River and Ocean Cruise Shore Excursions — Included and Optional
Should you take shore excursions on a Viking cruise?
Of course! During our three river cruises and one ocean cruise (so far), we’ve taken every opportunity to see the sights and have special cultural experiences when at port. The guided tours in each destination provided a good overview of key highlights in each city while still providing free time for our own sightseeing. On each cruise, Viking offered tours that are included in the cruise fare as well as many optional tours at an additional cost. Some passengers may like to just stay on the ship to relax and partake in onboard lectures and activities, but since Viking cruises are very destination-oriented, there is much to be discovered at each port.
Each of the included tours that we’ve taken has given us a great introduction to a place. On panoramic coach tours or in-town walking tours, our guides have provided insights on history, background, current events, and local culture. Panoramic tours will allow some time at landmarks and at vista points for photo opportunities. Most often, we’ve also had time to explore on your own before getting back on the coach to return to the ship.
We found the local Viking guides (on included and optional tours) to be fun, knowledgeable, and proud of their cities and/or regions. They are locals who know the destination and have insider perspectives that they can share. In our experiences, they’ve also had engaging personalities and senses of humor. Viking Cruises does a great job of running a smooth process and transporting everyone on their comfortable coaches to tour locations or on scenic drives.
Although taking only included tours can still make for a fulfilling cruise (in my opinion), you should consider optional cruises and make decisions about whether and which to take any based on your interests and budget. The groups are often smaller and the excursions typically focus on more in-depth experiences, including under-the-radar attractions, historical perspectives, and cultural immersion. Privileged access to sites is often provided, too. Some examples of the recreational, cultural, and culinary experiences include bike tours, small boat tours, hikes, wine tasting, cooking classes, concerts, and dance performances.
- After your cruise is booked, Viking’s “My Viking Journey” website will help you plan your agenda and you can always contact Viking service representatives by phone or online chat for assistance and advice.
- To get excursion inspiration, follow #MyVikingStory on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest to see photos and read what current cruisers are sharing as they take excursions. (Of course, don’t forget to check out more cruise-related articles on Traveling with Sweeney, too.)
- Duration of tours listed on the itinerary show the time the tour group leaves the ship to the time returned to the ship. This is helpful to know as you decide upon multiple tours per day.
- On the river cruises, if your excursion occurs during the planned lunch or dinner times, a meal will part of the tour. With so many options for open dining on the ocean cruise, we were able to fit in meals and snacks before, after, or in between excursions.
- The QuietVox audio devices supplied by Viking in the staterooms are very good for being able to follow along with your tour guides on your excursions. Don’t forget to charge them at night and bring them along for the tours.
Our favorite optional excursions
I’ve compiled below a few photos and excerpts from previous posts (with links for more information) about some of the optional excursions we particularly enjoyed. I hope they’ll give you some inspiration about selections you might consider on these or similar cruises. Specific tours may change by cruise season, so there may be different options on the current cruise itineraries.
Romantic Danube Cruise
Heurigen Evening in Vienna
An optional Viking excursion in Vienna, the “Heurigen Evening” provided a high-spirited authentic Viennese gemütlichkeit experience. A shuttle from the ship took our small group of five couples and our guides to the city’s 19th district where numerous vineyards are located with their wine taverns called Heurigen. The Heuriger became part of Austrian culture in the 18th century when Emperor Joseph II proclaimed that anyone who made their own wine could sell it to the public in their establishments. — Good Cheer and High Spirits in Vienna
Rhine Getaway Cruise
Medieval Village of Colmar
We’re so glad that we took an optional excursion into Colmar, France. Such a charming city center with colorful old buildings like these. There’s much World War II history to explore here, too. — A Rhine River Cruise Getaway
Alsatian Wine Tasting
During our Viking River Rhine Getaway cruise, we got a chance to experience some of the flavors and characteristics on both sides of the Rhine. A favorite activity for me was an Alsatian wine tasting excursion. It was our first visit to this area of France, and we were enthralled — even a little surprised — and even overcast weather did not darken the day or our enthusiasm. — Wine on the Rhine: A Taste of Alsace
Portugal’s River of Gold
Sailing along Northern Portugal’s Douro River was our very first river cruise experience and we were quickly convinced that this was a wonderful travel option.
