The Danube is one of the best ways to see old Europe and a great introduction to river cruising. Rising in Germany’s Black Forest and flowing along 10 countries, the second longest river in Europe has something for everyone.
This is not only the river of iconic cities like Budapest and Vienna but also a gateway to quiet Abbeys, lush vineyards, medieval castles and the regions delicacies.
The shorter itineraries cover the upper Danube, sailing from Budapest to Passau or Nuremberg while the longer itineraries continue on the Rhine to sail all the way to Amsterdam.
There are also itineraries that focus on the lower Danube, sailing Hungary, Serbia, Romania and they are often longer as well.
In this guide, we share the highlights of the upper Danube.
Pack your walking shoes to explore cities with cobblestone streets and majestic castles like Cesky Krumlov, and don’t forget to attend an evening concert in the world’s capital of the waltz, Vienna.
The Danube flows through Germany, Austria, Hungary and seven other countries to reach the Black Sea.
Days needed to sail the river: The itineraries offered are around eight to 15-days.
Countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine
River cruise lines: Almost every line has itineraries on this river.
St Stephen Cathedral – Vienna, Austria
The cathedral dates all the way back to the 12th century and it is the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. Its gothic architecture and towering spires has also made it one of the most iconic buildings in Vienna.
Engelszell Abbey – Engelhartszell, Austria
Visit the only Trappist monastery in Austria where you can find Rococo details in the architecture and religious art from the 1700s. The Abbey also has a Sensory Garden where you can explore a herb labyrinth and sample some of the unique cheese and beer made by resident Trappist monks.
Mauthausen Concentration Camp – Linz, Austria
The Mauthausen Concentration Camp is one of the largest and most brutal Nazi camps of World War II. It was mostly used for extermination through labour of the intelligentsia, including nearly 200,000 educated people and members of the higher social classes in countries subjugated by the Nazi regime. The SS fled Mauthausen shortly before American troops entered the camp in 1945.
Cesky Krumlov Castle – Czech Republic
The lavish castle takes the name of the Czech town it is built in, dating back to 1240. The castle was built by the Witigonen family, the main branch of the powerful Rosenberg family. The UNESCO listed castle features Renaissance and Baroque buildings. Explore the period interiors of the castle as well as the gardens.
Medieval Knights Tournament – Visegrad, Hungary
See medieval knights in action at Visegrad’s Lower Castle, where the members of the St George Knightly Order will perform targeting and fighting demonstrations. The Lower Castle connects Visegrad to the Danube river and it is built around the Solomon Tower, which once imprisoned Vlad the Impaler, more commonly known as Count Dracula.
Budapest Bathhouses – Hungary
The thermal waters of Hungary have been used for their medicinal benefits for more than a hundred years. The baths of Budapest are filled with natural hot spring water and each one has it’s unique decor and charm. There are baths which have kept its communist/retro atmosphere and there are also modernised baths with Glass-roofed arcades seamlessly connected the Turkish domes and ogee arches. The Szechenyi Bath is the biggest and one of the most popular, with a total of 18 pools. But you can also head to the undiscovered ones hidden around the city if you want a more intimate experience.
Devin Castle – Bratislava, Slovakia
The castle is one of the oldest traces of Slavic settlement originating from the 8th century. Learn about the archaeological finds and historical facts about the castle from the 13th to 20th century at the partially reconstructed medieval castle ruins. It is also set among beautiful natural scenery, boasting panoramic views of the Danube and Morava rivers.
Passau the City of Three Rivers – Germany
In Passau, you get to see where the Danube, Inn, and Ilz rivers converge. Hop on a bike and find the spot on the return route to Passau where you can enjoy a paranomic view of the city and the river. If you have more time, the city also houses the largest organ in Europe at the St Stephen’s Cathedral.
The Danube River also has interesting river features like the Schlogen Oxbow, a dramatic bend in the shape of a horseshoe. Over time, the meander of the river will be eventually cut off as the water flows a more direct route, leaving an oxbow lake behind.
Austria’s Wachau Valley is a 30-kilometre stretch nestled between the towns of Krems and Melk and it is home to some of the finest wine producers in the region. Take in the stunning 300-year-old terraced slopes as you sail along and also sample their famed Gruner Veltliner, a white wine with lime, lemon and grapefruit notes along with a green and herbaceous flavour. The best way to explore the valley is on a bike, or else there are also hiking routes the passes through the vineyards, with lovely views waiting at the end as a reward.
Strudel – Austria
Austria is home to many world famous desserts and one of them is the strudel. You can find strudel filled with fruit, meat or vegetables here. Cut into the delicate layers of pastry of an apple, pumpkin or spinach strudel. The adventurous can also seek out the meat strudel which are often found on lunch menus called the Heuriger. It is traditionally served with potatoes and salad.
Fisherman’s Soup (Halászlé) – Hungary
The halászlé is a hot, spicy paprika-based river fish soup. The Hungarian soup has a few takes on it . Some serve it with bread, over pasta and others include cream but its bright red hot colour from generous amounts of paprika can’t be missed. The hearty dish also feature green peppers, tomatoes and finished with parsley.
Dumplings with sheep cheese (Bryndzové halušky)
This is Slovakian national dish features bryndzové which is locally produced sheep cheese served on top of halušky, or potato dumplings which is very similar to Italian gnocchi. It is then sprinkled with pieces of smoked bacon and sausage.