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. For the Best Cruising Tips, visit here or visit us on Pinterest.
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.
Why You Might Like A Danube River Cruise
- 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.
10 Best Ports on the Danube River
Explore one of the most important cities in Germany’s Bavaria region. The 900-year-old Nuremberg Castle fascinates travelers and the Alstadt (Old Town) is home to even more fascinating sites, like Notre Dame and Town Hall. Step back to the time of World War II, when Justice Palace and the Nazi Parade Grounds were the center of attention in Nuremberg. If you travel in December, you’ll see the Hauptmarkt plaza, where the traditional Christmas markets bring vibrant colors to the city.
Regensburg escaped major bombing during WWII making it one of Germany’s best-preserved old towns and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its most famous structure is the Old Stone Bridge, which was built between 1135 and 1146. At the confluence of 3 major rivers, it features the 13th-century Regensburg Cathedral, a twin-spired Gothic church, and Walhalla, a Parthenon replica just east of the city honors famous Germans.
Another Austrian gem, the town of Melk is most noted for its impressive Benedictine Abbey. Over 900 years old, this is one of the biggest and oldest Baroque monasteries in Europe. Active travelers can follow their tour of the Melk Abbey with a leisurely guided bike ride through the Wachau Valley. Just south of town, travelers enjoy tranquil strolls through the gardens around Schallaburg Castle.
Downriver from the scenic Wachau Valley, you will arrive in the heart of Austrian culture, where classical music legends Beethoven & Mozart composed much of their work, thus giving the city its nickname “The City of Music.” A tour of the city will take you to such medieval sites as Schönbrunn & Hofburg Palaces, which housed the royal families for centuries. Stop in the Grinzing neighborhood if you want to get an authentic taste of the local flavors and cuisine.
Baroque architecture highlights the popular Old Town of Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava. Here, you’ll find treasures like St. Martin’s Cathedral, Mirbach Palace, and the Old Town Hall. If you’re up for a hike, a scenic climb into the Little Carpathians will take you to Bratislava Castle, where you can get the best panoramic vistas of the whole city.
The capital city of Hungary is uniquely positioned, straddling the Danube River. On one side are the valleys & hills of Buda and the opposite shore are the flatlands of Pest. Top sites in this expansive cultural center include the Baroque landmarks of Gödöllö Palace & Buda Castle, the well preserved Old Town of Buda, and the thermal swimming pools at the Gellert Baths. A leisurely walk or bike on Margaret Island is also a nice way to spend an afternoon.
The recent history of eastern Europe comes alive in the Croatian town of Vukovar, where explorers will learn about the Yugoslav Civil War of the 1990s and tour the Ovcara Memorial & Cemetery. The city is also home to age-old vineyards that have perfected their wine-making process. Once considered one of the prettiest towns, explorers will see the devastating impact of civil war.
Perhaps one of the most important cities in Serbia, this multi-ethnic town is the center of much of the country’s finance, culture, and industry. This diversity makes it a fascinating place to visit. In town, visitors will see the neo-Renaissance city hall, a Gothic Revival church, and the Petrovaradin Fortress, which is now over 300 years old. Most tours also visit sites like the 16th century Krusedol Orthodox Monastery and the neighboring small town of Sremski Karlovci.
The Serbian capital city hosts a full slate of activities for active travelers, including fascinating sites like Kalemegdan Fortress, the Serbian Orthodox Temple of St. Sava, and the Marshal Josip Broz Tito mausoleum. Brandy connoisseurs will enjoy the flavors of the Quburich Distillery. And Ada Ciganlija Island is a great place to explore on a guided bike tour.
The town of Vidin adds a bit of flair to Bulgaria, with such sites like Belogradchik & Vidin Castles and Baba Vida Fortress. These strongholds have been carefully restored and preserved to give visitors a peek into Bulgaria’s medieval past. If you want to try the local gastronomy, go for some yogurt or the Banitsa pastry.