Danube Holiday Market 2017

Day 1: Budapest

Arrive at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport. If your cruise package includes a group arrival transfer, or if you have purchased a private arrival transfer, you will be greeted by a Uniworld representative and transferred to the ship.

Day 2: Budapest

Located on opposite sides of the Danube, Buda and Pest each has a distinctive character and allure all its own. You’ll get a taste of this dynamic capital city with your choice of tours, and visit Budapest’s celebrated Christmas market—one of the largest in Europe.   Christmas has been celebrated in Budapest for a thousand years, since the time of St. Stephen, the king who founded the nation of Hungary and encouraged the spread of Christianity throughout his realm, but the city began as a Roman encampment almost a millennium before that. Over the centuries it’s been controlled by Germans, Austrians, Ottomans and Communists, all of whom have left traces. Today you’ll have a chance to experience some of the holiday traditions of this beautiful city.
Budapest city tour with Christmas Market
A panoramic tour 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. The city of Buda began here, when King Béla built a strong keep in 1243 as a defense against Mongol invaders. The current castle is primarily 18th-century, 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. At Vörösmarty Square you’ll find Budapest’s most celebrated Christmas Market, one of the largest in Eastern Europe. The enticing aromas of cinnamon, baking bread and meats grilling over open fires drift among the 100 or so gaily decorated stalls. Only the finest Hungarian craftspeople are invited to participate in this market, so you can be assured of finding unique and beautifully made gifts. Note: Visits to the interior of St. Matthias Church may not be possible on some weekends and Catholic holidays.
Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” walking tour with Christmas Market
Hop on the metro (one of the oldest in Europe) with your local guide, rubbing shoulders with residents who are out doing their holiday shopping, to the Fehérvári Street market hall. Three floors of produce and Hungarian specialties—garlands of paprika and sausages, jars of golden honey, the special gold-foil-wrapped candies Hungarians hang on their Christmas trees (and eat one by one until only the empty wrappers deck the tree), goose liver pâté—fill stalls and shelves. If you want to pick up some souvenir foodstuffs, look for those labeled Hungarikim, which must meet strict standards to merit the label. After you leave the market, you’ll head to Szamos Gourmet Palace (getting there will entail a ride on the tram, another linchpin in Budapest’s excellent public transportation system) for a coffee break. Marzipan is a favorite confection in this city, and Szamos has specialized in making it since the 1930s, so you might want to try some—but the shop’s truffle selection is almost irresistible too. Nearby, you’ll see the famous Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market; spend a little while taking in its delicious aromas and colorful stalls before strolling to quiet Karoly Gardens with your guide for a respite from the holiday bustle. Then ramble down Karoly Boulevard, named for Budapest’s first mayor, to the magnificent Central Market Hall. The oldest, biggest and most diverse of Budapest’s market halls, the Great Market Hall is worth a look just for its splendid tiled roof; the interior, however, is equally dazzling. Explore it on your own, return to the ship with your guide or return to the Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market. If you go back to the Christmas Market, be sure to check out the enchanting gingerbread ornaments decorated with Hungarian folk motifs; in the middle of the square you’ll find a playhouse where children bedeck their own tasty ornaments in workshops during the afternoon. (Feel free to join in and try your hand at creating your own gingerbread ornaments.)
A special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.

