Passau is a crossroads in more ways than one—three rivers meet here and three nations nearly do, making for a fascinating cultural mosaic. Get acquainted with the town’s baroque and rococo architecture, then visit the lively Christmas market in front of St. Stephan’s cathedral, home to Europe’s largest pipe organ.
Old-town Passau is built on a spit of land that looks almost like a ship with its narrow prow jutting into the water, a fitting shape for a city that has been an important center of river trade since it was founded by the ancient Romans. Today a local expert shows you the highlights of this delightful and accessible town located at the confluence of three rivers—the Danube, Inn and Ilz.
Mozart’s birthplace, Salzburg, is nestled in a glorious alpine setting that sparkles like a winter wonderland. Fans of The Sound of Music may recognize locations from the Oscar-winning film in the city’s Old Town, the site of a grand cathedral and a wonderful Christmas market. You’ll also visit the nearby town of Oberndorf, where the world’s most beloved Christmas carol was composed and performed for the first time.
Your ship docks in Linz today. From there, you’ll travel to the alpine cities of Salzburg and Oberndorf for a delightful full-day excursion.
Your diary entry for today will say “Cocktails with the princess at the castle.” Raise a glass with a bona fide member of Austrian royalty at her 13th-century home, Artstetten Castle, and hear some intriguing tales about her Habsburg ancestors. Also on the agenda—a walk through charming Grein and a peek inside Austria’s oldest theater.
Grein, a picturesque little town dominated by a vast white Renaissance castle, is just one of your destinations today. You’ll also join a princess for cocktails in her historic castle.
Melk Abbey has an unexpectedly opulent library filled not only with rare and precious books but also secret doors and optical illusions. After your visit, cruise the Wachau Valley to the tiny village of Dürnstein, where you can browse the shops selling apricot schnapps, hike up to the ruins of a castle, taste various mulled wines and attend an organ concert at a local church.
Your river adventure today takes you through one of the most beautiful regions in Austria, bookended by two picturesque and historic towns, Melk and Dürnstein.
Melk Abbey was one of Europe’s most important centers of learning in the Middle Ages (Umberto Eco paid tribute to Melk’s significance to medieval scholarship in his novel The Name of the Rose, calling his narrator Adso of Melk), with a library that was famous throughout the continent. The medieval fortified abbey suffered damage during the 1683 Ottoman invasion, and so the Benedictines began an ambitious renovation project early in the 18th-century, turning the abbey into a magnificent example of baroque architecture and design. Local experts will take you through the Marble Hall, with its ornate painted ceiling featuring an allegorical scene paying tribute to Emperor Charles VI; the Emperors’ Gallery; and the awe-inspiring Abbey Church. After your tour of the abbey, you’ll have time to explore Melk on your own.
You’ll want to find a comfortable seat in the lounge today as your ship cruises through the Wachau Valley. Over the eons, the Danube cut a gorge through the foothills of the Bohemian Mountains, resulting in a 19-mile (30-kilometer) stretch of riverine scenery so beautiful; UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Landscape. Castle ruins dominate hilltops; baroque church towers appear on the river banks, marking historic villages and splendid abbeys; and vineyards and apricot orchards cling to the rocky slopes. Some of Austria’s finest white wines are produced from grapes that ripen on the dry-stone terraces above the river, where grapes have been grown for 2,000 years.
Renowned for its art and architecture, its classical music, its decadent pastries and its lengthy list of famous former residents, the refined city of Vienna is a cultural treasure trove. Experience the city with your choice of tours, followed by an evening concert of Mozart and Strauss, performed at a 12th-century monastery.
The grand dame of the Danube, Vienna was the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and remains, to this day, the political and cultural center of Austria. Klimt painted here; Beethoven and Mozart composed here; Freud developed his theories here. It’s a treasure trove of splendid architecture, astonishing art collections and inviting cafés—and it’s yours to enjoy.
An extremely rare treat awaits you today—early morning, VIP access to an extraordinary collection of art at one of the top fine arts museums on the planet. These artistic treasures were collected by the Habsburgs over many centuries, and to see them in complete privacy is a perk reserved solely for Uniworld guests.
Vienna’s art treasures are astonishing, and today you have a rare, pre-opening hours highlights tour of the Vienna Art History Museum’s collection of acclaimed masterworks.
The Habsburgs assembled an astonishing collection of artistic treasures over the centuries, which formed the basis for the works now on display at Vienna’s preeminentmuseum, the Vienna Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches). The doors open early especially for you as you join an art historian for a tour of some of the masterpieces gathered here: View a unique group of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Vermeer’s Allegory of Painting, Raphael’s Madonna in the Meadow, and portraits by Rembrandt, Velazquez, Rubens, Titian, Tintoretto and Van Eyck, among others, in the Picture Gallery. Then move on to the Kuntskammer galleries, where you can see Benvenuto Cellini’s legendary salt cellar (the only gold sculpture he created that has survived to the present day) and hear its remarkable story. Your exclusive tour ends with a reception in the magnificent Cupola Hall, perhaps the architectural highlight of the splendid building.
