Exploring Jewish Heritage on European River Cruises

A Nuremburg port call gives cruisers a chance to visit the site of post-World War II war crimes trials.

Many Jewish Americans and others passionate about history, religion and culture are sailing on river cruises to explore sites of Jewish heritage, to pay respect to the victims of Nazi violence in 1930s-1940s and to see the rebirth of thriving Jewish communities.

This summer, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection launches new Jewish Heritage-themed itineraries on the Rhine. Its 10-day “Rhine-Main Discovery & Munich” program operated by the 116-passenger River Ambassador includes topical tours, a seven-night voyage from Munich to Cologne and a two-night stay at Le Méridien Munich or a similar upscale property. In Munich, Uniworld cruisers can stroll through the new Ohel Jakob Synagogue — a contemporary architectural gem — as well as the Jewish Museum and bustling Jewish Community Center. During that pre-cruise stay, Uniworld also offers a half-day excursion to Dachau, the site of Germany’s first Nazi-era concentration camp. It’s a moving experience as travelers tour the camp, Dachau Museum and Jewish Memorial Chapel.

Onboard River Ambassador, we’d opt for the lavishly appointed, 256-square-foot riverview suites (Nos. 211, 212, 214 or 215) with French balcony. During port calls, Uniworld’s themed tours will take Jewish heritage aficionados to synagogues, Jewish cemeteries, memorials, museum collections, historic ghettos and World War II-era sites. As with all the cruises mentioned in this story, cruisers can also select other tours of a lighter nature such as wine tasting, culinary activities or hiking and biking. It’s the guest’s choice on any given day.

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River Ambassador of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection comes with a lounge area, which has its own full-service bar.

Uniworld’s shipboard lectures will include “Jewish Intellectuals, Writers & Musicians” and “The History of the Jews in Europe.” Going ashore during a Miltenberg port call, cruisers can choose from several Uniworld shore excursions. We’d recommend “Jewish Wertheim,” which has the character of an old Franconian town. Jews who once lived here are remembered at the old synagogue and Jewish cemetery.

A touring tip? While strolling Wertheim’s streets and those elsewhere in Germany and across Europe, we’d suggest travelers look down for brass “stumbling stones” or Stolpersteine, embedded in pavements. Since the late 1990s, Cologne-based artist Gunter Demnig has laid tens of thousands of these palm-sized, mini-plaques at the last place where Jews and other Nazi-era victims lived. Each plaque begins, “Here lived…” and then briefly tells their fate.

In Frankfurt, where the Rothschilds and other Jews played major roles in the city’s development, travelers can tour the Judengasse Museum, prior to visiting the Jewish cemetery and Wall of Remembrance. During a Nuremberg port call, cruisers can visit Courtroom 600, the actual site of the post-war Nuremberg war crimes trials, as well as the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds. A modern Jewish revival is underway in Cologne, Germany, home to Europe’s oldest Jewish community north of the Alps, where cruisers can visit the Great Roonstrasse Synagogue and the old Jewish Quarter.

Another Jewish heritage-themed cruise comes from the upscale Avalon Waterways. Its 13-day “Blue Danube Discovery and Jewish Heritage” itinerary operates between Budapest and Prague. Guests spend two nights in Budapest and three nights in Prague, as well as sail for seven nights on Avalon Expression (August 13 departure) or Avalon Panorama (July 15, 2018 departure). Port calls during the seven-night cruise between Budapest and Nuremberg include Vienna, Passau, Regensburg, Durnstein and Melk.

The Ohel Jakob Synagogue in Munich will be visited by guests of River Ambassador. 

Top digs? We’d opt for the 300-square-foot Royal Suites, No. 310 or No. 312, which are sold out on this year’s voyage but the 200-square-foot Panorama Suites (categories A, B and P) are still available; they provide great views with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows that transform the living space into an open-air balcony. Beds also face the wall of glass. Deluxe staterooms are also available. At press time, there was availability on the July 15, 2018 sailing for all categories, including the Royal Suites.

Avalon Waterways will bring a Jewish heritage expert aboard to lecture about the Holocaust era and Jewish culture in Europe. In many ports, including Vienna, the line will arrange Jewish heritage-focused shore tours. At Regensburg, for example, cruisers can tour the remains of ancient synagogues beneath Neupfarrplatz, and on a Nuremberg call, they can choose between a guided sightseeing tour or a Nuremberg Rally Grounds tour.

