The 24/7 scenery, gentle waters and variety of sights and regions that a river cruise can offer make it an attractive way to travel. The Danube River, aka ‘the river of kings’, flows through some of the most beautiful places in Europe, and a cruise down its stream will see you port at a range of idyllic destinations. There are several cities along the Danube that are among the top places to visit in the world, and the small villages and towns in between are incredibly charming too. Have your camera at the ready when you dock in one of the 8 ports below.
Many German river cruises start in Passau, a city on the border of Austria with Baroque architecture lining its narrow peninsula, at the tip of which the waters of the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz converge (a phenomenon worth checking out). As well as being a popular jumping off point for a Danube river cruise, come here to see the heritage landmarks, the museums and galleries, and enjoy the Bavarian beer gardens and cafes.
Float upstream from Passau to Regensburg, the Danube River’s oldest city. Wander the cobbled streets and get lost in their historical beauty – the medieval old town and the 12th-century stone bridge that links it to the rest of Regensburg are UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed. Once you’ve had enough of wearing down the pavement, rest your feet a while at a quaint coffee shop or bar by the water or in one of the town squares.
Cross the border into Von Trapp country, to where it all begins in Linz. If you’ve had your fill of castles and cathedrals, here, there are some more contemporary highlights to sight, including one of Austria’s most important collections of modern art, a fascinating ‘museum of the future’ (which is on the river and glows with a range of coloured lights at night), and the large-scale graffiti works of Mural Harbour. If you have more time to explore, catch a tram at a thrilling angle up Postlingberg hill to see the city from up high.
The Wachau Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage area of Austria, and at its edge is Melk, one of the Danube River’s prettiest villages. The first attraction you’ll note is the majestic Melk Abbey overlooking the river and valley. The peaceful town below boasts narrow streets lined with pastel-coloured buildings, and cute cafes and bars serving simple, rustic fare.
Sailing into the Wachau Valley, the beautiful blue, white and gold belltower of Durnstein Abbey Church comes into view against the forested mountains, and it’s one of the river’s most striking sights. Durnstein is a place that attracts wine lovers eager to explore the sweeping vineyard surrounds, and others merely charmed by this sleepy, darling town. Crane your neck towards the ruins of a fairytale castle set on a rocky outcrop high above the village, which was believed to be the prison of King Richard the Lionheart in 1192. Before you go, be sure to track down some apricot brandy, a local delicacy.
The crown jewel of any tour of the Danube, here is a city where fabulous palaces, opulent opera houses, decadent dining, and rich history collide. By day, hang out at traditional coffee houses enjoying Viennese treats such as strudels and tortes, and at night, visit incredible venues that pay homage to the musical greats of this grand city – Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler to name just a few.
Slovakia’s capital is often a destination on a Danube River cruise and an intriguing one at that. Just a hop and a skip from the Austrian border, a port in Bratislava promises all the palatial buildings and lush landscapes of your previous stops, plus a hedonistic nightlife ranging from lively beer halls to secret bars. If that’s not your speed, roving around the pretty city squares, Renaissance-style castles and neo-Gothic cathedrals, stopping at chic cafes along the way, is plenty satisfying.
Budapest will make a marvellous end (or starting point) to your travels along the Danube. The hilly countryside and romantic architecture sure are endearing, but the city truly comes to life at night when its buildings and bridges illuminate above the water. Some of the best things to do in Budapest are to browse the vibrant markets, hop between the 100-plus hot springs and baths, visit the medieval quarter, and drink cheap beers in ruin bars.