you trace the great ramparts and gate towers around the Old Town. Stroll through the castle gardens and enjoy breathtaking views of the city, then walk through a maze of cobblestone lanes down to the central Market Square, gathering around the well-named Beautiful Fountain, first erected in 1396. The red sandstone Church of Our Lady stands on the east side of the square—the 14th-century façade survived WWII bombing and, like much of Old Town, was meticulously reconstructed after the war, with the original stones plucked from the rubble. Browse on your own following your tour; there is much to see and enjoy. The National Germanic Museum is one of the largest museums in the world; in it you’ll find the first pocket watch ever made (by a local craftsman), the first globe produced in Europe, a thousand period musical instruments, and innumerable paintings and drawings by German artists. The half-timbered shops in Crafts Court, next to the King’s Gate in the old wall, give you a sense of what it was like to buy goods in Renaissance Nuremberg— wooden toys, pewter cups and leather goods are for sale here, and so are commemorative coins hand-stamped on a 15th-century press. Visit Dürer House, where Nuremberg’s most famous native son, Albrecht Dürer, lived, or simply relax in a beer garden and enjoy the city’s specialty sausages and dark beer.Nuremberg WWII historical tour with Documentation CenterHitler considered Nuremberg the perfect expression of German culture (partly because of its significance in the Holy Roman Empire, which he called the First Reich), and so beginning in 1927, he chose to hold his massive rallies in the city. By 1933, his favorite architect, Albert Speer, had designed the vast Nazi Party Rally Grounds, where thousands upon thousands of Nazi troops saluted Hitler. (Leni Riefenstahl captured these events in her famous propaganda film Triumph of the Will.) Not all of Speer’s plans were executed, and some of his grandiose structures were bombed out of existence, but the remainder stand as vivid testimony to Hitler’s megalomania. A four-square-mile (10-square-kilometer) complex known as Zeppelin Fields contains parade grounds and a huge grandstand, the excavation site where a stadium for 400,000 people was begun—the hole is now filled with water—and the half-finished Congress Hall. Step into Congress Hall, intended to outdo and outlast the Colosseum in Rome, to walk through the Documentation Center and its exhibition “Fascination and Terror,” which covers the causes, the context and the consequences of the National Socialist reign of terror. The second part of this excursion takes you from the Rally Grounds to the Nuremberg Memoriam, dedicated to the Nuremberg trials, where you’ll visit Courtroom 600, the scene of the Nuremberg trials, and an exhibit that discusses the historic trials. Note: Courtroom 600 is an active court. Visitors will only be permitted to see the courtroom during trial breaks. Later, prepare to take an exciting journey through a marvel of modern engineering—the Main-Danube Canal. The canal is the fulfillment of a millennia-long dream, permitting ships of all shapes and sizes to travel from the North Sea to the Black Sea. A formidable set of locks, 16 in all, lifts your ship to the crest of the European “continental divide.” Unlike the US and Canada, where the Continental Divide is in high mountains, in Europe the watershed changes at 4,382 feet (1,332 meters), and the countryside is a gentle slope. Regardless of altitude, it’s amazing to watch each lock open and fill with water and to feel the ship rise and move forward.The canal is the fulfillment of a millennia-long dream, permitting ships of all shapes and sizes to travel from the North Sea to the Black Sea. A formidable set of locks, 16 in all, lifts your ship to the crest of the European “continental divide.” Unlike the US and Canada, where the Continental Divide is in high mountains, in Europe the watershed changes at 4,382 feet (1,332 meters), and the countryside is a gentle slope. Regardless of altitude, it’s amazing to watch each lock open and fill with water and to feel the ship rise and move forward.
Day 11: Kelheim, Regensburg
Today in Regensburg you have four (!) options for experiencing this medieval gem of a city—select one for the morning and another for the afternoon. You can travel through time, get a crash course on making craft beer, watch high-tech robots assemble the Ultimate Driving Machine or enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the town. Regensburg is a friendly town with quaint cobblestone streets, historic Roman ruins and a UNESCO World Heritage–designated medieval city center. This unspoiled gem was the capital of Bavaria for about 700 years, from the 6th to the 13th centuries. The remnants of Regensburg’s golden age are still on display, particularly in the Stone Bridge, the first bridge to span the Danube, built in the 12th century. This bridge, which is 1,014 feet (309 meters) long, was an architectural wonder in its day. But don’t let Regensburg’s illustrious history fool you into thinking the town’s best days are all in the past. Modern Regensburg is a popular center of higher learning, with more than 30,000 students attending its various colleges and universities. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI was a professor of theology at the University of Regensburg until 1977. Regensburg also frequently appears on lists ranking the world’s best places to live, thanks to its outdoor spaces, historic city center, lively cultural and nightlife scenes, and great shopping. You have a variety of options for exploring this area today, from the ancient to the modern, including your choice of exclusive “Lets Go” options.Featured Excursions:“2,000 Years in One Hour” Regensburg walking discovery tourPeople have been describing Regensburg as “old and new” for a thousand years. A single structure perfectly illustrates this: Porta Praetoria, the gate built by the Romans during Marcus Aurelius’s reign. The gate and adjacent watchtower have been incorporated into a much newer building, but the plaster has been removed to reveal the ancient stones laid so long ago. As you walk through the cobbled lanes of the UNESCO-designated Old Town, the city’s 2,000-year history is similarly revealed: the Stone Bridge that made Regensburg a 12th-century trading powerhouse, the Gothic town hall where the Imperial Diet met for three centuries, the 13th-century fortified patrician houses, and the spectacular Cathedral of St. Peter, whose magni cent 14th-century stained-glass windows alone are worth your walk. You’ll have free time to explore on your own; it’s very hard to get lost in Regensburg because the spires of the cathedral are visible all over town, so don’t hesitate to roam. The historic quarter not only boasts almost a thousand beautiful old buildings but also many cozy pubs and some great shopping—and the ship is docked conveniently close, so it’s easy to drop your treasures off and go back for more.