The blue Danube, which flows for nearly 1,800 miles across ten countries, is one of Europe’s most romantic, enchanting waterways. With a variety of Danube River cruise lines offering a wide range of itineraries, how do you decide which is best for you? Stride helps you waltz through the entire process of comparing, choosing and booking the perfect Danube cruise to fulfill your fantasies.
For much of the Roman era and, later, the Ottoman Empire, the Danube River marked the northern border of their conquests. For the Greek historian Herodotus, the Danube was the “King of European Rivers.” For medieval tradesmen, the Danube was a vital lifeline linking otherwise isolated villages. For Viennese composer Johann Strauss II, the river offered inspiration for his Blue Danube Waltz, one of the most beloved pieces of 19th-century classical music.
For modern-day travelers, the Danube is known as one of the top river cruising destinations in the world. Stretching from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, a distance of 1,777 miles, the Danube is second in length only to Russia’s Volga among European rivers. But its allure as a romantic waterway ranks second to none.
A Danube River Cruise
By far the most relaxing and intimate way to view the Danube is by a river cruise. The key is to find a Danube river cruise that meets – or, ideally, surpasses – your expectations. Since Danube River cruising is so heavily oriented toward port stops – with sightseeing offered frequently along the routes – it’s crucial to decide which of its diverse regions you want to visit.
The popular Nuremberg to Budapest itinerary will entice you with the grandeur of Vienna – the jewel of Austria’s once-powerful Habsburg Empire -- and the beauty of Budapest, where the Danube slices through the heart of the city. Medieval-era towns – some still perfectly preserved – also adorn this route. The 12th-century-era village of Dȕrnstein in Austria’s Wachau Valley – where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned during the Crusades – and the nearby town of Melk, home to a restored 11th-century Benedictine Abbey, are two superb examples.
Sailing the Danube in Far Eastern Europe
But don’t overlook the possibility of exploring deeper into Eastern Europe. Beyond Hungary, the Danube flows through or past Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Ukraine, before emptying into the Black Sea. The Danube’s Iron Gate, a series of narrow, steep gorges bordering Serbia and Romania, rivals Austria’s Wachau Valley for sheer scenic glory.
It’s also possible to explore a number of less-traveled small towns as well as big cities – including Belgrade and Bucharest in this emerging region of Europe. (Since Eastern Europe is now experiencing rapid development, it’s a good idea to visit now.)
Cities along the Danube River
As one of the longest rivers in Europe, The Danube flows by some truly incredible cities and towns. Because of this, you can expect a lot of variety when it comes to routes, port calls, and excursions. You’ll be sure to find the right Danube cruise itinerary for you interests; though a love of European history is fairly common among those who choose Danube river cruises.
1. Budapest - Almost every Danube river cruise stops in Budapest. This city is a delightful hodgepodge of edgy youthful bars, classic museums, active outdoor options, historical sites, and family friendly activities. Don’t miss Great Market Hall, especially if you’re shopping for gifts and souvenirs, and many shore excursions will include Gellert Hill - a short but very uphill walk - for wonderful panoramic views over the city.
2. Vienna - Beautiful Vienna has everything you could be looking for from a classic Western European city. With buildings awash in white and gold, palaces, parks and tree-lined cobblestoned streets, and known for opera, theater, and classical music, Vienna is like a fairytale. Danube river cruise excursions in Vienna may often include concerts.
3. Bratislava - Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava presents visitors with a unique culture and history. On the Danube’s banks, between Austria and Hungary, this relatively new capital (Slovakia became a country in 1993) is a unique amalgam of ancient and modern influence. Port stops in Bratislava usually last about a half day - the cities main attractions are easy to see in that amount of time.
4. Belgrade - Serbia’s capital, Belgrade is an ancient city with a lively nightlife, edgy art scene, and many unique historical sites. Belgrade may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it sure is an unforgettable destination.
5. Ulm - Highest church steeple in the world? Check. Ulm is a small, quirky city in Bavaria, right on the banks of the Danube. The steeple is available to climb, and if your legs can stand it, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views! Aside from the church, you can wander the parks or enjoy a leisurely afternoon taking in the picturesque river from a cafe.
Choosing Your Danube River Cruise Line
Equally important is to choose among the variety of Danube river cruise lines, each with its own style and appeal. Among the top choices, Viking River Cruises features the most ships and caters to English-speaking passengers age 55 and up; Scenic Cruises, Tauck, and Uniworld trumpet luxury, exceptional service and all-inclusive rates; AMA Waterways and Avalon Waterways are more budget-oriented but offer a wide range of itineraries, including Christmas market cruises; and Grand Circle, popular with American retirees, has a reputation for its excellent guides and shore excursions.
But there’s no reason to be daunted by the array of possibilities. Instead, relax and let Stride do the heavy lifting for you: we’ve laid it all out here for you to comparison shop for the Danube river tour of your dreams -- the one that will soon have you waltzing down the Danube to your own special rhythms.
Find more useful tips in our blog post "Top Ten Tips for Choosing a European Cruise Line."