A river cruise is the ideal way to explore Europe and the Danube is one of the most beautiful rivers on the continent. I have created this guide to help you find the Danube River Cruise that is right for you!
- Imagine visiting multiple locations on one journey but only unpacking once.
- Imagine traveling in a floating boutique hotel right to the heart of some of the world’s most romantic and historic destinations.
- Imagine experiencing this with the people you love most from the vantage point of a beautiful cabin with floor-to-ceiling views of fairy-tale countrysides.
The River Cruise Experience
A Danube River cruise brings you to the heart of Central Europe. You dock right in the middle of the destination and walk right off the ship to the center of town.
Your excursions will take you to castles and cathedrals, breweries and wineries, and everywhere in between. Many of the ships have bicycles ready for you to use in your explorations. Or you can simply wander the city, town or village at your leisure.
In order to navigate these waters, the ships need to be small in size: they hold no more than 150- 200 passengers. So every aspect of your experience – the service, the dining, the tours – is personal. No waiting for the buffet, no lining up for excursions.
Finally, river cruises are all-inclusive. This means that almost every part of your cruise, from your food and drink to your excursions and other activities, is included in the price, leaving you free to relax and enjoy your vacation.
The Danube River – an overview
The Danube River stretches for 1,770 miles across central and southeastern Europe, crossing the borders of ten countries along the way. The Danube has been integral to the development of this entire region; as a result, this gorgeous river now offers travelers unparalleled access to the storied histories and unique cultures found in this part of the world.
The Danube flows east from the Black Forest in Germany until it reaches the Black Sea. Because the Danube is so long (the second longest river in Europe!), river cruises sail either the western section, known as the “Upper Danube”, or the eastern section, the “Lower Danube.” If this isn’t enough of a trip for you, you can also combine the two journeys and sail the entire river!
Whichever part of the Danube you choose to travel, you will have the opportunity to visit both large cities and small villages, to enjoy a diverse array of food and libations, and to immerse yourself in stunning landscapes.
Highlights of the Upper Danube
Travelers on the Upper Danube will pass through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, and many of these cruises either begin or end in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. This portion of the river also bisects two other capital cities – Vienna, Austria, and Bratislava, Slovakia – as well as passing through countless other charming European hamlets. Because the Upper Danube has so many great locales along its shores, stopping everywhere is all but impossible. Whichever cities and towns your river cruise does visit, you will have the opportunity to experience both history and modernity from a unique vantage point.
Passau – This town, which dates back to the year 739, is located in Germany just over the border from Austria and is home to the confluence of the Danube, Inn, and Ilz rivers. This has made it a cultural and trade hub over the centuries. While you are here be sure to stop by St. Stephan’s Cathedral, a Baroque structure where visitors can view the largest church organ in Europe; and then spend some time wandering the narrow streets filled with colorful patrician homes.
Vienna – The capital city of Austria has long been a seat of art and culture on the European continent. To the joy of modern-day visitors, the Baroque architecture of this city largely remains intact, allowing those who wander the streets to feel as if they have been transported back in time. In particular, the Opera House, Hofburg Palace, and St. Stephan’s Cathedral are architectural wonders that should not be missed. Vienna is also home to an art history museum filled with world-famous paintings, and, as the birthplace of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and many other ground-breaking composers, Vienna has an incredible classical music scene.
Budapest – The region where Budapest sits has been occupied since prehistoric times, while the city itself traces its roots to the Roman Empire. As the modern-day cultural and economic center of Hungary, this capital city is a charming mix of old and new. The city is divided into two sections, Buda and Pest, located on opposite sides of the Danube and connected by a series of bridges – which you will be able to appreciate from your vantage point on the water! Other must-see locations in Budapest include Heroes’ Square, the Great Synagogue, and the National Opera House. Finally, a trip to this city is not complete without a visit to a thermal bathhouse.
Highlights of the Lower Danube
The Lower Danube is the less traveled portion of this majestic waterway, which makes for a quieter, more secluded voyage. Most Lower Danube cruises begin in Hungary and then pass through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania, all countries that have only been open to travel since 1991 when they came out from behind the Iron Curtain. Along with getting to experience the cities and towns along this portion of the river, a big draw of the Lower Danube is the incredible natural features of the landscape there.
Belgrade – The tumultuous past of the Eastern Bloc can be acutely felt within Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia. Archeological evidence points to stone-age settlements in this region, and the conjunction of different time periods is unmistakable. A tour through Belgrade offers relics of the Soviet Union, the Habsburg Monarchy, and the Ottoman Empire, all juxtaposed against modern art and social movements. Among the many diverse attractions found here is the Belgrade Fortress, which dates back to Celtic times, Mt. Avala, and the Royal Palace of the Karadordevic family.
The Iron Gates – One of the most awe-inspiring moments of any Lower Danube cruise is getting to pass through the Iron Gates, an almost 90-mile series of gorges with cliffs 130 feet high. These gorges form a natural barrier between Serbia and Romania and are home to a national park on both sides. On your river cruise, you may want to explore Golubac fortress, a 14th-century fortified town, before continuing downstream. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled during this journey for historic sites like the stone head of King Decebalus and Trajan’s Plaque.
Vidin – This quiet Bulgarian town is chock-full of history and charm. Originally a Celtic settlement, much of its ancient architecture remains intact. Most famous among these buildings is the Baba Vida fortress, which was built during the 10th century and remained in use under the Ottoman Empire all the way into the 18th century. Along with the chance to experience these incredible ruins, Vidin is the entry point for seeing the Belogradchik limestone and sandstone rock formations, which are towers of reddish rock that protrude up to 1,000 feet into the sky.
Choosing Your Danube River Cruise!
Now that you know more about what you will see and do on your Danube River cruise, it’s time to find the cruise that’s right for you!
Have you decided between an Upper Danube or Lower Danube Cruise? Or maybe you want to combine them into a longer journey? Whichever portions of this mighty river you decide to travel there are some other things to consider as you choose your Danube River Cruise.
When do you want to go?
One of the first things you need to decide is when you want to travel. You can take a River Cruise on the Danube from mid-March through the end of the year, and every season brings its own delights.
Holiday sailings are particularly special – you will visit some of Europe’s most delightful Christmas Markets, and enjoy Europe during the most festive season of the year!
How Long of a Cruise?
Most Danube River Cruises sailings last 7 nights, but there are a few that are shorter (4 or 5 nights), and some that are longer (9 or 10 nights). If you want to combine the Upper and Lower Danube, those cruises are a minimum of 14 nights.
Special Interest Cruises
Do you love wine or are you obsessed with beer? Or perhaps you’re a history buff? Or would you like a River Cruise that incorporates your favorite outdoor activity such as biking, hiking, or golf?
There are many options for special cruises that focus on your interests and passions no matter what they may be! Let me know if you would be interested in more information.
Pre- and Post-Cruise Options
You can extend your vacation on either end of your River Cruise by adding a pre- or post-cruise land extension. Budapest, Prague, Istanbul, and Transylvania are just a few of the destinations you can explore before or after your cruise.
Which River Cruise Company?
You will want to pick the River Cruise company that fits your style. Some ships are more ornate, some more modern; some have more inclusions up front and some give you more a la carte choices; and some are better options for families, couples, or singles. Tell me about yourself and I can help you make this important choice.
As a River Cruise expert, I will help you sort through all the different options and find the perfect Danube River Cruise for you! Reach out to me and let’s start planning!