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Looking for the ultimate European cruise? One that offers free international airfare, too? On our Grand European River Cruise, you’ll experience seven countries on a comprehensive itinerary showcasing the wine, folkloric tradition, and contemporary life of Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania. We’ve combined our Majestic Rivers of Europe Wine Cruise and Passage to Eastern Europe featuring Transylvania into one seamless cruise, so you’ll unpack just once as you experience the best of Europe’s most intriguing waterways, including the Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers.
With an unprecedented 60 included features and Cultural Connections, you’ll savor the region’s renowned wines during onboard tastings; visit local cellars and vineyards; and explore some of the globe’s greatest cultural capitals such as Budapest and Vienna, where you’ll attend a classical performance at the esteemed Kursalon. What’s more, you’ll gain insights into enduring European traditions through a series of onboard lectures, performances, cooking demonstrations, and much more. Discover small towns like Kalocsa, where a folkloric workshop teaches you about egg painting and embroidery . . . step into a family’s home in Croatia and learn about their lives as you savor a homecooked meal . . . and learn more about tradition and religion when you spend time with an icon painter and a local priest in Bulgaria.
You’ll set sail in Deluxe style aboard our award-winning river cruise ships, which feature intimate cruising with no more than 176 passengers on board. Free international airfare rounds out this illuminating and thrilling 27-day endeavor, but you can add on optional pre- and post-trip extensions to Amsterdam and Transylvania to make this sojourn even greater.
Vantage invites you to Transylvania, where the lure of vampire legends awaits in Romania’s fabled central region, home to mountainous scenery, medieval villages, and Bran Castle — Dracula’s legendary manse. You’ll visit Prejmer Fortified Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and check off another UNESCO Site off your list when joining our optional tour to enchanting Sighișoara. Step inside elegant Bucharest, bohemian Brasov, and a forested region of fairytales — now with an extra day added for better pacing in 2020!
Please note that for pre- and post-trip extension passengers to enjoy the best pacing and airline routing, two days of base tour features will be listed in the itinerary below as noted (Days 3 and 7 for the pre-trip extension). For pre-trip extension passengers, your price includes:
Today you’ll board an overnight flight to Bucharest, Romania.
Arrive in Bucharest and settle into your hotel with a Welcome Briefing
Arrive in Bucharest today. If you purchased your airfare from Vantage, our representative will meet you outside the arrivals area and assist with your transfer to your hotel in Bucharest. Tonight, attend a Welcome Briefing and enjoy a drink before dinner at the hotel.
Travel through Transylvanian history
Venture into Transylvania, the mountainous, legend-haunted region in central Romania. Once you set foot here, you’ll realize why it’s known as the last medieval landscape in Europe.
On the way, stop for lunch in Sinaia, a mountain town so beautiful, King Carol I built his family’s summer home here. You’ll see this delightful fairy-tale retreat, Peles Castle, on an included tour. The castle is described as “neo-Renaissance” but it incorporates a delightful and almost playful variety of international decorative styles, reflecting the royal family’s personal tastes. You’ll return to Bucharest in the afternoon. Dinner is included at your hotel.
Panoramic Bucharest tour, then explore its historic sites
Today we’ll set off on a panoramic tour of Bucharest, exploring this city's grand monuments and leafy, old-world boulevards, with a choice of entrances at two of the city's landmarks. You can visit the infamous People’s Palace, the grandiose, sprawling, and never-completed administrative building initiated by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Alternatively, take a fascinating walking tour of Manuc’s Inn, Bucharest’s oldest hotel building, which was built as a way station for caravans and surrounds a large open courtyard. After lunch, we’ll transfer by coach to Giurgiu and embark our river ship. Tonight, a local folk ensemble provides traditional music during our first dinner.
Spend a day in captivating Veliko Tarnovo, including lunch with students and a choir performance
Today offers another high point of your journey when you spend a full day in Veliko Tarnovo, a 12th-century Bulgarian capital where colorful houses perch above the winding Yantra River. Have lunch with local university students in Veliko Tarnovo before heading to the 16th-century village of Arbanassi for a lovely Eastern Orthodox choir performance at the Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel.
