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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.
Fly to Germany
Today, fly overnight to Frankfurt, Germany. You can also begin your journey earlier with an optional pre-trip extension to Amsterdam or Paris (depending on departure date).
Enjoy the Mainz attraction
Today, you’ll land in Frankfurt. If you purchased your airfare from Vantage, a Vantage representative will meet you and arrange transfer to the pier in Mainz or Bonn, where you will board your Deluxe river ship and officially begin your European river cruise. Get settled into the rhythm of your cruise, unwinding with your first "Wine of the Day" selection in the lounge.
Cologne walking tour and Kölsch beer tasting
Begin the day with an early risers’ breakfast or a little morning yoga. 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 Welcome Reception and Dinner, featuring some sparkling Sekt, Germany’s champagne-style wine. Join shipmates later in the evening for onboard entertainment.
Rhine Valley views; Rüdesheim personalized for you
Look forward to an eventful day of scenic highlights and cultural discovery, beginning with a German lesson with your Cruise Director. Then, it’s all hands on deck 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.
When 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.
A full day in romantic Heidelberg
Disembarking in Frankfurt, 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. You’ll sample local food at an included lunch in a local restaurant , 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 to Aschaffenburg, where your ship is waiting.
After dinner you can enjoy the musicianship of four string virtuosos performing classical and contemporary favorites.
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 you to the artistry of this age-old craft.
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.
Altmühl Valley sailing and walking tour of Bamberg
While we cruise this morning, attend a lecture on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, one of Europe’s greatest engineering feats. Later, we’ll pass through the locks of the canal and enjoy a day sailing through the lovely Altmühl Valley. Arriving in Bamberg, we'll embark on a fascinating walking tour of the historic center of town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is also an opportunity to partake in a cooking demonstration today, one of several available on your journey.
Learn how to make Swabian meat pockets during an onboard demonstration this evening, a regional treat customary in southwestern Germany. Tonight’s delicious dinner onboard includes a pairing of four wines with insights on their local production.
Explore WWII or medieval history in 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 famous for its inventors and tinkerers, so this will be a delightful visit.
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. Later, back on the ship, enjoy some local entertainment by a Bavarian brass band.
Music in picturesque Passau
Today, join a walking tour of Baroque Passau, known as the "City of Three Rivers" due to its location at where the Ilz and Inn meet the Danube. On your tour, enjoy an organ concert inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Back on board, join a local artist to learn how to capture the scenery with a brush, then take part in another cooking demonstration today, during which you'll learn about Tiroler Gröstl.
Cruising the scenic Wachau Valley and a musical Viennese evening
This will be a memorable day filled with stupendous scenery and music. 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.
This morning you can learn the secrets of making a perfect Austrian apple strudel during an onboard cooking demonstration. As your ship makes its way towards Vienna, you can also attend a presentation on that city’s famous musical heritage. Then, experience it firsthand during your exclusive, private visit to Vienna’s Kursalon, where an orchestra, singers, and dancers perform a wonderful classical concert. Later on board, 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. Tonight’s dinner will be further enhanced by a pairing and tasting of local wines.
Discover the historic heart of Vienna
This morning you’ll be introduced to the historic center of Vienna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your 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 streets many high-end jewelry shops. Your tour also features a visit to the Austrian National Library, the largest Baroque library in Europe. Back on board, the balance of the day is free. For the quintessential Viennese wine experience, consider our optional Heurigen dinner at a traditional weingut in the city’s vineyard district.
This afternoon you may join your Concierge for a Viennese pub crawl. There will also be a cooking demonstration on Styrian pot roast. Tonight, join us in the lounge for a Viennese Party Night, with dance instructors to get you up and celebrating with style.
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!
Choice of tours in Vienna, afternoon sailing to Budapest
This morning you’ll have two included tour choices for discovering more of Vienna. 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.
You’ll be back in time for lunch on board. As your ship makes its way towards Budapest you will relax on board.
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.
Head to Hollókó, 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.
Exploring the Pest side of Budapest, and a Jewish Heritage optional tour
Divided by the Danube, Budapest is actually two cities — Buda and Pest. Today we’ll explore Pest, beginning with an inside visit to St. Stephen’s Basilica, as well as a tour of City Park, Heroes’ Square, and neighboring Andrássy Avenue — a UNESCO World Heritage Site lined with Neo-Renaissance palaces and homes — and a glimpse of the Parliament building, which you’ll explore in-depth tomorrow. This afternoon, take an optional Jewish Heritage tour that reveals the historic Jewish Quarter and local landmarks, or simply enjoy some leisure time to explore Budapest on your own. Cultural Connection: Back on the ship this evening, a folk music and dance show rings in your eastern European journey in style.
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. Then, continue the afternoon with visits to the Citadel, Chain Bridge, Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, and more local landmarks; or, transfer to the Great Market Hall for a guided tour and an afternoon at leisure. We’ll cast off towards Kalocsa later this afternoon.
Hands-on discovery in the folk center of Kalocsa, and tour choices in historic Pécs
After an early breakfast you’ll depart for a full day of exploration.
Visit the town of Kalocsa today and embark on a city tour that 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 to the pretty main square and entering Kalocsa’s cathedral for an organ concert.
You’ll then transfer by coach to charming Pécs in the foothills of the Mecsek Mountains. After lunch in a local restaurant, 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 a hour-long panoramic city tour by mini-train. Afterwards, you'll transfer by coach to Mohacs, board your river ship once more, and set sail for your next destination: Croatia.
Savor a home-hosted lunch in Vukovar, Croatia
As we make landfall in Croatia today, prepare for two memorable experiences.
This morning you’ll immerse yourself in three different aspects of Croatian life. First, learn about the monastic tradition when you visit a Franciscan monastery. Then, if school is in session, we’ll meet some local students, or otherwise attend a guitar concert in a village courtyard. 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.
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.
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.
Experience Serbian village life, and the majestic Iron Gates
Some morning discovery is complemented by an afternoon of scenic cruising, as you pass through some Danube locks with insightful narration.
Begin your day with 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.
Relax on deck this afternoon 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.
Cruise into Ruse with a dance performance, icon painting, a Balkan BBQ, and more
Today promises to be an eye-opening day of rich cultural heritage — and fun, too. 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 the Bulgarian port town, Ruse. Just before lunch, we'll fire up the BBQ on the sun deck for a festive Balkan-style cooking demo, weather permitting. Our dish? Cevapcici, or traditional Balkan sausages.
This afternoon, some local children come on board for a delightful dance performance and, later, we’ll learn about the Bulgarian tradition of icon painting from a local artist, and then meet a local Orthodox priest. We’ll enjoy dinner before our evening entertainment comes on board.
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.
This evening, celebrate the joys of your river cruise at the Captain’s Farewell Dinner & Cocktail Reception.
Panoramic Bucharest tour, then explore its historic sites
This morning we’ll disembark ship and transfer to Bucharest, Romania’s largest city and capital, where we’ll embark on a panoramic tour and have lunch. Afterwards, explore Bucharest’s grand monuments and leafy, old-world boulevards on a city tour that includes a choice of entrances. 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. Tonight, we’ll savor a delicious dinner in our 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.
Transfer to the Bucharest airport today for your return flight home, or depart to Brasov for your optional Transylvania, Romania extension.
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 25 and 29 for the post-trip extension). For post-trip extension passengers, your price includes:
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.