“From Hops Field to Beer Stein” farm visitHops vines growing up their strings in a field tower almost twice a man’s height. They’re grown for their flowers, which add a distinctive flavor to beer—but the fields they grow in add a distinctive flavor to the hops. You could call it terroir for beer, and you can delve into hops cultivation and hops brewing today. Travel through Bavaria’s Holledau region, the largest hops-growing district in the world, and meet an enthusiastic ambassador of hops growing and beer making. She will give you a quick and lively history of hops in Germany—including Bavaria’s law governing the making of beer, which has specified since 1560 that the only ingredients permitted in beer are water, barley and hops—and lead you on a tour through the fields where her family grows hops, followed by a craft beer tasting in the cozy barn turned beer hall. It’s a delicious way to get to know a fascinating aspect of the international farm-to-table movement.BMW factory visitHere is your opportunity to see German engineering, famous the world over, in operation as you tour the state-of-the-art BMW factory on the outskirts of Regensburg. About a thousand cars a day roll off the assembly line here, many of them in the BMW 3 series. You’ll see various stages of the process, from rolls of sheet metal being stamped out into body parts to watching elements of the car being robotically assembled. Follow an already assembled car into the finishing department to see it painted, polished and have the final touch applied—the BMW roundel. Note: For safety reasons, BMW does not allow those with pacemakers or insulin pumps to participate in factory tours. The plant is closed on Sundays and holidays, so no visit is possible if the tour lands on those days. NOTE: If the tour lands on a day when the BMW factory is closed, we will visit the Audi factory instead. The Audi production line is closed on weekends, so if your visit is scheduled for a weekend, you will see the Audi museum instead.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” bird’s-eye view of RegensburgDid you know that Regensburg residents raised silkworms at one time? It’s just one of the unusual aspects of the city that you’ll discover on a hike that begins at the ship’s dock. Meet up with your guide and head out along the eastern gate road (that eastern gate was part of the old Roman walls), crossing the river to the narrow streets of Stadtamhof, an island in the Danube that is part of Regensburg’s UNESCO-honored medieval complex. Pause atop another bridge to take a look at boats cruising through the lock and then begin your ascent of Holy Trinity Hill; you’ll have a great view of old Regensburg from Windsor Heights, and you’ll pass some of the beautiful mansions that overlook the city—including the buildings that housed the silk plantation begun by Ludwig I in the early 19th century. Your route continues along the heights, offering views of the entire region: fields, woods, even the Bavarian forest in the far distance. After a brief rest, you’ll head back down to the town and the ship.
Day 12: Passau, Cruising the Danube River
Passau is a crossroads in more ways than one—three rivers meet here and three nations nearly do, making for a fascinating cultural mosaic. Get to know the town with a choice of guided walks or “Lets Go” with an invigorating riverside bike ride. Located at the confluence of three rivers—the Danube, Inn and Ilz—Passau is well known for its ornate baroque cathedral. Long ago, it was a Roman colony in the province of Noricum, called Batavis after an ancient Germanic tribe. Today, the city is unusually well preserved, having been spared the brunt of Allied bombing during WWII, as you’ll see on your walking tour of Passau. If you’d like some active touring, join us for a guided bike ride along the Danube.Featured Excursions:Passau walking discovery tourThe skyline of Passau is dominated by two buildings that owe their existence to the prince-bishops who ruled the city until 1803: the great fortress looming on a hill above the three rivers, home to the bishops until the 17th century, and the green onion domes of St. Stephan’s Cathedral. As you walk through the cobblestone streets toward those green onion domes, you’ll realize that Passau retains the layout of the medieval town. However, many of the wooden medieval buildings burned to the ground in the 17th century, and the prince-bishops imported Italian artists to build a new cathedral and a grand new residence for the bishops themselves. As a result, these splendid structures aunt Italian baroque and rococo style and ornamentation, complete with opulent gilding and wonderful frescoes. Your guide will introduce you to some of the architectural highlights—the rococo stairways of the New Residence; the cathedral; and the Town Hall, which boasts a magnificent atrium adorned by large paintings by Ferdinand Wagner—and make sure you get a close-up view of the point where the three rivers meet: The waters of each one are a different color. Because it’s built on a peninsula between the Danube and the Inn, the city has flooded often over the centuries; you can see high-water marks on many buildings (2013 saw the worst flooding in 500 years).Passau city tour with Old Town walkBoard a motorcoach for a drive along the Danube, crossing over the river and climbing the hill to the Oberhaus fortress. It may look like a typical red-roofed Bavarian palace now, but for hundreds of years, the prince-bishops used it to enforce their rule over the region; the citizens of Passau assaulted it twice—without success—in an effort to gain their freedom from the bishops. The bishops threw religious dissidents into the Oberhaus prisons, as well as political enemies, so it was known as the Bastille of Bavaria for a time. From the walls here you can see how the fortress dominated the city below, and you also get a fabulous view of the three rivers merging. Your panoramic tour continues with a drive through Passau, over the Inn River, and into the heart of the old city. A stroll through historic Passau shows you the highlights: the town hall, the lovely baroque churches, the twisting medieval layout. It’s no mistake that St. Stephan’s Cathedral stands on the highest ground in the old town; Passau has ooded often over the centuries. You can see the high-water marks on the buildings as you pass them, and your knowledgeable local guide can tell you about the city’s plans to control ooding in the riverfront areas as you head back to the ship.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” Bavarian River bike rideDiscover Passau’s Old Town from a new vantage point with a guided bicycle ride. Pass through Residence Square and along winding streets lined with historic homes on your way to the riverbank bike path, one of Europe’s longest and best-known paths. You’re guaranteed a scenic ride as you glide past rolling hillsides, orchards, meadows and streams that ow into the mighty Danube. Pause for a breather at an old salt-trading post before heading into the village of Kasten, with its 800-year-old church. Cross the river for a little more riding, followed by a stop at a typical Austrian beer garden—you just may see your ship sail past as you sip a refreshing beer in the shade of a chestnut tree. As you return to the ship, you’ll use an old-fashioned passenger ferry to cross the river. Later you’ll see one of the most breathtaking stretches along the Danube. The ship will pass through the famous Schlögener Schlinge, a “gooseneck” or hairpin turn, in the Danube’s course. It’s simply beautiful and will warrant lots of photos.
