Destination Danube: regions, cities and towns

Europe’s only large river, the Danube, flows from west to east – towards the sunrise. On the return leg, you’ll see the landscape in a whole new light as you glide towards the setting sun. You’re sure to notice the difference between day and night in the buzzing metropolises of Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava. Join us as we cruise along the ‘Queen of Europe’s rivers’.

PICTURE GALLERY

Natural wonders and man-made marvels – all connected by the blue Queen of Europe’s rivers.

Highlights on the Danube

Passau

The ‘Venice of Bavaria’ was long considered a sleepy little backwater. But thanks to its student population – and the Main-Danube Canal – Passau is now an up-and-coming, thriving little city. One of its highlights is Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, with its impressive nave. This is one of the largest baroque cathedrals north of the Alps.

Wachau

Wachau

Around 80 kilometres west of Vienna is the Wachau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This valley is lined with steep slopes on which some of Europe’s best grape varieties grow. In the midst of all this, you’ll keep spotting castles, palaces and Romantic ruins on the hills, which bear witness to a distant past. With such an enchanted landscape, it’s not surprising that there are many legends about the Wachau, dealing with both mythical phenomena and real-life events, including the Napoleonic Wars. Authors such as Josef Wichner and Hans Plöckinger published collections of these legends – the ideal thing to read while you are visiting the area.

Bratislava

Bratislava

Slovakia’s capital is situated exactly at the point where the country meets Austria and Hungary. This makes it the only capital city in the world that borders more than one neighbouring country. Due to its location, Bratislava has been an ethnic melting pot since ancient times. This influence can be seen in every corner of the city. Cultures meet and merge together. The streets of the old town – lined with well-preserved baroque and rococo city palaces – are filled with the sound of people speaking different languages. And it almost seems as though the music of the Habsburg era still echoes through the city.

Citytrips to Bratislava
Cataracts

Cataracts

If you let your gaze wander above the ship’s rail as you cruise along this stretch of the river, the scenery might remind you of the Norwegian fjords. Steep rock faces covered in vegetation rise up on both sides. The water beneath you is a deep blue, and new picture-postcard scenes await you around every river bend – such as the views of the Iron Gates.

With one of the most imposing strings of gorges in Europe, this used to be considered the most dangerous section of the Danube, and only those who were accompanied by local guides were allowed to pass through. The construction of a hydropower plant in 1972 made these waters much safer, however, and now there is no need to worry when you sail through the majestic landscape. Just relax and enjoy this impressive natural spectacle in the heart of Romania.

Bucharest

Bucharest

A metropolis on the Eurasian Steppe and the capital city of Romania, Bucharest has its own unique sense of humour. Its citizens are typically quick-witted, sharp-tongued and self-deprecating. In visual terms, Bucharest is characterised by contradictions. There is an exclusive residential district to the north of the city, while in the centre you will find a lively mix of architectural styles, intersected by four well-maintained boulevards. In addition, Bucharest is home to the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra. To experience the orchestra live, fans can attend one of the popular concerts at the Ateneul Roman (Romanian Athenaeum), a magnificent building from 1885. A further highlight is the splendid Palatul Regal (Royal Palace). This building, which used to be home to kings, now houses part of the National Museum of Art of Romania.

Citytrips to Bukarest
The Danube Loop

The Danube Loop

As we approach the spot where the Danube’s most striking bend begins, things usually quieten down a little on our ships. That’s because the 180-degree curve inspires a feeling of awe among our guests – one that’s intense enough to leave some of them speechless. The Danube Loop between Passau and Linz, one of the loveliest, wildest and most unspoilt stretches of the Danube, was named a ‘Natural Wonder of Austria‘ in 2008 – with good reason.

Krems

The 1,000-year-old city of Krems lies at the end of the Wachau valley. With its medieval buildings and the Steiner Tor – a city gate and popular landmark – it’s a lovely place for a leisurely stroll. Its historic monuments include the Bürgerspitalkirche, a church built in 1470 under Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor. It has a high altar, which was created by Johann Bernhard Grabenberger between 1860 and 1882. Further sites of interest include the Kunsthalle Krems – a museum which focuses on contemporary art – and the Caricature Museum Krems. At the latter, regular special exhibitions as well as permanent exhibitions by the artists Manfred Deix and Gustav Peichl are sure to put a smile on your face.

