River Cruising through Europe aboard Viking Mimir

Note: This trip took 18 days, starting in Prague and ending in Amsterdam. We have covered this trip into four posts to make it easier to read in segments.  To get a complete understanding of the entire trip, be sure to read all four parts, which can be found by following these links:

Note about river cruising through Europe with Viking: 

River cruising through Europe is as much about the cruise and the riverside scenery as it is about the places you go.  Traveling through central Europe will historically take you back to many years BC and every century since.  The stories of wars and occupation are endless, as are the palaces, churches, and castles.  Vineyards represent man’s resilience to nature.  Stories bring it to life, and the food and culture make it real.  So, take what you’re interested in, do as much as you like, and are physically capable of.  Enjoy the food and the people. 

One of the benefits of river cruising through Europe with less than 200 passengers aboard is that you’ll get to know many of them. Most people will have wonderful stories to tell of their own lives.  So, eat, drink, and be merry.  Relax and have fun.  The crew will be unique, and the food will be consistently excellent. 

Jean and Paul on the Aquavit Terrace - VikingThe Aquavit restaurant on the back deck is one of the best places for dinners but get there early.

 Also, the top deck will only be open for specific cruise segments, depending on the water levels.  The top deck and pilot house will be lowered when water levels are high, and the bridges are low. So be sure to enjoy it while it is open.

 You’ll find your rooms to be tight but comfortable.  The ships can’t be more than 30 meters wide to fit through the locks, so space is limited.  The showers are particularly small. Be careful the spray arm doesn’t fall off and hit your foot.  That’s Jean’s experience talking. 

The excursions bolded below are the ones we went on personally.

River Cruising through Europe – our route:

Along this river cruise through Europe, we traveled north along the banks of the Danube, stopping at:

  • Melk
  • Passau
  • Regensburg
  • Nuremberg

After Nuremberg, the Danube merges with the Main River at the Main-Danube Canal as our ship headed west at Bamberg. The Main River merges with the Rhine at Koblenz. Here the ship descended in altitude and headed west toward sea level.  Along the Main and the Rhine rivers, we stopped at:

  • Bamberg
  • Wurzburg
  • Wertheim
  • Koblenz on the Rhine
  • Cologne
  • Kinderdijk
  • Amsterdam

Each of these destinations had its charm and storied history.  I’ll try to hit the highlights here in this post.

During the cruise through Austria and Germany, the scenery is beautiful, with green, rolling hills often lined with terraced vineyards and historical palaces, churches, and forts all along the way.  The itinerary is timed, so daytime cruising passes through the most scenic areas, while nighttime cruising is often through more industrial cities and locks.  At one point, the ship passes by 30+ historical castles, palaces, and churches which the cruise director narrates.

You can sit leisurely on the top of the ship or one of its main lounges and listen while sipping a glass of wine, beer, coffee, or soft drink.  The ship also navigates through over 60 locks along the way to Amsterdam, and you will often feel the ship passing through these locks in the middle of the night.

Melk, Austria

Melk AbbeyThe Melk Abbey was a wonderful and interesting place sitting on a hill overlooking the valley and the river.  It was built upon medieval foundations constructed by 11th-century monks and completed in 1736.  Many things make Melk Abbey a must-see:

  • It’s incredible beauty both in and around the grounds of the Abbey. The gardens provide a beautiful place to wander and wonder about life thousands of years ago.
  • The fabulous historical library with over 100,000 volumes of books dating back to before the 1500s.
  • Today, the Abbey is still a working Benedictine monastery and monastery school with over 700 students living and studying there.
  • The Church is spectacular and rivals the most beautiful churches we have seen in Europe. Almost the entire interior is covered in stunning 18-carat gold leaf. I could not imagine the painstaking work it must have taken to do all the gold leave work. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures of the inside of the Abbey, but here is the Melk Abbey Wikipedia link where you can see the library and gold leaf.

Don’t miss this stop.  It is worth the trip if you are into history and beautiful buildings/churches.  If not, I would skip it for something else.

Passau:

Passau sits on the Austrian/German border and is known for St. Stephen’s Cathedral, rebuilt between 1662-1693. St Stephen’s is home to the world’s largest organ with 17,954 pipes, 233 stops, and four carillons which can be played from the main keyboard.  The acoustics in the church are famous.  You can still hear organ concerts during the weekdays from April-October.

The optional excursions in Passau included:

  • Salzburg Highlights
  • Hike the Passau Hills
  • Bavarian Cruise & Baroque Town of Scharrding
  • Bavaria by E-Bike

We love bike excursions but opted to see Salzburg, home to my favorite movie, “The Sound of Music.”

