Many people boast about the culture-laden capitals their European river cruise stops at. But what about all those not-so-famous gems along the way? Just like any other form of travel, cruising allows you to get off the beaten track a little and delve into the true heart of your destination. So forget about Budapest, Paris and Amsterdam. Here’s a few of the unsung heroes to keep your eyes peeled for.
Within minutes of wandering the character-drenched streets of late-medieval Ghent, you’ll begin to get an inkling of why it so quickly wins over new fans who dare to venture beyond the tourist-trodden streets of Brussels. A city dissected by snaking canals, it retains more of a cosy small-town vibe than a big city personality, and as well as having its own unique quirks and charms, it somehow nurtures the perfect blend of cosmopolitanism and peace and quiet.
Beyond the narrow cobblestone streets, Ghent presents some of the country’s best museums, an array of unique and authentic shops, and numerous architectural highlights, including charming Renaissance buildings, the medieval castle of Gravensteen and the 10th-century Romanesque St Bavo’s Cathedral. Wherever you go though, Ghent offers a true sense of the Belgian way of life – and more than enough waffles, chocolates and fries for snacks between your meals on-board.
See Ghent with Avalon Waterways’ 8-Day Tulip Time Cruise.
Strasbourg is a fascinating destination where Germany and France collide thanks to its location on the west bank of the Rhine, which makes up the border between the two distinctly different nations. A fascinating blend of German and French, medieval history and contemporary influence, Strasbourg presents many marvellous contradictions to explore. Home to the European Parliament as well as a strong student population, it’s also the proud host of France’s oldest Christmas market.
Strasbourg is all about soaking up the ambience and cross-cultural quirks. Enjoy some people-watching at Place Kleber, a bustling shop-lined square, then make your way to the fairytale-like, enchanting neighbourhood of ‘la Petite France’. Unlike the rest of the city, where the streets and winding alleys overflow with distinctly German architecture, here crooked timber buildings sprout colourful flower boxes overlooking the river – and the smell of freshly-baked goods fills the air. Before you leave town though, be sure to stop by the mesmerising Strasbourg Cathedral, one of Europe’s most beautiful pieces of Gothic architecture.
See Strasbourg with Avalon Waterways’ 8-Day Romantic Rhine Cruise.
Surrounded by lush mountains and soaring peaks, the stage is set for a fine and at times flamboyant affair with the arts in Linz, which straddles the flowing waters of the Danube. A city of musicality – that was once a muse for both Mozart and Beethoven – it’s not just the classical arts that ring true here. Linz puts on a cultural feast of theatre, music, contemporary art and science. Surprisingly, the historic and the hi-tech effortlessly merge.
The church spires jutting into the sky hint at a few of the favourite attractions to tick off: the 18th-century Neo-Gothic Mariendom, Austria’s biggest church, and quaint little St. Martin’s, the country’s oldest preserved church. Other iconic local sights include Linz Castle, home to the excellent Schlossmuseum, the Museum of the Future, Steel World and the contemporary Lentos Art Museum. But don’t be surprised if you stumble across a daring public art installation or musically-talented busker as you stroll the medieval old town streets.
See Linz with Avalon Waterways’ 9-Day Austrian Highlights and Bavaria Cruise.
Sandwiched between the Rhone and the Saone rivers, Lyon in southern France is widely regarded as the country’s gastronomic capital. A relaxed city with a cosmopolitan touch and a forward-thinking attitude, Lyon touts exceptional museums and galleries, great shopping and fabulous foodie experiences. Far from the capital city overload and tourist-frenzy of Paris, this is quite possibly one of the most quintessential French destinations on the tourist radar.
Apart from eating your way around Lyon – there are many Michelin-starred restaurants to savour – Lyon is best explored on foot. Wander the ‘traboules’, a network of covered corridors built by silk weavers in the 19th century, and the cobblestone streets of Vieux-Lyon, a Renaissance-era district with UNESCO World Heritage status. The funicular ride up the hill to the basilica of Notre-Dame is well-worth it – as is a trip to the partly-Romanesque Lyon Cathdral. Lovers of the arts and museums shouldn’t miss the Musée des Beaux-Arts, or one of the brand new local institutions: the Musee des Confluences, the science centre or the anthropology museum.
See Lyon with Avalon Waterways’ 16-Day Grand France Cruise.
The second-largest city in Bavaria, Nuremberg has 950 years of historical stories and events to its name. Most commonly remembered as the host of the Nazi Rally parties and the site of the Nuremberg Trials following World War II, today the city is rife with remarkable architecture, art treasures, museums and delicious culinary flavours. Come Christmastime, the city comes alive in full festive frivolity with one of the best (and most traditional) German Christmas markets in the world.
Most of the tourist attractions revolve around the beautiful medieval-infused Old Town area. The enchanting Kaiserberg (the Imperial Castle) dominates the skyline and at its base, awaits a labyrinth of underground passageways and cellar vaults to explore. Other favourite sites include the New Museum, Albrecht-Durer’s House, Main Market Square and St. Sebald church. Between stops, tuck into some Nuremberger Rostbratwurst and pretzels washed down with the local beer or Franconian wine.
See Nuremberg with Avalon Waterways’ 15-Day Capitals of Magnificent Europe Cruise.