Later, some local children come on board for a delightful dance performance. After that, we’ll learn about the Bulgarian tradition of icon painting from a local artist, and then meet a local Orthodox priest. Dinner will be on board this evening.
Cruising to Belgrade with a Balkan-style BBQ
As you cruise this morning, a lecture on “Bulgaria, Romania, and the Expansion of the European Union” offers some contemporary context to our journey as we sail toward Belgrade. Enjoy some leisure time on board, including the festive Balkan-style BBQ on the sun deck of the ship (weather permitting).
Cruise the majestic Iron Gates, and experience Serbian village life
Enjoy a morning of scenic cruising as you pass through some Danube locks with insightful narration. It’s complemented by an afternoon of cultural discovery.
Relax on deck this morning and enjoy the views as your river cruise passes through one of the most dramatic and beautiful stretches of the Danube River, the series of gorges known as the Iron Gates. This dramatic 86-mile stretch was once treacherous to pass, creating a formidable barrier to invaders with its rocky gorges and caves. Keep an eye out for the likeness of Decebalus, a Dacian ruler and Romanian national hero who fought the Romans. His face is carved into a cliff near the city of Orsova. As your ship passes through two sets of locks, you’ll hear commentary from the bridge describing the process.
After lunch you’ll take a walking tour of charming Donji Milanovac, where you’ll visit the Church of St. Nikolas and peek into the local elementary school. Here, you’ll enjoy a fascinating introduction to the Cyrillic alphabet, the script invented by a Byzantine monk in the 9th century that is now widely used throughout the Slavic world.
Learn about modern Serbia, visit Belgrade and join in on traditional festivities
Begin your day with an enlightening lecture on present-day Serbia to help welcome you to historic Belgrade. You will see the Renaissance this capital city has undergone in recent years to embrace a tumultuous past and rise above the ashes into redevelopment and modern life. Visit the Kalemegdan Fortress and the Church of Saint Sava, among the largest buildings in Christianity. You can also choose to experience an optional tour of Tito's Memorial and the Royal Palace after lunch.
In the afternoon, celebrate Belgrade’s spirit with a vibrant pub crawl. Then continue the festivities into the evening with some fun local folk entertainment, including a Salt & Bread welcome via traditionally dressed Serbians and an accordion player.
Savor a home-hosted lunch in Vukovar, Croatia
As we make landfall in Croatia today, prepare for two memorable experiences.
Today you’ll immerse yourself in three different aspects of Croatian life. First, learn about the monastic tradition when you visit a Franciscan monastery. The highlight will be your visit to the home of a local Croatian family, where you’ll enjoy a lively cultural exchange — not to mention delicious home-cooked fare. We’ll break into smaller groups, each one visiting a different household for a more intimate experience. Then, if school is in session, we’ll meet some local students, or otherwise attend a guitar concert in a village courtyard.
After lunch you’ll ride to the neo-baroque Eltz Manor, a 19th-century palace that hosts the Vukovar City Museum. Explore as you wish, then return to ship either on foot or on board the shuttle. If you prefer, you can skip the museum and just return with your motorcoach to relax on board.
Late this afternoon, enjoy an onboard folk music performance by a local tamburitza orchestra. After dinner, more music awaits you when a local band comes on board to take you through the history of 20th-century popular music.
Tour choices in historic Pécs, and hands-on discovery in the folk center of Kalocsa
After an early breakfast you’ll depart for a full day of exploration.
Transfer by coach to charming Pécs in the foothills of the Mecsek Mountains. Here, you’ll set off on a walking tour that includes a visit to the city’s UNESCO-listed Sopianae Necropolis, a Roman-era Christian burial site that harkens back to the 4th century. Built as underground burial chambers with above-ground chapels, these tombs are richly decorated with religious murals. Your visit involves some walking but if you prefer, as an alternative you may sign up in advance to enjoy an hour-long panoramic city tour by mini-train. We’ll all convene in town for lunch in a local restaurant.