Salzburg was about a 90-minute bus ride from Passau, but the countryside was beautiful.  Our Uncle had visited Salzburg decades before and had told us how beautiful the city was, and he was right.

 About Salzburg:

Salzburg sits on the border of Germany and faces the eastern alps seen in the distance.  It is divided by the Salzach River, with Salzburg McDonaldsthe Old city on the left bank and the new modern city on the right bank.  We spent the day in the Old City walking around with a tour guide and then on our own for a few hours.  Part of the excursion included a lunch at one of the palaces where a small performing troupe of singers performed many of the hits from the Sound of Music.  I was in heaven.

Many streets are narrow, and most businesses have their store name hanging out on wrought iron signs over the street, giving the old town a unique charm.  Salzburg is also known as the birthplace of Mozart, whose home remains as a museum at No. 9 Getreidegasse, which we saw on tour.  Salzburg is also famous for Mozart Chocolate balls called Mozartkugeln, which were reported to be the first chocolate spherical chocolate balls ever to be made.

Sound of Music Nuns singingWe wished we had a few full days to explore Salzburg.  The Fortress Hohensalzburg sits high atop a hill overlooking and protecting the town.  There are several ways to get to the Fort, including a cable car.  However, we didn’t have enough time to take the cable car and tour the fortress.

We got to see the famous church featured in the “Sound of Music” and visit the graveyard where the Von Trapp family ‘supposedly’ hid from the Germans before making their getaway.  The Cathedral is beautiful and worth a visit.

Salzburg is definitely on our go-back for a more extended visit someday list.

Regensburg, Germany:

Regensburg escaped significant damage during the war and is one of the best-preserved Regensburg 12 arch bridgemedieval towns in Europe.  It is the oldest city along the Danube and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The old stone bridge in town has sixteen arches and is regarded as a masterpiece of 12th-century architecture.  There is also a famous sausage house right at the start of the bridge in the old town, which provides an excellent stop for lunch.  These German sausages are small.  About the size of your finger and is typically eaten on small rolls with sauerkraut and mustard.  We stopped here for lunch before completing our walk about town.

We opted for the included guided tour around town in the morning and went off to explore more of the city for the rest of the day.

Besides the beautiful examples of medieval architecture all around the town, Regensburg is also famous for St. Peter’s Cathedral, which is undergoing constant restoration.  The church started in 700 AD but was not completed until 1320.  It is a very large church with beautiful sculptures and imagery.  As an American, it is hard to conceive of history so old, which is one of the reasons I am always amazed by European history and architecture.

Regensburg Shore Excursions:

  • Munich Highlights, which involved a relatively long bus ride to Munich
  • Sausage Making class
  • Included a City tour of Regensburg

 

River Cruising through Europe: Rhine-Main-Danube Canal:

The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal is a vital part of trade and commerce in central Europe.  The first attempts at building a canal started in 793 A.D. and failed. There were many more attempts to build a channel throughout history.  It was finally completed in September 1992, which set the stage for trans-European freight routes and modern-day river cruising.

 Nuremberg, Germany:

Nuremberg is the second largest city in Bavaria and is easily identified by its half-timbered houses and buildings.  Allied Nuremberg Cathedralbombers destroyed the town during WWII, but three miles of original medieval city walls remain intact.  Nuremberg is the birthplace of Nazism, where early Nazi rallies, the famous book burning, and the Nuremberg trials at the Palace of Justice.  However, much of the city was destroyed. Restauration engineers helped in the painstaking task of rebuilding the town the same way it stood before the war began.  We have to say they did a fantastic job.

Nuremberg Shore Excursions:

  • Nuremberg WWII Tour
  • Surviving the War: Art in Nuremberg
  • History and Flavors of Nuremberg

Bob making gingerbread cookiesThe History and Flavors of Nuremberg was the afternoon excursion we participated in, and it was a lot of fun.  It included a cooking class where we learned to make delicious gingerbread cookies (unlike American Versions). After class, the chef took us on a walking tour through Old Town to a Tavern where we were served sausage and beer.  Across the market square, we were offered German Pretzels, which we declined due to a lack of stomach space.  We highly recommend this tour if you are not opting for the other more historical Nuremberg tours.

Paul and Jean went on the Nuremberg Trials tour and said it was excellent. They highly recommend it as well.

