It's amazing what you discover when you travel by river. When you ditch the busy highways and the train carriages and meander through Europe on nature's pathways, you find places you didn't even know existed.
You call past villages, towns and cities that would otherwise have passed you by - places that have amazing histories and exciting, innovative presents, friendly places that have rhythms gentle enough to match your progress along the waterways that pass through them. These are the parts of Europe that are begging for discovery.
Utrecht, the Netherlands
Everyone knows about Amsterdam, and they've probably heard of Rotterdam and The Hague as well. But Utrecht? This Dutch city of only 300,000 people is one of the country's oldest settlements and is an absolute charmer, particularly for first-time visitors. Like Amsterdam, Utrecht is riven with canals, many of which are lined with bars and restaurants, while the city is also home to several world-class museums and art galleries, as well as the Domtoren, a 14th-century tower.
The town of Rudesheim itself is beautiful, a small Romantic settlement on the banks of the Rhine River with hundreds of years of history. However, Travelmarvel guests who visit here on their Amsterdam-Budapest cruise get a special experience, taking the Winzerexpress train up to Siegfried's Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum, a showcase of automated musical instruments done in the way only the Germans can. Afterwards, there's time for a leisurely stroll back to the ship.
There's no way you would simply stumble across Miltenberg, a town of only 9000 inhabitants in the Bavarian region of Germany, unless you were travelling on the Main River, drifting past it on your way south. However, this is one beautiful little town, and it's also the site of one of Travelmarvel's "Insider Experiences", the chance to be welcomed into a local home for coffee and cake with a Miltenberg family, to learn about the town's history and its way of life from the people who live there.
This charming town on the banks of the Main River is the ideal spot to utilise some free time and absorb the local culture. In Bavaria, that culture involves visiting a local tavern for a pretzel and a large glass of ale. Not a bad way to while away a free afternoon. Alternatively, Bamberg's heritage-listed city centre is well worth exploring, whether on your own or as part of a guided tour.
Another of the beautiful, though small, villages that line the Main River in southern Germany is Wurzburg, which has thousands of years of history, a town of pilgrimage for Christians, and a bustling modern-day hub with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants. The highlight of any stay in Wurzburg is a visit to the Residenz, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed baroque palace.
The name might not roll off the tongue in the same way as Munich or Cologne, but Regensburg was the first capital of Bavaria, and one of the most important cities in southern Germany. Join a walking tour here to discover more about this city founded by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, including its city gates, built almost 2000 years ago, the Old Town Hall, the ancient Stone Bridge, and the charming and historic heritage-listed city centre.
Though there's plenty of history to appreciate in the small Austrian town of Durnstein - King Richard the Lionheart was once held captive here while trying to make his way home after being shipwrecked returning from the Third Crusade - this area by the Danube River is also well known for its wine and schnapps. Durnstein is the perfect stop on your Travelmarvel cruise to spend some free time visiting a vineyard and sampling the local winemakers' wares.
There are two attractions in this beautiful city that form part of Travelmarvel's "Insider Experiences" for cruise passengers. The first is the world heritage-listed Augustusburg Castle, an 18th-century edifice once inhabited by Clemens August, the archbishop-elector of the area. The second is August's Falkenlust hunting lodge, a beautiful building set amid perfectly manicured gardens, where the archbishop would come to practise falconry. Both are truly stunning sights.
Passau lies at the confluence of three rivers - the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz - and is also the perfect base from which to explore an amazingly diverse local area. For an energetic day, grab a bike from on board your river ship and see the countryside by pedal power. Alternatively, opt for one of Travelmarvel's "Enhance Your Journey" daytrips to either Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, or Salzburg in Austria, or simply spend a quiet morning soaking up the beauty of Passau's Baroque buildings.
This article was produced in association with Travelmarvel.
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