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 colourful 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 these storied waterways, enjoy the freedom and flexibility to tailor the itinerary to your interests, choosing from a variety of available excursions at each port of call—and benefit from the insights provided by the National Geographic Expert and the National Geographic Photographer who accompany us on the journey.

Trip highlights

Stroll Europe’s enchanting Christmas markets—from Regensburg to Vienna—and learn the art of taking nighttime pictures from a National Geographic photographer.

Enjoy insight on the historical importance of the Danube from a National Geographic Expert as you experience the river’s tapestry of medieval, Renaissance, and Roman influences.

Visit Vienna’s Museum of Natural History and meet National Geographic grantee Ludovic Ferrière for an inside look at the meteorite exhibit he co-curated.

Pay a visit to Artstetten Castle, the home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand—whose assassination in 1914 triggered World War I—and meet with his direct descendants.

Itinerary - 8 Days

1 Budapest

Arrive in Budapest in the early afternoon and embark the Scenic Amber. Enjoy a welcome dinner on board this evening.

2 Budapest

Discover two distinct sides of the Hungarian capital—the cobbled hills of Buda and the grand boulevards of Pest, linked by eight stately bridges that span the Danube. Take the historic funicular up Castle Hill to see the Royal Palace and visit Matthias Church, the stunning setting for the coronations and weddings of the Habsburg royalty. Alternatively, explore Budapest on a city tour, and opt to delve into bustling Great Market Hall, Budapest’s largest indoor market.

3 Vienna

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.

4 Vienna

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, and stroll the beautiful stalls of the Belvedere Christmas market.

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.

5 Dürnstein/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, visit Artstetten Castle, the final resting place of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and meet with direct descendants of the family who still live in the castle. You may also opt to enjoy a guided tour of Melk’s 18th-century Benedictine abbey, one of the world’s most magnificent baroque buildings. This evening, sip a cocktail as we cruise past churches and castles festooned with holiday décor.

6 Salzburg, Austria or Český 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.

7 Regensburg, Germany

Situated at the confluence of the Danube, Naab, and Regen rivers, Regensburg once served as a free imperial city of the Holy Roman Empire. Set out on a guided walk through Regensburg’s medieval center to see its splendid Gothic cathedral, 12th-century stone bridge, and the ancient Roman gateway to the city. Afterward, browse stalls aglow with candles and twinkling lights at a market in the courtyard of St. Emmeram Palace, or venture to one of the other themed markets sprinkled throughout town.

8 Nuremberg

After breakfast, disembark in Nuremberg and depart for the airport or your next destination.

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