Transfer by coach to the pretty main square of Kalocsa, a Hungarian folk arts town, and enter the local cathedral for an organ concert. Next, your city tour includes folk art workshops where you’ll try your hand at egg painting, embroidery, and the making of traditional Hungarian paprika bread. You’ll taste some local treats, too, before transferring back to your ship for dinner on board and a relaxing evening.
Explore the Pest side of Budapest or visit Central Food Market, Jewish Heritage optional tour
Divided by the Danube, Budapest is actually two cities—Buda and Pest—and its entire urban landscape has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today you’ll have two choices for included sightseeing here:
Explore the best of historic Pest, beginning with an inside visit to St. Stephen’s Basilica, the most important church in the country. Named for Hungary’s first king, it stands 314 feet high, and by ordinance no other building in Budapest may surpass its height. You’ll also see City Park; Heroes’ Square with its stirring monument to the seven Magyar chieftains; and elegant Andrássy Avenue, lined with neo-Renaissance palaces and homes. Your tour also offers a peek at the iconic Parliament building, which you’ll explore in-depth tomorrow.
If you choose to forego today’s Pest tour, as an alternative you can join your Concierge for a sensory experience like none other: a visit to the Central Market Hall, Budapest’s oldest and largest indoor market. Dedicated to all things culinary, it has a lively fish market and pickled vegetable stalls in the basement; a ground floor for produce, baked goods, meats, cheeses, candies, spices, and spirits; and an upper level lined with eateries and souvenir shops. Eye-popping displays, heavenly aromas, the sounds of hawkers and sizzling grills, the feel of being immersed in daily life, and of course, the mouthwatering tastes, will leave you quite satisfied.
The afternoon is free for you to explore on your own, borrow one of the 20 bikes on board to cycle around Budapest, or join our optional Jewish Heritage tour that reveals the historic Jewish Quarter.
Back on the ship this evening, enjoy a folk music and dance show.
Discover the largest Jewish community in eastern Europe during your stay in Budapest. This tour offers an illuminating look into the rich cultural, historical, and religious heritage of Hungary, with visits to Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, Dohány Synagogue — Europe’s largest — and more.
Please note: This tour is not available on Saturdays.
Take a walk on the Buda side and go inside Parliament
Arguably Budapest’s most historic building, the Parliament towers over the Danube with its intriguing blend of architectural styles and 365 spires — one for every day of the year.
Tour the inside of the Parliament building in this Vantage-exclusive experience that allows us fast-track entrance. We’ll also explore Castle Hill to enjoy the turrets and lookouts of Fisherman’s Bastion.
Please note: The Parliament can cancel any confirmed visit at any time. In the event of a cancellation, travelers will instead visit the Opera House.
Head to Hollókő, or spend a day at leisure in Budapest
Join our delightful full-day optional tour to the Hungarian village of Hollókő, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a “living village” of early rural life before the agricultural revolution of the 20th century. Alternatively, enjoy a day at leisure in Budapest, perhaps taking advantage of our onboard bicycles to cruise along the Danube pathways, or to do some shopping on the Váci Utca, Budapest’s most famous shopping street.
A scenic journey back in time, into the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, takes you to the medieval UNESCO World Heritage village of Hollókő. Here life follows the same patterns it did centuries ago — the houses are built in a medieval style with whitewashed walls and red-tiled roofs, and the locals still honor age-old customs and dress in traditional embroidered clothing on special occasions — such as your arrival! You'll be greeted with singing, dancing, and a snack of Hungarian cheesecake. Then, in small groups, we'll be invited into a home for lunch — a truly wonderful way to meet people of Hungary. Afterwards, you'll take a walking tour through the village's cobbled streets.
Discover the best of Budapest
Wake up in Budapest, which you’ll see this morning on a city tour. Almost the entirety of Budapest’s historic center has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you’ll see the best of it as you visit the Buda Castle Quarter and elegant Andrássy Avenue.
Your afternoon is free for you to explore. Perhaps you’ll visit a famous confectioner like Gerbeaud, Café Demel, or the Sacher Café, and join the perennial argument over who makes the world’s best Sachertorte. Maybe you’ll do some window shopping on Váci Utca, the pedestrian shopping zone. Or ask your Concierge to help arrange a visit to one of Budapest’s famous thermal baths, such as Széchenyi or Gellért. There will also be an optional Hungarian Horse Show excursion.