Day 3: Cruising the Danube River, Bratislava

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 and also visit the local Christmas market—a relatively new (and thoroughly delightful) tradition for Slovakians.   How do you say “Merry Christmas” in Slovakian? “Veselé Vanoce!” Today you’ll arrive in the capital city of Slovakia, Bratislava. The heart and soul of Slovakia, Bratislava is full of surprises.   The city straddles the mighty Danube and has played a leading role in the politics and culture of the region for many centuries. Following Ottoman incursions into Hungary in the 16th-century, Bratislava, then known as Pressburg, became the capital of Hungary in 1536 and retained that status under the Habsburgs well into the 19th-century. As a result of its longtime imperial prominence, the city is a melting pot of cultures and architectural styles, including Gothic, baroque and art deco. Unlike cities with venerable Christmas markets, Bratislava just established its first holiday market in 1993. But the Slovakians have quickly embraced the seasonal traditions of their Austrian and Hungarian neighbors— and you’ll get to embrace them as well.
Bratislava walking discovery tour with Christmas Market
St. Martin’s Cathedral gives you a hint of the surprising history of this surprising city. The Gothic church was built into the medieval city’s fortifications, and 19 Habsburg rulers were crowned inside it, including Empress Maria Theresa. Close to the cathedral you’ll find St. Michael’s Gate, the last remaining portal in the medieval wall—and your entryway to 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. Another 18th-century palace, Grassalkovich, is now the president of Slovakia’s official residence. Your tour ends in the heart of Old Town, where the Christmas Market is in full swing. Vendors at this charming market specialize in small handcrafted items, such as figurines made from corn husks, bells, lace, wire jewelry and pottery from specific regions of Slovakia. Try a mug of a local honey wine, which is served hot; as you browse through the offerings and listen to schoolchildren sing Christmas carols.

Day 4: Vienna

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, as well as something extra special—VIP access to an extraordinary collection of art. To see such masterpieces in complete privacy is an experience reserved solely for Uniworld guests. Tonight, enjoy a concert of Mozart and Strauss at a Viennese palace.   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.
Exclusive “Taste of Christmas” Vienna walking tour
Vienna is a delicious experience for visitors (and for locals too, of course) at any time of the year, but it’s especially inviting during the winter holidays. Join an exclusive excursion that combines delectable treats of the season with a look at some of the highlights in the Innere Stadt—the historic city core. A drive along Prater and Ring streets provides a glimpse of the magnificent buildings that showcase the Habsburgs’ grandeur, followed by a closer look. This district offers a stunning array of Vienna’s gems in just a few blocks.  Drop by the 14th-century Minorite Church to see the animated Nativity scene, then stroll with your local guide down elegant shopping streets, including the Graben and Kohlmarkt (don’t miss the dazzling display of holiday confectionary art in the windows of Café Demel, which once supplied Empress Sissi with candied violets), step into a newly restored 15th-century courtyard house, see where Mozart once lived (though he moved often as his finances changed), peek into some of the Hofburg’s courtyards and churches, and discover as you go along the luscious flavors of Vienna’s favorite holiday sweets and savories. You’ll sample delicate vanilla crescents, the fruit-filled pastry called kletzenbrot, poppy-seed cake, fluffy apple krapfen (a type of doughnut) and air-dried Tyrolean ham and rye bread. Vienna also cherishes its New Year’s traditions, so you’ll find market stalls offering the good-luck charms Viennese people exchange on New Year’s Eve: You may spot marzipan pigs, chocolate chimney sweeps, plush mushrooms, tiny metal ladybugs, even lucky pennies— they all symbolize prosperity and good fortune for the coming year. Pick up some good luck and a mug of mulled wine and roam on your own through this short- lived market before returning to the ship.
“Morning with the Masters” at the Vienna Art History Museum
The Vienna Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum) is home to an astonishing collection of artistic treasures. Its 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 before moving 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.
Vienna city tour with Christmas Market
Ring Street, the great horseshoe-shaped boulevard lined with many of the city’s major landmarks— Parliament, City Hall, the Vienna State Opera, glorious museums—is a mere 150 years old, practically an infant for a city of Vienna’s age. It replaced the walls that had protected the city for centuries. A drive along Vienna’s Prater Street and Ring Street provides you with a glimpse of the magnificent buildings that showcased the Habsburgs’ grandeur, ending at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Stroll with your guide along the Graben, the elegant artery of downtown Vienna, and Kohlmarkt, which is lined with chic shops (don’t miss the dazzling display of holiday confectionary art in the windows of Café Demel, which once supplied Empress Sissi with candied violets), on your way to several delightful Christmas markets.  The Am Hof Advent Market features contemporary crafts, ranging from jewelry to knitwear; just a few steps further along, on Freyung Square, is the oldest and most traditional of the city’s markets. Handsome palaces border the triangular square, which is filled with delightful stalls selling Nativity scenes, wine and vanilla crescents, Austria’s most famous Christmas cookie. How can you resist? Luckily, this is the moment and the place to sample these and other holiday specialties! Also on your agenda is Vienna’s most famous Christmas market, situated in front of City Hall, where more than 140 wooden stalls entice you with every sort of delicacy. Be sure to try the rum balls and nutmeg-spiced macaroons, which are local favorites, and amble through the adjacent park to admire the elaborately decorated trees.  After enjoying some treats here, you’ll walk through the luxe Palais Ferstel shopping arcade to the bustling Christmas Market in front of the City Hall, which you may explore on your own.