Day 13: Cruising the Wachau Valley, Weissenkirchen (Weissenkirchen or Melk)
Named for its white church, Weissenkirchen may very well be the prettiest village in the Wachau Valley. A local expert will show you around and introduce you to some regional delicacies; later, you can stretch your legs with a vineyard hike that includes a wine tasting. Prefer to go for baroque? Visit the 900-year-old Melk Abbey and its extraordinarily opulent library. Sail through the spectacular scenery of the Wachau Valley—one of the most beautiful stretches of river landscape in all of Europe. The 19-mile-long (30-kilometer- long) valley was formed over many centuries by the Danube River, which slowly wore away a rocky gorge in the foothills of the Bohemian Forest between Krems and Melk. This enchanting region—which boasts steep-sided, densely wooded southern slopes and northern slopes composed of a picturesque mixture of crags and vineyards—is a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape. Dotted along the banks are boutique winemaking communities and historic small towns, like the pleasant village of Weissenkirchen, which you will have the opportunity to explore on a delightfully savory excursion. Or, if you’re feeling active, consider a vineyard hike that will lead you high above the village. Some of Austria’s nest white wines are produced from grapes ripened on the terraces that cling to these rocky slopes, including Grüner Veltliner, which is grown almost exclusively in Austria. If you have a taste for history rather than wine, consider a visit to Melk Abbey, where you’ll explore its massive library and admire its magnificent architecture.Featured Excursions:Weissenkirchen “Village Day” with exclusive guided “Let's Go” vineyard hike and wine tastingYou’ve seen the apricot orchards along the river banks; now taste the fruit. Begin with an easy walk to Weissenkirchen, which may be the prettiest village in the Wachau—and that’s saying quite a bit. Named for its famous white church, Weissenkirchen is simply picture perfect. Its centuries-old wine estates, houses with colorful flower boxes, lovely gardens and apricot orchards make for a wonderfully idyllic setting between the river and the mountains. Stroll through the town with your guide, stopping at a farm store where local growers display their products, such as wild boar salami, cheeses, jams and traditional poppy-seed sweets. Apricots contribute their essence to many products: jams and brandy, of course, but also chocolates, honey, mustard and chutney, so your stop should be full of fun flavors. Stay in the village and explore a bit on your own or, if you’re up for a hike, join a group on a hike up through the vineyards. A stairway at the church will take you past the ancient cemetery and up to the hiking trail that leads through vineyards planted with Riesling and Grüner Veltliner grapes. You’ll enjoy expansive views over the river valley as you approach your resting point, where you can sample some Wachau wines as your guide explains the qualities that make these vintages unique. Your next treat is an easy walk back to the ship; instead of a reverse hike, you can comfortably stroll back into the village via a different route, passing many small vintners along the way.Melk Abbey with library visitThe Babenbergs, a great medieval ducal family that controlled a wide swath of Austria before yielding to the Habsburgs, were the first to erect a castle on the hill above Melk, which they subsequently gave to Benedictine monks. These monks, some 900 years ago, turned it into a forti ed abbey and the greatest center of learning in Central Europe. Their library was celebrated far and wide (and still is—Umberto Eco paid tribute to it in his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose). Monks there created more than 1,200 manuscripts, sometimes spending an entire lifetime hand-lettering a single volume. Today the library contains some 100,000 volumes, among them more than 80,000 works printed before 1800. This beautiful complex, completely redone in the early 18th century, is a wonderful example of baroque art and architecture, and the views from its terrace are spectacular. As you walk through the abbey’s Marble Hall with your guide, look up at the ceiling fresco painted by Paul Troger: Those classical gods and goddesses represent Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, allegorically bringing his people from darkness to light and demonstrating the link he claimed to the original Roman Empire.