Once hidden from the world behind the “Iron Curtain,” Slovakia retains an air of mystery and intrigue, and its small capital city has an unexpectedly colorful history. You’ll learn more about Bratislava’s past from a local expert, then have free time to check out the whimsical street art and sample delicious delicacies found only in Slovakia.
Spend the morning relaxing onboard as your ship cruises along the Danube to Bratislava. The capital of Slovakia combines a historic downtown with a lively and bohemian art scene.
St. Martin’s Cathedral gives you a hint of the surprising history of this city. The Gothic church was built into the medieval city’s fortifications, and 19 Habsburg rulers were crowned inside it, including Empress Maria Theresa. That’s because Bratislava, then known as Pressburg, became the capital of Hungary after the Ottomans conquered Budapest in 1536, a status it retained until the middle of the 19th-century. Close to the cathedral you’ll find St. Michael’s Gate, the last remaining portal of the medieval wall—and your entryway into Bratislava’s Old Town, which blends Gothic, baroque and art deco structures with some less graceful reminders of the Communist era. The stately 18th-century Primatial Palace, in the center of Old Town, was the site where the Pressburg peace treaty was signed in 1805, in which Austria ceded a great deal of territory to Napoleon. Another 18th-century palace, Grassalkovich, is now the president of Slovakia’s official residence. Take some time after the tour to browse through the attractive shops in the lovely art deco buildings that line the squares; you can find a wide selection of traditional folk items at the ULUV (Slovak Folk Culture) shop. And you’ll definitely want to sample some of the local delicacies.
You can either return to the ship with your guide, passing the Slovak State Opera on a leisurely walk, or stay in town to continue exploring.
Located on opposite sides of the Danube, Buda and Pest each has a distinctive character and allure all its own. Get a taste of this dynamic capital city with your choice of tours, then visit Budapest’s celebrated Christmas market—one of the largest in Europe. The highlight of the day comes after darkness falls, with a glorious New Year’s Eve gala dinner with dancing at a historic ballroom.
Budapest, formerly two towns, Buda and Pest, on opposite sides of the river, began as a Roman encampment in the second century, was overrun by Magyar horsemen in the 9th-century, and has been controlled by Ottomans, Austrians, Germans and Communists over the centuries, all of whom have left their mark. You may choose to get an overview of the city or delve into a single exceptional cultural institution.
This panoramic tour is a wonderful way to get an overview of the city if you have never been here before. It will carry you from Heroes’ Square, created in 1896 to honor the thousand-year anniversary of Hungary’s founding and its greatest historical figures, past some of the city’s most striking architectural sights—Dohány Street Synagogue, the Hungarian National Museum, the State Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica and the truly stunning Parliament Building—to Castle Hill, which has been called the heart of the nation. The city of Buda began here when King Béla built a strong keep in 1243 as a defense against Mongol invaders; a castle replaced the simple fortress; and over the centuries other castles replaced that one. The current castle is primarily 18th-century; a museum dedicated to Budapest’s archaeological finds is housed there, and the Castle Hill district has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll go inside the magnificent 700-year-old Matthias Church, named for one of Hungary’s greatest kings, and then wend your way on foot to the picturesque Fisherman’s Bastion, whose seven fairytale-like towers represent the seven tribes that originally settled the region. It offers a glorious view of the city and the Danube below.
Note: Visits to the interior of Matthias Church may not be possible on some weekends and Catholic holidays.
It’s a monument both to national pride and to survival. Budapest’s splendid State Opera House was finished in 1884, part of Hungary’s celebrations commemorating thousand years as a nation. Appropriately enough, the entrance to the huge neo-renaissance building is guarded by statues of Hungary’s two most beloved composers, Franz Lizst and Ferenc Erkel, who wrote the national anthem. Walk between the composers and into the grand entrance hall; marble columns lead the eye up to domed ceilings adorned with frescoes of the Muses, and the sweeping staircase takes visitors into the horseshoe-shaped auditorium. Inside, opulence is the watchword. Tiers of gilded boxes rise from the floor, and the incredibly beautiful frescoed ceiling by Karoly Lotz, depicting the gods on Mount Olympus, is gilded with more than 15 pounds (7.7 kilograms) of gold. The royal box—Emperor Franz Joseph put up half of the money for the theater’s construction—is still the best seat in the house. Your tour will give you a behind-the- scenes peek at this cultural monument, which miraculously escaped damage when the city was besieged during WWII.
You’ll have some time to explore on your own after the tour. Budapest’s mineral hot springs are legendary: The Gellért Baths are in a gorgeous art nouveau building that is well worth seeing in and of itself, but why not relax in the steaming hot water? Later in the afternoon, you could catch a Christmas tram along the Danube Promenade and see the city aglow for the holiday season. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll want to return to the ship early enough to get ready for the New Year’s Eve gala.