Day 5: Krems, Cruising the Wachau Valley

One of the most beautiful abbeys in Austria is still an active Benedictine monastery, but a monastery the likes of which you’ve never seen—Napoleon himself once laid his head here in the lavish imperial quarters. With its 14th-century stained glass windows, the abbey’s jewel box of a church is the perfect setting for a soul-stirring concert of organ music. Back onboard, enjoy a scenic cruise through the UNESCO-protected Wachau Valley.   The fairytale town of Krems, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) west of Vienna, is your first port of call in the astonishingly beautiful Wachau Valley. Both the millennium-old town and the valley itself have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites; today you’ll have a chance to see why.
Göttweig Abbey with private organ recital
It stands majestically on a hill above Krems, one of the most beautiful abbeys in Austria. Though Göttweig Abbey was founded in the 12th century, the complex of monastic buildings—where an active community of Benedictine monks still lives—largely dates to the early 1700s, when, following a fire, an extravagant abbot rebuilt on a lavish scale. Some of these rooms were designed for royal visitors, which might explain why the ceiling fresco above the Emperor’s Staircase features Emperor Charles VI as Apollo, and Napoleon once stayed in the imperial apartments. Following a guided tour of the complex’s highlights, you’ll step into the beautiful abbey church, which retains its 14th-century stained-glass windows, for a special organ recital. If the weather favors you on your journey to and from the abbey, you might get to see sunlight sparkling on icicle-crusted grape trellises as you ride through the vineyards; the monks have grown wine grapes here for more than 900 years and at one time supplied wine for church services all over Austria. Note: The organ concert may take place in a different location if the Göttweig Abbey visit falls on a Catholic holiday.
You’ll want to find a comfortable seat in the lounge or on the Sun Deck 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 riverbanks, 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 grown on the dry-stone terraces above the river, where grapes were first planted 2,000 years ago.

Day 6: Linz (Salzburg)

Mozart’s birthplace of Salzburg is nestled in a glorious alpine setting that sparkles like a winter wonderland this time of year. 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 an absolutely enchanting Christmas market.   Your ship docks in Linz today. From there, you’ll travel to the elegant alpine city of Salzburg for an enchanting full-day excursion.
Full-day Salzburg walking discovery tour with Christmas Market
Salzburg’s musical heritage is apparent everywhere in its UNESCO-designated Old Town. The birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg celebrates its most famous son in many forms—with statues, with chocolates, with concerts—but there are other musical associations to discover too. Walk with your guide through the Mirabell Garden, the beautiful formal gardens where Maria sang “Do-Re-Mi” with her young charges in the movie The Sound of Music, and through the heart of the Old Town, which lies on both sides of the river. Because Salzburg belonged to the archbishops, the splendid cathedral has been the focal point of the city for nearly 600 years. The archbishop’s magnificent residence faces the square now named for Mozart, and the house where Mozart was born is nearby. (Mozart worked for the archbishop of his day—whom he despised—before he moved to Vienna.)  After your walking tour, you have some leisure time to explore the enchanting Christmas Market located in the square in front of the cathedral. Here you’ll find everything from Austrian lace to cinnamon-marbled cakes. Shop, nibble, browse and sing along with the carolers as you celebrate the holidays in this magical part of the world. Your guide can also suggest some great restaurants in the area: Café Tomaselli has hosted musical notables, from Mozart to Max Reinhardt, since 1705.

