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Night-time view of Dresden, as seen from the Elbe River
30 March, 20213 minute read

Unsung heroes of the Elbe

Rising from the Bohemian mountains and flowing through the Czech Republic and Germany to the North Sea, the Elbe is one of Europe’s most important rivers. But when it comes to river cruise tours, its shallow waters mean it sees a fraction of the visitors that sail the waters of the Rhine and Danube.

We think it deserves a place in the spotlight, though. Winding past baroque cities and forest-cloaked sandstone karsts, highlights of a cruise on the Elbe River include romantic Prague, with its cobblestone streets and Gothic churches, and fast-paced Berlin. But there’s plenty more to discover along this lesser-explored waterway. Let’s take a look at some of the unsung heroes of the River Elbe…


Once known as the ‘Florence of the Elbe’ for its architecturally beautiful buildings, much of Dresden was destroyed by bombing raids during World War II. The baroque quarter has been carefully rebuilt, and today includes the Zwinger palace complex, the Semper Opera House, the cathedral and the Royal Palace. The city’s riverside promenades are lovely for an afternoon amble, particularly in autumn, the best time of year to cruise the Elbe River.

Fountain-studded gardens in front of the Zwinger palace in Dresden, Germany


Nestled on the banks of the Elbe in eastern Germany is Wittenberg. This small town played a key role in Reformation history – Martin Luther, leader of the Reformation, gave some of his sermons in the Castle Church and nailed his 95 Theses to its door. You can see a memorial statue to him in the Marktplatz, a pretty square edged by colourful Renaissance-style buildings.

Colourful houses line the Market Square in Wittenberg, where a statue of Martin Luther stands

Saxon Switzerland

Part of a German national park, this area of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains gets its name for its Swiss-like landscapes – towering peaks, gorges and karsts covered in thick forest. Chateaux are scattered across the hills here, including the remote Königstein Fortress, one of the largest hilltop fortresses in Europe. Our ‘Beauty of the Elbe’ river cruise includes an excursion into the mountains, where we’ll tour the fortress, learning of its past as a retreat for Saxon monarchs, a prisoner-of-war camp and a hiding place for Dresden’s treasures during World War II.

Walls and entrance to the fortress of Koenigstein in Saxony, Germany, looking down on the Elbe River


Litomerice is one of the loveliest cities in the Czech Republic and one of the oldest Bohemian cities. Built on the site of a Slavic fort, its centre is filled with colourful Gothic, baroque and Renaissance buildings. There’s not a long list of must-see sights here – this is the place for a relaxed stroll and perhaps a mid-morning coffee in the sunshine.

Visit the Czech town of Litomerice on an Elbe river cruise


Meissen is famous for its ‘white gold’ porcelain, created from the vast clay deposits in the surrounding area and hand-painted with beautifully intricate patterns and designs. If you’re interested in the history of porcelain here, the porcelain factory and its museum is a great place to start. The town itself also has an interesting history – it’s often called the ‘cradle of Saxony’. Head to the historical district, at the foot of the castle hill, to admire Renaissance-style houses, the Gothic town hall and the 15th-century church tower.

Medieval Albrechtsburg Castle and the Gothic cathedral in Meissen, a town on the Elbe river, Germany


Often overlooked in favour of its neighbour, Berlin, Potsdam (a former Prussian royal seat) is a wonderful port of call as you cruise the River Elbe. Its star attraction is the Sanssouci Palace, once-time residence of Frederick the Great and Germany’s answer to Versailles. Its UNESCO-listed gardens are simply splendid, with flower-filled terraces, sculptures and fountains.

The Orangery Palace in the Sanssouci Park - Potsdam, Germany

Find out more about our Elbe river cruises.

Image of blog author Laura Weeden

Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.

Laura | About the author

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