The Elbe, which once marked the border between East and West Germany, flows past striking scenery, ancient castles, and historic cities. Most itineraries travel between Berlin (busing passengers to docks at Spandau, Magdeburg, or Potsdam) and Prague, Czech Republic (docking at Dresden or Melnik on the Elbe, then busing to Prague; or sailing into Prague on the Vltava). Cruises last seven to 14 days, and some operate year-round — though spring and fall offer milder temperatures and fewer tourists.
What We Love
Gorgeous Gardens: From the formal gardens at Frederick the Great’s Sanssouci Palace near Potsdam, to the English-style Wörlitz Gardens, flower-fanciers will be in heaven.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites: These include the palaces and parks of Potsdam and Berlin, Museum Island in Berlin, Bauhaus buildings in Dessau, the Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz, Luther memorials in Wittenberg, and Old Town in Prague.
Best Known For
Saxon Switzerland National Park: Spectacular views and wind-carved sandstone spires make this German park near Dresden a must-see.
Protestant Reformation History: In Wittenberg, take in Martin Luther-related sites, including the Augustinian Monastery, where he was a priest, and All Saints' Castle Church, where he posted his “95 Theses” in 1517.
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Berlin: In the German capital, you can visit Cold War landmarks such as Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall; lose yourself in world-class museums; see top monuments including the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, and Holocaust Memorial; and explore the hot art scene.
Prague: Head to Old Town Square to watch the medieval astronomical clock strike the hour, then take in nearby Gothic, Baroque and art nouveau buildings. Cross the 14th-century Charles Bridge, with its lineup of saints' statues, and climb up to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. Or, shop for antiques and hand-painted egg ornaments.
Dresden: Though nearly bombed into oblivion during World War II, "Florence on the Elbe" has been restored to its Baroque glory. See Dresden Castle (including the Green Vault's gems and treasures), the Zwinger palace, Semper Opera House, and the Frauenkirche.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Beware of Low Water: The Elbe is notoriously shallow. Low levels can hamper navigation and necessitate busing, particularly in mid-summer.
Gayle Keck is a San Francisco-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.