Day 7: Passau

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 to know the town with a guided stroll, then visit the local Christmas market on the square in front of the cathedral. Later, enjoy a traditional Bavarian dinner served in a festively decorated barn.
Passau walking discovery tour with Christmas Market
Join your local expert for a walk through picturesque lanes in the heart of Passau, stopping at the Town Hall to see its magnificent atrium, which boasts several massive works by the famous German painter Ferdinand Wagner, and pausing to admire the beautiful rococo stairway of the bishop’s New Residence. After much of the town burned to the ground in 1662 and again in 1680, the reconstruction involved many Italian artists, who gave Passau the baroque and rococo touches you see everywhere. Monumental St. Stephan’s Cathedral, built in glorious baroque style, forms the backdrop for the Passau Christmas Market. You’ll find a lot to enjoy here—from miniature Bavarian houses and blown-glass ornaments to spun-sugar confections—in more than 70 stalls. At times, the Passau Christmas Market also features demonstrations by local craftspeople, such as glassblowers, candle makers, wood carvers and confectioners, so you can buy your gifts directly from the people who made them.
Bavarian Christmas celebration with dinner in a country barn
But that’s not the end of your Bavarian Christmas fun: You’ll also visit a nearby family-owned farm restaurant for a traditional holiday celebration. Sit down to a hearty dinner with drinks in the festively decorated country barn while you listen to carols and some beloved Bavarian polka and waltz tunes and see how good a pair of lederhosen can look on the right man at a mini fashion show (if you are in the market for dirndls and lederhosen, the family’s specialty clothes shop is right up your alley).

Day 8: Passau (Disembark)

Disembark the ship in Passau. If your cruise package includes a group departure transfer, or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Munich Airport for your flight home.

Day 1: Passau

Arrive at Munich Airport. If your cruise package includes a group arrival transfer, or if you have purchased a private arrival transfer, you will be greeted by a Uniworld representative and transferred to the ship.

Day 2: Passau

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 to know the town with a guided stroll, then visit the local Christmas market on the square in front of the cathedral. Later, enjoy a traditional Bavarian dinner served in a festively decorated barn.
Passau walking discovery tour with Christmas Market
Join your local expert for a walk through picturesque lanes in the heart of Passau, stopping at the Town Hall to see its magnificent atrium, which boasts several massive works by the famous German painter Ferdinand Wagner, and pausing to admire the beautiful rococo stairway of the bishop’s New Residence. After much of the town burned to the ground in 1662 and again in 1680, the reconstruction involved many Italian artists, who gave Passau the baroque and rococo touches you see everywhere. Monumental St. Stephan’s Cathedral, built in glorious baroque style, forms the backdrop for the Passau Christmas Market. You’ll find a lot to enjoy here—from miniature Bavarian houses and blown-glass ornaments to spun-sugar confections—in more than 70 stalls. At times, the Passau Christmas Market also features demonstrations by local craftspeople, such as glassblowers, candle makers, wood carvers and confectioners, so you can buy your gifts directly from the people who made them.
Bavarian Christmas celebration with dinner in a country barn
But that’s not the end of your Bavarian Christmas fun: You’ll also visit a nearby family-owned farm restaurant for a traditional holiday celebration. Sit down to a hearty dinner with drinks in the festively decorated country barn while you listen to carols and some beloved Bavarian polka and waltz tunes and see how good a pair of lederhosen can look on the right man at a mini fashion show (if you are in the market for dirndls and lederhosen, the family’s specialty clothes shop is right up your alley).

