They called it the Albis, which became the Elbe to the Germans and the Labe to the Czechs. Its source is located high in the Czech Republic's Krkonose Mountains, and it flows 724 miles northwest through Germany to meet the North Sea at Cuxhaven, north of Hamburg.
From Dresden to Hamburg, the river passes through the verdant vineyards of Saxony and the beautiful Sandstone Mountains, known locally as the Saxon Alps. A cruise along the Elbe provides a cultural tour of Germany and Eastern Europe, taking in some of the region's loveliest scenery and most fascinating cities.
Most river voyages run between Prague, the fairy tale capital of the Czech Republic, and Hamburg. Prague is linked to the Elbe by the Moldova River (also known as the Vltava), while beyond Hamburg, at the seaward end of the Elbe's flow, you'll find the famous Kiel Canal - which links the North Sea and Baltic Sea - and the Oder River (famed for its rich bird life), which allows access via the Havel River to Berlin.
Other notable towns and cities along the river's banks include Dresden, Meissen (known for its delicate porcelain), Worlitz (home to magnificent castles and gardens), Wittenberg (where Martin Luther began his Reformation) and Magdeburg, with its atmospheric Gothic Cathedral.
With so much to explore, the Elbe is burgeoning in popularity as a river cruise destination. But it is likely to remain a relatively uncommercialized river because it is shallow and narrow in parts, with low bridges. Therefore, the types of riverboats able to navigate it are limited - thankfully, you might say.
Elbe River Cruise Lines
Operators of Elbe river cruises include Viking River Cruises, Noble Caledonia, The River Cruise Line, Riviera Travel, Saga, Titan Travel, Grand Circle Cruise Line and CroisiEurope, which plans to offer year-round Elbe cruises beginning in spring 2016, when it introduces its new 80-passenger paddle steamer Elbe Princesse. The steamer, adapted to cope with shallow waters and fluctuating river levels, will operate Elbe cruises between Berlin and Prague.
Choosing an Elbe River Cruise Itinerary
Most cruises start in Hamburg or Berlin and end in or near Prague (or vice versa). Cruises starting from Berlin sometimes originate at Potsdam to bypass part of the Havel-Oder's complex lock system. If this is the case, your operator will arrange for you to travel from Berlin to Potsdam by coach.
Seven-day cruises. A classic seven-day "Elegant Elbe" sailing visits the German destinations of Magdeburg, Dessau, Wittenberg, Torgau, Meissen, Dresden and Bad Schandau, enters the Czech Republic to call at Litomerice and ends at Melnik or Usti nad Labem (for Prague) or at Prague itself.