- Discover everything you need to know about the Danube with our guide of what to know about Danube river cruises.
- Key river cruise stops through Germany including Passau – the City of Three Rivers – through Austria and sailing past Budapest to the Black Sea.
- Expert tips and advice to the best from a Danube River cruise, including making the most of excursions to remembering to pack binoculars.
The Danube is one of the world’s most storied rivers and one of its longest too, flowing for a staggering 2,860km through ten countries, from the Black Forest of Germany to the Black Sea of Romania.
Most Danube river cruises travel along one section of the river on a round-trip itinerary, mooring at various points of interest en route. Here is your ultimate what to know about Danube river cruises guide to help you decide which Danube cruise might be the one for you.
What to know about Danube river cruises: key stops
Sailing through Germany
Around 300km east from where the Danube river rises in the town of Donaueschingen is the medieval city of Regensburg, one of the northernmost points of a Danube river cruise. Founded by the Romans in 179AD, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has over 1,500 listed buildings. Step inside its imposing gothic cathedral and stroll across its 12th Century stone bridge that straddles the Danube.
The Danube continues downstream where it meets the Inn and Ilz rivers at Passau, aptly nicknamed the ‘City of Three Rivers’. It is possible to view the junction of the rivers – each a different colour – from the hills surrounding the Bavarian city. Or you can walk alongside them in its cobblestoned old town, with its maze of alleyways lined with restaurants, art galleries and craft shops. Pause at St Stephen’s Cathedral, which houses the world’s largest cathedral organ. With 17,974 pipes, it is an incredible sight.
From Passau, Aldersbach is a 30-minute drive away. In the centre stands the village’s most treasured building: a former Cistercian abbey founded in 1127. A guided tour will lead you through the interior with its Late Baroque stuccowork and magnificent ceiling frescoes.
Top tip: Be prepared to cross other cruise ships when disembarking at Regensburg. Once on land however, you are within easy walking distance of the main sights.
Sailing through Austria
From Passau, a Danube river cruise meanders southeast into Austria to the picturesque city of Linz. Many cruises will offer the option to visit Mozart′s birthplace, Salzburg, a 90-minute drive away.
Defined by its elegant domes, mighty clifftop fortress and rolling green mountains beyond, Salzburg is one of Europe’s most alluring cities. Its old town is compact enough for exploring on foot, and the formal gardens of Mirabell Palace are well worth a visit, especially in spring when the flowers are in bloom.
From Linz, the river continues downstream to Vienna. Whichever Austria itinerary you choose – whether it’s a Danube river cruise from Budapest to Vienna, vice versa, or some variation – the country’s largest city is sure to be a key highlight.
Vienna’s city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason – it is home to some of Austria’s most treasured historic buildings, from the Hofburg (the former imperial palace) to St Stephen’s Cathedral, the place where Mozart was married in 1782. Admire its striking gothic exterior; join a guided tour to learn about its history and scale the 343 steps of the South Tower for sweeping city views (or, you can take the lift). Afterwards, refuel with kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake) at one of the city’s many charming coffee shops.
Top tip: The transfer from Linz to Salzburg is by coach, so if you suffer with motion sickness opt to stay in Linz, or take necessary medication.
Sailing from Bratislava to Budapest
From Vienna, it is a 60km cruise east through the Danube-Auen National Park and over the border into Slovakia to the city of Bratislava. Its old town makes for a lovely walk; at the heart is Hlavné námestie (literally ‘main square’), home to two of the city’s most treasured landmarks: the Old Town Hall and elegant Roland Fountain.
The city’s main tourist attraction, its 9th Century castle, is located on a hill above the old town. The Crown Tower boasts fantastic views of the Danube river, the city, and Austria beyond. The castle also houses the Museum of History, showcasing an impressive collection of Slovakian art and artefacts from the Middle Ages to the present day.
For many people, the Danube is all about a Budapest river cruise, and as the river continues downstream it slices right through the Hungarian capital. The ‘Pearl of the Danube’ is a haven for culture lovers; Buda Castle houses the National Gallery, the largest public collection of Hungarian art, displaying over 6,000 paintings. Meanwhile, the iconic Parliament Building houses the Hungarian Crown Jewels – you can view them on a guided tour.
Top tip: With city day tours, you’ll likely be doing several miles of walking a day – often over uneven terrain – so wear comfortable shoes that offer good support. You can pack a pair of relaxed shoes to wear onboard.
Sailing from Budapest to the Black Sea
The final section of a Danube river cruise is from Budapest to the Black Sea. The Danube winds its way south into Serbia towards the capital, Belgrade, where it meets the Sava river.
Belgrade is a vibrant city with a rich history. Don’t miss the beautiful domed Temple of Saint Sava – one of the world’s largest Orthodox churches – and the Belgrade fortress; built on a ridge above the confluence of the two rivers (the views are reason enough to visit), the fortress was destroyed and rebuilt many times between the 2nd and 18th-Centuries. The complex houses museums and galleries, alongside monuments and memorials.
As the Danube continues eastwards, so begins one of the most scenic passages of the river: through the Iron Gates Gorge. Dramatic 500m-high limestone cliffs form part of the boundary between Serbia and Romania.
The Danube then enters Bulgaria and travels past the popular cruise stop of Rousse – known as ‘Little Vienna’ for its beautifully-preserved 19th Century architecture – before diverging northeastwards into Romania. Here, as the river approaches the Black Sea, it forms the Danube Delta. With miles of rivers and tree-lined lakes, some 300 bird species reside here, including white tailed eagles. Many cruises offer day trips on smaller boats.
Top tip: Bring binoculars. Not only for bird-spotting, but also to admire the huge face of Decebalus, last king of Dacia, carved into a cliff of the Iron Gates Gorge.
What to know about Danube River cruises – see for yourself
So there you have it, your what to know about Danube river cruises guide. With so much to see on the Danube river, whichever cruise you choose you are guaranteed a trip of a lifetime. Visit our collection of Danube river cruises to start your planning your adventure.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.