You get a real sampler of Germany along the Main (pronounced "Mine") River: UNESCO-designated towns that ooze charm, castles, lush Bavarian forests, and fast-paced Frankfurt, the country's financial powerhouse. The Main's navigable section runs between Mainz and Bamberg, but most itineraries combine the river with the Danube, Rhine, or Main-Danube Canal (and sometimes all three.) Other voyages include the Moselle, or leave from Paris or Prague.
Trips vary from six days to more than three weeks. Short cruises travel between Nuremberg and Frankfurt, while a popular longer route runs between Budapest and Amsterdam. The cruise season runs March through December, including some Christmas market-themed trips.
What We Love
Franconian Wine: Look for local white wines, sold in flattened Bocksbeutel bottles — said to have been shaped for easy concealment under a monk's robe.
Bavarian Beer: Nearly every town has its own brand, brewed according to 500-year-old purity laws. If you can, tour a historic brewery such as Faust in Miltenberg.
Best Known For
Fairy-Tale Towns: Miltenberg, Wertheim, and Bamberg all have splendid half-timbered buildings, flowers cascading from window boxes, and sweet little squares.
Würzburg Residenz: This magnificent, UNESCO-designated Baroque bishops' palace contains famous ceiling frescoes by 18th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
Find a Cruise
Frankfurt: Nicknamed "Main-hattan," this bustling city is also home to 30 museums — including 20 right along the river. After a tour of Goethe's house, which displays art from the revered writer's era, go for a quick lunch at the Kleinmarkthalle indoor market.
Würzburg: In addition to visiting the spectacular Residenz, most cruises offer a day trip from this port to the UNESCO-designated Rothenburg, a perfect medieval walled town with well-preserved gates and towers.
Bamberg: Another UNESCO-designated site, this charmer's muraled city hall is perched on an island accessible by a stone bridge. Stroll the perfectly intact old town (it's home to an imperial cathedral and tanners' cottages), and try the local smoked beer.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Some Sections Are Industrial: Around Frankfurt, you'll see more smokestacks than castle turrets.
Gayle Keck is a San Francisco-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.