by Sue Bryant
You’re hooked on river cruising and you’re getting to know the rivers of Europe and maybe even more far-flung places pretty well. So what do you do in port when you’ve checked off the main attractions? Here are some ideas.
Vienna: The MuseumsQuartier
First time around you probably saw the Hofburg, or Schönbrunn but the Austrian capital, which you’ll visit on The Blue Danube river cruise, has many more cultural pleasures. The former imperial stables of the Hofburg were transformed 20 years ago into the MuseumsQuartier, a cluster of Baroque and ultra-modern buildings around a courtyard lined with restaurants and performance spaces. Pop into the Leopold Museum, for 19th and 20th-century Austrian art, or the contemporary MUMOK for more avant-garde pieces, or check out the changing exhibitions in the Kunsthalle Wien.
Budapest: Take the waters
You’ve toured Castle Hill and admired the Parliament Building. So why not do as the locals do and take the waters? On the Cruise the Heart of Europe voyage, you’ll have a whole day to indulge. Budapest is dotted with thermal springs that have been used for curative purposes since Roman times and while locals have their favourites, the Gellert Baths is one of the most beautiful. The main pool is in an exquisite, art nouveau colonnaded hall, while the smaller thermal pools are works of art, with elaborate tiling and decoration. You can walk to the Baths along the Danube from the dock; it’s right by the river, at the foot of Gellert Hill.
Lyon: Cycle the Tete d’Or
The green lung of Lyon is the vast Tête d’Or park, close to the city centre, and this is where locals repair for jogging, cycling, dog walking and outdoor concerts and events. Lyon is dotted with rental bike stands (velov.grandlyon.com) so pick up a bicycle for €1.80 so kick off your Burgundy, the River Rhône and Provence river cruise by pedalling along the Rhône and through the park. You could also drop into Lyon’s gourmet indoor market, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, named after the city’s most famous chef. Inside, there are 48 vendors selling everything from truffles to fresh herbs, gourmet cheese, hand-made cakes, charcuterie, fresh fruit and veg, wine and spirits, all locally produced.
Porto: Fashionable Foz
The affluent beachfront district of Foz, at the mouth of the Douro, is just three miles or so from downtown Porto – and it’s where you’ll find the locals at weekends, tucking into fresh sardines in hip beach bars, shopping and jogging along the esplanade. Getting there is half the fun; the rickety, 1930s No 1 tram trundles from the central Ribeira district through some of the loveliest parts of the city, dropping you at Paseio Alegre, a leafy waterfront park in Foz. You can easily fit in a half day in Foz as part of The Douro, Porto and Salamanca cruise.
Paris: Secret Dali
No doubt you’ve gazed at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. You may even have already wandered round Montmartre, following in the footsteps of Renoir, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. But if you’ve chosen The Seine, Paris and Normandy voyage, use your time in Paris to head back to Montmartre to marvel at Dalí Paris, a permanent exhibition of the works of surrealist Salvador Dalí, in a beautifully lit basement right by the Place du Tertre. There are more than 300 sketches and sculptures here, including several versions of Dalí’s famous melting clock and several pieces for sale in the upstairs museum shop.
Amsterdam: Anne Frank House
Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House is no secret; it’s one of the city’s most popular attractions. The trouble is, it’s so busy that you can’t just turn up and get in. So if you’re revisiting the city on the Amsterdam, Kinderdijk and the Dutch Bulbfields cruise, book online in advance for this skinny 17th-century building on Prinsengracht where Anne Frank and her family famously hid from the Nazis during the Occupation between 1942 and 1944. The whole experience is both moving and chilling; squeezed into the tiny rooms, you have a real sense of the claustrophobic existence of this ordinary Jewish family that has been immortalised in young Anne’s diary.
Antwerp: The history of print
Most visitors to Antwerp spend their time visiting the cathedral and checking out Rubens’ former studio Rubens. For something different, though, on the Bruges, Medieval Flanders, Amsterdam and the Dutch Bulbfields cruise, visit the lavishly beautiful Plantin-Moretus Museum on Vrijdagmarkt. Former home of the influential Plantin and Moretus family, the medieval building housed the world’s first industrial printing works and still displays the world’s oldest printing press, as well as ancient typesets and valuable manuscripts.
Nuremberg: Trainspotter heaven
Who doesn’t love a model railway? In Nuremberg’s Deutsche Bahn Museum, you’ll find one of Germany’s largest sets, with half a kilometre of track, 30 trains and its own uniformed controller. The museum itself, the oldest railway museum in the world, documents nearly two centuries of railway history, complete with 19th-century rolling stock, the elaborate rococo carriage built for Ludwig II, and a replica of the legendary Adler, a steam locomotive built in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the Nuremberg–Fürth line. The museum isn’t just for trainspotters; it documents Germany’s progress depression, dictatorship, the Holocaust and the fall of the Iron Curtain to the present day, with a high-tech exhibit about the future. You can easily fit in a visit on Riviera Travel’s Medieval Germany cruise, which spends a day in the city.
Cologne: Chocolate Museum
Most visitors to Cologne head straight to the Cathedral or on a walking tour but if you’ve joined the Rhine and Moselle river cruise and have a sweet tooth, check out the Chocolate Museum, right by the cruise dock. You’ll trace chocolate through 5,000 years of chocolate history, from the time of the Mayans and the Aztecs, and even wander through a tropical palm house to see how cocoa is grown. There’s a glass-walled production hall showing how chocolate is produced, turning out mouthwatering chocolate truffles and chocolate animals from cocoa beans. And then the highlight – tasting the wares of the chocolate shop before heading back to your ship.
Siem Reap: Kandal Village
There’s no question that the star attraction of Cambodia’s stylish Siem Reap is the temple complexes of Angkor. But on the Journey on the Mekong, you get three days here, so take time out to stroll the arty little oasis that is Hup Guan Street, dubbed by the locals as Kandal Village. Tucked away on the edge of the French Quarter, leafy Hup Guan is all crumbling colonial charm where you’ll find hand-made silk bead necklaces in vibrant colours, coloured Buddha heads and spicy lemongrass, fig and jasmine soy candles as well as linen shirts, leather sandals and handmade sarongs.
There is so much to see and do on a river cruise that sometimes you need to travel more than once. We have a full collection of river cruises in Europe and worldwide. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Sue Bryant is an award-winning journalist specialising in (and addicted to) cruising. She is cruise editor of The Sunday Times and also contributes to magazines and websites worldwide, including Sunday Times Travel Magazine, World of Cruising, Cruise Passenger (Australia), Porthole (USA) and www.cruisecritic.co.uk. Sue lives in London but is often travelling, exploring the world’s rivers and oceans. She has sailed on more than 100 ships over the last 15 years.