The mighty Danube River is the longest river in the entire European Union. It runs through or forms a part of the border for 10 countries, originating in Germany's Black Forest and ending in the Ukraine where it flows into the Black Sea.
The river has a prime spot in European history and culture, dating back to its days as the northernmost boundary of Roman empire. It's also the inspiration of Austrian musician Johann Strauss' waltz 'The Blue Danube.' Its role as a trade route dating back to the medieval times led to the development of culturally unique and historically rich towns and cities all along the river banks. The attraction of these towns have made this route very popular with travelers and a great twist on the standard European cruise.
Overview of Cruise Lines
River cruising provides a unique experience that is distinct from a traditional cruise trip. Small river cruise boats provide quick access to interesting cities. There are no 'days at sea' between ports and endless stretch of ocean. On a river cruise, the view is always changing as the boat travels through small towns.
Because the ship must be smaller to navigate the river, that means fewer guests. A river cruise may hold a few hundred guests instead of a few thousand, as on a classic ocean liner. This is ideal for travelers looking for a more intimate experience.
Viking River Cruises Viking River Cruises offers a variety of cruises on the Danube. The Viking Danube ship has room for 150 guests while the Viking Legend carries 189 guests and offers 95 deluxe staterooms with either a French balcony or picture window. All of the ships have a sun deck which offers unbeatable views of the scenery. The shortest trip is 8 days, while longer tours include other European rivers and may last up to 16 days.
Avalon Waterways, part of the Globus travel family, offers a great starter cruise that is just 5 days long. More extensive trips incorporate the Black Sea and sail for 14 days. The special 'Christmastime on the Danube' cruises are particularly festive with a chance to experience the region's holiday's traditions. Travelers can visit classic Christmas markets in cities including Nuremberg, Regensburg and Vienna and sample traditional holiday food including warm spiced wine called Gluhwein and Lebkuchen, a classic German Christmas cookie.
Tauck Tours has 3 riverboats that tour the Danube. Each holds only 118 guests, making for a cozy cruise, and all cabins face outside for great views. Tauck is known for its thorough and informative tours and there is one tauck tour director for every 40 guests. These directors organize the itinerary and keep things running smoothly throughout the trip while relying on local tour guides at each stop to give an insider's look at the destinations.Ports
Cruises may set sail from points along the Danube in Austria, Germany or Hungary. Regardless of the direction the ship travels, the popular stops remain the same. Here's a selection of port cities you might visit traveling on a westbound Danube River cruise.
Budapest is often referred to the Queen of the Danube based on its prime location on the river. The river divides the city into 2 distinct sections -- Buda and Pest. The Pest side is known for its great architecture, including the opulent State Opera House. A visit to Buda is not complete without a climb up Castle Hill overlooking the river below. Back onboard, cruisers can get a great view of the city's Parliament Building and Chain Bridge, particularly romantic at night when aglow with twinkling lights.
Bratislava is Slovakia's national capital, bordering Austria and Hungary. The town is home to several Baroque palaces as well as the Opera House, Slovak Philharmonic Hall and the gothic St. Martin's Cathedral. Visit a cafe in the Old Town district to sample some local pastries.
The best introduction to Vienna's architecture and culture can be found on a ride around the Ringstrasse, the circular road that encompasses the city center. This capital city has a strong musical heritage as the one-time home of great composers including Schubert, Johann Strauss, Beethoven and Mozart. This musical tradition continues today with the Opera House as well as the famed Vienna Boys' Choir. The city's imperial architecture stands out including the winter palace at the Hofburg and the grand summer estate at Schonbrunn Palace just outside of the city.
Austria's Wachau Valley is home to charming small towns. Melk's restored Benedictine Abbey, was first established as a fortified abbey in the 11th century. It was damaged during the Reformation and restored in the 18th century to become the stunning Baroque masterpiece it is today. The abbey church features gilded statues, plenty of windows and interesting frescoes.
Durnstein history dates back to the 12th century, when Richard the Lionhearted was held here for ransom during the crusades. Explore the town's architectural gems, like the blue and white tower at the Durnstein monastery or slip into a cafe for a glass of locally produced wine.
Passau sits at the junction of 3 rivers in Germany -- the Danube, Inn and Ilz Rivers. With nearly 100 churches in this tiny town it may be hard to settle on an itinerary for a short visit. The ornate St. Stephen's Cathedral is the one not to be missed with its 17,000 pipe-organ, the largest church organ in Europe.
Regensburg is the oldest town situated on the Danube with roots dating back a Celtic settlement around 500 B.C. The town's stunning Gothic architecture survived World War II and provides a glimpse into the town's storied past. The Stone Bridge has been transporting people for more than 800 years while the town's many churches are a testament to its importance in the history of Christianity. Even in a town filled with cathedrals, St. Peter's stands out for its stained-glass windows, interesting sculptures and towering spires.
Riverboats can travel through the Main-Danube Canal to reach Nuremberg. Visitors can learn more about the city's role in World War II at the former Nazi parade grounds and the site of the Nuremberg Trials at the Palace of Justice. Other tourist spots around the city include the walled Old City and the fountain at the Main Market Square
Extend Your Trip
Many tour operators offer the opportunity to extend the trip on land with stops in nearby cities. Prague is often a popular tour extension as well as Munich and Oberammergau, the site of the Passion Play every 10 years.