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Travel bucket list idea:

Last updated: 16 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Sue Bryant

Europe’s second longest river, the Danube flows from a tiny spring in Germany’s Black Forest through the wooded hills of Bavaria, across Austria’s Wachau Valley, and, beyond Vienna, onto the edge of the Hungarian steppes. It clips the southern spur of the Carpathian mountain range, forcing its way through the rock to create the dramatic Iron Gates Gorge on the border between Serbia and Romania. Eventually, it broadens out, forking into three arms that make up its vast, marshy delta. A cruise, then, takes in seven countries and a wide variety of cultures and cuisines.

Along the way, you’ll taste wines in the Wachau, explore the galleries of Vienna, take a day trip to Salzburg, clamber up to the ruins of Durnstein Castle and check out the edgy nightlife of Budapest, as well as sailing through the city at sunset, the various bridges festooned with lights.

There are plenty of opportunities for hiking, kayaking and cycling, making this a great option for fitness alongside the obvious cultural charms of the region.

Logistics

Price from: £Varies
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around
Duration: 7-12 days

Getting there & doing it

Cruises on the Danube come in any number of lengths, covering different sections. Seven nights from Budapest to Vilshofen, in Germany, is a popular route, usually overnighting in Vienna. Short cruises between Vienna and Budapest suit those with less time, while extended voyages from Amsterdam to Budapest, the Rhine and Danube connected via the Rhine-Main-Danube canal, take around 12 days.

Alternatively, sail the much quieter eastern stretch, from Budapest to Giurgiu in Romania, via the sheer-sided Iron Gates Gorge, a voyage that takes seven to 10 days.

The towns along the river before Budapest can certainly be explored by land, but a river cruise is effortless – and also good value, bearing in mind that you’ll effectively get three mini-breaks, in Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest. The eastern stretch, from Budapest to the delta, would be much more complex to explore independently, making a cruise a great option to discover the Balkans.

When to do it

The Danube season is long, from March to November. Throughout December, Christmas markets cruises operate between Vienna and Budapest, a magical time to visit if there’s snow on the ground.

Who to go with: tour operators

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Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with

Ama Waterways [River Danube]

Ama Waterways [River Danube]

Guildford, Surrey, Multiple countries

A luxury river cruise operator offering a list of scenic, all-inclusive itineraries on European, Asian & African waterways. They have several Danube options, and the extra-wide AmaMagna is the biggest ship on the river, offering spacious suites and multiple dining choices.

Avalon Waterways [River Danube]

Avalon Waterways [River Danube]

Richmond, Surrey, United Kingdom (UK)

River cruising specialist with smaller, intimate but luxurious ships. Accommodation is lavish, with larger than normal rooms with open-air balconies, and for those who want, an emphasis on activity, from cycling to kayaking and hiking.

Crystal Cruises [River Danube]

Crystal Cruises [River Danube]

Los Angeles, California, Multiple countries

An award-winning and highly-rated luxury cruise operator, known for medium and small ships.. They have arguably the most beautiful riverboats on the Danube, with stylish décor reminiscent of a smart boutique hotel, as well as superb food and all-inclusive drinks.

Viking Cruises [River Danube]

Viking Cruises [River Danube]

Basel, Multiple countries

The world’s largest river cruise company and the market leader for River Danube cruises. They have a modern fleet of luxurious, Scandinavian-inspired ships with a wide choice of itineraries. Luxury, over 18s only.

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