During the two-night, pre-cruise stay in Budapest, guests can take a “Jewish Budapest” excursion. Got the munchies after touring? Ask the locals to point the way to the Frohlich Pastry Shop, just a short walk from the Great Synagogue. It specializes in traditional Jewish baked goods. We’d suggest trying the tasty flodni, an apple-walnut-poppy-seed cake,which is a house specialty. During Avalon Waterways’ post-cruise hotel stay in Prague, cruisers also can head out to see the historic Josefov or Jewish Quarter.

Other lines don’t offer Jewish heritage-themed cruises, but they do have touring options or concierges eager to arrange private tours for guests. During AmaWaterways’ “Enchanting Rhine” itinerary, for example, AmaCerto spends time in Amsterdam, where guests can tour the Jewish Quarter. What’s to see? Constructed in the 17th century, Amsterdam’s magnificent Portuguese Synagogue (or Esnoga) survived the Holocaust and is maintained in its original state with no electricity. Nearby is the Jewish Historical Museum and the poignant Holocaust Memorial at the Hollandsche Schouwburg.

Many cruise line city tours pass the Anne Frank House museum. During the Nazi era, Otto Frank’s family and others hid in this home’s attic for two years before being discovered. His daughter Anne poignantly wrote about her experiences and thoughts in the now-famous diary. For many, an interior house visit is a “must,” but ask the ship’s concierge about the best way to visit. Long lines are common. We’d suggest buying advance tickets online. In March, the Anne Frank House museum announced that it’s building a new entrance, expanding visitor facilities and working to tell the Franks’ story in a way that more strongly appeals to Millennials and Generation Xers; the museum will remain open while the work progresses. 

The Great Synagogue in Budapest will attract guests on Avalon Waterways’ Jewish heritage-themed cruises.

For lunch at an iconic Dutch Jewish eatery, one casual option is Amsterdam’s Sal Meyer sandwich shop. Opened in 1957, it’s at Buitenveldertselaan 114. Check out the historic wall photos, savor the rosbief (roast beef) or pekelvlees (salted meat) and, for dessert, we’d recommend the tasty gember bolus (ginger drops). Back on AmaCerto, guests who’ve selected the 350-square-foot suite accommodations (category SS) on the Violin Deck, can spread out in style and enjoy the line’s signature “twin balcony” concept.

Also offering a Jewish heritage tour in Amsterdam is Crystal River Cruises. Its 14-night “Jewels of the Rhine” itinerary departs August 13, 2017, from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland on the new 106-passenger Crystal Bach. The top suite of the ship is a two-bedroom Crystal Suite with Panoramic Balcony-Window (category CS). It encompasses 759 square feet and can accommodate four guests. The suite has all the bells and whistles one would expect on Crystal, plus additional amenities, which include complimentary Wi-Fi / Internet access for 60 minutes per person daily, butler service, unpacking and packing upon request, in-suite hors d’oeuvres and canapés, 24-hour room service and more.

On its 23-day “European Sojourn” itinerary from Amsterdam to Budapest (and some other itineraries that include Budapest), Viking River Cruises offers a half-day “Dohany Street Synagogue & Jewish Budapest”walking tour. Cruisers will see the Jewish Quarter (the former Budapest Ghetto) and the 19th-century Moorish-revival-style synagogue.Converted to a stable in World War II, it’s now once again a center of worship with a glistening interior. Within the synagogue complex, cruisers can browse religious relics at the Jewish Museum and view a “Tree of Life” memorial.

This itinerary is operated on multiple dates this year by Viking Aegir and several other Viking Long Ships. Why not stay in the top-of-the-line accommodations? Those are the 445-square-foot Explorer Suites, which have separate living and sleeping areas plus a fabulous private wraparound veranda with 270-degree views from the living area; the bedroom also has a French balcony. 

In Nuremberg, cruisers will spend time at the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds. Seen here is the courtyard of the Congress Hall.

During Tauck’s new 2018 itinerary, 14-day “Royal Danube, Berlin & Krakow,” travelers can take optional walking tours of Jewish heritage sites in Berlin, where guests stay three nights pre-cruise at Hotel Adlon Kempinski, and on a Vienna port call during the seven-night voyage. Savor operates these cruises on May 2, June 27 and September 19.