Wine cellars and estates
The sweet grapes used to make authentic port wine, Portugal’s most famous export, are only grown in the Douro Valley. There are many styles of port, several of which we sampled at wine estates throughout the Douro region and on board the Hemming. — Cruising Portugal’s River of Gold: Our Favorite Things
The city of Guimarães in Northern Portugal was the country’s first capital and the birthplace of Portuguese national identity. The city center of Guimarães was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and there are many monuments and museums attesting to this history. But Guimarães also has a contemporary side with a thriving modern culture and economy. — Medieval Guimarães: Portugal’s First Capital
Viking Homelands (ocean cruise)
There were many choices of special experiences available during our cruise on the Baltic in Stockholm, Helsinki, Tallinn, Gdansk, and St. Petersburg. With two days to spend exploring St. Petersburg we decided to take advantage of several optional excursions in this amazing Russian city. Each of the optional excursions mentioned below (and other St. Petersburg activities) are described further in our article, Two Days in St. Petersburg: Russia’s Venice of the North.
St. Petersburg by Metro and on Foot
I’d heard about the St. Petersburg Metro System and looked forward to going on the “St. Petersburg by Metro and on Foot” excursion. We rode the Metro from Avtovo Station (considered by many to be one of the most beautiful stations in the world) to Nevksy Prospekt Station with transfers in between.
Russia’s Native Songs and Dances
St. Petersburg is a cultural capital and renowned for its famous musicians, dancers, and writers. The heritage of traditional folk music and dances is key to the culture and passed down through the generations. We enjoyed “Russia in Fairytales” performed at Youth House on Vasilyevsky Island (the performance venue varies) during the “Russia’s Native Songs and Dances” shore excursion.
St. Petersburg Canals, St. Isaac’s & Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood
St. Petersburg is nicknamed the “Venice of the North” for its rivers (the Fontanka, Moyka, and Neva), canals, and decorative bridges crossing them. In the summer, visitors can actually float on Venetian-style gondolas on the city’s canals. Our canal and river cruise excursion also included a visit to two stunning churches — the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood and St. Isaac’s Cathedral.
Pre- and post-cruise extensions
If you can extend your trip, either before or after the cruise, Viking has organized options. Thus far, our schedules haven’t allowed us to do that, but we always wish that we could. We’ve talked to many fellow passengers who expressed satisfaction in the extensions they had experienced.
Do you enjoy shore excursions when you cruise? Have a few favorites to share?
For more information about our Viking shore excursions: Mediterranean Odyssey cruise shore excursions
Disclosure: Viking Cruises has sponsored our wonderful cruise experiences, but our opinions and perspectives are totally our own — as always.
Wow! All of these tours sound wonderful! I’ve never sailed with Viking, but it sounds like they are experts at this. I’m hoping to do a Russia cruise with them in the next year or so. Can’t wait!
Thank you for your informative article! We are getting ready to go on the romantic Danube Cruise in October I found this information useful. And all of my searches though I have not been able to find out if when you are on a panoramic cruise in a particular town, are you able to get off the bus at any point and just go on your own and then join the boat later at the dock? Or are you required to stay with the tour for the entire time and then if you want to explore the city further, you would have to leave from the boat after the panoramic tour arrives back at the boat? Trying to save time by remaining in the city instead of having to go back to the boat with the tour and then retrace the steps to go back into the city. Thanks in advance.
Glad you found the article useful. I’ll try to answer your question based on my experiences. On the river cruises, the ship is often docked right in the heart of the cities where it may be possible to walk into/out of town (like we did in Passau and Regensburg) or in some cases where there may be shuttle buses throughout the day to return to the ship. There have been some instances (such as our time on the Romantic Danube cruise) in Vienna) where we took the included coach tour into the city center had a walking tour, and then we had a few hours to spend at the Christmas markets and have lunch before catching one of the shuttles to stay in the city center. Some people went back, some stayed in town. I think it’s a good idea to stay with the group for the whole tour and then your guide will be able to point out where to meet the shuttle (if there is one)or how to walk back to the ship, later. The Viking Daily (the program left in your stateroom each day) will have more info about what will be happening the following day (including info about shuttles). Check with Guest Service when on board to get the official information. Sorry I can’t be more precise, but it all depends on location, itinerary, back on board times, etc. Have a fantastic trip! Let us know about your experience.
