The best Danube River cruises encompasses the southernmost and easternmost portion of Europe, which can be a lengthy trip that runs between Amsterdam and Eastern Europe and takes in the Rhine, the Main and the Danube rivers, as well as the canal and lock system that connects all three. You can also take a cruise just on the Danube River. They can be quite varied in cruise length and cruise in both directions (upstream or down), usually between Budapest and an upstream port. A three-night river cruise on the Danube might travel from Budapest to Vienna, while a seven-night cruise might run between Nuremberg and Budapest.
The Danube River consists of three sections; the Upper, Middle and Lower. Many cruises focus on the first two sections, but you can cruise the Lower section through Eastern Europe, too. These cruises usually start in Budapest, traveling through Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria before finishing at the Black Sea in Romania.
- Many Danube River cruise itineraries start in Budapest and depart after dark, setting the scene for a stunning river cruise. At night, the city's architecture is illuminated, and you'll pass the neo-Gothic parliament building, Fisherman's Bastion and St. Stephen's Basilica. All are truly breathtaking at night.
- The Wachau region is one of Austria's best-known wine-producing areas, and the village of Durnstein is often visited on Danube River cruises. Vineyards there, which run along the flat riverbanks and up the steep hillsides, produce primarily white wines. (Gruner veltliner and riesling are the most popular of Austria's whites.)
- Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn and the Strauss family all called Vienna home during their respective careers, and all have former residences turned museums there. But better than seeing the places where the music was composed is to hear a performance of the music itself. There is no shortage of opportunities to hear Romantic waltzes and classical symphonies performed in beautiful Viennese spaces, both indoors and out.
- Whether you're after traditional Hungarian goulash, Austrian schnitzel or Bavarian pretzels, sampling the local cuisine is a must on a Danube River cruise. Many of the local markets, like Budapest's Central Market Hall provide the opportunity to do just that.
- On a Danube River cruise, seeing old Europe roll by from the top decks of river cruise ships is a top reason to take the trip, and Danube River cruises don't disappoint. The beautiful cities, lush forested hills and tiny villages you sail by all seem close enough to touch, and many of the stops along the way offer their own brilliant panoramic perspectives of the river and its surrounding countryside.
What Time of Year is Best For Your Danube River Cruise?
March – May
Springtime in Europe can get quite rainy, and there's often still a chill in the air; bring layers. The spring months can lead to flooding on parts of the Danube, due to the snow melting in the mountains. If the water gets too high, riverboats aren't able to pass under narrow bridges or through certain locks. In those cases, river cruise lines often transport passengers to sites by bus.
June – August
The summer months can be hot and crowded in central Europe, but on the flip side, you have longer daylight hours to sight see. Bring loose, breathable clothing for city walks, and look for river cruises that have dipping pools to cool off. Buses are often over air-conditioned, so you'll want to bring a light sweater. If the summer is extremely warm, water levels can get low; if there's not enough water to sail safety, river cruise lines will again transport passengers to sites by bus.
September – November
The nights are shorter and the temperatures lower, but fall is an ideal time to visit. Water levels have generally straightened out, the crowds are gone, the fares are cheaper, and there's a nice chill in the air. Bring layers.
Late November – December
Christmas Markets in the cities along the Danube make a cruise at this time of year downright magical. Yes, it's cold, but there are gluhwein and cheer to keep you toasty. Shoppers will love it. Bring winter coats, hats, gloves and other ways to stay warm — it does snow.
Different Danube River Cruise Itineraries
Short Danube River Cruises
If you're limited by time or budget, you can test the river cruise waters, so to speak, with shorter cruises. For instance, Avalon Waterways runs a three-night cruise from Budapest to Vienna, Austria.
Week Long Danube River Cruises
Seven-night cruises usually run from Nuremberg (after an overnight on board) to Budapest. Port cities include Passau and Regensburg, Germany, and Melk and Vienna, Austria.
Lower Danube River Cruise
You can cruise the Lower section through Eastern European countries. These cruises usually start in Budapest, traveling through Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria before finishing at the Black Sea in Romania.
Longer Danube River Cruises
If you want to spend more time on the Danube, you can find cruises that last anywhere from eight to 16 days, giving you a more extensive lineup of port calls. Some cruise lines even offer almost month-long journeys that encompass not only the Danube but also the Main and Rhine rivers, allowing you to sail all the way from Bucharest, Romania, to Amsterdam.
Christmas Market Cruises
Europeans do Christmas markets better than anybody else, which might be why these cruises are so popular. Whether you're craving gingerbread cookies, handmade wood carvings or just hot sausage, you'll get your fill of old-world Christmas and maybe create new traditions with your family. These Danube River cruises sail in November and December and book fast, so plan early.
Best Danube River Cruises
With ships that sail the Danube, the Rhine, the Ganges, and more, this all-inclusive river cruise line delivers a luxurious experience with a sense of place. It is like being on a floating five-star hotel, with the added benefit of visiting multiple amazing locations. And the excursions like the wine-tasting outings in Austria’s Wachau Valley or visits to Normandy’s D-Day beaches, are carefully planned and executed.