Day 14: Vienna
Vienna is a cultural treasure trove revered for its art and music (and sinfully rich pastries). Experience the City of Waltzes with your choice of excursions, as well as VIP access to an extraordinary collection of art—having an opportunity to see these masterpieces in complete privacy is an extra special treat reserved solely for Uniworld guests. And to cap off a perfect Viennese day? An evening concert featuring works by Mozart and Strauss. The grand dame of the Danube, Vienna was the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and remains, to this day, the political and cultural center of Austria. Klimt painted here; Beethoven and Mozart composed here; Freud developed his theories here. It’s a treasure trove of splendid architecture, astonishing art collections and inviting cafés—and it’s yours to enjoy. To begin your exploration of this delightful and historic city you may choose between two different guided tours: a panoramic city tour or our exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” walking tour. Another highlight today—our exclusive “Morning with the Masters” at the Vienna Art History Museum. Later, you can discover the endless charms of Vienna at your leisure.Featured Excursions:Exclusive “Morning with the Masters” at the Vienna Art History MuseumThe Habsburgs assembled an astonishing collection of artistic treasures over the centuries, which formed the basis for the works now on display at the Vienna Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches). The doors open early especially for you as you join an art historian for a tour of some of the masterpieces gathered here: View a unique group of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Vermeer’s Allegory of Painting, Raphael’s Madonna in the Meadow, and portraits by Rembrandt, Velazquez, Rubens, Titian, Tintoretto and Van Eyck, among others, in the Picture Gallery. Then move on to the Kuntskammer galleries, where you can see Benvenuto Cellini’s legendary salt cellar (the only gold sculpture he created that has survived to the present day) and hear its remarkable story. Your exclusive tour ends with a reception in the magnificent Cupola Hall, perhaps the architectural highlight of the splendid building.Vienna city tourRing Street, the great horseshoe-shaped boulevard lined with many of the city’s major landmarks—Parliament, City Hall, the Vienna State Opera, glorious palaces and museums—is a mere 150 years old, practically an infant for a city of Vienna’s age. It replaced the walls and fortifications that had protected the city for centuries. Its construction was a testament to confidence, forward- thinking and grand urban planning, and it resulted in a 50-year building spree. You’ll pass most of these opulent landmarks on your way to the older section of the city, the area the walls once enclosed. Later, you’ll walk along Kärntner Street, the celebrated pedestrian boulevard that links the State Opera with St. Stephen’s Cathedral, past the elegant shops on the Graben and the Kohlmarkt. The neighborhood offers a lively combination of historic architecture, street performances, shoppers’ delights and true Viennese atmosphere.Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Vienna walking tourYear after year, it’s ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world. Experience Vienna as the Viennese do and you will quickly see why—it’s not just because of its beautiful architecture, peerless cultural institutions and epic history. Vienna’s a walkable city, but its public transportation is still excellent. The pleasant parks and open spaces invite outdoor activities. Its cozy coffee houses are the stuff of legend, and so are its pastries and sausage stands. Join an expert local guide for a taste of life as the Viennese live it. Walk along Ring Street, past many of Vienna’s landmark buildings: the Museum of Applied Arts, the baroque-era St. Charles Church, Musikverein (home of the Vienna Philharmonic), the Hofburg, Parliament and City Hall, on your way to Volksgarten, Vienna’s first public park (thanks to Napoleon, who blew up the bastion that had occupied the location), with its roses and fountains. Stroll along the neighboring streets, then take a break at a coffeehouse for a typical Viennese coffee. After your break, wander through the narrow lanes of Haarhoff, pausing in Jewish Square, with its tribute to the Austrian Jews who died during the Holocaust, before wending your way to Vienna’s oldest square, Hoher Markt, where one of the city’s quirkiest sights awaits you: At noon a Vienna Secession (as the art nouveau movement was known in Austria) clock features a parade of 12 historical figures, ranging from Marcus Aurelius to Joseph Haydn, marking the hour. While you wait for the clock show to begin, sample a classic Viennese treat, sausage, from a nearby stand. The adventure ends with yet another very typical Viennese activity—taking the subway. You have leisure time after your tour to explore Vienna on your own. You might wish to visit the Albertina Museum, which houses one million old-master prints and an impressive collection of works by 19th- and 20th-century painters, ranging from Renoir to Rothko. If you’d like to get a little exercise and see a completely different side of Vienna, borrow a bike from the ship and explore Danube Island and Prater Park. (For a wonderful view of the region, ride the Ferris wheel in Prater Park.)A special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 15: Budapest
Located on opposite sides of the Danube, Buda and Pest each has its own distinctive character and charm. Get acquainted this dynamic and multi-faceted city with your choice of excursions—whether you see it on four wheels or on your own two feet, there is much to discover in the Hungarian capital. Called the “Queen of the Danube,” in part because of the way the city hugs the banks of the river, Budapest is an enchanting city that vibrantly mixes East and West, medieval and modern. Made up of two parts—Buda (the hills) and Pest (the flatlands)—and divided by the Danube, Hungary’s capital presents an array of architectural styles that reveal its long and varied history. You’ll have two enticing ways to experience the city—a panoramic guided tour aboard a motorcoach, or discover the Budapest that locals love on a special walking tour.Featured Excursions:Budapest city tourThis panoramic tour is a wonderful way to get an overview of the city if you have never been here before. It will carry you along elegant Andrássy Avenue from Heroes’ Square, created in 1896 to honor the thousand- year anniversary of Hungary’s founding and its greatest historical figures, and past the state opera house, taking in some of the city’s other striking architectural sights— Dohány Street Synagogue, the Hungarian National Museum, St. Stephen’s Basilica and the truly stunning Parliament Building—on the way to Castle Hill, which has been called the heart of the nation. The city of Buda began here, when King Béla built a strong keep in 1243 as a defense against Mongol invaders, and the Castle Hill district has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll go inside the magni cent 700-year-old Matthias Church, named for one of Hungary’s greatest kings, and then wend your way on foot to the picturesque Fisherman’s Bastion, whose seven fairytale- like towers represent the seven tribes that originally settled the region. It offers a glorious view of the city and the Danube below. Note: Visits to the interior of Matthias Church may not be possible on some weekends and Catholic holidays.Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Budapest walking tourGet ready for a fun immersion in the daily life of Budapest—your local guide will show you how to use the metro (one of the oldest in Europe) to easily reach all the city has to offer. Start with a visit to one of the city’s irresistible market halls. Stalls spill over with produce, sausages and meats, festoons of dried paprika, cheeses and jars of honey, all of it authentically Hungarian. After you leave the market, stop for coffee and a sweet treat at Szamos Gourmet Palace, a combination pastry shop, café and chocolate maker in Vörösmarty Square. Marzipan is a favorite confection in Budapest, and Szamos has specialized in making it since the 1930s, so you might want to try some—but the shop’s truf e selection is equally irresistible. Refreshed, you’ll be ready to hop back on the tram for a visit to the gracious green spaces of Károlyi Garden, sometimes described as Budapest’s most charming small park. You’ll ramble along the boulevards and pass the Hungarian National Museum, truly getting the feel for this dynamic city, as you head back toward the ship.