Enjoy the romantic scenery of the countryside as you visit the Equestrian Park of the Lázár brothers, who have won several world championships in carriage driving. Hungarian horsemen will welcome and accompany you to the inn’s yard where you will enjoy the famous Hungarian pálinka (brandy) before going to the show. The horse show features varied styles of dressage and fun competition with guests. After the show, a carriage awaits you for a scenic ride through the surrounding area.
Two ways to get acquainted with Vienna
This morning you’ll cruise past Bratislava, Slovakia, with commentary from the bridge. In the afternoon you’ll have two different tour choices in Vienna.
This morning you can learn the secrets of making a perfect Austrian apple strudel during an onboard cooking demonstration. There will also be a German language lesson.
In the afternoon you will have your choice of included tours. Come explore Schönbrunn Palace, a 1,441-room Baroque marvel that was the Habsburg’s summer home, Today it is a symbol of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your other choice is a visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum (the Museum of Art History.) It is Austria’s largest art museum and home to 2,100 objects that were part of the Habsburg’s collection.
Tonight, join us in the lounge for a Viennese Party Night, with dance instructors to get you up and celebrating with style. Or, you might also consider our optional Heurigen dinner at a traditional weingut in the city’s vineyard district.
The congenial atmosphere of cozy, family-style wine taverns, known as heurigens, is perfectly complemented by hearty food, lively music — and locally produced vintages, of course. Heurigens traditionally have rustic décor, open courtyards with outdoor seating, and an accordion player playing traditional Viennese songs. You’ll visit an authentic heurigen for dinner, music, and wine! You can look forward to a fun and festive evening!
Tour Vienna’s UNESCO-listed center, exclusive Kursalon concert
The highlight of your day is a tour of Vienna’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Your morning city tour takes you by coach and on foot across the famous Ringstrasse into the Innere Stadt, where you’ll see the Hofburg palace, the Stephansdom cathedral, the fashionable Graben area and its adjoining Kohlmarkt. The latter was once a coal market, but today, the only coal is of the highly compressed type, namely the diamonds that glitter in the street’s many high-end jewelry shops. Your tour also features a visit to the Austrian National Library, the largest Baroque library in Europe.
In the morning you can attend a presentation on Vienna’s famous musical heritage. When you return to your ship after your city tour, the afternoon is free. Perhaps you’ll join your Concierge for a Viennese pub crawl. Then, in the early evening, you will experience Vienna’s musical gifts during your visit to the Kursalon, where an orchestra, singers, and dancers perform a wonderful classical concert. Back on board later this evening, come to the lounge where professionals from Viennese opera and music halls will teach you how to dance the waltz in true Blue Danube style.
Scenic cruising through the Wachau Valley
Relax as your ship cruises the Danube River through the scenic Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Landscape. As you take in the romantic views of hilltop castles, ancient monasteries, and terraced vineyards, you'll cruise by the wine town of Dürnstein. In 1192, King Richard the Lionheart of England was imprisoned in the castle that looms above the town. Your Cruise Director will provide live commentary from the bridge.
Learn how to kick your next breakfast, lunch, or brunch up a notch with a cooking demonstration of Tiroler Gröstl, a hearty mountain mash-up of potatoes, onions, beef, bacon, and egg. Follow it up with a tour of the ship’s galley. Tonight’s dinner will be further enhanced by a pairing and tasting of local wines.
Passau organ concert and painting class
Passau is a charming Bavarian university town set at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz, and Danube rivers. The town is dominated by the hilltop Veste Oberhaus and the Veste Niederhaus, which are both parts of the Bishop’s former fortress. Your walking tour showcases the town’s tidy Baroque houses, Gothic Town Hall, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
During your tour you’ll go inside St. Stephen’s to enjoy an organ concert played on the world’s second largest pipe organ. Afterwards you’ll be free to enjoy the afternoon as you wish. You might borrow one of the bikes on board to cycle along the riverbanks, or join our painting class, conducted by a local artist.
