The Best Europe Cities to Visit Before and After Your Europe River Cruise
By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
I write all the time about Europe river cruising and its value. One aspect that is often very confusing for many, is how best to extend their trip and visit some of Europe’s great cities. This blog covers the key extension cities on the Rhine and Upper Danube.
Almost all major cruise lines offer extensions and they can be a great value in simplifying your trip planning but are they always the best choice for you?
I know you would like a definitive answer but my response is it depends on several factors. To me these factors are 1) what is included? (to include the quality of the tours and guides), 2) transportation to the desired place, 3) security and ease of mind (how well do you handle unfamiliar places) and 4) cost—is the price worth what is included in the cruise line’s package?
I should also mention that each cruise lines has different offerings, so it really is impossible in this short blog to adequately cover exactly what they offer. To help remedy this, my approach will be to tell you about the key cities, perhaps some pitfalls to really see the sights on your own, and then you can use the 4 factors I provide you to see if it is a good value for you.
We will start north to south in Europe. So, let me defend my thoughts—use the cruise line packages, do it yourself or better yet let us plan it for you.
Why Trust Us to Advise You about Trip Extensions?
That is a fair question—what are our qualifications to advise you about pre and post cruise trips?
First, we are both certified Western Europe Destinations Specialists.
I should let you know we have led several tours to most of these cities (the only exception is Bucharest), have observed or participated in tours provided by some cruise lines and we also have feedback from our clients, so I think we have a good grasp of this subject.
To further help you, I am providing our guides to each of these cities or some of our pictures, so there will be no doubt about what the important sights and experiences are in each of the 8 cities.
To my mind, we have settled this question—we know our stuff and know how to best advise you—it is a combination of knowledge and experience—you can trust us!
A land of bikes, canals and a free-wheeling culture, we have visited Amsterdam several times and escorted folks there. This is a city of 165 ringed canals, a population of 750.000 (it has as many bikes as people) and always full of tourists. It is the capital of the Netherlands, with two world class art museums. It is a major port, once the wealthiest city in the world and residents and visitors live with a tolerant atmosphere.
Our recommendation is to do Amsterdam on your own, if you enjoy walking and are not afraid of a lot of people. If the walking gets to be too much, either Tram #2 or #5 goes from the Central Train Station to the Rijksmuseum, which covers the best sights in Amsterdam. I should point out some sights require reservations well in advance—most notable is the Anne Frank house.
Here is our guide to Amsterdam and the PDF slide show of these sights.
The city of lights never is dull but can be a challenge due to its size. There is so much to see and do, you just cannot do it all even with 4 or more days—we have visited more than 10 times and still have not seen it all. The key for me is deciding on 3 or 4 great items, make sure the venue is open on the day you desire to see it and then figure out if you can do it on your own or need the cruise line. Or, as we do for most of our clients, we provide them with an organized tour with a different vendor so they can maximize their time. This works very well for most, especially for sights and events like a visit to Versailles or a luxury dinner cruise on the Seine. These are perhaps the most requested 2 tours from our clients in Paris, and we will happily book them for you.
Our recommendation is to do Paris on your own, especially if you can navigate the Metro. Part of the reason for this recommendation is that the cruise lines just cannot provide enough in their packages to get the best value for your stay in Paris and we can hone in on your specific requests with other vendors.
Here is our guide to Paris and the PDF slide show.
The city of 100 spires is fascinating and really interesting—really good sights and bohemian culture, make it one of our favorites in Europe. Prague is organized into 4 quarters and most folks spend their time in the Castle Quarter and Old Town Square area. Both are quite walkable depending upon the location of your hotel.
Our recommendation is that this one is a toss-up—both options are great. We actually got to participate in an AmaWaterways tour of Prague Castle, and despite visiting several times on our own to the castle, the tour was great and I learned a lot. It also avoided the long uphill walk to the castle—the short bus ride was a nice plus!
Our recent clients who were in Prague, as part of their pre-cruise tour with Emerald Waterways, really enjoyed their tour and would recommend it. One factor here is the money—the Czech Republic uses the Koruna, not the Euro, even though the Euro is widely accepted in the larger establishments.
