Experience the cultural treasures and enchanting landscapes of five European countries as we cruise along some of the continent’s most scenic rivers: the Danube, Main, and Rhine. On board the elegant Scenic Ruby or Scenic Opal, glide from stately cities to medieval towns, and explore castle-crowned river valleys blanketed in grapevines. Encounter relics of Europe’s greatest empires—from the Romans and Austro-Hungarians to the Dutch—and delve into World War II history in fascinating cities like Nuremberg, Salzburg, and Budapest. Along the way, savor the continent’s culinary delights and rich musical heritage.
Alongside a National Geographic expert, explore 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites, including medieval Bamburg, the Wurzburg Residenz, and the grand Gothic cityscape of Budapest.
Sip wines and compare tasting notes from Austria’s Wachau Valley and the Rheingau region of Germany, and enjoy a pint from the world’s oldest monastic brewery outside Regensburg.
Enjoy expert insight from local guides during visits to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and Vienna’s Museum of Natural History, whose meteorite exhibit was co-curated by a National Geographic grantee.
A National Geographic photographer joins every departure and gives talks on board covering technical skill and artistry.
Itinerary - 15 Days
Day 1 — Budapest, Hungary
Arrive in Budapest and embark the Scenic Ruby. Enjoy a welcome dinner on board, complete with views of the city’s grand buildings glittering under the night sky.
Scenic Ruby or Opal (D)
Day 2 — Budapest
Discover the two distinct sides of this Hungarian capital—the cobbled hills of Buda and the grand boulevards of Pest, linked by eight stately bridges that span the Danube. Climb historic Castle Hill to see the Royal Palace and Matthias Church, the stunning setting for the coronations and weddings of the Habsburg royalty. Alternatively, choose to soak in one of the city’s traditional bathhouses, or descend into the Hospital in the Rock, a secret subterranean military hospital used during World War II. If you wish, set out on a guided walk in the Buda hills, hiking up to Lions Rock.
Day 3 — Vienna, Austria
Cruise the Danube toward Vienna, tracing the border of Hungary and Slovakia before crossing into Austria. Relax in the lounge in views of colorful waterfront towns and hilltop fortifications. This evening arrive in Vienna for a private concert in the gilded halls of the Palais Liechtenstein, featuring the timeless music of celebrated Austrian composers Strauss and Mozart.
Day 4 — Vienna or Bratislava, Slovakia
Choose from among several excursions today. Bike between Vienna’s magnificent palaces, parks, and cathedrals on a guided cycling tour; or tour the Schönbrunn Palace, the baroque summer residence of the imperial family and a World Heritage site. You may instead choose to take a guided tour of the Museum of Natural History for an inside look at its meteorite exhibit, curated by a National Geographic grantee. Alternatively, visit Bratislava for a guided tour through the cobbled streets of the old town.
Day 5 — Melk, Austria
Glide into Austria’s lush Wachau Valley and dock at Melk for a tour of its Benedictine abbey, one of the world’s most magnificent baroque buildings. Or take a more active excursion, cycling along the Danube from Melk to Dürnstein or hiking to the hilltop ruins of a medieval castle. Or visit a local winery for a guided tour of the cellars and vines, followed by a tasting of the region’s celebrated Grüner Veltliners and Rieslings. This evening, sip sundowners in a beautiful location in the Wachau Valley.
Day 6 — Salzburg
Spend the day in Salzburg, a baroque beauty brimming with old-world European charm. Take in views of wildflower-dotted meadows and snow-capped Alpine peaks and stroll the storybook streets of the old town, lined with lively shops and cafés. Salzburg features prominently in the celebrated 1965 movie The Sound of Music, and we’ll see the film come to life during an exclusive music and dance show with fantastic sets performed in the rolling hills above Salzburg. Enjoy a traditional Austrian lunch as you hum along to the movie’s beloved classics.
Day 7 — Regensburg, Germany
A World Heritage site set at the confluence of the Danube, Naab, and Regen rivers, Regensburg once served as a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire. On a guided visit, venture into the medieval center to see its splendid Gothic cathedral, 12th-century stone bridge, and the Porta Praetoria—the ancient Roman city gate. Alternatively, tour the historic Kuchlbauer Brewery and its whimsical tower—a tribute to modern art. Or take a local ferry across the Danube Gorge to Weltenburg Abbey, home to the world’s oldest monastic brewery. Explore the abbey, then head to the courtyard and sip on a pint of their popular Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel. If you wish, join a biking tour to Walhalla, a hall of fame of famous Germans honoring artists, politicians, scientists and more.
