The river Oder is one of Europe’s hidden gems, starting in the mountains of the Czech Republic and winding its way through Poland and Germany, before spilling out into the Baltic Sea. The Oder often lives in the shadows of the Rhine and Danube but is almost equally as beautiful and exciting – sailing past ports like the cities of Szczecin and Wroclaw. The Oder is also a sanctuary for bird life with largely unspoilt riverbanks and the odd glistening city. Cruises on the Oder usually start in Berlin, sailing on the Havel before joining the Oder in Poland and heading north to the Baltic Sea – covering the fascinating region of Pomerania.
Why cruise Oder
Less busy than other European heartlands river cruises, sailing on the Oder is a serene and memorable experience – particularly for those who’ve done the Rhine and its counterparts. Only a select few cruise lines offer sailings on the Oder, and many are usually combined with other waterways, starting in Berlin. CroisiEurope offers a sailing from Berlin to Copenhagen on the Oder, Havel River cruise and Baltic Sea, while Saga Cruises offers a specially charted Oder cruise on the Oder, Elbe and German Waterways on the Johannes Brahms. German cruise line Nicko Cruises offers a cruise on the Oder and Baltic Sea from Berlin.
Countries of the Oder River
Poland is located in central Europe and bordered by Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast and the Baltic Sea. Its position has led to a history rich in culture and heritage, home to wealthy port cities with charming old towns and castles and landscapes of bucolic villages, forests and lakes. World War II history lovers there’s nothing like it, as the country is scattered with museums and monuments dedicated to the struggles the country faced during Nazi occupation.
World trade leader turned EU powerhouse Germany is a feast for all types of travellers, boasting world-class cities, gorgeous rolling landscapes, a revered wine-making industry, museums, galleries – you name it. From its gritty capital of cool Berlin and the old-world charm of Munich and Hamburg to the villages and vineyards of the Rhine and Moselle, Germany is an all-round top cruise destination.
Ports of the Oder River
Szczecin is a port town in West Pomerania, a major seaport with a tumultuous history – growing rich from trade in the Baltic Sea, being ruled by the Dukes of Pomerania, Swedes and Prussians before facing destruction in World War II. Today the city is a mish mash of architecture having been rebuilt after the war, but visitors can still see Haussmann-style avenues, the grand Wały Chrobrego embankment and colourful 15th-century Old Town Hall (albeit restored) – housing the Historical Museum of Szczecin. Descend into the subterranean tunnels of the Cold War bunker, visit the futuristic Szczecin Philharmonic concert hall and wander the stunning elevated promenade of Wały Chrobrego, home to restaurants, bars, the National Museum and contemporary theatre.
The Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle
The grandest site in Szczecin is, without a doubt, the Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle, a vast blocky Renaissance/Mannerist structure looming over the banks of the West Oder. The edifice was once the seat of the Dukes of Pomerania, built in the mid 14th-century but sadly destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II. Today the castle has been heavily resorted and houses a Castle Museum – allowing you to get inside the castle and see the lives of the dukes – a cinema, restaurant and various temporary exhibitions and art displays around the castle. During summer it transforms into a concert and opera venue, hosting classic displays in the courtyard.
Island of Usedom
The Island of Usedom is a Baltic Sea island that divides Germany and Poland, the second largest Pomeranian Island and a stop on Oder river cruises combined with the Baltic Sea. The outcrop is akin to a seaside resort, known for its beaches, spa facilities – which date back to the German empire – small pine forests and charming seaside towns – reminiscent of Brighton in its heyday. On the German side, you can explore the towns of Ahlbeck, Heringsdorf and Bansin with their glamorous buildings and piers, but also visit the Peenemünde Historical Technical Museum housing World War II Missiles. Poland’s side offers a 19th-century lighthouse and the Museum of Sea Fishery.
