Although only Europe’s second longest river, the Danube is one of the more significant bodies of water on the continent. The river rises in Germany and empties out into the Black Sea, crossing most of Europe in the process. It links together important cities like Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade, and passes through 10 countries. For this reason, cruises along the river have been popular for some time, becoming especially alluring after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
The types of cruise available vary widely, from trips along almost the entire length of the river over the course of a fortnight, to shorter, hours-long or day trips. Prices and formats also come in many a shape and form, with some river cruises opting for a laid-back vibe, while others set the waters pumping with parties and music. Here are seven of the best Danube river cruises available.
FROM: €2,677/per person
Cruises don’t have to be taken on the open ocean, they can cut right through the heart of a continent too. On this eight-day Danube cruise, in which all meals and accommodation are provided, passengers visit all the major points along the river between Budapest in Hungary and Passau in Germany. Stops at UNESCO World Heritage sites are included and an English-speaking guide is provided at each, along with guided walks or bicycles to use free of charge. Of the many stops along the way, Bratislava and Vienna city tours, plus the full day in Salzburg are some of the more memorable experiences.
From €945/ per person
A cheaper alternative to the above tour is the Beautiful Blue Danube cruise, which starts in Passau and ends in Budapest, plying the route in six days. This price does not include shore excursions, however city tours are available. With the tour company being French though, most of these are directed at French speakers. Therefore this cruise is ideal for those who prefer to take a self-guided tour of the city. Hosts and hostesses on-board the cruise are multi-lingual however. Included in the price is on-board accommodation and entertainment, and all meals with some drinks. Riverboats are modern and have a large lounge area and elevators between decks.
From €274/ per person
Nature-lovers tend to flock to the mouth of the river, where it spreads out into a dense network of tributaries and waterways before entering the Black Sea. Here at the Danube Delta, wildlife and birdlife are abundant, with the latter being present everywhere in the form of eagles, cormorants, pelicans and egrets. This three-night, four-day tour starting in Romania’s Tulcea takes passengers out onto the water in small boats to explore the delta. Accommodation is in a modest pension in a fishing village, while dinner utilises freshly caught fish from the surrounding waters.
From €319/ per person
Combining some overland exploration with a return journey boat trip to Budapest, this Danube Bend tour explores the forested National Park hills around the river. Visiting some of Hungary’s most historic towns, like the religious centre of Esztergom and the medieval town of Visegrád, the tour then ends up at the “city of painters,” aka Szentendre, which has Serbian roots and quaint old streets. Dinner is provided (included in the price) at a local restaurant before boarding a boat which takes guests back to Budapest on a 1.5-hour cruise.
From €51/ per person
At roughly 65km (40 miles) apart, these two capital cities are major destinations along the Danube. The cruise begins and ends in Vienna, passing major landmarks, like the Millennium Tower, along the way. Roughly four hours will be allowed in Bratislava where passengers can disembark and explore the Slovakian capital city. Breakfast, a buffet lunch and a four-course dinner are all provided on-board. Guides are present on the boats, but do not always speak English (mostly German), so this is something to bear in mind for anybody wishing to take a guided trip.
From €1,670/ per person
Covering roughly half of the river’s entire distance, from Budapest to Nuremberg near the source, this eight-day cruise takes in roughly 10 major cities along the river. Operating company Avalon have a modern, comparatively young, fleet of well-equipped ships that come with a sun deck up top, English-speaking crews, a fitness centre and free wifi access. Outside of the boat, there are cities like Vienna, Regensburg and Melk, where there is a tour the the 11th-century Benedictine abbey. Meals are provided, along with wine tastings and canapes on arrival.
From €190/ per person
For those with more limited time who wish to explore the wilder side of the Danube and see birdlife and a glimpse of riverside life, this one-day private tour is a great option. Cruising through the twisted, reed and plant-strewn waterways of the Delta, the boat will wind past fishing villages and head to the best places to spot wildlife, including colonies of birds. Lunch of locally caught fish is provided. For those who require it, pick-up and drop-off in Bucharest is also provided as part of the price.