Day 1: Basel (Embark)
Arrive at EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg. If your cruise 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: Basel
Basel is a cultural and artistic powerhouse, with all sorts of galleries, theaters and museums. And at this time of year, the city’s Christmas market draws visitors from all over Europe, as does its Christmas Street, lined with more than 100 beautifully decorated and illuminated Christmas trees. Be sure to make a wish in the town’s Wish Book! Your day in Basel begins with a short panoramic tour of Switzerland’s second-largest city. Long an important center of education, banking and trade, Basel boasts a glorious history that stretches back to the Roman Empire. During the Renaissance, its university and master printers drew intellectuals from all over Europe, including the great thinker Erasmus of Rotterdam, whose tomb is found within the walls of the Romanesque cathedral. To this day, the city remains a cultural and artistic powerhouse, with numerous art galleries, theaters and more than 30 museums. And at this time of year, a beloved Christmas market draws visitors from all over Europe.Featured Excursions:Basel walking discovery tour with Christmas MarketDo you have a special wish for Christmas? Write it in the Wish Book, which lies open in Basel’s 17th-century Town Hall during Advent, waiting for residents and visitors to express their hopes and dreams for the holiday—or for the world. Your local expert will take you past the Town Hall, whose red-brick walls feature paintings by Hans Bock, so you’ll know right where to go after your tour. The 800-year-old Münster, with its red sandstone walls, multicolored roof tiles and twin towers, is equally spectacular; spread out before it you’ll find the wondrous Christmas Market. With more than 150 stands, it offers many locally made craft items, unique ornaments and delicious seasonal baked goods. Warm your hands on a mug of hot mulled wine as you browse. After exploring this Swiss treat, you’ll want to visit the town’s illuminated Christmas Street, which is beautifully decorated with more than 100 Christmas trees. If you’re looking for truly unique gifts, stop by Johann Wanner’s shop, with its array of elegant angel ornaments, blown-glass figurines and pewter Victorian miniatures. You’ll also find museums and art galleries, specialty shops and cozy wainscoted restaurants near Market Square.A special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 3: Kehl (Strasbourg)
Strasbourg is invariably described as quaint, a rather overused word that in this case is perfectly apropos. Whether you see it via a canal boat or on foot with a friendly local expert, this historic town with its cobbled lanes, half-timbered homes, giant stork nests and impossible-to-resist pastry shops will win your heart. Kehl, directly across the river from Strasbourg, will be your ship’s base while you explore the Alsatian capital, which is known as the “Crossroads of Europe” for its strategic location halfway between Paris and Prague. It is home to a magnificent, single-spire Gothic cathedral and many beautiful half-timbered houses.Featured Excursions:Strasbourg by canal with Christmas MarketOne of the best ways to see Strasbourg is from its historic canals. Controlled over the centuries by either France or Germany, Strasbourg—cross-cultural and bilingual—offers a delightful combination of old and new as well as French and German characteristics. Hop aboard a glass-enclosed water taxi for a great view of both aspects, sailing past the striking contemporary architecture in the European Quarter (so named because pan-European institutions, such as the European Parliament, are housed here) and into the historic center of the city. You’ll pass under the famous covered footbridges linked by three medieval towers as you enter the serene waterways of Grande Île, where the Ill River splits into canals lined with the stunning 15th- and 16th-century black and white timbered houses of Petite France, a picturesque neighborhood of cobblestone streets. The water taxi will drop you off on Grande Île, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you will find Strasbourg’s Christmas Market, the oldest in France. In fact, this will be its 450th year. It’s not only the oldest, it’s also one of the largest. The market spreads out over 11 locations, each one scenic—the cathedral, Place Broglie, Place Kléber—and it’s easy to ramble from one site to another, browsing among chalets stocked with finely crafted toys, sculptures, ceramics, jewelry and handmade Nativity figurines in a wonderfully festive atmosphere. Check out the giant toy storks in Santa hats, a little tribute to Strasbourg’s beloved storks. You won’t want to miss the holiday treats like bûche de Noël, the delicious Christmas cake made to look like a yule log, or warm crepes dusted with sugar and cinnamon. Shuttle service will be provided to and from the center of Strasbourg in the afternoon.Exclusive “Taste of Christmas” Strasbourg walking tourAlsace is famous for its excellent cuisine, which combines French and German elements in delectable and unique ways. Roam through Petite France with your local expert, where the little shops are all charmingly decked out for Christmas, and explore the Christmas Market set up in Broglie Square. Stroll from chalet to chalet, as the stalls are known here, which brim with ornaments, pretzels, steaming vats of mulled wine and Alsace’s best-known Christmas cookies, called bredele. There are many kinds—hirschhörnle, anise, makrenle, rochers, speculatius—each with a distinctive shape, history and flavoring, all of which your guide can tell you about as you sample them. During the afternoon, you will have some free time to wander through the beautiful Old Town. You might want to spend more time at the Christmas Market, which takes on an especially festive look as darkness falls and the lights illuminate the entire area; visit the magnificent cathedral; or simply stroll along the lanes of Petite France. You could learn about Alsatian wines in the medieval wine cellars of the old city hospital, spend some time among the treasures of the Rohan Palace’s museums or shop along the Grand Arcades. Stop for a warm drink at a café on Place Gutenberg, named for the man who invented moveable type here in Strasbourg some 560 years ago. Shuttles will be available to take you to and from the ship, in case you want to drop off your finds and return for more.