Regensburg: Roman architecture and Bavarian charms
Explore UNESCO-listed Regensburg today. This city has a history stretching back to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and you’ll get to know its heritage during a walking tour. Admire the impressive cathedral, as well as the famous stone bridge which was built in the 12th century.
Nuremberg, customized for you: explore World War II history or medieval Nuremberg
This morning you'll have your choice of two city tours of Nuremberg. You can explore the city’s troubled past during a “Nuremberg and World War II” tour, which includes a visit to the Documentation Center, where many rallies took place. Alternatively, you can choose a “Medieval Nuremberg” tour featuring the grounds of Nuremberg castle which date to the Holy Roman Empire, and the charming Hauptmarkt or market square.
In the afternoon you may return to Nuremberg on your own, visiting the Toy Museum with your entrance covered by Vantage. Nuremberg is a famous city of inventors and tinkerers, so this will be a delightful visit.
During the day there will be a presentation on board about Nuremberg’s creative side, focusing on the city’s long tradition of toy making, graphic arts, and invention. You will also enjoy an evening performance of a local Bavarian brass band.
Altmühl Valley sailing, Bamberg walking tour
Some scenic cruising in the morning is followed by a walking tour in Bamberg. The town is ringed by seven hills and is considered one of the prettiest towns in Germany. You be the judge on this morning’s walking tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, pointing out its showstopping cathedral, Town Hall and pretty Rose Garden. You’ll have free time to explore independently afterward, perhaps stopping at one of the many pubs associated with the town’s nine breweries. The famous Rauchbier, or smoke-flavored beer, is a Bamberg specialty.
When you set sail this afternoon bound for Würzburg you can attend a fascinating onboard presentation on Rhine-Main-Danube Canal. Then, learn about to make maultaschen or meat pockets, a hearty Swabian dumpling filled with minced meat, bacon, spinach, and herbs.
Tonight’s delicious dinner on board includes a pairing of four wines with insights on their local production.
Würzburg tour and wine tasting inside the Residenz
Arriving in Würzburg, set out on a half-day tour of the Würzburg Residenz, a spectacular Baroque European bishop’s palace castle that was designed by the visionary architect Balthasar Neumann. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Residenz grounds are ideal for strolling, and you’ll have time to do so before transferring back to the ship for lunch. Your tour includes a visit to the Residenz’s wine cellar where you will enjoy a tasting and talk conducted by an experienced sommelier.
You may join an optional tour of medieval Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a storybook town on the famous Romantic Road.
During an onboard cooking demonstration today, try making and savoring the German tender rolled beef delicacy called rouladen.
Picturesque Rothenburg ob der Tauber features winding cobbled lanes lined with half-timbered houses, as well as massive towers and intact city walls around the Old Town where one can take in views over both the city and the Tauber valley. Known for its “eternal Christmas” atmosphere, the town’s various shops sell beautiful, handcrafted Christmas gifts and souvenirs all year round. Come December, the area comes to life with the famous Christmas Market, one of the most romantic markets in Germany. You’ll take a walking tour and pay a visit to the Christmas Museum; plus, you’ll enjoy some free time to explore the shops and take in the stunning views.
Village life and a BBQ lunch in Marktheidenfeld
This morning your ship arrives in charming Wertheim, a picturesque town set at the confluence of the Main and Tauber rivers. You’ll enjoy a brief walking tour to admire its medieval treasures and 12th-century castle before setting off on your choice of four different village life experiences.
The lovely half-timbered village of Marktheidenfeld boasts several traditional industries, and today you’ll choose which one to explore. You can visit the local paper factory, a forge where traditional blacksmithing is done, or a local château whose owner will show you his antique piano and klavier collection. Your fourth choice is a visit to a family-owned winery, where you’ll sample some lovely Franconian vintages. After your choice of tour concludes you’ll enjoy a German-style barbecue or “grill party,” with traditional live music. Back on the ship, a glassblowing demonstration introduces us to the artistry of this age-old craft. Then, an interactive cooking lesson introduces you to Germany’s answer to mac and cheese, Käsespätzle, or another regional specialty.
