As winter approaches, Europe warms with an irresistible holiday spirit, brightened by the beloved Christkindlesmarkts—or Christmas markets—that pop up in small towns and large cities alike. Cruise the Danube to visit magical merchant villages from Budapest to Nuremberg, and witness the customs that are unique to each festival. Soak in choral music and spice-scented air while browsing stalls filled with everything from glittering ornaments to colorful toy soldiers. Explore your medieval surroundings in charming towns like Regensburg and Melk, and see grand castles decked with tinsel and garland during this enchanting season. As we sail this storied waterway, enjoy the freedom and flexibility to tailor the itinerary to your interests, choosing from a variety of available excursions at each port of call—from guided tours of iconic sites to culinary experiences and active adventures.
Day 1. Arrive Budapest, Hungary
Arrive in Budapest in the early afternoon and embark the Scenic Amber. Enjoy a welcome dinner on board this evening.
Day 2. Budapest or Szentendre
Wake up in Budapest and set out on a walking tour to discover its architectural gems, including the splendid neo-Gothic Parliament building. Climb historic Castle Hill, see the Royal Palace and visit Matthias Church, the stunning setting for the coronations and weddings of the Habsburg royalty; then enjoy a private piano concert. Alternatively, explore Budapest through the lens of its Jewish history; hike the Buda Hills that rise beyond the city center; or venture to the charming riverfront town of Szentendre, home to a thriving artist colony.
Day 3. Vienna, Austria
Enjoy views of rolling hills and quaint riverside towns as we cruise north along the Danube to Austria's enchanting capital, Vienna. This evening, take in the luxury of Palais Liechtenstein while enjoying a glass of fine Austrian Sekt, and enjoy an enchanting private evening concert in this sumptuous venue featuring the timeless music of Strauss and Mozart.
Day 4. Vienna, Austria
This morning, visit Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace, host to an intimate, upscale Christmas market during the holiday season. You may instead opt to take a specially arranged tour of the Museum of Natural History for an inside look at its meteorite exhibit, co-curated by National Geographic grantee Ludovic Ferrière. Or peruse the galleries of the Belvedere Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings.
Later, step into a magical winter wonderland at the city’s Christkindlmarkt, framed by twinkle-lit trees and the soaring neo-Gothic city hall, its lights all aglow. Wander past merchants selling roasted chestnuts and Weihnachtspunsch, a spicy spiked punch—the perfect accompaniments as you browse stalls brimming with beeswax candles and hand-blown glass ornaments.
Day 5. Durnstein/Melk
In Austria’s Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site, hike to the hilltop ruins of Dürnstein’s medieval castle or embark on an enjoyable bike ride along the river from Dürnstein to Melk. Alternatively, enjoy a guided tour of Melk’s 18th-century Benedictine abbey, one of the world’s most magnificent baroque buildings. You may instead choose to 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 a cocktail as we cruise past churches and castles festooned with holiday décor.
Day 6. Salzburg, Austria or Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Today, choose between a visit to Salzburg or the Czech town of Český Krumlov—both designated World Heritage sites. Stroll the storybook streets of Salzburg's Old Town, host to one of the continent’s oldest Christmas markets, set in a picturesque square in front of the Salzburg Cathedral and beneath the city’s iconic medieval castle. Or tour Český Krumlov’s historic center, a labyrinth of cobblestoned streets lined with medieval, baroque, and Renaissance houses.
Day 7. Regensburg, Germany
Set at the confluence of the Danube, Naab, and Regen rivers, Regensburg once served as a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire. Browse stalls aglow with candles and twinkling lights at the town Christmas market, set in the courtyard of St. Emmeram Palace. Alternatively, set out on a guided walk through the medieval center to see its splendid Gothic cathedral, 12th-century stone bridge, and the ancient Roman gateway to the city. Or tour the historic Kuchlbauer Brewery and its whimsical tower—a tribute to modern art.
Day 8. Nuremberg
After breakfast, disembark in Nuremberg and depart for the airport or your next destination.