Day 3: Linz (Salzburg)

Mozart’s birthplace of Salzburg is nestled in a glorious alpine setting that sparkles like a winter wonderland this time of year. 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 an absolutely enchanting Christmas market.   Your ship docks in Linz today. From there, you’ll travel to the elegant alpine city of Salzburg for an enchanting full-day excursion.
Full-day Salzburg walking discovery tour with Christmas Market
Salzburg’s musical heritage is apparent everywhere in its UNESCO-designated Old Town. The birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg celebrates its most famous son in many forms—with statues, with chocolates, with concerts—but there are other musical associations to discover too. Walk with your guide through the Mirabell Garden, the beautiful formal gardens where Maria sang “Do-Re-Mi” with her young charges in the movie The Sound of Music, and through the heart of the Old Town, which lies on both sides of the river. Because Salzburg belonged to the archbishops, the splendid cathedral has been the focal point of the city for nearly 600 years. The archbishop’s magnificent residence faces the square now named for Mozart, and the house where Mozart was born is nearby. (Mozart worked for the archbishop of his day—whom he despised—before he moved to Vienna.)  After your walking tour, you have some leisure time to explore the enchanting Christmas Market located in the square in front of the cathedral. Here you’ll find everything from Austrian lace to cinnamon-marbled cakes. Shop, nibble, browse and sing along with the carolers as you celebrate the holidays in this magical part of the world. Your guide can also suggest some great restaurants in the area: Café Tomaselli has hosted musical notables, from Mozart to Max Reinhardt, since 1705.

Day 4: Cruising the Wachau Valley, Krems

One of the most beautiful abbeys in Austria is still an active Benedictine monastery, but a monastery the likes of which you’ve never seen—Napoleon himself once laid his head here in the lavish imperial quarters. With its 14th-century stained glass windows, the abbey’s jewel box of a church is the perfect setting for a soul-stirring concert of organ music. Back onboard, enjoy a scenic cruise through the UNESCO-protected Wachau Valley.   The fairytale town of Krems, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) west of Vienna, is your first port of call in the astonishingly beautiful Wachau Valley. Both the millennium-old town and the valley itself have been designated UNESCO World Heritage sites; today you’ll have a chance to see why.
Krems town and Christmas Market walk
Göttweig Abbey with private organ recital
It stands majestically on a hill above Krems, one of the most beautiful abbeys in Austria. Though Göttweig Abbey was founded in the 12th century, the complex of monastic buildings—where an active community of Benedictine monks still lives—largely dates to the early 1700s, when, following a fire, an extravagant abbot rebuilt on a lavish scale. Some of these rooms were designed for royal visitors, which might explain why the ceiling fresco above the Emperor’s Staircase features Emperor Charles VI as Apollo, and Napoleon once stayed in the imperial apartments. Following a guided tour of the complex’s highlights, you’ll step into the beautiful abbey church, which retains its 14th-century stained-glass windows, for a special organ recital. If the weather favors you on your journey to and from the abbey, you might get to see sunlight sparkling on icicle-crusted grape trellises as you ride through the vineyards; the monks have grown wine grapes here for more than 900 years and at one time supplied wine for church services all over Austria. Note: The organ concert may take place in a different location if the Göttweig Abbey visit falls on a Catholic holiday.
You’ll want to find a comfortable seat in the lounge or on the Sun Deck 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 riverbanks, 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 grown on the dry-stone terraces above the river, where grapes were first planted 2,000 years ago.

