Day 1: Bucharest
Arrive at Bucharest Henri Coandă International 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 hotel.
Day 2: 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 3: Bucharest, Transfer to Giurgiu (Embark)
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. Begin the day with a panoramic tour of Bucharest, followed by a traditional three-course Romanian lunch at a local restaurant, before transferring via motorcoach to Giurgiu, where your ship awaits.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.In the evening, a special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you.
Day 4: 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 with 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 next 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).
Day 5: Cruising the Danube River, Vidin
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.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 a local expert 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, filmmakers 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 film 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 6: Cruising the Iron Gates, Golubac
Today’s main attraction will be the spectacular scenery along the Danube, as you cruise a stretch of gorges known as the Iron Gates. Later, head ashore to explore a Paleolithic site and an extraordinary well-preserved medieval fortress. All along the way, 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. Later, you’ll visit Golubac Castle, one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in Europe, a powerhouse that has loomed over the Danube for centuries. 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.
Day 7: Belgrade
Belgrade, the modern-day capital of Serbia, is one of Europe’s oldest cities, dating back some 7,000 years. Signs of its tumultuous history are visible everywhere, juxtaposed with the city’s vibrant modern-day present. See it all with a choice of excursions, either a city tour that visits the palace or a guided bike ride. You have two very different ways to see Belgrade 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. A local expert 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 fisherman’s bar, you’ll be ready to pedal to Kalemegdan Fortress and see a bit of Serbia’s more distant past.
Day 8: Vukovar (Osijek), Cruising the Danube River
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 9: Cruising the Danube River, Budapest
Located on opposite sides of the Danube, Buda and Pest each has a distinctive character and allure all its own. Explore this dynamic and multi-faceted city with your choice of excursions—you can see it from a local’s perspective on our exclusive walking tour, cover more ground with a panoramic tour or “Go Active” with a guided bike ride. Vibrant Budapest, Hungary’s capital, offers an enchanting combination of East and West, old and new. Even its geography is made up of two parts—Buda (the hills) and Pest (the flatlands)—divided by the Danube. 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 expert 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 a local expert 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 Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you.
Day 10: 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. For a reminder of the centuries when Hungary was ruled by the Ottoman Turks, take a look at the 16th-century tomb of Gül Baba (and enjoy a Turkish coffee at the adjoining coffeehouse). 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 11: Budapest, Cruising the Danube River
Located on opposite sides of the Danube, Buda and Pest each has a distinctive character and allure all its own. Explore this dynamic and multi-faceted city with your choice of excursions—you can see it from a local’s perspective on our exclusive walking tour, or cover more ground with a panoramic tour. Vibrant Budapest, Hungary’s capital, offers an enchanting combination of East and West, old and new. Even its geography is made up of two parts—Buda (the hills) and Pest (the flatlands)—divided by the Danube. Appropriately enough, you have your choice of two different ways to explore it today.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 daily life in 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. Your ship sets sail from Budapest after your tour, cruising along the Danube Bend, which is lined with scenic towns—among them are the oldest settlements in the country—nestled at the foot of lovely wooded hills.In the evening, a special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you.