 German Dinner and plenty of Aquavit shots:

I believe it was this night when all the crew and staff dressed in traditional German dress.  Nicholi in leaderhosenLederhosen for the men and conventional German clothing for the ladies.  The dinner was all German-themed and delicious.  It was a fun and raucous evening which got going when the cruise director went to every dinner table (15 in all) and toasted the passengers with shots poured for anyone who cared for or showed any interest at all.  The shots washed down the German beer everyone was served as well.  The party continued after dinner upstairs in the lounge.  Many people were late getting up the following day.  Nicholi, the cruise director, was not only up but was ready to narrate our trip through the castle district on the Rhine the next day.  We still don’t know how he did it.

Bamberg, Germany:

Bamberg Town HallWe found Bamberg to be a really interesting city.  It, too, was spared by allied bombers and boasted the most significant number of medieval structures in its Old town, making it another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Bamberg is famous for several things, including its role in Roman Catholic history. However, the two that stood out most to us were the Medieval Town Hall, built on a tiny island in the middle of the river, and its beer.  There are over 50 different beers made, the most famous being Rauchbier, a dark, smokey beer with a strong and unique taste.  Unfortunately, none of us were very taken with it and passed for other beer or wines.

Bamberg is built on seven hills, forming a cross down the middle, with a church at each of the cardinal points of the cross.  In addition, of course, Bamberg has its storied Cathedral and St. Michael’s Abbey.  Several movies were filmed in Bamberg, including “The Three Musketeers” with Orlando Bloom.

We found walking around Bamberg enjoyable with its open-air markets and a blend of new and old buildings throughout the town.

Bamberg Optional Excursions:

  • Franconian Countryside

 Wurzburg:

Wurzburg, Wertheim, and Koblenz were all towns we stopped at on our first river cruise that traveled from Basil, France, to Wurzburg CastleParis along the Rhine River in the fall of 2021.  However, we were happy to revisit these towns as we forgot so much of them, and there is always more to see than you can fit in.

The crown jewel of Wurzburg is the palace built in the 1700s, commissioned by Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp Franz von Schoenborn. Two titles – lots of names in there.  Anyway, his palace was terrific because of its size, beauty, and unsupported ceiling featuring the largest ceiling fresco in the world.  Our guide took over 45 minutes to walk us around, studying the ceiling and explaining all the components.  It was interesting not only for the original feat it took to create it but also because it was heavily bombed during the end of the war and was only saved because of the work of the famed monument men who stepped in quickly to sure up the ceiling and began the painstaking career of restoring the entire building and heavily damaged roof.  It was one of the most impressive palaces we have been to, and we’ve been to our share over the years of traveling in Europe.  The gardens around the palace are also remarkable.

Wurzburg Optional Excursions:

  • Wurzburg Hills
  • Rothenburg ob der Tauger

Paul and I decided to take the Wurzburg Hills hiking tour in the afternoon.  It was a great way to stretch our legs and get more steps in. The hike was fantastic.  They bused us up to the top of one of the surrounding hills, and we worked our way down through the woods, old churches, wineries, and finally through a great castle fortress, then back down to the river.  If you are up for this hike, we both would recommend it.

Wertheim:

Wertheim is a small, sleepy, historic town known mostly for its flooding. It is situated between the Main and Tauber rivers.  An included walking tour of the city was excellent and narrated by an English-speaking native guide who was charming.  At several points during the time, he would point out places high on old historic buildings where the flood waters had once reached.  Yikes.  Wertheim also has a castle that was destroyed and partially restored.  After the tour, we decided to relax, hang out in the town, and then make our way back to the boat.

Biking in WertheimBob and I had signed up for the bike tour between Wertheim and a small town upriver, and we wanted to have lunch before we left.  The bike tour was fun and relatively flat, with only one significant incline at the end of the tour.  It was a great way to spend the afternoon.  We passed over the river twice.  The first time, we went over a rail bridge to the east bank and waited on the bridge for our boat to make its way up the river. The passengers on board were prompted to be on the bow to wave to us.  It was fun – you had to be there.

We finished our ride in a small town, Rathaus, and were treated to a beer and sausage while we waited for our boat to arrive and pick us up.

Bob and I always enjoy the bike tours when they are offered.  So if we missed one, it was because we felt we couldn’t miss some other attraction conflicting with the bike tour.

Wertheim Excursions:

  • Wertheim Castle Hike
  • Modern Aristocracy
  • Wertheim by bicycle

Koblenz:

Koblenz Castle - tortureKoblenz is one of our favorite towns on the Rhine.  We also visited it in the fall of 2021.  Koblenz has a long history of being a trading post at the junction of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers.  Most impressive is the enormous statue of Prince William I on his stallion along the riverside where the two rivers split.  Our walking tour was enjoyable; the local guide had a fun personality and did a great job describing the city’s history, buildings, and evolution.