Day 5: Vienna

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, as well as something extra special—VIP access to an extraordinary collection of art. To see such masterpieces in complete privacy is an experience reserved solely for Uniworld guests. Tonight, enjoy a concert of Mozart and Strauss at a Viennese palace.   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.
Vienna city tour with Christmas Market
Ring Street, the great horseshoe-shaped boulevard lined with many of the city’s major landmarks— Parliament, City Hall, the Vienna State Opera, glorious museums—is a mere 150 years old, practically an infant for a city of Vienna’s age. It replaced the walls that had protected the city for centuries. A drive along Vienna’s Prater Street and Ring Street provides you with a glimpse of the magnificent buildings that showcased the Habsburgs’ grandeur, ending at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Stroll with your guide along the Graben, the elegant artery of downtown Vienna, and Kohlmarkt, which is lined with chic shops (don’t miss the dazzling display of holiday confectionary art in the windows of Café Demel, which once supplied Empress Sissi with candied violets), on your way to several delightful Christmas markets.  The Am Hof Advent Market features contemporary crafts, ranging from jewelry to knitwear; just a few steps further along, on Freyung Square, is the oldest and most traditional of the city’s markets. Handsome palaces border the triangular square, which is filled with delightful stalls selling Nativity scenes, wine and vanilla crescents, Austria’s most famous Christmas cookie. How can you resist? Luckily, this is the moment and the place to sample these and other holiday specialties! Also on your agenda is Vienna’s most famous Christmas market, situated in front of City Hall, where more than 140 wooden stalls entice you with every sort of delicacy. Be sure to try the rum balls and nutmeg-spiced macaroons, which are local favorites, and amble through the adjacent park to admire the elaborately decorated trees.  After enjoying some treats here, you’ll walk through the luxe Palais Ferstel shopping arcade to the bustling Christmas Market in front of the City Hall, which you may explore on your own.
Exclusive “Taste of Christmas” Vienna walking tour
Vienna is a delicious experience for visitors (and for locals too, of course) at any time of the year, but it’s especially inviting during the winter holidays. Join an exclusive excursion that combines delectable treats of the season with a look at some of the highlights in the Innere Stadt—the historic city core. A drive along Prater and Ring streets provides a glimpse of the magnificent buildings that showcase the Habsburgs’ grandeur, followed by a closer look. This district offers a stunning array of Vienna’s gems in just a few blocks.  Drop by the 14th-century Minorite Church to see the animated Nativity scene, then stroll with your local guide down elegant shopping streets, including the Graben and Kohlmarkt (don’t miss the dazzling display of holiday confectionary art in the windows of Café Demel, which once supplied Empress Sissi with candied violets), step into a newly restored 15th-century courtyard house, see where Mozart once lived (though he moved often as his finances changed), peek into some of the Hofburg’s courtyards and churches, and discover as you go along the luscious flavors of Vienna’s favorite holiday sweets and savories. You’ll sample delicate vanilla crescents, the fruit-filled pastry called kletzenbrot, poppy-seed cake, fluffy apple krapfen (a type of doughnut) and air-dried Tyrolean ham and rye bread. Vienna also cherishes its New Year’s traditions, so you’ll find market stalls offering the good-luck charms Viennese people exchange on New Year’s Eve: You may spot marzipan pigs, chocolate chimney sweeps, plush mushrooms, tiny metal ladybugs, even lucky pennies— they all symbolize prosperity and good fortune for the coming year. Pick up some good luck and a mug of mulled wine and roam on your own through this short- lived market before returning to the ship.
“Morning with the Masters” at the Vienna Art History Museum
The Vienna Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum) is home to an astonishing collection of artistic treasures. Its 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 before moving 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.

Day 6: Cruising the Danube River, Bratislava

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 and also visit the local Christmas market—a relatively new (and thoroughly delightful) tradition for Slovakians.   How do you say “Merry Christmas” in Slovakian? “Veselé Vanoce!” Today you’ll arrive in the capital city of Slovakia, Bratislava. The heart and soul of Slovakia, Bratislava is full of surprises.   The city straddles the mighty Danube and has played a leading role in the politics and culture of the region for many centuries. Following Ottoman incursions into Hungary in the 16th-century, Bratislava, then known as Pressburg, became the capital of Hungary in 1536 and retained that status under the Habsburgs well into the 19th-century. As a result of its longtime imperial prominence, the city is a melting pot of cultures and architectural styles, including Gothic, baroque and art deco. Unlike cities with venerable Christmas markets, Bratislava just established its first holiday market in 1993. But the Slovakians have quickly embraced the seasonal traditions of their Austrian and Hungarian neighbors— and you’ll get to embrace them as well.
Bratislava walking discovery tour with Christmas Market
St. Martin’s Cathedral gives you a hint of the surprising history of this surprising city. The Gothic church was built into the medieval city’s fortifications, and 19 Habsburg rulers were crowned inside it, including Empress Maria Theresa. Close to the cathedral you’ll find St. Michael’s Gate, the last remaining portal in the medieval wall—and your entryway to 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. Another 18th-century palace, Grassalkovich, is now the president of Slovakia’s official residence. Your tour ends in the heart of Old Town, where the Christmas Market is in full swing. Vendors at this charming market specialize in small handcrafted items, such as figurines made from corn husks, bells, lace, wire jewelry and pottery from specific regions of Slovakia. Try a mug of a local honey wine, which is served hot; as you browse through the offerings and listen to schoolchildren sing Christmas carols.

