Bamberg, Germany - UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Regnitz River
When we left Nuremberg, the Viking Spirit continued its journey on the Main-Danube Canal to the Rhine River and on to Amsterdam. The first part of our journey, from Budapest to Nuremberg, was over and we were cruising "downstream".
We were not scheduled to arrive in Bamberg until right after lunch, so at mid-morning the Viking crew treated us to a traditional Bavarian breakfast, complete with sausages, pretzels, and beer. The fact that we all had already eaten breakfast didn't stop us from crowding around the delicious snacks.
After lunch, we rode a bus the short distance from the Main-Danube Canal to old town Bamberg. This charming village was not damaged during World War II and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. We had an enjoyable walking tour of Bamberg and especially liked the Cathedral and the garden at Bishop's Residence, which provided a wonderful view of Bamberg's steepled skyline. Our guide was very proud of his city and enthusiastic about educating us about Bamberg.
Bamberg is famous for rauchbier, its smoky-tasting beer, and some of our group used their free time to have a tasting in one of the local taverns. When I asked some of the adventurous souls how they liked the rauchbier, they all agreed it must be an acquired taste!
We had the whole afternoon in Bamberg, which allowed plenty of time for sightseeing and pub crawling.
While we were ashore, the Viking Spirit continued through more of the locks on the Main-Danube Canal. Next stop Wurzburg.
The Bishops' Residenz at Wurzburg, Germany
We next had a full day excursion to the Bishops' Residenz at Wurzburg and onto Rothenburg for lunch and the afternoon. The three buses picked us up at 8:30, and we rode through the lovely countryside to Wurzburg.
Usually, royal residences take centuries to complete, but most of the prince-bishop's residence in Wurzburg was constructed in less than 35 years in the 1700's. Therefore the palace has a homogeneous appearance, with baroque being the primary style.
We had a guided tour of the inside of the Residenz but did not have time to explore the beautiful gardens.
I was extremely impressed with the restoration of this palace. Allied fire bombs significantly damaged the Residenz during World War II, and it was not completely restored until the late 1980's. Interestingly, the massive vaulted ceilings in the vestibule, staircase, and Imperial Hall, which many thought were technically impossible to build in the 18th century, withstood the 1945 bombings and are still intact.
Some of the frescoes and rooms in the Residenz are as impressive as any I have seen. A massive fresco depicting the four known continents greets visitors as they climb the staircase. The White Hall, with its white stucco against a pale gray background, is breathtaking for those of us who love a monochromatic look. The Mirror Cabinet of the Southern Imperial Apartments has the most precious interior design and took eight years to restore. These delicate mirrored walls must be seen to be appreciated.
Rothenburg - Medieval German Village
The buses rode along the Romantic Road to Rothenburg for lunch and the afternoon. This roadway meanders through some of the most scenic parts of Germany, with many vineyards and farmland along the route from Wurzburg to Neuschwanstein Castle. The bus climbed the long hill from the banks of the Tauber River to Rothenburg, where we had a traditional German lunch before a walking tour and free time in the old town.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a real tourist mecca. Most everyone in the streets seemed to be a tourist, and we were there in the shoulder season of mid-October! In addition to interesting historic sites, the old town has plenty of shopping, including the world famous Christmas shop Kathe Wohlfahrt. Be sure to visit this shop even if you are not in the mood to purchase any holiday items since it has a little of everything related to Christmas.
While window shopping, I quickly identified the most frequently eaten tourist food item in Rothenburg--snowballs. These pastry balls, which are each about the size of a softball, are made of strips of pastry wound into a ball and coated with various icings or toppings. Very yummy!
While we were in Wurzburg and Rothenburg, the Viking Spirit continued along the Main-Danube Canal and met us in Wurzburg. We sailed for Wertheim after dinner.
Wertheim, Germany - Old Town on the Main and Tauber Rivers
Wertheim was one of my favorite stopovers on the Viking Spirit grand European river cruise. The village was just a short walk from the ship and our local guide had many interesting stories to tell about Wertheim. The people were exceptionally friendly in Wertheim, maybe because of the nearby American Army base.
The old town sits at the junction of the Main and Tauber Rivers, and it has suffered massive flooding over the almost 10 centuries of its existence. Wertheim is famous for its glassworks, local Franconian wines, and large castle ruins.Click here to read more about our day in Wertheim.
Autumn Cruise on the Main River of Germany
Autumn is a wonderful time for a European river cruise. We saw some spectacular fall scenery along the Danube, Main, and Rhine Rivers when we were there the last two weeks of October. The hillside vineyards were particularly colorful, with their green, yellow, orange, and red palettes.
The Viking Spirit left Wertheim in the early afternoon, and we sailed towards Mainz. The afternoon was picture-perfect, and most of the passengers stayed on the top deck and marveled at the colorful countryside. Each bend of the river brought a round of gasps as we saw another bright splash of orange or yellow.
Mainz, Germany - Home of Gutenberg Museum
Mainz is located at the junction of the Main and Rhine Rivers. The Viking Spirit arrived in Mainz in the early morning, and we walked from the ship into town for a guided tour and free time. The Romans founded Mainz in 13 B.C., and at about 300 A.D. there was an ancient Roman theater in Mainz that would seat 10,000 people.
