DAYS 1-2 AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
Everyone has an image of Amsterdam. For some, it’s small boats gliding on the canals and locals two-wheeling on bikes to work and, as frequently, to meet friends for drinks. For others, it’s gabled buildings leaning, seemingly precariously, over cobbled streets and cozy taverns illuminated by candles. Still others imagine tulips in bloom and the paintings Vermeer, Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Each vision is even more beguiling when experienced in person. Overnight in Amsterdam on Day 1; depart Amsterdam in the afternoon of Day 2.
DAY 3 COLOGNE, GERMANY
Germany’s most visited landmark – the UNESCO-listed Cologne Cathedral – dominates the skyline here, its magnificent Gothic twin-spires reaching toward the heavens. Peel your eyes away from the Kölner Dom, its local name, to see the space needle-like Rhine Tower, ancient Roman ruins, a modern museum, cozy beerhalls and the arches of the Hohenzollern Bridge, reconstructed after the war.
DAYS 4-5 CRUISING THE MIDDLE RHINE VALLEY - RÜDESHEIM, GERMANY
If Rüdesheim’s scenic location on the UNESCO-designated Rhine Gorge doesn’t sweep you off your feet, then the town’s medieval Old Town with its half-timbered buildings and narrow lanes, especially the Drosselgasse overflowing with charming shops and taverns, surely will. The region’s renowned Rieslings, produced here for centuries from vineyards dating to Roman times, promise to delight, too.
DAY 6 MILTENBERG, GERMANY
Most medieval towns are well preserved not because they’ve enjoyed centuries of peace and prosperity, but because they’ve been reconstructed after some manner of devastation. Miltenberg has escaped damage of both roaring flame and raging war, remaining authentically historic in its full, fairytale bloom – a tale complete with truly ancient timber-framed buildings, fortified walls, forested glades, cobbled streets and hilltop castle.
DAY 7 WÜRZBURG, GERMANY
Ashowcase of wealth for the resident prince-bishops, nearly 80 percent of Würzburg was destroyed in a single World War II bombing raid, rendering to rubble much of this old and lovely city. Now restored, Würzburg tells the tale of its 10th-century founding, subsequent rise in prominence, and enduring traditions in winemaking. Impressive architectural wonders include the Residenz, one of the most splendid palaces in Europe.
DAY 8 BAMBERG, GERMANY
Unfolding over seven hills, each crowned by a church, Bamberg is often called Franconian Rome – though locals often claim Rome as the Italian Bamberg. Its entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an open invitation to wander charming cobbled lanes lined with half-timbered buildings topped by steep roofs and bordered by the waters of the river. Arched bridges and summer-blooming flowers add to the storybook charm of this town home to more breweries than Munich.
DAY 9 NUREMBERG, GERMANY
Although this Bavarian city dates to the 11th century, it is probably best known for a more recent history centered on the Nuremburg Trials, the military tribunals that took place after World War II. Much of the city was destroyed by Allied bombs, but many of the buildings, including the medieval Nuremberg Castle, have been painstakingly restored—using the original stones, no less. Nuremberg today is a joyous city, famous for its bratwurst, dark beer and spectacular Christmas Market.
DAY 10 REGENSBURG, GERMANY
Situated at the northernmost bend of the Danube and boasting a well-preserved medieval center, charming Regensburg finds itself not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also a traveler’s favorite destination. With its 1,400 or so ancient buildings standing as regal testament to days gone by, this riverside treasure, complete with elaborate cathedral, quintessential clock tower, multi-arched bridge and multi-faceted personality, is a flourishing city.
DAY 11 PASSAU, GERMANY
At the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers, Passau is also situated at a meeting of cultures. The town began as a Roman settlement, enjoying the rising tide of influence as the largest bishopric in the Holy Roman Empire and enduringly vibrant as a hub for various trade pursuits, including salt, swords and ideas. Wander the cobbled streets of Old Town, gaze upon arched bridges and Italianate manses and visit magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral and New Bishop’s Residence.
DAY 12 MELK, AUSTRIA - DÜRNSTEIN, AUSTRIA
Best known for its fortified baroque Benedictine monastery, Melk Abbey, the town of Melk boasts an assortment of smaller gems. Among them, the city’s riverside location, serene and regal with a ribbon of wooded groves giving way to the lovely village. Cobbled lanes and a petite size make for a pleasant stroll with a chance to discover its 16th-century Town Hall, or Rathaus, in the center of town, and Haus am Stein, or House at the Rock. Built in the 15th century, the vine-covered abode is Melk’s oldest building.
Considered one of the most visited tourist spots in the Wachau Valley, Durnstein is in a robust wine-growing region sitting alongside the Danube river. Durnstein Castle, the region's famous architectural highlight, sits atop a rocky mountain, high above the Danube, at its base. Durnstein's beauty is enhanced by verdant forests, rolling hills, and thriving vineyards that surround the town. Sip some of the region's local wines and enjoy a leisurely day in this postcard-worthy European town.
DAYS 13 - 14 VIENNA, AUSTRIA
Once the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and forever known for its manicured gardens, ornate architecture - especially that of the famed Ringstrasse - and distinguished roster of composers who either were born or lived here, Vienna finds itself at the very center of European culture, even as it sits near the border of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.
DAY 15 BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA
This buzzing capital city is the heartbeat of Slovakia; a historic gem that stirs the imagination. A maze of cobblestone streets winds around 18th-century buildings and a pulsating modern art scene. Explore the museums, cathedrals and palaces, and relax at a shade-covered sidewalk café. Photography buffs will want to snap images of the medieval castle looming high above the city.
DAYS 16-17 BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
Commanding both sides of the Danube – with the Chain Bridge connecting hilly Buda with flat Pest – Hungary’s capital enchants with its magnificent architecture of domes and spires, 18th-century homes, bridges and lampposts. The UNESCO-listed Castle Hill welcomes all to explore Buda Castle, Trinity Square, Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion. Overnight in Budapest on Day 16; disembarkation in the morning of Day 17.