Day 16: Budapest
Enjoy a day of leisure, exploring the Hungarian capital to your heart’s content. Other passengers are heading home today, but you are only halfway through your marvelous holiday. Today you have an opportunity to explore Budapest’s treasures at your leisure. It’s a mecca for lovers of art nouveau architecture—the building housing the Franz Liszt Academy of Music is a particularly noteworthy example of the style—so perhaps you would like to take yourself on a tour of some of these beauties. Treat yourself to a relaxing day at one of the city’s splendid spas, such as the Gellért Baths, or borrow one of the ship’s bicycles and explore Margaret Island. Your options are many, and all of them are delightful.
Day 17: Budapest, Cruising the Danube River
Vibrant Budapest, Hungary’s capital, offers an enchanting combination of East and West, old and new. Which part will you choose to explore today? You have three options to choose from.Featured Excursions:Budapest city tourThis panoramic tour is a wonderful way to get an overview of the city if you have never been here before. It will carry you from Heroes’ Square, created in 1896 to honor the thousand-year anniversary of Hungary’s founding and its greatest historical figures, past some of the city’s most striking architectural sights—Dohány Street Synagogue, the Hungarian National Museum, the state opera house, St. Stephen’s Basilica and the truly stunning Parliament Building—to Castle Hill, which has been called the heart of the nation. The city of Buda began here, when King Béla built a strong keep in 1243 as a defense against Mongol invaders; a castle replaced the simple fortress, and over the centuries other castles replaced that one. The current castle is primarily 18th century; a museum dedicated to Budapest’s archaeological finds is housed there, and the Castle Hill district has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll go inside the magnificent 700-year-old Matthias Church, named for one of Hungary’s greatest kings, and then wend your way on foot to the picturesque Fisherman’s Bastion, whose seven fairytale-like towers represent the seven tribes that originally settled the region. It offers a glorious view of the city and the Danube below. Note: Visits to the interior of Matthias Church may not be possible on some weekends and Catholic holidays.Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Budapest walking tourGet ready for a fun immersion in the daily life of Budapest—your local guide will show you how to use the metro (one of the oldest in Europe) to easily reach all the city has to offer. Start with a visit to one of the city’s irresistible market halls. Stalls spill over with produce, sausages and meats, festoons of dried paprika, cheeses, and jars of honey, all of it authentically Hungarian. After you leave the market, stop for coffee and a sweet treat at Szamos Gourmet Palace, a combination pastry shop, café and chocolate maker in Vörösmarty Square. Marzipan is a favorite confection in Budapest, and Szamos has specialized in making it since the 1930s, so you might want to try some—but the shop’s truffle selection is equally irresistible. Refreshed, you’ll be ready to hop back on the tram for a visit to the gracious green spaces of Károlyi Garden, sometimes described as Budapest’s most charming small park. You’ll ramble along the boulevards and pass the Hungarian National Museum, truly getting the feel for this dynamic city, as you head back toward the ship. Note: Budapest’s market halls are closed on holidays. If your tour lands on a holiday, we will skip the market.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” Budapest by bicycleOnly the Netherlands and Denmark have a higher proportion of people who use bicycles for their daily transportation than Hungary, and you can spot the bright-green bikes that are part of the city’s bike- sharing program anywhere. Join an expert local guide to experience the Budapest bicyclists love: Wheel along the Danube past such sights as the moving tribute to the Jews shot by the Nazis on the banks of the river, the Hungarian Parliament building, St. Stephen’s Basilica and Andrassy Avenue, and swoop over the bridge to Margaret Island. It’s a fun and active way to get out and see the city the way locals see it.In the evening, a special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you.