Up on the hill overlooking the river is the largest fortress in Europe:  The Fortress of Koblenz.  It was started in the 4th century BC and continued to expand to the 16th century.   Finally, Napoleon conquered it and occupied it for 18 years.

Koblenz is also known for its winemaking.  We visited a local winery in 2021, learning a lot about wine-making in the area.  The terraced vineyards up and down the Rhine are amazingly steep, making harvesting the grapes a difficult and sometimes dangerous occupation.  Nevertheless, there is a lot to do and see in Koblenz.  During our two visits, we only scratched the surface.  It is also known for the cable car that takes you across the river and up to the Fortress.

Koblenz Optional Excursions:

  • Ehrenbreitstein Fortress – 2022
  • Moselle Wine Tasting – 2021

 Both were great, and we recommend them both.

 Cologne:

Cologne CathedralWe arrived in Cologne early in the morning and departed at 11:00 PM because there was so much to do and see in the city.

In the morning, we took the included tour of Cologne around the city to its famous Cathedral.  The morning tour was perfect for getting our bearings.  Then, we departed the Cathedral and headed for a long walk around the city and shopping districts.

The cathedral is one of the most impressive we have seen.  It is beautiful inside and home to many unique artifacts. Visitors can climb the 509 steps to the 312-foot platform overlooking the city.  The night-time excursion, The Top of Cologne, features this view.

Besides the cathedral, cologne is famous for the original ‘cologne’ perfume invented in the city.  It also features significant pedestrian-only shopping streets where you can buy just about anything.  In many larger cities, we would see very large candy shops with barrels full of candy.  In some places, they would feature old American brands no longer available in the states.

We were heading along the famous Hohenzollern Bridge with over 40,000 thousand locks.  This tradition of couples pledgingBridge of Pad Locks their life devotion to each other by placing a padlock on the bridge started from a movie where the main character couple did it.  Or so we were told.

We also opted for the nighttime Beer Culture and Dinner Tour.  We were picked up at the ship by bus and went to Peter’s Brewhaus, one of the Colognes beer houses we saw during the day, for a traditional beer and sausage dinner.  Here they used the coaster method of beer refills.  Although the glasses were small to keep the beer cold and fresh, they were constantly refilled unless you placed the coaster on the top of the glass, signaling that you didn’t want a refill just yet.  After dinner, we walked through Cologne and visited a few fun nightspots for more beer and history.  The guide was outstanding, and the places she took us had lots of character and great beer.  Other beverages were available if you were not a beer drinker.  This was a fun tour, and we highly recommend it.

We sailed away from Cologne around midnight, watching the city lights up on the roof as we left.  Another amazing day.

Cologne Optional Excursions:

  • Top of Cologne – is a night trip where you go up the cathedral steps. Many said it was awesome, but not for those with physical challenges.
  • Bruhl UNESCO Palaces
  • Cologne by Bicycle – also got rave reviews
  • Colognes Beer Culture – our personal favorite

Goodbye Germany – Hello Netherlands

Kinderdijk

Kinderdijk was the first stop in the Netherlands and the last before we arrived in Amsterdam.  It is famous for its historical Kinderdijk Windmillwindmills, and interesting to hear how the natives managed to live in an area that is actually below sea level using the windmills to pump water out through a series of levees.  It’s a quick stop with not much more than the windmills to see.  But it is interesting to learn how families owned the windmills, controlled water levels, and made other goods such as cheese.

Optional Excursions:

  • Kinderdijk Windmills and cheese making
  • Kinderdijk by bicycle
  • Kinderdijk by barge

We opted for the included walking tour.  Maybe the bicycle tour would have been worthwhile, but the area can be very windy, so we chose not to go by bike.  We were glad we didn’t.  There isn’t much to see but the dozen or so working windmills.

River Cruising through Europe: Our Final Destination – Amsterdam:

Tree linedAmsterdam CanalAmsterdam is worthy of its own post, which Bob will be publishing.  As a teaser, when we think of Amsterdam, we think of:

  • Bicycles everywhere – pedestrians beware.
  • Flowers everywhere – including a flower market.
  • Canals everywhere – take a ride.
  • Coffee houses are everywhere – you can smell them a block away.

 

Click to Expand the Pictures below to view the gallery.