A Rhine or Danube river cruise? Which should you choose? Both are great options if you’re considering river cruises in Europe. They sail along scenic routes, passing dramatic hilltop castles and through awe-inspiring landscapes, and both offer excursions around captivating cities and charming towns. Attractions are nearby too, meaning quick access from your ship to the best sightseeing spots. You can easily discover each river’s highlights on a week-long cruise.
So which river cruise is best for you? Read on to find out more about Rhine river facts and Danube river cities.
Rhine river facts
Flowing 1,233km from the Swiss Alps to Rotterdam in the Netherlands, a Rhine river cruise is enshrined in the history and culture of the six countries it passes through — Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands. For centuries, the Rhine river has been a major shipping route, and not only did it play a significant role during World War II, its striking scenery has influenced Romantic writers, painters and musicians.
Danube river facts
The Danube, on the other hand, is over twice the length of the Rhine and stretches some 2,870km from the North Sea to the Black Sea. It’s the second longest river in Europe, weaving its way through ten countries — Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. Strategically important as a trade route, the Danube has also inspired great artists and composers through the ages.
Rhine or Danube river cruise: scenery
When choosing between a Rhine or Danube river cruise, it’s good to know that you’ll sail through spectacular scenery on both. Historic and cosmopolitan cities, wonderfully preserved medieval towns and quaint villages line both routes, so whichever you choose you’ll see plenty of picturesque panoramas from your cruise ship.
On a Rhine river cruise, a significant stretch of the landscape is dominated by fairy-tale castles and sloping vineyards. And there’s another stunning section, the Rhine Gorge, when sheer valleys soar over 300 metres high. However, be mindful that the Rhine is also a busy industrial river, so working vessels and barges share the waterway too.
On a Danube river cruise, the scenery is a little greener as the river passes the foothills of the Bavarian Forest, the idyllic wine-making Wachau Valley and through the stunningly beautiful Iron Gates Gorge. The outlook a Danube River cruise feels more rural too, with fewer cargo boats and barges passing by.
Rhine or Danube river cruise: castles
Whether you choose a Rhine river cruise or one on the Danube, castles of all description will be a sightseeing highlight. Some are intact, others are ruins, but each one is fascinating. On a 65km-stretch of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley (today a UNESCO World Heritage Site), there are over 40 castles and fortresses dotted along the landscape, with the 13th-century Marksburg Castle being a popular favourite.
Castles also crown rocky outcrops along the Danube river. The ruin at Dürstein is famous for its royal prisoner, Richard the Lionheart, whereas the enormous honey-coloured castle at Melk is now a glorious Benedictine abbey.
Rhine or Danube river cruise: cities
With both rivers cutting through the heart of Europe, it’s no surprise that major cities surround both the Rhine and Danube. Rhine river cities include arty Amsterdam and historic Cologne, the latter famed for its twin-spired cathedral. Strasbourg, the photogenic capital of Alsace, is also nearby.
Four capital cities – Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and Belgrade – sit along the Danube River. This makes a Danube River cruise a great choice for city-break fans, especially as some itineraries also involve a day trip inland to Salzburg. Once home to Mozart, Strauss and Beethoven, Vienna is a huge draw for music lovers and classical performances take place regularly in the city.
Rhine or Danube river cruise: food and drink
When choosing a Rhine or Danube river cruise, perhaps a preference for food and drink will help sway a decision.
Local specialities on a Rhine river cruise may include hearty dishes of sausages and pork, and afternoon tea with a slice of Black Forest chocolate cake. Fine wine will be in no short supply either with plentiful Riesling being produced on the Rhine’s steep vineyards. Wine lovers can enjoy excursions to both Mainz and Rüdesheim – and a tour of the Asbach brandy distillery shouldn’t be missed. And here’s an interesting Rhine river fact – while less than 1% of Swiss wine is exported, over 200 different grapes grow in Switzerland. Cheers!
As for a Danube river cruise, you can expect to eat goulash and Wiener schnitzel, along with some delicious Viennese pastries and traditional apple strudel – perhaps enjoyed with a glass of crisp Grüner Veltliner from the attractive Wachau Valley.
Rhine or Danube river cruise extensions
As with most river cruises in Europe, leisurely eight-day itineraries are popular, as are winter five-day trips when Rhine Yuletide markets entice Christmas shoppers. There may also be the opportunity to extend a cruise. If you start or end your Rhine journey in Switzerland, why not explore more of the country by train, enjoying a scenic trip on the legendary Glacier Express? Alternatively, after a Danube river cruise, stay a few more nights in beautiful Budapest.
Good to know
It’s worth noting that both cruises involve passing through numerous locks along the river. They are massive mechanical structures, and entering them can be a slow, noisy and bumpy affair.
Rhine or Danube river cruise – which to choose?
Choose a Rhine river cruise if you’ve fallen in love with the Romantic era and want to witness first-hand the land of fairy tales.
Choose a Danube river cruise if you’re eager to waltz back in time and immerse yourself in the art and architecture of cultural capitals.
And if you’re still a little indecisive, simply embark on a Cruise the Heart of Europe break and spend time on both.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.