Island of Wolin
Known for its nature trails, windswept forest-fringed beaches, steep cliffs of Góra Gasan and the Wolin National Park, the Polish Island of Wolin is a retreat from the stresses of everyday life. Along with just winding down and exploring the island’s superlative natural beauty – be it hiking in the national park or enjoying a beach walk. On the south-eastern tip of the island you can visit the namesake town of Wolin home to the fascinating Regional Museum focusing on the town’s history, or head north to Międzyzdroje – a resort town with a long pier, sandy beach and natural spa.
Elegant Wroclaw is the jewel of the Oder River, perched idyllically on the riverbank and sprawled over 12 islands and luscious parks linked by 130 bridges. Often described as a smaller version of Krakow, Wroclaw has elegant old buildings and townhouses, a magnificent market square (Rynek) with Gothic old town hall and modern fountain but is also a vibrant university metropolis and Poland’s fourth-largest city. Head to the old town for baroque gabled houses, spired churches and the Plac Solny flower market, or wonder at the Centennial Hall with its giant tiered dome. Wroclaw also has a verdant botanic garden, rococo royal palace and world-class zoo.
Unteres Odertal National Park
The Unteres Odertal, or Lower Oder Valley National Park, is a serene nature reserve sitting on the German-Polish border on the banks of the Oder. Stretching for 60km along the German and Polish riverbanks, the park is Germany’s only wetlands national park and a thriving biosphere for flora and fauna, including cranes, black storks, European otters and beavers and the submediterranean pubescent oak tree. Make sure to disembark the ship and get exploring, be it on a hike or bike ride to visit some of the magical attractions like the medieval Stolpe Castle or historical tobacco barns. Come in winter and you’ll catch a glimpse of 13,000 roosting.
The 13th-centruy Gothic monastery Chorin Abbey is a popular excursion on Oder river cruises, and one that certainly shouldn’t go a miss. Surrounded by the beautiful landscapes and lush parkland of the Schorfheide-Chorin biosphere preserve, the abbey is one of the greatest examples of Brick Gothic architecture to survive in the region, an imposing building with cloisters, halls and towers. The abbey is now open for tours and also hosts the annual Chorin Summer Music Festival, which attracts high-profile musicians and ensembled to perform in the monastery grounds. During the festival the abbey’s lawns are also packed with seats, making it the perfect spot for a picnic.
Stralsund is a fixture on most Oder river cruises which are combined with sailings to the Baltic Sea. A port town on Germany’s Baltic coast, Straslund was once the second-most important member of the Hanseatic League, and today visitors can see its old town with red-brick Gothic landmarks like the 13th century town hall. Aiming the square gabled buildings with turrets, portals and vaulted arches, there’s also the Straslund Museum – housed in a merchant’s house and monastery. Live history at the Gorch Fock I, a 1933 tall ship in the harbour, and experience modern Straslund in the world-famous Ozeaneum aquarium with a penguin pool and tanks recreating the Baltic and North seas.
Best things to do on the Oder
Enjoy a walking tour
Make sure to jump off the ship and enjoy a walking tour of the ports alongside the river, the most impressive being Szczecin and Wroclaw. Many aren’t too big, so a walking tour is the perfect way to see the sights.
Explore the Baltic Islands
Oder river cruises tend to travel westward to the Baltic islands of Rugen, Hiddensee, Usedom and Walin, so make sure to explore as many of these beautiful and entertaining islands as possible.
Try Polish food
The Oder runs through some great Polish cities, so skip your ship lunch and arrive hungry to sample some Polish delights. Make sure to dine on pierogi (Polish dumplings), golabki (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat) and potato pancakes.
Immerse yourself in history
Both side of the Oder, Germany and Poland’s Pomerania region, have a rich and fascinating history and many museums to prove it. Top museums include Gorch Fock I, the Historical Museum of Szczecin and the Straslund Museum.
The banks of the Oder are largely unspoiled and home to an amazing array of birdlife. Whether you’re jumping off to spot in a national park or trying your luck from the deck, you can see cranes, white-tailed eagles, lesser spotted eagle, osprey, white stork, black stork, eagle owls you name it.