In the Middle Ages, Mainz was the capital of the German part of the Roman empire and its landmark Romanesque St. Martin's Cathedral is over 1,000 years old. St. Martin's has been destroyed numerous times by fire and war but has always been reconstructed. Our walking tour strolled through the large town square and into the cathedral. Its interior was much simpler than the cathedrals at Melk or Passau, and different types of architecture had been used during rebuilding periods.
Mainz was the home of Johannes Gutenberg who revolutionized communication when he invented printing with moveable type. We saw a demonstration of Gutenberg's methods and two of the original Gutenberg Bibles in the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz. Our guide also took us inside the ornate St. Augustiner Church, whose baroque interior reminded us of the cathedral at Melk.
After our walking tour, we used our free time to walk up the hill to St. Stefan's Cathedral, with its famous Marc Chagall stained glass windows, and to explore the old town. We even found time to try some delicious grape cider. During lunch, the Viking Spirit sailed the short distance down the Rhine River to Rudesheim.
Rudesheim, Germany - Siegfried's Mechanical Music Cabinet
Siegfried's Mechanical Music Cabinet, Rudesheim's museum for mechanical musical instruments, certainly exceeded my expectations. I thought we were going to see some antique musical instruments, but I had no idea that we were going to hear them too!
After lunch, we docked a short distance from the center of Rudesheim and rode a mini-train into town, stopping at the music museum. A local guide demonstrated many of the old musical instruments as we went from room to room in the museum. It was marvelous to hear some of self-playing music cabinets, calliopes, pianos, and other instruments from the 19th and early 20th centuries. We even had a few sing-alongs to the familiar music! If you visit Rudesheim, don't miss Siegfried's large collection of mechanical music instruments.
After the tour, we explored the town of Rudesheim, making sure that we wandered down the famous pedestrian street named Drosselgasse, with its many wine bars and pubs. Some passengers from the Viking Spirit even rode the cable car to the 125-foot Niederwald Monument at the top of the hill overlooking the river. It was a beautiful fall day, so we found an outdoor table at one of the cafes and enjoyed a glass of Rhine wine while we people-watched. The sun was setting as we strolled the short distance back to the Viking Spirit. To allow passengers the chance to enjoy the festive atmosphere along the Drosselgasse at night, the Viking Spirit docked overnight in Rudesheim before sailing for Cologne the next morning.
Cruising the Rhine River
The Viking Spirit sailed from Rudesheim in the early morning, and we reached the most scenic part of the Middle Rhine River before 8:00 am. The early morning was foggy, which gave the narrow river bends and towering rocks such as the Lorelei a ghostly look. I had first cruised the Rhine on a day trip in August 1985, and the river was just as beautiful as I remembered. Most of the passengers went up on the top deck, and we marveled at the numerous castles and scenic towns along the river. The morning could not have been more relaxing, and I loved hearing the stories attached to the ancient fortresses guarding the river. As we neared Cologne, the riverbank became more commercial, and soon the city's magnificent Dom Cathedral came into view.
Cologne, Germany - A Visit to the Cologne Cathedral
The Viking Spirit docked in Cologne next to the Hohenzollern Bridge at mid-afternoon, and we walked the short distance from the ship to the cathedral with a local guide. Cologne's Gothic Dom Cathedral is one of the most magnificent in Europe, and it is also the largest in northern Europe.
Charlemagne founded the archdiocese of Cologne, and from the 12th to the 18th centuries the powerful city was the fourth Christian metropolis after Jerusalem, Byzantine, and Rome to have the "Sancta" designation in its name. The cathedral was first conceived when small boxes carrying the relics (reliquaries) of three holy kings were brought to Cologne in 1164. These reliquaries are the centerpiece of the church today.
The cornerstone for Cologne's Dom Cathedral was laid in 1248, but the church wasn't completed until 1880. Construction stopped completely on the cathedral in the 16th century, and the city persecuted both Jews and Protestants during this time. In the 19th century, Cologne was one of the most important cities in Prussia, and the Prussian royalty supported the completion of the cathedral starting in 1861.
After touring this magnificent cathedral, we crossed the wide square to one of the local beer parlors that feature the local Kolsch beer. I am a "lite" beer lover, so this pale beer was perfect for me. Cologne's citizens love their beer, and the city has over 20 local breweries.
Our time in Cologne was too short, and we sailed for Amsterdam after dinner.
Amsterdam in the Netherlands - Disembarkation Point on Viking Spirit Cruise
After sailing overnight, we awoke to the flat farmlands of the Netherlands. The Viking Spirit arrived in Amsterdam after lunch, and we had a bus and boat tour of the city for the rest of the afternoon.
I had spent a week in and around Amsterdam in 2002 while on a Dutch tulip cruise on the Viking Europe, so it was fun to see the city again, even if just for a short time. After our boat tour of the canals of Amsterdam, we toured the wonderful Rijksmuseum. Even though I've been to the Rijksmuseum three times, each trip I learn and see more!
We returned to the Viking Spirit for the last time in the late afternoon and completed our packing.
Disembarkation was very easy on this small river ship. Everyone was sad to leave their fellow cruise mates who had begun the cruise as strangers and ended it as friends. I came away with my love of river cruising reinforced. These small ships are the best way to see central Europe with an organized tour. Thanks to Viking River Cruises for a wonderful voyage!
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.