A full day in romantic Heidelberg
Disembarking in Aschaffenburg, you’ll set off for a full-day excursion to Heidelberg, a red-roofed town on the Neckar River that is home to Germany’s oldest university. Enjoy panoramic views from the plaza of imposing Heidelberg Castle. You'll also see the famed Heidelberg Tun, an immense wine barrel, now empty, with a capacity of some 58,000 gallons. It would seem the immense volume was warranted, judging by the numerous old student pubs, cafés, and beer gardens that line Heidelberg’s charming alleys. Sample a local restaurant at an included lunch, then have some free time to explore here on your own. Perhaps you’ll poke into the old student jail (the Studentenkarzer), where drunk or unruly collegians were temporarily locked up. It was considered a badge of honor to spend time here, and you can still see the graffiti scribbled by 19th-century “inmates.” After your touring, you’ll transfer back to your ship.
After dinner, enjoy the musicianship of four string virtuosos performing classical and contemporary favorites.
Rhine Valley views; Rüdesheim personalized for you
Look forward to an eventful day of scenic highlights and cultural discovery. This morning, it’s all hands on deck for some of the most spectacular scenery of the cruise as your ship winds through the Upper Middle Rhine Valley — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Studded with historic castles and beautiful gorges, it is a sight you can only truly appreciate from the river. A highlight will be your sighting of the famous Lorelei, a steep slate rock that makes a soft, murmuring sound under certain conditions. It used to be the site of many shipwrecks, and a legend sprang up about a lovely, golden-haired maiden who would sit atop the rock combing her hair and singing a song that lured sailors too close to the rock . . . and into perilous waters.
If you arrive in cheerful Rüdesheim, you'll have your choice of three tours. The first is a cable car ride to the historic Niederwald Monument, which overlooks the Rhine Valley and commemorates the unification of Germany in the late 19th century. Or, choose a mini-train ride to Siegfried's Musikkabinett, an amusing museum dedicated to self-playing music and its instruments. Your third choice of tours is a wine hike, where you’ll pop into different Weinstuben to sample three different regional vintages. Back on board, attend the festive Captain’s Farewell Dinner.
Cologne walking tour and Kölsch beer tasting
After breakfast you’ll set out to discover Cologne. The city was founded in the first century and became the seat of Roman rule. Germany's fourth largest city, Cologne preserves many fine medieval structures, including Romanesque churches, the city hall, and three of the city's 12 medieval gates.
Your walking tour features the Romanic Museum, and the old City Hall, which incorporates a building that was once part of Cologne’s medieval synagogue. It was taken over in 1424 when Cologne’s Jews were expelled, but today a glass pyramid protects the antechamber that led to the ceremonial baths or Mikwe, which was built in 1170. Your Cologne walking tour concludes in the grand plaza of the massive, twin-spired Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The current building was begun in 1248 and it took 632 years for it to be completed. Your city tour ends here and you may return to the ship with your group; or if you prefer, you can go inside the cathedral on your own to see the gilded Shrine of the Three Magi, which is said to contain the remains of the three kings of the Christmas story fame.
During your city tour, you’ll pop into the Früh am Dom brewery to taste this town's famous Kölsch beer, a classically dry and herbaceous ale that is only produced here in Cologne. “Prost!” (cheers!)
Back on board, the Captain invites you to a Farewell Reception and Dinner, featuring some sparkling Sekt, Germany’s champagne-style wine. Join shipmates later in the evening for onboard entertainment.
Disembark ship and return home
Today you will disembark in either Mainz or Bonn (depending upon your departure date), and return home. Alternatively, you can stay on to enjoy an optional post-trip Amsterdam extension or an optional post-trip Paris extension (also depending on departure date).
Important Notice: The above day-by-day itinerary is preliminary and subject to change. If changes occur while on tour, you will be notified by your Cruise Director or regional expert. In addition, should there be an extreme change in water levels, Vantage will do everything possible to provide either the included excursion or an alternate excursion at Vantage’s discretion.
Please Note: Port times & itineraries are subject to change. Fluctuating water levels may affect itinerary.