Day 4: Mannheim (Heidelberg)
Wake up in Germany and choose your adventure for the day. You can join an excursion to the historic university town of Heidelberg, where you’ll see the castle ruins and visit the Christmas market. Or for something really unexpected, venture into a spooky, candlelit tasting room to sample flavorful elixirs made from wine vinegars. Utterly unique and surprisingly delicious! Your ship left France behind and sailed into Germany during the wee hours of the morning. If you speak no German, here’s one phrase you might want to learn now: “Fröhliche Weihnachten,” or “Merry Christmas!” Today you’ll have two choices: Venture into the storied city of Heidelberg, home to the oldest university in the country, or visit the Doktorenhof vinegar estate for a special vinegar tasting.Featured Excursions:Full-day Heidelberg tour with Christmas MarketHeidelberg’s castle, high above the town, may have been destroyed by lightning in the 1700s, but it remains a beautiful and intriguing destination. Your walk up to the castle ruins will end in the vast courtyard, partially enclosed by the wings of the once-great palace. The castle was the official residence of the prince electors, one of whom built the world’s largest wine barrel in 1751—the Heidelberg Tun, able to hold 58,100 gallons (220,000 liters) of wine—to contain the wine he collected as taxes from local vintners. It still stands as a monumental memento of the economic importance of wine in the region, and though it has been empty for centuries, you could, if you like, climb up to the top and take a spin on the dance floor that has been built on it. Your second destination is downtown Heidelberg’s splendid Christmas Market, one of the largest in the country. It fills square after square, offering an inviting array of unusual arts and crafts, as well as exquisite hand-blown glass ornaments. Marvel at the Christmas pyramid, with its figures from the city’s history rotating inside the tower at Market Square; take a ride on the carousel at University Square; or try out your ice skating skills on the rink in Charles Square. Your local expert can recommend places for you to enjoy a hearty lunch on your own; be sure to try some typical German fare like sauerbraten. Afterwards, you can continue to wander around Old Town, where you’ll encounter the 15th-century Holy Spirit Church and the Student Prison. Heidelberg has one of the longest pedestrian streets in Germany—perfect for strolling and window shopping. Or simply spend a little more time at the Christmas Market before returning to the ship. Note: Lunch is not included with the full-day Heidelberg tour.Exclusive Doktorenhof vinegar estate visit and tastingFor a different spin on the Palatinate wine region, visit the Weinessiggut Doktorenhof estate for a special vinegar tasting. Yes, you read that right—a vinegar tasting. Founded by Georg Wiedemann some 30 years ago, Doktorenhof produces vinegars from premium wines, rather than inexpensive ones. Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner, Riesling and Pinot Noir are aged with a century-old vinegar “mother,” as the bacteria that makes vinegar is known, and flavored with a variety of herbs and fruits. The results make complex and elegant aperitifs, intended to be sipped from a specially designed long-stemmed glass between courses or after a meal. The atmospheric cellar (think candles, cloaks and choir music) is like no other you’ll ever experience, and the candlelit tasting room is decked for the holidays. You’ll have plenty of time to explore their enticing gift shop, too.
Day 5: Mainz, Rüdesheim
Double your fun today with visits to two Christmas markets. The first is in Mainz, the birthplace of Gutenberg’s revolutionary printing press and home to a 200-year-old Christmas market. The next is in Rüdesheim, a town famous for its life-sized Nativity scene, brandy-infused coffee and a quirky museum devoted to mechanical musical instruments. Mainz, standing at the confluence of the Rhine and the Main rivers, may be best known as the city where Johannes Gutenberg prepared his priceless 42-line bible for publication in 1485, using his newly invented printing press. You have the morning at leisure to explore the city that inspired such ingenuity, venturing off on your own to visit the Gutenberg Museum or one of the other intriguing museums nearby. Or you could stroll with the Cruise Manager through the Old Town neighborhood known as the Cherry Orchard, which is lined with picturesque half-timbered houses, on your way to the 200-year-old St. Nicholas Christmas Market. The millennium-old St. Martin’s Cathedral acts as its backdrop, and the holiday pyramid smack in the middle of the square reflects Mainz’s history— figures of Gutenberg and the ancient Roman commander Dresus join the standard angels and Santas. Mainz’s Old Town brims with specialty shops tucked into lovingly restored buildings: You’ll find jewelry, leather goods, books, toys—something special for every special person on your list. However you choose to spend your time in Mainz, you’ll head back to the ship for a short cruise to Rüdesheim, which, like many cities along the Rhine, dates back to Roman times, when the Rhine was the northern border of the empire. Today, Rüdesheim is famous for its beauty and its entertaining alley of shops and wine bars called the Drosselgasse. It’s also home to a unique and fascinating little museum devoted to mechanical musical instruments.Featured Excursions:Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum with Christmas MarketBoard a delightfully quaint mini train to Siegfried’s Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments. This small, personal museum houses one of the world’s best collections of mechanical musical instruments in a 16th-century mansion, the Brömserhof. Here a guided tour will introduce you to rare mechanical instruments; some of them are 300 years old, and all of them are wonderfully inventive and fun. Listen as tiny birds pop out of music boxes and begin to sing; marvel as colorfully costumed mechanical figures play miniature violins. It’s an enchanting and surprising experience. Your enchantment continues at Rüdesheim’s fabulous Christmas Market. Browse the more than 120 stalls packed with holiday delights, and don’t miss Rüdesheim’s life-sized Nativity scene—one of Germany’s largest. If a hot beverage appeals to you, order a Rüdesheimer coffee and enjoy the ritual as it is prepared before you: The local brandy is set a-fire as it is poured into the drink. Be sure to take a look at the illuminated decorations on the rooftops—Rüdesheim’s residents have a friendly competition to see who can mount the brightest and most unusual lighted holiday display.