Day 12: Cruising the Danube River, Vienna
A city tour will show you the architectural highlights of the Austrian capital as well as the legendary opera house in the heart of the city. Or, indulge your passion for art with visits to two distinctively different collections—a “cabinet of curiosities” collected by the Habsburgs and the Belvedere’s extraordinary cache of paintings by Klimt and other renowned artists. 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 today it is yours to explore.Featured Excursions:Vienna city tour with Vienna State Opera visitA panoramic tour will show you the architectural highlights of the Habsburg capital—the City Hall, the Hofburg, St. Charles’s Church and other landmarks—but it will also take you to the legendary opera house in the heart of the city. The neo-Renaissance theater opened in 1869 with a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Mozart’s operas continue to be a mainstay of its annual season, during which some 50 operas are staged). Though the building was damaged during WWII, the main entrance, foyer and grand staircase were unharmed and retain their original grandeur and artwork. Spend some time admiring this handsome structure, then stroll through the neighborhood—which just happens to include the Hotel Sacher, the imperial palace complex, Vienna’s poshest shopping streets and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. You’ll be able to explore the cathedral on your own: It is truly magnificent. Erected in the 14th century, partly from Roman ruins, St. Stephen’s is as closely linked to the musical history of the empire as it is to imperial politics and religion. Mozart was married and buried here; Vivaldi’s funeral took place here; and Beethoven realized he was completely deaf when he could not hear the great bell ringing. Note: The Vienna State Opera House is occasionally closed to visitors for rehearsals or special events without advance notice. If we cannot visit the opera house, we will visit an alternative venue instead.Exclusive “Vienna, City of Arts” tourThe sheer number of artistic gems on view in Vienna is overwhelming. Let an art historian provide you with knowledgeable guidance as you visit two extraordinary— and quite different—collections. The objects assembled at the Kunstkammer Vienna almost defy description. For centuries the Habsburgs collected curiosities that caught their fancies: an automaton of the goddess Diana riding a centaur, a priceless salt cellar made by Benvenuto Cellini, Renaissance tapestries, exquisite gold communion cups, sculptures and ivories—the range is staggering. The Kunstkammer Vienna was closed for more than a decade and only reopened in 2013; now these precious, idiosyncratic and magical pieces are once again on public view. The collections at the Belvedere, by contrast, concentrate on paintings and sculpture. The Belvedere palace complex, a triumph of baroque architecture, was built for Prince Eugene of Savoy, the Habsburg Empire’s leading general in the early 18th century. The Upper Belvedere houses the world’s largest group of works by Gustav Klimt, including his exquisite The Kiss, as well as paintings by Monet, Van Gogh and Renoir, among many others. Note: The Kunstkammer Vienna is closed on Mondays between September and May. If the tour lands on a Monday, Albertina Museum will be visited instead.
Day 13: Cruising the Wachau Valley, Spitz (Spitz or Melk)
Sit back and enjoy the ever-changing views as your ship cruises through the Wachau Valley, famous for its apricot groves, Rieslings and natural beauty. Later, take your pick of excursions—a stroll and wine tasting in the centuries-old village of Spitz, or a visit to Melk Abbey and its opulent baroque-style library. You’ll want to find a comfortable seat in the lounge or on the Sun Deck today as your ship cruises through the Wachau Valley toward Spitz. Over the eons, the Danube cut a gorge through the foothills of the Bohemian mountains, resulting in a 19-mile (30-kilometer) stretch of riverine scenery so beautiful, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Landscape. Castle ruins dominate hilltops; baroque church towers appear on the riverbanks, marking historic villages and splendid abbeys; and apricot orchards and vineyards cling to the rocky slopes. Some of Austria’s finest white wines are produced from grapes ripening on the dry-stone terraces above the river, where grapes have been grown for 2,000 years. Your ship will dock in Spitz, midway through this glorious landscape, where you are faced with a difficult choice: Do you explore a charming riverbank village or visit one of the most beautiful libraries in the world?Featured Excursions:Spitz village stroll with exclusive wine tastingWine grapes grow in the heart of the village, which was built around “Thousand Bucket Mountain,” so called because the vineyards planted on it have produced a thousand buckets of wine a year. What kind of wine? Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s very own varietal. Ramble with your local guide along the cobblestone lanes of Spitz, passing baroque and Renaissance-era houses and perhaps pausing to admire the 15th-century parish church, on your way to one of the wine estates that dominate the slopes above the town. There you’ll sample some of the wonderful local wines and have a chance to check out another specialty of the Wachau, apricots, which are turned into all sorts of delicacies, from jam and schnapps to strudel. You may opt to walk back to the ship on your own, browsing through the tiny shops along the way, or continue with your guide to hike uphill to the Red Gate, the only remaining gate in the medieval wall that once guarded Spitz. (Legend says that the gate got its name during the Thirty Years’ War, when the defenders’ blood stained the gate red.) Leave the town behind and hike through the steep vineyards with your guide, learning about the unique qualities of the soil, climate and terrain that make the region’s wine so special.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 fortified 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 dark to light and demonstrating the link he claimed to the original Roman Empire. After your tour of the abbey, you’ll have time to explore Melk on your own, or you can take the motorcoach back to the ship.