Day 7: Budapest

Located on opposite sides of the Danube, Buda and Pest each has a distinctive character and allure all its own. You’ll get a taste of this dynamic capital city with your choice of tours, and visit Budapest’s celebrated Christmas market—one of the largest in Europe.   Christmas has been celebrated in Budapest for a thousand years, since the time of St. Stephen, the king who founded the nation of Hungary and encouraged the spread of Christianity throughout his realm, but the city began as a Roman encampment almost a millennium before that. Over the centuries it’s been controlled by Germans, Austrians, Ottomans and Communists, all of whom have left traces. Today you’ll have a chance to experience some of the holiday traditions of this beautiful city.
Budapest city tour with Christmas Market
A panoramic tour 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. The city of Buda began here, when King Béla built a strong keep in 1243 as a defense against Mongol invaders. The current castle is primarily 18th-century, 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. At Vörösmarty Square you’ll find Budapest’s most celebrated Christmas Market, one of the largest in Eastern Europe. The enticing aromas of cinnamon, baking bread and meats grilling over open fires drift among the 100 or so gaily decorated stalls. Only the finest Hungarian craftspeople are invited to participate in this market, so you can be assured of finding unique and beautifully made gifts. Note: Visits to the interior of St. Matthias Church may not be possible on some weekends and Catholic holidays.
Exclusive "Do as the Locals Do" walking tour with Christmas Market
Hop on the metro (one of the oldest in Europe) with your local guide, rubbing shoulders with residents who are out doing their holiday shopping, to the Fehérvári Street market hall. Three floors of produce and Hungarian specialties—garlands of paprika and sausages, jars of golden honey, the special gold-foil-wrapped candies Hungarians hang on their Christmas trees (and eat one by one until only the empty wrappers deck the tree), goose liver pâté—fill stalls and shelves. If you want to pick up some souvenir foodstuffs, look for those labeled Hungarikim, which must meet strict standards to merit the label. After you leave the market, you’ll head to Szamos Gourmet Palace (getting there will entail a ride on the tram, another linchpin in Budapest’s excellent public transportation system) for a coffee break. Marzipan is a favorite confection in this city, and Szamos has specialized in making it since the 1930s, so you might want to try some—but the shop’s truffle selection is almost irresistible too. Nearby, you’ll see the famous Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market; spend a little while taking in its delicious aromas and colorful stalls before strolling to quiet Karoly Gardens with your guide for a respite from the holiday bustle. Then ramble down Karoly Boulevard, named for Budapest’s first mayor, to the magnificent Central Market Hall. The oldest, biggest and most diverse of Budapest’s market halls, the Great Market Hall is worth a look just for its splendid tiled roof; the interior, however, is equally dazzling. Explore it on your own, return to the ship with your guide or return to the Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market. If you go back to the Christmas Market, be sure to check out the enchanting gingerbread ornaments decorated with Hungarian folk motifs; in the middle of the square you’ll find a playhouse where children bedeck their own tasty ornaments in workshops during the afternoon. (Feel free to join in and try your hand at creating your own gingerbread ornaments.)
A special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.

Day 8: Budapest (Disembark)

Disembark the ship in Passau. If your cruise package includes a group departure transfer, or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Munich Airport for your flight home.