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Elbe River Steamboat Cruises

An afternoon on a vintage paddlewheeler of Dresden's Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt (Saxon Steamship Co.)

From: Dresden, Germany

PD Diesbar

ABOVE: Passengers enjoy an afternoon trip on the PD Diesbar, a paddlewheel steamship built in 1884. INSET BELOW: A paddle steamer departs from the Terrassenufer in Dresden.

Dresden, Germany is divided by the Elbe, a river that runs from the mountains of the Czech Republic to Hamburg and the Baltic in Germany. Much of the river is navigable, and the stretch from Dresden to Prague (via Děčín) has long been popular for day trips and multi-night river cruises.

Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt, a.k.a. the Saxon Steamship Company, has been cruising the Elbe since 1836, when a dozen citizens of Dresden obtained a royal privilege for steamboat navigation in Saxony.

Dresden TerrassenuferThe company, which has changed names several times, has the largest fleet of vintage paddlewheel steamers in Europe, along with two modern motor cruisers. Seven of its nine historic steamboats, including the Personen Dampfschiff Diesbar (featured in this article) were built in the 19th Century.

The Saxon Steamship Company offers a wide range of excursions between Seusslitz (near the porcelain town of Meissen) and Bad Schandau near the Czech border. The shortest, simplest tours are the roundtrip river excursion without stops (90 minutes) and the Dresden Bridges Tour (3 hours).

Other options include point-to-point tickets between towns or a day ticket that allows unlimited travel on the river. The company's ships visit 14 ports along the Elbe, so you can easily spend a day exploring the region by paddle steamer.

Theme cruises, such as "Jazz & Dixieland" sightseeing and brunch outings or the weekly "Summer Night Cruise with buffet and dance," are also available.

Atmosphere: Relaxed, informal, and cheerful, with happy passengers and good-natured staff.

Food and drink: A snack bar sells snacks and drinks during sightseeing voyages. (Your fellow cruisers are likely to be German, for the most part, so you'll see plenty of beer being consumed by young, middle-aged, and elderly passengers.)

For more information, including timetables and ticket prices, visit the Sächsische Dampfschiffahrt Web site.

Finally, to view captioned snapshots from a 90-minute sightseeing cruise aboard the PD Diesbar, go to page 2 of this article.

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Inset photo copyright © DWT/Christoph Münch.

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