Day 8 — Nuremberg
Threaded by medieval walls, crammed with half-timbered houses, and overlooked by an imperial castle, Nuremburg enjoys an abundance of charms—thanks in part to the meticulous reconstruction of the historic center following wartime devastation. The city also played center stage for German propaganda in the years leading up to World War II, and was the site of the historic trials where Nazi war criminals were brought to justice. Later, choose between touring the city’s World War II sites, bicycling along Ludwig Canal, or joining a cooking class.
Day 9 — Bamberg
Disembark in enchanting Bamberg, where the entire old town has been distinguished as a World Heritage site. This architectural treasure sits where rolling hills descend into the Regnitz River valley, and is intersected by the serene flow of the Main-Danube Canal. Take a guided walk along Bamberg’s medieval streets to discover its colorful frescoes, covered bridges, and elaborate baroque buildings.
Day 10 — Würzburg
Explore Würzburg, a city set at the junction of two ancient trade routes, and enjoy a guided tour of its 18th-century Residenz—one of Germany’s most magnificent baroque buildings and a World Heritage site. Or take a ride along the Romantic Road, winding through bucolic scenery and red-roofed towns en route to the postcard-perfect Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Walk the town’s medieval ramparts and snap photos of its sherbet-shaded houses before returning to Würzburg.
Day 11 — On the Main
Relax on board today as you take in the scenery along the Main River. From the comfort of the lounge, spy castles of all kinds, from medieval ruins intertwined with forest foliage to perfectly preserved Bavarian palaces. We’ll pass through the heart of Frankfurt before joining the Rhine in Mainz.
Day 12 — Rüdesheim am Rhein
Ride into Rüdesheim on the Winzerexpress mini-train set out to explore the city or the surrounding Rheingau wine region. Enjoy a guided visit to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet, home to elaborate self-playing musical instruments. Then get a bird’s-eye view of the Rhine on a cable car ride to the Niederwald Monument—built to commemorate the 1871 unification of Germany. Or set out on a hike amid the vineyards of the Middle Rhine Valley, another World Heritage-designated region. Soak up the enchanting ambience of Marksburg Castle during an unforgettable medieval feast featuring local wines.
Day 13 — Cologne
Cruise through the Middle Rhine Valley to Cologne, a hub for visual arts and an architectural mosaic of Romanesque churches, modernist museums, and Gothic spires. Take a walking tour of the city and its World Heritage-listed cathedral, Or enjoy a guided visit to the Neanderthal Museum in nearby Mettmann, Alternatively, stay on board for a culinary experience.
Day 14 — Amsterdam, The Netherlands
With its gabled roofs, squares cluttered with bicycles, and canal-lined streets, Amsterdam is bursting with unique character. See this timeless city from the water during a canal cruise, and hear from your guide about its fascinating history as a center for art and seafaring trade. Or enjoy a guided visit to the Rijksmuseum, named by National Geographic as one of the world’s “Top Ten Museums and Galleries.” Alternatively, opt to ride bikes through the outskirts of the city or head to Zaanse Schans in the countryside, where we’ll see historic rural houses and a cluster of Dutch windmills.
Day 15 — Amsterdam
After breakfast, transfer to the airport to catch your flight home.
This trip is offered in partnership with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours.
Book by June 30, 2018 and receive round-trip economy airfare between the U.S. and Europe for $295 per person on any 2018 departure, and $395 per person in 2019. Offer is subject to availability and valid for new bookings only, and may not be combinable with other promotions. Please call for details.
Todd Gipstein has been a photographer, writer, producer and lecturer for more than 40 years. He has worked with National Geographic since 1987. For many years, he was the Society’s Director of Multi-Image and Executive Producer for Multimedia. His award-winning documentaries for the Geographic have dealt with a diverse range of topics, including photography, nature, the environment, history, exploration, travel, and National Geographic itself. His work is known worldwide for its evocative storytelling, and has covered places in the United States; Canada; Europe; the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Baltic Seas; Asia; South America; New Zealand; the South Pacific; and Antarctica and the Arctic. Todd’s images have been published in National Geographic and National Geographic Traveler magazines and in many books. He also continues to take photographs for the Nat Geo Creative image library. Todd’s work has been exhibited internationally, and he frequently participates in photography and media festivals in Europe. An enthusiastic traveler and teacher, he has lectured, presented his documentaries, and given photography workshops for the Geographic around the world.
Travelers can choose between a light or moderate activity level. For a light level of activity, they should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives on bumpy roads, or easy hikes.
For a moderate level, travelers should be prepared for multiple hours of physical activity (e.g. hiking, kayaking, biking) each day.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.