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Danube River cruises

Cruising the cities of the Danube River

A city break with a difference

Published on 26 Oct 2022

Flowing through 10 countries, a river cruise along the Danube is the perfect choice for those wishing to explore the cities of Europe. Sailing into Austria’s grand capital Vienna and the historic city of Budapest, your river cruise ship will take you to fascinating towns and cities on the Danube and show you the finest views in between. Here are just some of the cities you’ll encounter on a Danube river cruise:

Cities along the Danube River

Dürnstein, Austria

Although not technically a city, Dürnstein is an interesting stop on a Danube river cruise. Perched on the water’s edge, this small town, which is one of the most visited destinations in the Wachau region, can be found in Lower Austria. Dürnstein took its name from the medieval castle of Burgruine Dürnstein, which once overlooked the town.

The town has earned a strong reputation for its exquisite vineyards and wine enthusiasts shouldn’t leave without sampling its exquisite dry wines. Though the Wachau wine region is small, only accounting for roughly 3% of Austria’s wine production, the area has made a name for itself. There are more than 3,300 acres of vineyard in the region, which produce Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc wines. You can visit several wineries in the region, including Domäne Wachau, which is just a short walk from Dürnstein's quaint town centre.

Linz, Austria

Located in Upper Austria, Linz is renowned for its unique blend of old and new. Its intricate baroque architecture contrasts the futuristic Kunstmuseum, which takes pride of place on the riverside. And yet, the city has managed to seamlessly merge history and modernity.

In 2009, along with the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, Linz was chosen as the European Capital of Culture. It is also a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Media Arts. And, as the third-largest city in Austria, you won’t be bored exploring Linz. Whether the modern art collection of the Kunstmuseum has piqued your interest or you’d like to explore Linz’s Old Town, we’re sure you’ll love roaming around the city. Be sure to visit the Maria Empfangnis Dom, or New Cathedral, the biggest church in Austria by capacity, and try a slice of local speciality Linzer Torte.

Melk, Austria

Famous for its spectacular baroque Benedictine monastery, the city of Melk can be found in Lower Austria. Before you even step off your river cruise ship, you’ll have a beautiful view of the city. Rows of red rooftops and the mountains beyond make Melk one of the most picturesque stopovers on the Danube.

As you head into the city, you’ll notice Melk Abbey towering high above. The abbey is a fascinating historical site as it contains the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau and the remains of members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. While the abbey was originally founded in 1089, the building we see today was actually constructed between 1702 and 1736. Below the abbey, Melk’s Old Town is the most visited part of the city. Wander through Rathausplatz, the town hall square, and Hauptplatz, the main square, to get a sense of local life.

Vienna, Austria

The former home of Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud, Vienna is a truly fascinating city. Austria’s capital is perhaps best known for its artistic legacy and ornate Imperial palaces. Even if you’re not an art enthusiast, Vienna is guaranteed to impress. Its regal architecture, relaxed coffee house culture and exquisite cuisine are all worth exploring.

We chatted to Barbara from Vienna Unwrapped, she told us how to spend a day in the city, “Start with an orientation ride around Ringstrasse boulevard using tramways 1 and 2, the yellow Vienna Ringtram or a city bike. Then stroll along Kaerntner Strasse, Graben and Kohlmarkt in the historic pedestrian area. Go for a coffee and cake (beyond Sacher Torte) to an off-path coffee house such as Frauenhuber or Tiolerhof.

“In the afternoon, take the metro to Schönbrunn Palace for a visit of the palatial rooms, baroque gardens, Gloriette belvedere and zoo. In the evenings, visit a quality concert or opera, or explore Vienna’s bar scene which has had some exciting recent additions.”

Nuremberg, Germany

In the state of Bavaria, Nuremberg is famous for its vibrant nightlife and quaint buildings. Specialising in dark beers, Bavaria’s second-largest city draws visitors all year round. As you disembark and set off for Nuremberg’s red-roofed centre, look out for the Hauptmarkt, the spectacular 14th-century Frauenkirche and the ornate Schöner Brunnen.

We spoke to Lina and David from Divergent Travelers, they told us: “We actually fell in love with Nuremberg, which was unexpected. While we had heard quite a bit about the city prior to our visit, we didn’t really know what to expect. From the minute we arrived in the city, we were taken by the buildings, cobblestone streets, castles, history and food.