Day 6: Cruising the romantic Rhine River, Koblenz
On today’s cruise along the Rhine, watch out for the Loreley rock, a tall slate cliff towering over the narrowest point of the river. Celebrated in song and shrouded in legend, the rock is famous for the tale of Loreley, a beautiful siren whose beguiling song doomed passing sailors. Further down the river, step ashore in Koblenz, a historic town with a colorful past, eclectic architecture and an enchanting Christmas market. Spend a spectacular morning onboard your luxurious boutique ship as you sail the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this stretch of the Rhine is extraordinarily picturesque: Castles perch atop steep cliffs above the water and each quaint village is marked by the spire of its historic church. The ship will pass the famous Lorelei rock, where, legend has it, a siren lured sailors to their doom. After sailing past 40 miles (65 kilometers) of gorgeous scenery, you’ll reach the famous intersection of the Rhine and the Moselle. Here, where the two rivers meet, you’ll find the enchanting town of Koblenz.Featured Excursions:Koblenz walking discovery tour with Christmas MarketWatch the waters of the Moselle gush into the Rhine as you stand on the spit of land called German Corner. It’s an appropriate spot for a symbol of German unity: an equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I, erected in honor of German unification in 1871. Behind it is Koblenz’s oldest church, St. Castor’s Basilica, originally built in the ninth century and the first of the charming churches and squares you’ll encounter as you wander through Old Town. Like many Rhineland towns, Koblenz suffered at the hands of French forces under Louis XIV—that’s why you’ll see so many baroque features in the buildings you pass, since so many needed to be rebuilt after the French left. That’s also why the Church of Our Lady has twin onion domes. Originally built in the Middle Ages on the highest point in Koblenz, the lovely church that stands in this spot now mostly dates to the early 1700s. Following your tour, delve into the Koblenz Christmas Market, which spills from square to square, with stalls full of unique Rhine Valley handicrafts, baked goods and wines. Be sure to check out the Advent calendar in the baroque town hall’s windows.
Day 7: Cologne
You simply cannot visit Cologne without paying homage to its most notorious site, the Gothic masterpiece that serves as the city’s cathedral. Your local expert will show you favorite haunts around the Old Town and share some of the cathedral’s most intriguing and Magi-cal secrets with you. Later, you can explore the city’s seven (!) Christmas markets to your heart’s content. 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 discovery tour with Cologne Cathedral visit and Christmas marketsAs 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. The famous 12 Romanesque churches were reconstructed from the rubble, and the UNESCO-designated cathedral, Cologne’s iconic landmark, rises magnificently in the city center. Though it was damaged, the great cathedral retains many of its original treasures, including a gold- embellished reliquary believed to contain the earthly remains of the fabled Magi. What could be more appropriate at this time of year? Your local expert can tell you the history of the cathedral and its artwork, especially the pieces surrounding the Shrine of the Magi, which has drawn Christian pilgrims for centuries. When you step out of the cathedral, you won’t be able to miss the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland—it marks one of seven Christmas markets for you to explore. Here in the cathedral square, you’ll discover 160 wood pavilions with a variety of gifts and souvenirs. You can return to the ship or stay in town to visit other holiday markets. Each one has a unique theme. There’s the fun Old Market and the romantic Angels’ Market at New Market, which, despite its name, is actually the oldest Christmas market in Cologne. Rudolf Square displays fairytale figures and spectacular holiday lighting. You’ll even find a lively harbor-themed market next to the Chocolate Museum, complete with juggling pirates and performers singing sea shanties. Note: The number of visitors allowed in Cologne Cathedral is regulated by a very strict set of time slots. Sightseeing will be arranged around the time slots obtained. On Sundays and Catholic holidays, guided tours inside the cathedral will not be possible.A special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 8: Cologne (Disembark)
Disembark the ship. If your cruise package includes a group departure transfer, or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Cologne Bonn Airport for your flight home.