There’s more to a Viking River Cruise's Christmas Market Cruise along the Danube River than shopping. Before each visit to the famous European markets, passengers take bus or walking tours of grand cities in Germany, Austria, and Hungary.
While visiting Regensburg, Germany — the oldest city on the Danube — we walked along the waterfront from the Viking Longship Njord to the city’s famous stone bridge that spans the river. Built between 1135 and 1146, the bridge with its 16 arches is a masterpiece of medieval engineering; it was one of the highlights of our tour through the city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our guide, a young woman with an encyclopedic knowledge of the city, told us that the first settlements in Regensburg date to the Stone Age. The Romans later built a fort here in the 1st century. Remains of the fortress can still be seen.
After walking on the bridge and taking lots of photos, we made our way into the city and its labyrinth of streets and passageways. Festive decorations were strung from side to side, making a beautiful tunnel even in the morning light.
There are more than 1,000 historic buildings in the city, including several towers built during the Middle Ages by wealthy merchants as homes and storage for their wares. There are also past shops with windows decorated with ornaments, holly, and garland.
Our guide also explained that, because Regensburg escaped major damage during World War II, it is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval cities. One building featured a massive mural of David and Goliath dating back to the 16th century.
Our walking tour ended at St. Peter’s Cathedral — Bavaria’s best example of Gothic architecture. Founded in 1275 and completed in 1634, it features an amazingly beautiful exterior. The ornate towers were finished in 1869.
Nearby, a pedestrian square had been transformed into a holiday wonderland. Stands selling everything from mulled wine, sausages, and Christmas cookies to ornaments, clothing, and toys were decorated with lights and greenery framing red and white striped awnings. Children dressed in heavy coats and snowsuits rode a carousel as older children darted from stand to stand, making their own holiday purchases.
On our tour we passed The Regensburg Sausage Kitchen, located near the stone bridge. Originally built as the construction headquarters of the stone bridge, it was turned into a restaurant in 1146. There is an outdoor takeaway counter and an indoor restaurant. Too cold to eat outside, my friend and I warmed up in the lovely restaurant decorated in beautiful red ribbons, poinsettias, and candlelight. We ordered the famous sausages and sauerkraut and enjoyed an hour of conversation and good food.
A brief walk later, and we were back to our ship and into the cozy surrounding of our home away from home on this tour of Europe and the magic of the holiday season.