The Danube River

The blue Danube, which flows for nearly 1,800 miles across or past ten countries, is one of Europe’s most romantic, enchanting waterways. But with a variety of Danube River cruise lines offering a wide range of itineraries and levels of luxury, how do you decide which is best for you? Stride helps you waltz through the entire process of comparing, choosing and booking the perfect Danube cruise to fit your needs and fulfill your fantasies.

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Top Trip Memories

  • Sipping wine on deck or on your own balcony as your river cruise boat drifts past an ever-changing panorama of old-world Europe.

  • Enjoying your cozy cabin – after unpacking just once – and letting your ship serve as your floating hotel, with all meals included.

  • Gliding into Budapest, Hungary, known as the “Queen of the Danube” for its dramatic setting along the river.

  • Wending your way through Austria’s gently curving Wachau Valley, a photographer’s dream dotted with vineyards, castles, monasteries and pastoral villages.

  • Exploring Vienna, Austria, home to Habsburg palaces, grand boulevards, decadent pastries, and the musical legacies of Strauss and Mozart.

  • Touring Passau, Germany, Bavaria’s “Three Rivers City,” where the Danube, Inn and Ilz meet, and the imposing Oberhaus Fortress overlooks it all.

  • Basking in the scenic splendors of the narrow gorges known as the Iron Gate: Lined with white limestone cliffs, it’s one of Europe’s most memorable natural wonders.

  • Meandering the streets of ancient Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, where Baroque palaces and Gothic cathedrals are juxtaposed with bustling sidewalk cafes.

  • Discovering the oldest town on the Danube – Regensburg, Germany – which dates back 2,500 years to a riverside Celtic settlement .

  • Cycling sections of the Danube Bike Trail, which extends nearly the entire length of the river, while your river cruise boat anchors in port.

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Tour Tips

  • Because the Danube is Europe’s longest river outside Russia, you have several choices of routes.

  • The most popular stretch flows from Nuremberg, Germany, to Budapest, Hungary (or reverse).

  • Allow at least eight days for your cruise (for the Nuremberg-Budapest itinerary) and up to two weeks or more to sail farther into Eastern Europe.

  • Going downriver – from west to east -- tends to be a smoother voyage, though seasickness is seldom a problem.

  • To judge the best value as opposed to just the lowest price, watch for how many “extras” are included in the base rate – port excursions, alcohol, balcony cabins -- that could add to the cost.

  • Many Danube itineraries include options for intriguing side trips away from the river – such as to Salzburg in Austria or to medieval Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic.

  • You can combine a Danube river cruise with a Rhine river cruise through Germany all the way to Amsterdam via a canal replete with locks.

  • For maximum privacy and comfort, consider splurging on a balcony cabin, where you can relax and watch the changing riverside tableau pass by.

  • May through September is the most popular (and expensive) season on the Danube (September often offers the most pleasant weather with fewer crowds).

  • Don’t overlook the magic of Yuletide cruises, when the entire region comes alive with colorful outdoor Christmas markets.

  • Some Danube River cruise lines market almost exclusively to baby boomers aged 50 and up, while others also cater to younger passengers.

  • If you plan on traveling alone on your cruise, check into policies on charging for single supplements; they might match you with a same-sex roommate to avoid the extra charge.

  • Some luxury lines offer special evening events on shore – such as private concerts or dining in palaces – or provide complimentary bicycles for sightseeing and exercise.

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    Danube River Trips & Tour Advice

    For much of the Roman era and, later, the Ottoman Empire, the Danube River marked the northern border of their conquests. For the Greek historian Herodotus, the Danube was the “King of European Rivers.” For medieval tradesmen, the Danube was a vital lifeline linking otherwise isolated villages. For Viennese composer Johann Strauss II, the river offered inspiration for his Blue Danube Waltz, one of the most beloved pieces of 19th-century classical music.

    For modern-day travelers, the Danube is known as one of the top river cruising destinations in the world. Stretching from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, a distance of 1,777 miles, the Danube is second in length only to Russia’s Volga among European rivers. But its allure as a romantic waterway ranks second to none.

    By far the most relaxing and intimate way to view the Danube is by a river cruise boat. The key is to pick a Danube river cruise that meets – or, ideally, surpasses – your expectations. Since Danube River cruising is so heavily oriented toward port stops – with sightseeing offered frequently along the routes – it’s crucial to decide which of its diverse regions you want to visit.

    The popular Nuremberg to Budapest itinerary will entice you with the grandeur of Vienna – the jewel of Austria’s once-powerful Habsburg Empire -- and the beauty of Budapest, where the Danube slices through the heart of the city.

    Medieval-era towns – some still perfectly preserved – also adorn this route. The 12th-century-era village of Dȕrnstein in Austria’s Wachau Valley – where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned during the Crusades – and the nearby town of Melk, home to a restored 11th-century Benedictine Abbey, are two superb examples.

    But don’t overlook the possibility of exploring deeper into Eastern Europe. Beyond Hungary, the Danube flows through or past Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine, before emptying into the Black Sea. The Danube’s Iron Gate, a series of narrow, steep gorges bordering Serbia and Romania, rivals Austria’s Wachau Valley for sheer scenic glory. It’s also possible to explore a number of less-traveled small towns as well as big cities – including Belgrade and Bucharest -- of this emerging region of Europe. (Since Eastern Europe is now experiencing rapid development, it’s a good idea to visit now.)

    Equally important is to choose among the variety of river cruise lines, each with its own style and appeal. Among the top choices, Viking River Cruises features the most ships and caters to English-speaking passengers age 55 and up; Scenic Cruises, Tauck, and Uniworld trumpet luxury, exceptional service and all-inclusive rates; AMA Waterways and Avalon Waterways are more budget-oriented but offer a wide range of itineraries, including Christmas market cruises; and Grand Circle, popular with American retirees, has a reputation for its excellent guides and shore excursions.

    But there’s no reason to be daunted by the array of possibilities. Instead, relax and let Stride do the heavy lifting for you: we’ve laid it all out here for you to comparison shop for the Danube river tour of your dreams -- the one that will soon have you waltzing down the Danube to your own special rhythms.