Day 18: Cruising the Danube River, Vukovar (Osijek)
Welcome to Croatia! This ancient country has made a remarkable recovery from a brutal civil war, and its beautiful countryside, colorful folk traditions and delicious rustic cuisine make it a most rewarding place to visit. Welcome to Croatia! This ancient country, which has made a remarkable recovery from a brutal civil war, is noted for its beautiful countryside and thriving folk traditions, as well as delicious simple, local rustic food. You’ll dock in Vukovar, Croatia’s biggest port, at the confluence of the Danube and Vuka rivers.Featured Excursions:Full-day tour of Vukovar with Vucedol Museum visit and lunch at Goldschmidt wineryThe bullet-riddled water tower stands as a reminder of the bitter Croatian War of Independence, fought between 1991 and 1995, when Croatia sought to break away from Yugoslavia. Thousands died during the siege of Vukovar, which was heavily damaged. As you take a short walk through the town now, you will see lasting signs of the conflict, but you will also see a revitalized community, determined to rebuild. From Vukovar you’ll head to Osijek, where you’ll visit Tvrda, a military and civil complex begun in 1687 by the Habsburgs after they took the region back from the Ottomans. You’ll also learn something of Osijek’s long history—which dates back to Roman times—and stop by the Church of the Holy Cross, built by the Franciscans after the Ottomans left. Enjoy an Ajvar demonstration in the courtyard of the monastery, a local Specialty made from bell peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. You’ll also learn how to prepare vegetables in authentic Croatian style. From there, the group will split up and head off to different nearby villages for a home-hosted lunch. Later, you’ll visit the Vucedol Museum. The basic idea behind the concept of this unique museum was integration into the terrain—the entire structure is designed to be mostly buried in the ground and only the façade is open to the landscape. Its shape, as serpentine, follows terrain, and on whose green roof you can reach the archaeological sites over the museum. Along the path, you’ll encounter the various Vučedol culture archaeological findings that have been discovered to date, which showcase the daily life and customs during a turbulent time of the immigration of the first Indo-Europeans and their relationship with the natives, the blending of material cultures and religions. Following your time at the museum, enjoy lunch at the Goldschmidt winery.Full-day tour of Osijek with exclusive home-hosted lunchVenture into a lesser-known part of Croatia today. Set off from the port of Vukovar with your local expert, who will tell you about Vukovar’s calamitous experience during the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995), when much of the city was shelled, and head to Osijek, the capital of Slavonia. Osijek is an attractive town on the banks of the Drava River that combines a long history—settlement predates the Romans, who built a fortress there that was conquered by Attila the Hun— with an easygoing charm and a readiness to embrace the future. You’ll stroll through Tvrda, the baroque military and civil complex begun in 1687 by the Habsburgs after they seized the town from the Ottoman Turks, and see some of the historic highlights via a panoramic tour. You’ll follow up your tour with a stop in a village just outside the city for a traditional Croatian lunch hosted by local villagers. Translators will be on hand to help you and your hosts converse, so you can actually learn a bit about one another’s lives and interests.
Day 19: Belgrade
People originally settled at the confluence of the Danube and the Sava some 7,000 years ago, making Belgrade, the modern-day capital of Serbia, one of Europe’s oldest cities. Signs of its tumultuous history are visible everywhere, but so too is its vibrant present. People originally settled at the confluence of the Danube and the Sava some 7,000 years ago, making Belgrade, the modern-day capital of Serbia, one of Europe’s oldest cities. Signs of its tumultuous history are visible everywhere, but so too is its vibrant present. You have two very different ways to see it today—the choice is yours.Featured Excursions:Belgrade city tour with visit to the Royal Grounds of Karadjordjevic Dynasty PalaceAs a motorcoach carries you through the city, you’ll see a mix of architectural styles that reveal the city’s past, ranging from Gothic, Ottoman, baroque and art nouveau to utilitarian Communist apartment blocks and modern high-rises. While Belgrade has been no stranger to political upheaval, the 19th-century Residence of Princess Ljubica and serene old residential streets speak of calmer days, as do the bustling present-day café-lined boulevards. You’ll pass the tomb and memorial museum of Josip Broz Tito, which is located at the site of Tito’s former residence in Belgrade’s affluent Dedinje neighborhood, and visit Kalemegdan Fortress, high on a hill above the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. Ancient Romans built the first fortress here, and successive conquerors and defenders—Slavs, Byzantines, Ottomans, Habsburgs—continued to build and destroy fortifications on this site for another 1,500 years. Walk along the old stone walls, passing monuments and memorials (some will surprise you—poets and composers are honored here as well as military actions), for a sense of Serbia’s distant and more recent history. It’s not the only intriguing historical sight you’ll see today, however. You will also visit the Karadjordjevic Dynasty Palace and sip a glass of sparkling Serbian wine as you tour a compound of palaces built in the 1920s and 1930s. Serbia’s royal family, which is related to most of Europe’s royalty, has a strictly honorary position in modern-day democratic Serbia, but Crown Prince Alexander (who did not feel that taking the title of king was appropriate when his father died in exile in the United States in 1972) and his family still live in these palaces. Guides will show you the public rooms of the Royal Palace, the White Palace, the adjacent chapel and the spacious grounds.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” “I Bike Belgrade” tourMount a bike and spend a leisurely half-day getting an up-close look at Belgrade, complete with lively commentary from your guide, who will tell you not just about the tumultuous recent past but also what it’s like to live here. Ride past Branko’s Bridge, Staro Sajmište (a former concentration camp), the Palace of Serbia and Hotel Jugoslavija; after a refreshing stop at a traditional sherman’s bar, you’ll be ready to pedal to Kalemegdan Fortress and see a bit of Serbia’s more distant past.
Day 20: Golubac, Cruising the Iron Gates
Head ashore to explore a Paleolithic site and an extraordinary well-preserved medieval fortress. Today’s main attraction will be the spectacular scenery along the Danube, as you cruise a stretch of gorges known as the Iron Gates. You’ll visit Golubac Castle, one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in Europe, a powerhouse that has loomed over the Danube for centuries. Today’s main attraction will be the spectacular scenery of the river itself. Unwind onboard as you cruise the breathtaking Iron Gates, an 83-mile-long (134-kilometer-long) stretch of scenic gorges that were cut through the Carpathian and Balkan mountains over eons by the Danube River. These gorges, which act as a natural border between Serbia and Romania, are among the most dramatic and beautiful sights in all of Europe. This was one of the swiftest and most dangerous stretches of the river before two dams were built: Iron Gate I and Iron Gate II. Construction on the dams began in 1964 and took 20 years to complete; they have dramatically altered the area’s landscape, raising the water level by 114 feet (35 meters) and drowning several islands and villages. History lines the banks of the river. Keep an eye out for Trajan’s Plaque, which the ancient Romans erected to commemorate the road they anchored in the steep cliffs above the water, and Golubac Castle, built in the 14th century and attacked successively by the Serbs, Magyars and Turks. The Turks won the castle in 1458, which helped to reinforce their control of the area until 1867, when they abandoned it.Featured Excursions:Lepenski Vir archaeological park and Golubac CastleLepenski Vir is one of the largest and most significant prehistoric archeological sites from the Stone Age, located on the Danube. It was once the epicenter of one of the most highly developed prehistoric cultures, with complex social relations and even rudimentary urban planning. The discovery of this prehistoric settlement has changed the image experts once had about the early Stone Age, expanding scientists’ knowledge about human communities that walked the earth millennia ago.