“We’ve become huge advocates at convincing people that Nuremberg is one of those places that deserves more time than just a day trip. We spent 2 days and just scratched the surface. The two things we loved the most were the private St. Sebald Tower tour and the behind the scenes visit at Nuremberg Castle.”

Passau, Germany

Straddling the Austrian border, Passau is best known for the stunning hilltop fortress which sits above it. The Veste Oberhaus was founded in 1219 and served as the stronghold of the Bishop of Passau. Today, it operates as a museum, so that visitors can learn about its unique history.

Below the fortress, the old town is lined with baroque architecture including the imposing St. Stephen’s Cathedral which houses an organ with 17,974 pipes. In between exploring Passau’s many museums and beautiful architecture, stop at one of its traditional German cafes for a beer and some authentic cuisine.

Regensburg, Germany

Situated in the picturesque region of Bavaria in southeast Germany, Regensburg is a beautiful medieval city. Renowned for its 12th-century bridge and 13th-century Regensburg Cathedral, the city is a treasure trove of historical sites. From the moment you disembark your river cruise ship, you’ll be struck by the magnificence of Regensburg. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the fourth-largest city in Bavaria and has plenty to see and do.

“There are a lot of interesting towns in Germany,” Lance and Laura from Travel Addicts explain. “Particularly in Bavaria and especially along the Danube River. However, Regensburg may be one of the most interesting towns of all. The bridge in Regensburg was one of the few places to cross the Danube for over 800 years. Its strategic position brought the town wealth and put it at the centre of Europe.

“Throughout the town, Roman ruins can be encountered in numerous places. The churches in Regensburg are some of the most interesting (and ornate) in all of Europe and cover each of the architectural periods. The compact city centre makes it ideal to explore on foot.”

We asked Lance and Laura what their top piece of advice would be for travelling to Regensburg, they told us: “Explore Regensburg. We mean really explore the worn. The city can become quite crowded at peak times especially when river cruise ships or coach tours are in town. The majority of people concentrate in the three-block area between the bridge and St. Peter’s Cathedral. Get out of the centre zone and explore the rest of the city.

“The Alte Kapelle church and St. Emmeram’s Basilica are just as impressive as the cathedral and get far fewer visitors. Regensburg is a town that is meant to be experienced. Give yourself some time to put away the map and just wander some of the side streets. It is possible to come around the corner and find yourself face-to-face with ancient Roman ruins.”

Budapest, Hungary

Hungary’s capital city offers some of the Danube River’s most picturesque views. Linked by the 19th-century chain bridge, Budapest is a strikingly beautiful city. Marvel at baroque, neoclassical and nouveau buildings as you wander through the heart of the city, soak up the views from an outdoor thermal bath and indulge in authentic Hungarian cuisine.

“Budapest is well-known for its bathhouses and Szechenyi Baths are the jewel in Budapest’s bathing crown,” Milly from Mini Adventures says. “The thermal pools here treat both body and mind to ultimate relaxation. The building itself is stunning with ornate facades and plenty of classical features. There are 3 outdoor and 15 indoor pools, as well as a steam room and sauna. We left feeling fresh and rejuvenated and it’s certainly a memorable experience.

“Back on the other side of the river, St. Stephen’s Basilica is home to one of the most stunning church ceilings in the world. Paired with a visit and tour of the Hungarian Parliament Building, you’ll definitely understand why Budapest is famed for its architecture. For dinner, tuck into some traditional goulash and make sure to pop into Szimpla Kert for a drink at some point before you leave. Budapest’s prime ruin bar is truly unlike any other drinking spot in the world.”

Bratislava, Slovakia

As Slovakia’s capital city it’s safe to say you won’t run out of things to see in Bratislava. Surrounded by vineyards and the Little Carpathian Mountains, Bratislava is a truly picturesque city, with lots of opportunities for hiking and cycling. If you’d rather stick closer to the port, the city’s Old Town is crammed full of 18th-century architecture, lively bars and cafes and the imposing Bratislava Castle.

With a population of 450,000, Bratislava is one of Europe’s smallest capital cities but is still Slovakia’s largest city. Uniquely, it sits on the banks of both the Danube River and the River Morava. Bratislava is a melting pot of cultures with influences from Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary and Serbia, so you’ll find both authentic Slovakian cuisine and dishes inspired by neighbouring countries.

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