Day 14: Engelhartszell, Cruising the Danube River, Passau
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 and its main claim to fame, Europe’s largest pipe organ, or “Go Active” with an invigorating riverside hike or bike ride. Your ship cruises through a scenic highlight of the Danube today, the Schlögener Schlinge—a hairpin loop in the Danube that was once very hazardous for ships and is now a lovely, serene stretch of water—and leaves Austria behind today. Your first German port of call is Passau, where three rivers meet—the Inn, the Ilz and the Danube—and three nations almost meet: Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. Explore the historic Old Town or choose a more active adventure.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 magnificent new residence for the bishops themselves. As a result, these splendid structures flaunt 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.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 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 as well as political enemies into the Oberhaus prison, 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 flooded 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 flooding in the riverfront areas as you head back to the ship.Exclusive guided “Let's Go” Bavarian river bicycle rideBicyclists have a treat in store today. Borrow a bike and, with an expert local guide, take the bike ferry across the Danube to the path that borders the river. You’ll pedal through the breathtaking countryside between Engelhartszell and Passau—orchards and meadows glide past, along with the occasional castle, charming village or picturesque ruin. Naturally, you’ll stop in a traditional beer garden for a little refreshment (perhaps you’ll be able to wave at the ship as it cruises past). Finally, you’ll roll into Passau and wend your way among the lanes of the historic city center to the ship.
Day 15: Straubing, Cruising the Danube River, Regensburg
You have two tantalizing excursions to experience today, including a walking tour and brewery visit in Straubing, plus a choice of adventures in Regensburg, famous for its beautiful, UNESCO protected old city center. “Regensburg is so beautifully situated; this region had to attract a town,” wrote Goethe in his Diary of an Italian Voyage. And attract a town it did, but not due to its beautiful location alone. Ambitious and farseeing locals built a bridge (Steinerne Brücke, or Stone Bridge) over the Danube back in the 12th century, making Regensburg an international trading hub. Because so many of the handsome buildings from that period remain, UNESCO declared the old city center a World Heritage Site in 2006. But first, you’ll visit Straubing and visit a brewery—simply a must-do experience in Germany!Featured Excursions:Straubing walking discovery tour with brewery visitPerfectly situated on the banks of the Danube, Straubing is an old town filled with centuries worth of history, culture and tradition. How old is it? The first known settlements here can be traced all the way back to 6000 BC. Your local expert will show you the highlights, followed by a visit to a local brewery. Reboard the ship and enjoy lunch onboard before choosing your own adventure in the next port of call.“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 similarly revealed: the Stone Bridge built by ambitious residents in the 12th century that made Regensburg a 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 magnificent 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.Jewish Regensburg walking discovery tourA white marble installation called Place of Encounter stands on the spot where a synagogue was destroyed in 1519. The installation, by Dani Karavan, reflects the outlines of the synagogue, taken from a drawing made immediately before the interior was demolished. It’s just one of the mementos you’ll see on your tour of this historic Jewish district, which was home to a thriving Jewish community for 500 years; its celebrated school drew Talmudic scholars from all of Central Europe. Jews in Ratisbon, as the town was known in medieval documents, enjoyed imperial protection, but following the death of Maximilian I, the town council banished all Jews and razed their homes and synagogue. The community grew again over the centuries, though the sad history of death and destruction was repeated in the 1930s. The Jewish quarter was re-established in 1945 by Holocaust survivors. It has taken decades, but the synagogue and much of the surrounding area have now been restored, standing as a symbol of both destruction and hope.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 the fascinating production process from beginning to end, starting with rolls of sheet metal that are stamped out into body parts and continuing as the body is built and the various other elements are robotically assembled. You’ll follow a car into the finishing department to see it painted, polished and have the final touch applied—the BMW roundel. 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.
