The Danube River is one of the most famous rivers in the world and the second longest in Europe and cruising on the Danube River is most enjoyable.
Our quick-reference guide to Danube River cruises in Europe will provide you with an introduction and overview of cruise options out there, where they go, and reasons to sail this European waterway.
What is the history and importance of the Danube River?
The Danube River, also known as the “Blue Danube,” has served as an important natural resource for thousands of years. It begins in Germany's Black Forest area (partially flowing from the Brigach stream, fed by resources in the Black Forest). The river goes on for 1,770 miles through 10 countries. Its mouth flows out to the Black Sea between Romania and Ukraine, right by Moldova.
The ten countries it flows through are Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. It gets its name from the Celtic word that means “to flow,” which is “danu.”
Highlights while sailing on the river include the Wachau Valley, which is a UNESCO Cultural Landscape (pictured below), and the Iron Gate in the Balkans, between Serbia and Romania.
Is a Danube River cruise worth it?
100%, yes!!! We love river cruising. Though it may not be for everyone, it's a real winner for us. There are several great things about river cruises in general, and we do a great job of spreading the word about what to expect on a river cruise if it's your first time.
But in terms of the Danube River, in particular, it's a beautiful river that offers fantastic ports and charming scenery as you sail. It's also one of the most popular European river cruise itineraries. You may stop at some classic big cities depending on your itinerary, like Budapest and Vienna. You'll certainly stop in incredibly charming smaller cities you may not otherwise have visited along the way no matter your Danube River itinerary.
Why choose a Danube River cruise?
If you love the charm of Europe and you're drawn to castles and small European cities, this is the cruise for you. It also has some seriously impressive scenery along the way. Not all rivers provide great scenery between cities, but the Danube River does in this regard in several key areas.
Truth be told, not every mile of the Danube River cruise is photo-worthy. For instance, some stretches are simply through water with grass on the bank and a few trees here and there. Absent of castles, churches or fortresses towering above the town. It goes through several locks which are definitely cool and worth taking photos of but not magazine-worthy, if you know what we mean. But you'll experience locks and some scenery better than others on most European river cruises.
The Danube is special for the countries it goes through, the moments and areas that do have phenomenal scenery along the way, the destiantions along the river and its history. Can other rivers claim a waltz named after it, like “The Blue Danube,” by famed Austrian composer, Johann Strauss II in the 19th century? You also can't beat the Christmas Markets in the cities along the Danube River during Christmas time.
Where does a Danube River cruise start and end?
The embarkation and debarkation points of your exact cruise depend on the precis Danube River cruise you book.
However, some of the most popular cruise lines and itineraries start in Budapest, Hungary and end in Nuremberg, Germany. Or they do the opposite cruise, from Nuremberg to Budapest.
Yet the Danube River is a sizeable length, as we mentioned at over 1,700 feet! And there are many more itineraries to consider that have different starting and ending points.
- Bucarest (Romania) to Budapest (Hungary)
- Amsterdam to Budapest
- Munich to Budapest
- Budapest to Regensberg (Germany)
- Passau (Germany) to Budapest
- Budapest to Vilshofen (Germany)
- Vienna to Nuremberg
- Vienna to Prague (transfer from Nuremberg because Prague isn't on the river)
A journey between points like Amsterdam and Budapest will typically be a longer cruise than 8 days (even 12-15 days). It also starts in The Netherlands, where the Danube River doesn't exist yet, so you partially sail on other waterways.
Where does a Danube River cruise go?
To charming towns and wonderful cities in Europe! For more specific port information, we've listed the ports that cruise lines stop at. There's a lot of overlap for more popular cities, like Vienna, Nuremberg, Melk and Budapest for example. And not a lot of cruise lines going to lesser known cities, like Roth, Emmersdorf, Weissenkirchen and Kalocsa.
Pending your specific itinerary, we've also included cities that Danube River cruises may reach via bus from the port, yet aren't directly off the Danube River.