Sailing Europe’s storied rivers, the award-winning Longships offer a variety of stateroom categories and true two-room suites with full-size verandas. Onboard amenities include a restaurant, bar and lounge, library and expansive sun deck. The ships feature an elegant Scandinavian design and “green” features, such as solar panels, an onboard organic herb garden and energy-efficient hybrid engines for a remarkably smooth ride. River cruises range from 8 to 23 days, with itineraries featuring Europe’s Rhine, Main, Danube, Seine, Rhône, Douro, Moselle, Elbe, Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde Rivers; Russia’s Volga, Neva and Svir; Egypt’s Nile; China’s Yangtze; and Southeast Asia’s Mekong.
On a Tauck river cruise, you'll wake up each morning having something unique to look forward to… something extraordinary, every single day. For 90+ years, Tauck has gone past the usual sights to bring you exclusive access, carefully planned events and exclusive insights on river cruises, land tours and small ship cruises. Joined with amazing partners like filmmaker Ken Burns, nature’s premier storyteller BBC Earth, the National Park Service, and even European royalty to create one-of-a-kind travel experiences – with one up-front price, virtually everything included. Premier accommodations. And extraordinary moments that last lifetimes, filled with fun. Because how you see the world matters.
With itineraries designed to maximize cultural interaction—and the lowest per-diems available in cruising—our River Cruises are the most discovery- and value-rich way to traverse Europe’s waterways. Aboard their
46- to 164-passenger privately-owned vessels, you’ll visit iconic capitals and small towns, while unpacking just once. And on land, you’ll explore in a group of no more than 47, with a local Program Director fostering unforgettable discoveries and camaraderie every step of the way. It’s unique benefits like these that have earned them the title of “Best River Cruise Line for Enrichment” from the editors of Cruise Critic and why Condé Nast Traveler readers have voted them #1 “World’s Best River Cruise Line” five years in a row.
Built on over 28 years of expertise of serving luxury customers, Crystal River Cruises carefully crafted itineraries follow the Danube, Rhine, Main and Moselle rivers with Crystal’s award-winning finesse, venturing into the heart of iconic destinations adorned with castles and palaces, vineyards and forests, monuments and art. Come aboard and discover the celebrated Crystal Experience, a perfect balance of ambiance and attitude presenting moments of a lifetime, all day, every day. Intimate and comfortable luxury found aboard each ship in the Crystal River fleet.
Best Danube River Cruise Tours
Private Tour: Wachau Valley Tour, Melk Abbey Visit, and Wine Tastings from Vienna
See the heart of Austria’s wine region on a private day trip to the Wachau Valley from Vienna. Led by an expert guide, visit a traditional wine tavern to sip and swirl local blends. Then head to the medieval town of Dürnstein to taste local chocolates, schnapps and more. Summer travelers also enjoy a cruise to Melk along the Danube River, while winter trips include a leisurely lunch at the wine tavern. Before returning to Vienna, top off your day at Melk Abbey to admire the town’s historic Benedictine Monastery. Learn more about the Wachau Valley Tour, Melk Abbey visit & Wine Tastings from Vienna.
Budapest Private Danube River Cruise
Swap the crowded streets of Budapest for sightseeing from a more relaxed setting—aboard a Danube DunaTaxi cruise. The tour will help you cover more ground than a walking tour and help you see the city’s landmarks from a new vantage point. Sail past Parliament, the Royal Castle, Gellert Hill, and Margaret Island. Boats are limited to 12 passengers so the trip won’t be overcrowded. Learn more about the Budapest Private Danube River Cruise.
Explore Budapest and Other Cities along the Danube
Spend two nights on a Danube River cruise from Budapest that takes in the highlights of Budapest along with other scenic destinations on the Danube. Your tour includes a look at the history and culture of the city, and visits to Buda Castle, Inner Pest, Matthias Church, and other major sights in Budapest. Then head to towns of Visegrad, Esztergom, and Szentendre to view top attractions in these picturesque locations. Learn more about this Budapest & Other Cities Danube River Cruise.
Private Danube Wine Tasting Cruise in Budapest
Sip and see the sights on this 90-minute wine tasting cruise along the Danube River in Budapest. Hop aboard a private boat with a wine specialist and sample four varietals of Hungarian wine. As your guide talks you through each tasting, you’ll pair your glass with pogácsa, a traditional Hungarian biscuit, while taking in the view around you. This river cruise and tasting experience is limited to 10 travelers to keep the trip as intimate as possible. Learn more about the Private Danube Wine Tasting Cruise.
Szentendre & Budapest Tour
This tour provides a rich, joyful, informative journey to get the most of your time during your stay in Hungary! Discover the highlights of Budapest, hear interesting information and stories about the places and the Hungarian history, explore the beautiful Castle District, enjoy the best panoramic view of the magnificant capital from the top of Gellért Hill. Then have a wonderful trip to Szentendre, a charming Mediterranean feel town. Wander around the cobblestone narrow streets, tight alleys and disvover some of the unmissable museums such as the Micro Wonder Museum; the Szamos Marzipan Museum, ; and the famous Kovács Margit Ceramic Museum! Learn more about the Szentendre & Budapest Tour.