The top places to visit on a German river cruise along the Elbe

Aimee Spicer ( 24 July 2017 )

Read our top tips on the best daily excursions you can take while on a German river cruise along the Elbe.

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One of the best things about river cruises is the daily excursions. Your time on the ship, relaxing amongst like-minded travellers and taking in the night-time entertainment, is one thing. 

But sailing into dock at yet another new and fascinating destination brings a thrill all of its own.

That’s why we’ve put together a quick taster guide to some of the more notable locations to view while you travel along the River Elbe. Germany has so much to show you, starting with its capital...

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Berlin

Reichstag Dome in Berlin
Reichstag Dome in Berlin

Your cruise begins in Berlin, which is home to many historic places that date back centuries. 

From the Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens famously outpaced Hitler’s ideology, to the attraction-studded UNESCO site of Museum Island, there are locations for all-comers from sports fans to culture vultures.

A tour of Berlin is included in your holiday, although you can also go off-piste if you have some attractions you’ve always wanted to see or a favourite haunt of your own.

For example, you may want to see the 1960s-built Berlin Philharmonie if you are a music lover or an architecture enthusiast.

If you enjoy strolling and outdoor spaces, it’s worth taking a wander through Tiergarten for greenery and a view of Victory Column. 

Alternatively, there’s 20th century history available at Checkpoint Charlie or the Berlin Wall Memorial. One day may not be enough for bountiful Berlin, but at least it’s not too far away for a repeat visit!

Potsdam

Sanssouci palace and terraced vineyard in Potsdam, Germany
Sanssouci palace and terraced vineyard in Potsdam, Germany

The next day, you will have the chance to walk amongst the regal buildings that Prussian royalty and German Kaisers once called home. 

In Potsdam, you’ll enjoy some sensationally good architecture, including another World Heritage Site in Sanssouci. The home of Frederick the Great of Prussia, this palace has been compared with the Parisian Palace of Versailles.

Film fanatics may also want to take in Babelsberg Studio, one of the oldest major movie studios in the world. 

Operating since 1912, Babelsberg Studio was the production site for classics like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and modern favourites like The Bourne Ultimatum.

Brandenburg

Brandenburg Gate, Germany
Brandenburg Gate Germany

At your next stop, treat yourself to the sights of some of the most beautiful landscapes and historic architecture in Germany.

The state of Brandenburg is almost one-third UNESCO nature reserves, but there are plenty of marvellous man-made sights too, thanks to the many stunning examples of period architecture that can be found around the state.

The Architectural Museum features thousands of Neolithic tools and it is housed in a restored Dominican Friary, built in the 1280s.

Meanwhile, the church of St Gotthard dates from the 1140s and features a 15th century Baroque crest on its tower, and the Town Hall is a Late Gothic building from 1470.

There’s even the metallic Friedenswarte tower, built by the GDR in 1974, which offers lovely views of the surrounding Marienberg Park from its observation decks. 

A stroll through Brandenburg really is a feast for the eyes.

Magdeburg

Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany
Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany

Another day on the German waterways, and it’s time to discover one of the most important cities in medieval Europe. The capital of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, Magdeburg is a city steeped in history.

It was the birthplace of the first Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, and the city’s Romanesque Cathedral of Saints Catherine and Maurice is his final resting place.

Central to European history throughout the Middle Ages, Magdeburg has architectural and cultural history to please all, including the Cultural History Museum and Hasselbachplatz square.

There’s also Otto-von-Guericke University, named after the city’s favourite physicist and former mayor, who also has his own museum thanks to ground-breaking scientific work.

Wittenberg

Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany
Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany

After an exciting evening of on-board entertainment, visit the cradle of the Protestant Reformation: Wittenberg. 

The town was home to Dr. Martin Luther for large parts of his life – a theology professor who started at the University of Wittenberg in 1508, just six years after it opened. 

He wrote The Ninety-Five Theses while living in what is now the Lutherhaus writer’s museum.

The preacher is honoured with a statue in the town square, which is also notable for the Stadtkirche. 

This civic church is where Luther and fellow reformer Johannes Bugenhagen preached and it was the site of the first celebration of mass held in German rather than Latin.

With a cluster of UNESCO-listed buildings of major cultural and religious significance all within a stone’s throw of each other, Wittenberg is a real treat for history and architecture fans.

Meissen

Cityscape of Meissen in Germany with the Albrechtsburg castle
Cityscape of Meissen in Germany with the Albrechtsburg castle

Fans of the Antiques Roadshow – and those who see thrift shops as a treasure trove – may enjoy this stop! 

Meissen boasts beautiful buildings, in the form of stunning Albrechtsburg Castle and a Gothic cathedral, but it is also renowned for a couple of distinct attractions.

The town is the home of Meissen porcelain, a pioneering Chinese-styled white porcelain that swept through Europe in the early 18th century.

Products were marked with a crossed sword motif from 1720 as a stamp of authenticity, and this logo is one of the earliest recognised trademarks. The optional visit to the local porcelain factories is therefore a must for budding bargain hunters.

Lovers of military or WWII history should take advantage of the Colditz Castle tour that departs from Meissen. Learn all about the legendary fortress that held the Allies’ most dangerous officers.

The following day, you will visit Dresden. This city of beautiful Baroque and Rococo architecture that rose reconstructed from the ashes of Allied Bombings is now home to some magnificent buildings, including the Semperoper opera house and the Zwinger Palace.

Elbe’s Sandstone Mountains

Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Germany with the Albrechtsburg castle
Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Germany with the Albrechtsburg castle

Your trip down the Elbe now takes you into new frontiers, as the Elbe Valley leads you into the Czech Republic. 

Děčín sits in northwest Bohemia amid the stunning Elbe Sandstone Mountains, which you can explore during an optional excursion.

Known as Saxon or Bohemian Switzerland, this mountain range is a national park and features amazingly diverse terrain, including ravines, table mountains and unspoiled forestry.

The geological and mineral diversity has meant that health resorts have spring up in the region, and nature lovers will appreciate the variety of habitats nurtured by these mountains.

On to Prague…

Scenic summer sunset aerial view of the Old Town pier architecture and Charles Bridge over Vltava river in Prague, Czech Republic
Scenic summer sunset aerial view of the Old Town pier architecture and Charles Bridge over Vltava river in Prague, Czech Republic

There’s much more to come on your cruise along the Elbe! 

As you sail through the agricultural centre of Mělník and move on to Prague, you’ll find even more jaw-dropping sights in the ‘City of A Hundred Spires’. 

With so much to see and do across just nine nights, you’re in for a whirlwind of experiences and a thoroughly inspiring river cruise break.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.