Here is our guide to Prague and the PDF slide show
The 6th largest city in Germany, has a wonderful old town, a dark history of Nazi presence from the WW II days, but is today a wonderful place to spend a couple of days, especially during the Christmas markets season. The old town area was a large walled city, so sights are manageable on foot, but to really cover all the sights, you will do considerable walking.
Our recommendation—do this one on your own. Nuremburg is best explored by wandering in the old town, and the WW II sights are not that special, even for a history buff like me.
We don’t have a guide to this city, but here are some great pictures of Nuremburg in this PDF slide show.
Vienna is a true treasure—the importance of this city on history cannot be overstated—it once was the capital city of the Hapsburg Empire of Austria-Hungary. Palaces, great museums, great shopping and good food make this an easy choice for an extension.
Our recommendation—do this on your own. Once you are near the St. Stephen’s Church to Hofburg Palace area, sights are quite manageable on foot. Vienna has a great subway system, and we often skip the cruise line tours, ride the subway into town from the port area, even if it not our departing port.
Here is our guide to Vienna and our PDF slide show
Switzerland (Basel, Lucerne and Zurich)
I really had to list 3 cities in Switzerland—all are good options and we often visit at least 2 of the 3 when sailing on the Rhine. The key sites in all 3 cities are the old town areas. Lucerne and Zurich are very easily reached by train from Basel. Basel is best explored on foot but since it is over a mile walk to the old town area from the port area, a short taxi ride might be worth it. If I had to rank them, it would be Lucerne, Zurich and then Basel, but all three are good.
Our recommendation—both work. If you are not comfortable riding trains on your own, then use the cruise line tour.
Here is our guide to Zurich and the PDF slide show.
Here are the 2 PDF slide shows for the Lucerne and Basel.
Perhaps the most stunning city on any river cruise, Budapest is actually 2 cities rolled into one. By far the most impressive city on the Danube, Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is a town we love to visit. It is really two towns—the high town of Buda that overlooks the banks of the Danube and Pest on the flat land. They are united by several bridges but the Chain Bridge is the most important and is a symbol of the city. Both sides have some awesome structures—among them Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion (Buda side) and the Parliament building (Pest side). Once you visit, you will want to come back. We have led tours here, but most is around the Danube River area—anything that requires a longer distance than the river area is difficult on your own.
Our recommendation—you probably need help here unless you stay very near the Danube River. Also, remember the currency here is the Forint, and while many speak English, Hungarian is difficult for the average tourist to learn and understand quickly—beyond common courtesy phrases or words, most are over their head.
Here is our guide to Budapest and the PDF slide show.
While actually not on the Danube, many cruise lines use the capital of Romania as the starting or ending location for their lower Danube cruises. Bucharest has limited charm, but some sights are outstanding. It is quite possible to use it for a base to see perhaps the 2 best sights in Romania—Peles Castle and Braun Castle (Dracula’s castle), but we used Brasov as our base instead of Bucharest.
Our recommendation—use the cruise line tour to help you or let us help you. Some taxis are regulated and offer fair rates, but it is easy to be fooled into paying more. Trains are good but only a few speak English well, so it can add to the confusion. Romania uses the Lie as its currency, so that adds to the difficulty of traveling here.
Here is our guide to Bucharest and our PDF slide show
It is very hard to actually evaluate each place without comparing it to the actual cruise line offering. I think that’s where we come in—we assess your ability to do it on your own and evaluate the cruise line offering to determine the best fit for you. I think you can rest assured that we have been to these places and led tours in most, so our experience translates into a great benefit for you.
My Final Thoughts
Wow—8 great European Cities to extend or start your river cruise adventure. As you can see from our Europe Destination Guides (don’t forget—we have guides to 50 cities in Europe and have visited 44 of them at least once) and the PDF slide shows, we know these ports very well.
The huge benefit for you about extending your stay in Europe—we can provide you expert advice—no tough decisions, just a sound, logical approach to figuring out the best possible choice for you.
We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts. We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe. We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you. We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.
When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip. You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience. And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process. We think we have all these qualities.
Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you! We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel. Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to help you: Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 48 years. He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years. He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees. His other Certifications:
AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
Viking River Cruise Specialist
Scenic River Cruise Specialist
Emerald Waterways Specialist
Avalon Waterways Specialist