An example of that is Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria. It's approximately an 80-minute ride from the Danube River, on the Yantra River. And while it's not on the Danube itself, it is a town that Viking River Cruises transports its guests to on some itineraries because it's an interesting place to visit and not that far from the Danube.
- Wachau Valley
- Veliko Tarnovo
River cruises on the Danube River that begin in Amsterdam sail the Rhine River and Main River too. We have not listed the cities it stops at before it recaches the Danube River in the bulleted list, above.
River cruises that sail into Serbia, Croatia and Romania may also travel on the Drava River.
Danube River Cruise Highlights
You may visit these must-see places when you're Danube river cruising:
- Melk's Benedictine Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Budapest's Parliament building
- St. Stephan's Cathedral in Passau
- Palace of Parliament in Bucharest
- Wachau Valley
When is the best time to cruise the Danube River?
Now that you have a better idea of what cruising the Danube is like, you're probably wondering when to go. There's no wrong answer because any time a cruise line has an available cruises means they have already considered the time of year.
But the answer could depend on what kind of season you want to experience:
- Spring: Mother Nature is in her splendor during spring and colors dot the European towns. Choose April or May for a spring cruise when you'll also experience cooler temperatures, with flower bulbs popping up and leaves beginning to show on the trees.
- Summer: If you want to enjoy the pool on a river cruise ship (not all have a pool but some do) then choose summer. It's also great for packing a little lighter, since you won't need sweaters, long sleeves or fall or winter coats.
- Fall: If you envision wearing a lightweight coat as you walk around charming European towns (and maybe even a scarf during late fall) consider fall. Temperatures are a bit lower (between 45 to 65 degrees) but the fall colors, if you're lucky enough to see them, are awesome.
- Winter: The dazzling lights at the Christmas Markets will warm your heart along with warm mulled wine! If you want to experience Chirstmas in Europe with one-of-a-kind holiday markets, then going during December is a must. You'll definitely need to wear a winter coat and pack a scarf, gloves and a hat because it will be cold. But it will be magical!
How much does a Danube River cruise cost?
In general, river cruises are inclusive of many things, like wine and beer with lunch and dinner, and walking tours in each city. We've written extensively about the cost of river cruises, overall, and what to expect in that regard.
Danube River cruises, depending on the cruise line, can cost anywhere from $1,200 per person based on double occupancy of an onboard cabin, to upwards of $7,000 per person for double occupancy.
Sometimes you'll find them at lower starting prices, depending on the season (like if they're running holiday sales) and depending on the cruise line. The level of “luxury” of the cruise line and length of the cruise could also be determining factors for Danube River cruise cost.
What is the best Danube River cruise line?
That's up for debate, of course. It depends on your style of travel (including what your preferences are when you vacation) and your budget.
Here are a few well known cruise lines that market to United States consumers. They all have Danube river cruise boats that sail the famous river:
Are Danube River cruises being canceled during the pandemic?
Cruises all over the world are currently sailing – the resumption of cruises began in summer 2021. However, as variants of COVID are discovered and spread, cruise lines responsibly navigate the uncertainty of the virus.
As such, they make a call to cancel sailings when necessary. Some of these decisions are informed by where the sailing is heading, considering the countries it travels through and the current status of the virus in those areas.
For example, we sailed on an Emerald Cruises Danube River cruise trip in late October 2021. However, shortly thereafter, in November, they decided to cancel all December Christmas Market cruises due to the resurgance of COVID-19 in European countries.
We continue to holdfast to our belief that cruises are one of the safest ways to travel during a pandemic and beyond.
When will Danube River cruises resume?
Many river cruises are schedule for the future, so Danube River cruises are never entirely canceled. We encourage you to book them as soon as you want to go or sign up for the email newsletters of your favorite cruise lines so you're notified about new itineraries and special offers.
If your cruise is canceled by the cruise line, what is typically offered is a refund or future travel credit usable for a future sailing. It's best to understand your cruise line's policy before you book if it's a concern. It may be advised to book additional travel insurance to protest your investment as well.
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