- Savor Central European holiday traditions in Christmas markets from Budapest to Nuremberg, and learn to shoot nighttime photos with a National Geographic photographer.
- Explore lesser known Christmas markets set within historic palaces in Vienna and Salzburg.
- Visit Vienna’s Museum of Natural History and meet National Geographic Grantee Ludovic Ferrière for a behind-the-scenes look at the meteorite exhibit he curated.
- Taste the flavors of the different regions—and the season—on food tours in Regensburg and Nuremberg.
The holiday spirit thrives in Central Europe, where Christkindlmarkt—or Christmas markets—turn grand city squares and baroque palaces into magical winter wonderlands. The banks of the Danube play host to some of the continent’s oldest and most treasured Christmas traditions. Immerse yourself in vibrant markets and holiday cheer alongside a National Geographic Expert and a National Geographic photographer as you cruise from Budapest through Austria’s Wachau Valley to Nuremberg. Browse charming huts filled with handmade ornaments, gingerbread, and wooden soldiers, as choral music and the aroma of mulled wine fill the air. See medieval towns like Regensburg and Melk decked out for the holidays, and visit historic palaces that have been transformed into Christmas villages. With a variety of daily excursions to choose from, you can tailor the trip to fit your Christmas wishes.
Arrive in Budapest and settle into your cabin this afternoon. If you wish, get your first taste of holiday cheer with a visit to one of Budapest’s Christmas markets. After the captain’s welcome reception and dinner, take in a lively Hungarian folklore performance tonight.
AmaLea for the entire trip
Straddling the Danube, Hungary’s capital is a tale of two cities: Buda, set on quaint, cobbled streets, and Pest, a grand cityscape of wide boulevards and majestic buildings. Set out on a morning tour to discover Buda’s Castle Hill, home to Matthias Church, where Habsburg royalty held coronations and weddings. Take in sweeping views of the city from Fisherman’s Bastion. Then head to Pest to see Heroes’ Square and venture into the spice-scented stalls of the city’s renowned Christmas markets. Meet the ship in Esztergom and take to the Danube this afternoon. As we cruise, gather for a talk with our expert and take part in Eastern European traditions—including a “pickle hunt”—while decorating the ship’s Christmas tree. Sit down to dinner as we follow the Danube along the border with Slovakia toward the Gabčíkovo Lock.
Spend the morning discovering imperial Vienna on foot, from magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral to the Hofburg—the residence and seat of Habsburg power for more than 600 years. Step into a winter wonderland at the Christmas village on Maria Theresa Square, where cozy stalls wind around fountains and gardens against a backdrop of grand imperial architecture. Take time browse the market on your own, wandering past merchants selling everything from roasted chestnuts to hand-blown glass ornaments. After lunch on the ship, choose from among two available excursions today. Take a special behind-the-scenes tour of Vienna’s Museum of Natural History led by Ludovic Ferrière, a National Geographic Grantee and curator of the museum’s meteorite exhibit. For a glimpse at the city’s more opulent side, enjoy a guided tour of Schönbrunn Palace—the baroque summer residence of the imperial family—and sip a glass of Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch) or glühwein (mulled wine) at the palace’s intimate Christmas market. This evening, attend a classical concert in town or experience the glittering lights and festive atmosphere of the Rathausplatz Christmas market at night.
*Please note, the 2023 date of this itinerary follows an alternative route from days 3-8. Please see the alternate itinerary below for more details.
Wake up in Austria’s gorgeous Wachau Valley and start the day with a guided tour of the 18th-century Benedictine Melk Abbey, one of the world’s most magnificent baroque buildings. After lunch, we sail towards Germany, allowing for a relaxing afternoon on board. Taste a traditional onion tart and a sparkling kaiserspritzer on the sundeck and attend a talk by our experts. Over cocktails this evening, gather to sing Christmas carols as we cruise past churches and castles festooned with holiday decor. Later, enjoy a classical music performance after dinner.
Set at the scenic confluence of the Danube, Inn, and Ilz rivers, Passau was once an important trading center allegedly considered by Napoleon to be the most beautiful German city. Admire the town’s celebrated baroque architecture on a walking tour, followed by an afternoon at leisure. Or choose a full-day excursion to Salzburg. Stroll the storybook streets of the old town and visit the Christmas market set within the Italianate gardens of Mirabell Palace, where Mozart and the fictional von Trapps of The Sound of Music performed. Continue to Hellbrunn Palace, transformed for the season into an enormous, glittering advent calendar surrounded by more than 700 Christmas trees. Wander among the charming wooden huts of the market here before returning to the ship. Tonight, sit down to a meal specially prepared by the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, an international gastronomic society, followed by an Austrian folklore performance.
Enjoy a morning talk by our experts as we cruise west. Weather permitting, meet on deck for a frühschoppen, or traditional German and Austrian “early drink” gathering. In the early afternoon, arrive in Regensburg and choose between three excursions. Take a guided walking tour through the medieval center to see Regensburg’s splendid Gothic cathedral and meander through the Christmas market, sampling Bavarian specialties like sausage, pretzels, and beer on a tasting tour. Or choose to soak up the medieval atmosphere at the Thurn and Taxis Christmas market—where traditional artisans sell their handmade wares, from wrought iron and candles to baskets and hats. After dinner, enjoy the festive sounds of a brass band.
Sail towards Nuremberg this morning, taking in the views and meeting for a final talk by our experts. Step ashore after lunch and set off on a tour of this storied walled city, the center of the German Renaissance. Explore the imperial castle and a warren of medieval lanes lined with half-timbered houses. Then delve into its Christkindlesmarkt—one of Germany’s largest—which unfurls amid the ornate churches on Nuremberg's main square. Or, on a Franconian tasting tour, learn about the art of brewing wheat and red beers at a brewery; try Nuremberger bratwursts; and sample lebkuchen, or gingerbread, at a sweets shop near St. Sebaldus Church. Return to the ship to celebrate your holiday voyage at the captain’s farewell dinner tonight.
Disembark after breakfast and transfer to the airport in Nuremberg for your flight home.