Savor will call at Bavarian towns like Bayreuth, where composer Richard Wagner lived in 1872; Nuremberg, known for its post-World War II war crimes trials; Kelheim, where the Danube meets the Main-Danube Canal; and cobblestoned Straubing, dating to 6,000 BC. Crossing into Austria, the ship also will call at Linz for a walking tour or boat ride in the nearby Lake District. Other activities center around Krems and the Wachau Valley, and Vienna, where guests will be treated to an evening in a private palace.

We particularly like this itinerary’s inclusion of a three-night, post-cruise hotel stay at the Sheraton Grand Krakow, near Wawel Castle. It gives travelers a chance to visit the former Jewish quarter, Kazimierz. Another highly popular touring stop is at the factory of Oskar Schindler, made famous in the film “Schindler’s List.” It’s now a branch of Krakow’s Historical Museum. From Krakow, cruisers can also visit Auschwitz, a highly emotional experience for many.

Luxury travelers should consider selecting one of the 22 Tauck Suites, sized at 300 square feet. Unusual? This vessel also has eight creatively designed loft staterooms, which extend from the first to the second decks, providing guests with additional natural light and views; all windows in these loft cabins open.

A Tour of the Auschwitz Birkenau Concentration Camp is a moving experience.


On Abercrombie & Kent’s 10-day “Along the Danube” cruise from Budapest to Munich, which is offered on several vessels throughout this summer, cruisers can take an afternoon Jewish Heritage tour in Budapest. The A&K cruise plies the Danube for seven nights with stays in boutique hotels in Budapest and Munich. Among the itinerary highlights? Guests can take a private tour of a World War II art bunker in Nuremberg. Other lines too have Jewish-themed tours.

Alternatively, some companies create their own Jewish-focused kosher cruises in Europe, and at times, depending on the type of cruise, they’ll work with travel agents; it varies by sailing. One of those is Kosher River Cruises, which brings aboard Jewish cultural lecturers and serves Glatt Kosher cuisine supervised by Master Kosher Chef Malcolm Green. One of its upcoming sailings is on Scenic’s Sapphire from Budapest to Passau. So whether cruisers prefer a themed Jewish heritage cruise, a regular voyage with Jewish cultural excursions or a kosher voyage, travelers have many options on European rivers.

River Pairings

While wine, culinary and fitness are top themes for European river cruises, here are other hot pairings that should entice luxury travelers with a special interest.

Beauty & The Beast: Families with children should love Adventures by Disney’s seven-night family river cruises in Europe; they’re operated in partnership with AmaWaterways. What’s new? For 2018, the partners will introduce new “Beauty and the Beast” themed experiences on six AmaKristina departures on the Rhine. Onboard, cruisers can watch both live-action and animated versions of “Beauty and the Beast” and tour Riquewihr, an idyllic French village similar to Belle’s hometown. They’ll feast at a Beauty and the Beast themed dinner, ride a toboggan in the Black Forest and tour Germany’s Heidelberg Castle.

Riquewihr, a village in France’s Alsace region, is similar to Belle’s hometown in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Tees & Greens: Designed for golf fans is Avalon Waterways’ 13-day “Blue Danube Discovery for Golfers 2018” from Budapest to Prague with August 13, 2017 and July 15, 2018 departures. Guests spend two nights in Budapest before their Danube River cruise on Avalon Expression or Avalon Panorama. Guests can explore ashore at Austrian and German ports and finish with three nights in Prague, the Czech Republic. Days feature sightseeing, wine and beer tastings, cultural activities, and for golfers, play on several local courses, including those in Budapest, Vienna, and after disembarkation en route from Nuremberg to Prague. 

Beethoven & Bach: Enjoy the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Strauss and other classical icons? Check out Tauck’s 12-day classical music-themed trip through Europe; Savor offers June 8 and September 14 departures, while Joy sails on October 5. Cruisers can explore Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Bratislava and Budapest and the palaces, theaters and homes where these musical greats composed and performed. The cruise is accompanied by Tauck’s “maestros,” active music scholars and performers, who will give lectures and music workshops, plus guide musically focused shore trips.

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