Day 21: Vidin, Cruising the Danube River
Vidin is a port town on the Danube the once played an important role in medieval Bulgarian politics, as the great fortress Baba Vida attests. It’s your base for one of two unusual excursions today—visit to the fascinating Belogradchik rock formations or head to a riverside estate devoted to the arts. Now a small port town on the Danube, Vidin played an important part in medieval Bulgarian politics, as the great fortress Baba Vida attests. It’s your base for one of two unusual excursions: One takes you to the fascinating Belogradchik rock formations, the other to a riverside estate devoted to the arts in Romania.Featured Excursions:Bulgarian red rock countryDrive through the scenic Bulgarian countryside to Belogradchik, a small town in the foothills of the Balkan Mountains, not far from the Serbian border. After some light refreshment at a local hotel, you’ll be ready to explore the astonishing rock formations nearby, which are over 200 million years old—and have inspired nearly as many legends! Many of the strange wind- and weather-hewn shapes have names, such as Adam and Eve, the Bear and the Castle. The outcroppings formed a natural defense for the town that was enhanced with man-made fortifications over the centuries. Whether you choose to hike with your guide to the top of the path or not, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views. Your return will take you past some sights that highlight Vidin’s mixed heritage: the Orthodox cathedral, the Turkish mosque, the Konak (the 18th-century headquarters of the Turkish police) and the cruciform barracks (which date to the 1790s). The final stop will be Baba Vida, whose stern 10th-century stone walls were built on the site of a Roman watchtower.Romanian Cetate Cultural Port visitCross the Danube via the brand-new bridge that links Bulgaria and Romania to meet Mircea Dinescu, poet, journalist, satirist, media mogul and key figure in the revolution that overthrew Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Among his surprising ventures is Cetate Cultural Harbor, a haven for artists of all sorts—poets, potters, painters, lmmakers and musicians. In 1996 Dinescu’s foundation purchased a once-grand house called Port Cetate, which had fallen on very hard times, and transformed it into a largely self-supporting farm and “cultural harbor.” Artists from all over Europe are invited to participate in workshops and residency programs, and the farm is the scene of a lm festival, music camp, poetry camp and even a gastronomic arts festival. There’s a reason for that particular focus: Dinescu makes fine wine, which you may sample, and the kitchen staff turns out delectable Romanian specialties. Stroll through the peaceful grounds and study the artwork on display before sitting down to tapas and music. The setting may be rustic— that’s part of the charm—but the art, music, poetry, food and wine are quite sophisticated.
Day 22: Rousse (Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi or Rousse and Ivanovo)
Bulgaria’s foremost Danube port, Rousse is sometimes called “Little Vienna” for its elegant 19th-century mansions and public buildings. You may choose to see some of the town after venturing to a pair of historic monasteries or spend the day visiting two historic hill towns.Featured Excursions:Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi with authentic Bulgarian lunchTwice the capital of Bulgaria—before and after the Ottomans conquered the nation—Veliko Tarnovo climbs steep hills above the Yantra River, topped by the ruins of Tsarevets, the stronghold where Bulgaria’s kings ruled between 1185 and 1393. The remains of the great stone walls and towers that you see formed the historic heart of the Second Bulgarian Empire. History lives in this town, as a quick look at the wares for sale in Samovod Marketplace will show you: Handicrafts are all made by local artisans using ancient, medieval or Renaissance technologies. You’ll have time to peruse the exceptional local pottery and textiles there before heading to Arbanassi, home to six amazing 17th-century stone churches, each one decorated with colorful and intricate frescoes. Learn something of the multicultural history of this fascinating town at the Ethnographic Museum and visit the UNESCO-designated Nativity Church, where murals of the Nativity, the Last Judgment and the zodiac brilliantly blend religious and humanist iconography. At another of the churches, Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel, you’ll hear the otherworldly singing of an Orthodox choir in a short concert. Your day’s adventure includes a traditional three-course Bulgarian lunch, complete with live folk music.Rousse walking discovery tour and Ivanovo and Basarbovo monasteriesWalk through the woods of Rusenski Lom, a protected region that is home to a wide variety of rare birds, among other wildlife, to Ivanovo Rock Monastery—once an enclave of more than 40 churches and chapels that the devout built inside caves above the Lom River Valley. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is famous for its beautiful and well-preserved 14th-century murals. Your other destination, the Basarbovo Rock Monastery, is the only rock monastery where monks still live and worship today. Climb the narrow rock stairway to the 15th-century cloister, which is cut into the limestone cliffs high above the Lom River, and take a look at the arresting frescoes. You’ll also spend some time in Rousse, a city with an easygoing, gracious feeling. Freedom Square, a huge open plaza, takes its name from the Freedom Monument, which soars from the center of the square; the stately Belle Epoque buildings surrounding the square attest to the city’s prosperity in the 1890s. Stroll along wide, tree-lined Alexandrovska, the main pedestrian street that links the city’s many attractive squares, encountering such landmark sights as Rousse’s grand theater, the city museum and the first movie theater (it opened in 1896).In the evening, a special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you.