Day 16: Cruising the Main-Danube Canal
Come out on deck or find a window seat where you can watch the ship navigate a series of locks as it travels through one of the modern world’s greatest feats of engineering—the Main-Danube canal. The Main-Danube canal is a masterwork of engineering: It allows ships of all shapes and sizes to cruise from the Black Sea all the way to the North Sea, through no fewer than 15 countries. Sixteen locks punctuate the 106-mile (160-kilometer) stretch between Kelheim and Bamberg, linking the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers. Building the canal was no small task, especially considering changes of altitude (each river is different); the locks gently lift and lower the ships an astonishing 1,332 feet (406 meters) over the continental divide. Efforts to connect the rivers began with Charlemagne in AD 793, but the present-day canal was only completed in 1992.A special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 17: Nuremberg (Disembark), Transfer to Prague
Nuremberg will forever be associated with the post-WWII Nuremberg trials, but the city’s profound historical and cultural significance stretches back many centuries before that. You’ll gain a newfound understanding and appreciation of both aspects of the city today on an in-depth tour with a local expert. Disembark the ship early in the morning—leaving your luggage in Uniworld’s expert hands—and delve into Nuremberg’s history, which is both glorious and profoundly difficult. 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. Following your excursion, you’ll enjoy lunch on your own and then transfer via motorcoach to Prague, where you’ll check into your hotel.Featured Excursions:Nuremberg city tour with WWII Rally Grounds visitHitler 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 during WWII, 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 study the exhibition in the Documentation Center called “Fascination and Terror,” which covers the causes, the context and the consequences of the National Socialist reign of terror. Leaving behind the Third Reich’s mementos, you’ll discover the medieval city built by the Holy Roman emperors. Prosperous, secure and vibrant, Nuremberg lured artists and thinkers, merchants and scientists, for centuries. 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 the area on your own after your tour; your guide can suggest some delightful spots where you can enjoy lunch on your own.
Day 18: Prague
Is it possible not to be completely enchanted by Prague, with its fabled skyline of spires, fortress-like castle, beautifully preserved architecture and iconic Charles Bridge? A magnet for generations of artists, writers, scientists and composers, Prague is famous for its dynamic energy and elegant ambiance (and the beers here are pretty amazing, too). A thousand years of architecture, from ornate Gothic to fanciful postmodern, have been beautifully preserved in Prague, which has been a magnet for artists, writers, scientists and composers for centuries. It also boasts great beer, a lively art scene and up-and-coming fashion designers, making it a fun as well as a beautiful place to visit.Featured Excursions:Prague city tourGet an overview of the city with a panoramic tour that carries you past such sights as the State Opera House, the National Museum and Wenceslas Square on your way to massive Prague Castle. Step inside the castle’s protective walls and enter a self-contained city, with courtyards, palaces, towers, churches and gardens designed for kings and emperors, along with housing and workplaces for all those who tended the rulers. Among the highlights are lofty St. Vitus Cathedral, which took 600 years to finish, and Vladislav Hall, whose complex stone-vaulting system was one of the most advanced engineering feats of the late Middle Ages. After strolling through Golden Lane, a street of quaint cottages where Prague’s 17th-century goldsmiths lived (alas, there’s no truth to the legend that it was named for the royal alchemists), you may reboard the motorcoach for a ride back to the hotel or continue your guided walk through the picturesque Lesser Quarter, the district around the castle, to Charles Bridge. Cross the landmark bridge named for Charles IV, who ordered its construction in 1357; it’s strictly for pedestrians now, so you can pause and look down at the Vltava below you and examine some of the statues that line the bridge, before you head to Old Town Square. This was the original market square; the buildings that surround it form a case study in Prague’s architectural history. You’ll find Prague’s most famous Gothic church, Our Lady Before Týn, there, along with the 14th-century Old Town Hall (which boasts a famous medieval astronomical clock), the beautiful baroque St. Nicholas, the rococo Kinsky Palace and a group of Renaissance houses.Exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of Prague’s Estates Theatre and Municipal HousePrague adored Mozart, and Mozart adored Prague; he wrote his opera Don Giovanni specifically for the city and its handsome new theater and conducted its premiere there in 1787. Get an exclusive insider’s look at the exquisite jewel-box theater, where operas are staged to this day. The proscenium, the king’s box and the putti decorating the rows of boxes all evoke Mozart’s era. Listen to a short concert of music composed by Mozart and his contemporaries in the Mozart Salon before enjoying traditional Czech refreshments at the café in Municipal House, the premier art nouveau building in Prague.
Day 19: Depart Prague
You’ve experienced the best of the Danube River and Prague, sampling myriad culinary delights and exploring fascinating stops along the way. Now your journey comes to a close. If your cruise/tour includes a group departure transfer or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Prague Václav Havel Airport for your flight home. Your Uniworld adventure may be over, but we know you’ll enjoy the memories you’ve made for years to come.