Esztergom

Esztergom

This former royal seat is the cradle of the Hungarian nation – and a very attractive one at that. The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and Saint Adalbert, a neoclassical basilica that stands high above the city, is particularly worth visiting. Esztergom can look back on a long history. Celts settled on the prominent Várhegy (Castle Hill) back in 150 BCE. The Romans also built a settlement there after conquering the region. At one point, the city was part of the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers also recognised the value of its strategic location right on the Danube. All of these influences are still apparent in Esztergom today – and they are what makes it so special.

Belgrade

Belgrade

The meeting point of Central Europe and the Middle East is situated where the Sava flows into the Danube. This gateway to the Balkans is open, cosmopolitan and full of fun. By simply strolling through the city, you can travel back through the history of Belgrade, admire its architecture and encounter European modernism. And while you discover culinary specialties on every corner, your eye will be drawn to the magnificent influences of the Ottoman Empire, which gives way to socialist classicism on the next corner. Every visitor ends up in Belgrade’s medieval fortress sooner or later, which features moats and a beautiful park. It’s time for a little break.

Citytrips to Belgrade
Danube Delta

Danube Delta

At this point, the Danube has already passed through ten countries and left its fascinating mark on each region. But, as you’ll see, it has saved the best for last and is now preparing for its grand finale: the Danube Delta. This biosphere reserve is home to Europe’s largest pelican colony. What’s more, around 5,200 other animal and plant species have been catalogued there – with the figure set to increase. The Danube Delta has a continental climate, so it gets little rain and a lot of sun. The area is sure to turn you into a nature lover – if you aren’t one already.

Danube Delta River Cruises

Linz

Baroque facades, numerous churches and, at the centre, the river. As you can see, it’s possible to describe Linz, Austria’s largest port city, in a single sentence. But that would be doing it an injustice, since there’s a whole lot more to Linz than buildings and water. In recent years, this former industrial hub has morphed into a European cultural stronghold. No matter whether it’s theatre, cinema, art or music, there’s both great demand and great support for culture here. The city also provides magnificent views – particularly in the evening – from the pilgrimage church on the Pöstlingberg hill.

Vienna

Vienna

The Viennese have a special aura about them. They come across as a bit arrogant, but underneath it all they’re warm-hearted. You could say the same about the city itself. Once you’ve been there a few hours and settled in, you won’t want to leave again anytime soon. There are all those cafes to visit, where the traditional Viennese coffee-house culture is still very much alive and well. The city’s history, with its emperors, Elisabeth of Austria and the ostentatious Habsburgs, adds to its fascination. Then there’s the music of the First Viennese School – this city brought out the best in its composers, making its own special contribution to great masterpieces. What’s more, the Austrian capital also produces excellent cuisine. It’s no coincidence that the city’s famous Wiener schnitzel and Sachertorte became popular all around the world.

Citytrips to Vienna
Budapest

Budapest

On one bank of the Danube is hilly Buda with its Fisherman’s Bastion and Castle Hill; on the other, there’s flat Pest with its House of Parliament. These two beautiful districts couldn’t be more different. Perhaps that’s why it took until 1873 for the two cities on opposite sides of the river to merge and form Budapest. Right from the start, the landmark of this new metropolis was Buda Castle, a monumental structure that rises high above Budapest and provides mesmerising views across the city.

In terms of monumental grandeur, the House of Parliament is certainly on a par with Buda Castle. Erected to mark the millennium celebrations of 1896, this gigantic building was completed in just 22 years. Considering it is 96 metres high, 268 metres long and 118 meters wide, with a total of 691 rooms, that’s an incredible achievement. Budapest is a place where you keep coming across echoes from days gone by. There are traces of Ottoman rule, the extravagant Habsburg era and Soviet socialism – different cultural influences that have combined to create a vibrant, lively city that’s a must-see destination.

Citytrips to Budapest
Ruse

Ruse

Ruse used to be called the ‘gateway to the world’. In the past, travelling merchants would stop here on their way to Constantinople. Different cultures met and had lively exchanges. The city has maintained its multicultural openness and is still seen as the most diverse of Bulgaria’s major cities.