I will be taking the Romantic Danube cruise from Regenburg to Budapest in October 2023 and I wanted to see in more detail the free excursions in Vienna and Budapest on where they stop and let you take pictures so I can then plan seeing the rest of the cities on my own and do not want to duplicate sights that we have just seen on the Viking tours. On the Viking sight they do not give you much detail.
Hi Bill — thanks for your comment. I’m sure you’ll love the Romantic Danube cruise. Our cruise was several years ago and specific excursion information may have changed. To the best of my recollection, in Budapest we did not have stops on the Pest side of the Danube on the included tour. We were docked right in the city, so that evening we were able to go out on our own to explore more. (I don’t know if that will be the same situation for you.) The included tour did stop on the Buda side and we had time to walk around the Castle District visiting St. Mathias church, Fisherman’s Bastion, etc. In Vienna, the included panoramic tour and walking tour, we walked around the city center by St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Hofburg Palace, etc. It was December and the Christmas markets were open and we were able to spend time on our own for a few hours for lunch and visiting the markets before meeting a shuttle to take us back to the ship. Once again, I don’t know if your itinerary will have that kind of time on your own built in or not.
Have you checked with Viking customer service to see if they can give you more information? I hope this has helped. Check back and let us know about your trip!
Catherine – Thank you for this information. I have been searching for information about the included excursions that Viking Ocean provides on its Athens to Rome Mediterranean cruises on their Saturn ship. We have booked a cruise for March 2023 and this is our first time with Viking. If you have any insights as to what the included excursions are for the ports of call on this cruise, please share them (Athens, Ephesus, Crete, Sicily, Naples, Rome). Thank you. Rob
Thanks for your comment, Roberta. I’m assuming that you are on the Journey to Antiquities cruise. Here’s a link to the itinerary on the Viking website. If you click on each day’s itinerary, you’ll see “included” tours as well as optional excursions. Have a great cruise!
I found your insights validating and helpful. My spouse and I are booked on the Viking Iconic Mediterranean Rome to Barcelona this summer. Honestly, I am disappointed in the included “overview excursions” and the optional excursions at such a cost. In particular Florence, Monaco and Barcelona. In both Rome and Florence, we are not booked in a city harbor as there are none. It appears that we will have to pay additional fees to arrange our own daytrip to sightsee IF we do not join the short free excursion or pay lots of money for a shore excursion. Had I known that we were not able to “hop to shore,” I probably would have chosen a river cruise. Any insight? Really feeling disappointed because Florence, Monaco and Barcelona are big destinations.
Thanks for your comment, Kris. I hope I can address your concern. I don’t know if you’ve visited any of these destinations before. Especially for first time visitors, the included tours are great introductions. But if you can budget for any optional excursions, you’ll find more immersive experiences. My thoughts about the places you mentioned (remember, these are totally my own options based on my experiences): Monaco (docked where you can “hop to shore” — the included walking tour of Monaco City is very nice and you can spend the afternoon on your own in Monte Carlo (easily reached from the dock – I just published an article about this https://www.travelingwithsweeney.com/what-to-do-shore-excursion-in-monaco/ . Although we’d previously been tno Barcelona it was many years ago and we were pleased to see the sights again and do some walking around Sagrada Familia, etc. The Florence day might be a good one to consider an optional excursion. We’d visited Florence before, so did the “Cooking in a Tuscan Castle” tour — loved it! You also might want to consider Lucca on your own — it’s closer to the port than Florence and it is a wonderful town — one of my favorites in Italy.
My prediction is that you are going to enjoy this trip no matter what excursions you choose. What we’ve found is that the introductions we get to some destinations are great for letting us know places to visit again sometime. I hope this has been helpful. Let us know about your experience!