Day 23: Giurgiu, transfer to Bucharest
Bucharest is a fascinating combination of Communist grandiosity, elegant French-influenced 19th-century buildings and surprising survivors dating from the 1500s. Perhaps nothing more perfectly encapsulates Romania’s 20th-century experience than the mind-boggling People’s Palace, which you can visit today. Another option is a walking tour that shows you this city from a local’s perspective. This morning, you’ll disembark the ship in Giurgiu and drive through the countryside to Bucharest, where you’ll enjoy a traditional three-course Romanian lunch at a local restaurant and a panoramic city tour. Tonight you’ll relax in the comfort of a luxury hotel located in the heart of the city, Romania’s capital and its cultural and economic center.Featured Excursions:Bucharest city tour with People’s Palace visitA panoramic tour will show you that Bucharest is a fascinating combination of Communist grandiosity, elegant French-influenced 19th-century buildings and surprising survivors from the 1500s, which are acquiring new gloss in Lipscani, the restored old quarter. Bucharest began as a fortress in the 15th century, a warlike origin that set the tone for its turbulent history. It saw glory days as the summer residence of the Wallachian princes and was burned to the ground by the Ottoman Turks; then Austria-Hungary and imperial Russia fought over it for a century. After Wallachia and Moldavia united to form Romania in the mid-19th century, Bucharest enjoyed a prosperity that was reflected in its extravagant architecture, some of which miraculously survived WWII bombing and Communist building programs. You’ll see Bucharest’s very own Triumphal Arch, which is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and Victoria Boulevard, lined with chic shops and handsomely restored prewar buildings—and sites where protests brought down Ceausescu’s regime in 1989. These days Bucharest enjoys a lively and eclectic cultural scene, hosting international arts festivals and concerts, and a measure of prosperity apparent in its busy cafés and thriving street life. Perhaps no sight in Bucharest more perfectly encapsulates Romania’s 20th-century experience than the mind-boggling structure known as the People’s Palace. Nicolae Ceausescu razed one-sixth of the city to erect this enormous palace—the second-largest building in the world—which all but bankrupted the country and helped trigger his downfall. Some 20,000 laborers worked on the building, which has 1,100 rooms in its 12 stories. Only a small portion of it is open to tours—in fact, only a small portion of the rooms are furnished—but you’ll see the vast marble-sheathed halls, huge chandeliers and basement bomb shelter that comprise an astonishing monument to the dictator’s ambition. The cost to the country was enormous, but the craftsmanship is exquisite; the dictator meant it to be a showcase of Bulgarian decorative arts, and in that he fully succeeded.Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Bucharest walking tour“Give a penny for the Athenaeum.” Back in the 1880s, this was the theme for the fundraising campaign that resulted in one of Bucharest’s most beautiful and most beloved buildings: the Romanian Athenaeum. Ordinary citizens, not wealthy patrons of the arts, contributed their pennies and built a jewel-box concert hall with perfect acoustics, which they cherish to this day: It’s called the spiritual and artistic heart of the nation. Start to explore the Bucharest locals love right here with a look at the stately neoclassical home of the George Enescu Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra, and continue to Revolution Square, perhaps best known for the moment when Nicolae Ceausescu climbed into a helicopter on the roof of the Central Committee building and fled Bucharest in 1989. Stroll past the elegant shops in the neighborhood, as you head to Lipscani, the restored old quarter. Just a few years ago this neighborhood was all but a shambles; now it is a lively social center. Here you’ll find everything from a famous beer hall to a spectacularly renovated bookstore, as well as the city’s oldest surviving church and the remnants of the Old Princely Court, where the Wallachian rulers—including Vlad the Impaler—lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. Your walking tour ends at Hanul Lui Manuc, built two centuries ago as an inn and recently restored, where you will take a seat in the tree-shaded courtyard and relax over some favorite local appetizers—perhaps some stuffed mushrooms and a variety of sausages.
Day 24: Bucharest
Count Dracula might be a fictional character who makes the blood curdle on Halloween, but his historical namesake is not. Vlad III—known in his heyday as Dracula or "Vlad the Impaler"—was a medieval prince with a penchant for brutally punishing his enemies. Or was it all a smear campaign instigated by his enemies? Find out more today on a visit to his tomb. Also on the agenda—a guided tour of the infamous Ceausescu Mansion.Featured Excursions:Romanian countryside tour with visits to Ceausescu Mansion and Vlad the Impaler’s tombLegend says that a tiny, verdant island in the midst of lovely Snagov Lake, just north of the city, contains Vlad the Impaler’s tomb. Vlad III, who ruled Wallachia (now part of modern Romania) in the 15th century, may have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and countless successor vampire novels), though he got his sobriquet “the Impaler” for the brutal methods he employed against his enemies, not for sinking his teeth into virgins. However cruel Vlad was, the monks of Snagov Monastery held him in great esteem and are said to have buried him in their monastery after he was slain in a battle nearby. Take a boat over the peaceful waters to the serene garden and monastery to see the simple marble slab that marks the tomb, as well as the beautiful medieval frescoes that adorn the interior of the monastery. Then continue further afield to the opulent former residence of Romania's former leader Nicolae Ceausescu, where you’ll have a guided tour. It's been a quarter of a century since deposed Romanian president Ceausescu and his wife Elena were executed by a firing squad on Christmas Day in 1989, but now you can roam the opulent 80-room residence where the couple once lived, situated on 3.5 acres of grounds in one of Bucharest's most desirable neighborhoods.
Day 25: Depart Bucharest
Check out of your hotel this morning. If your cruise/tour package includes a group departure transfer or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport for your flight home.