A Postcard Vacation: River Danube

Sponsored by Viking River Cruises

In a picture-postcard procession of castles and monasteries, forests and vineyards, the River Danube gently flows through green-clad hillsides, red-roofed towns and picturesque riverside villages.

As daily life plays out at the water’s edge, you’ll be comfortably ensconced on the top deck of an elegant floating hotel, soaking up the glorious sunshine and scenery, happy in the knowledge that it’s merely a short stroll into the center of town when the vessel moors up for visits ashore. Let’s us take you through the full experience.

A seven-night Danube Viking River cruise begins with a flight to Munich and an easy road transfer to Passau, a busy little town of cobbled streets at the confluence of three rivers, close to Germany’s border with Austria. Dinner upon arrival proves an excellent start to what will be a weeklong feast of fine dining.

Overnight you’ll pass through a succession of locks on the river, though blissfully unaware of the activity, and awake to the stunning scenery of Austria’s Wachau region, without doubt one of the loveliest parts of the Danube valley.

The view from your stateroom’s picture window was of terraced hillsides majestically rising from the riverbed. Clouds hanging on mountaintops drift down, filtering inquisitive fingers through dark, dense forests. Wine has been made from age-old vines cultivated on these steep and sunny slopes since way back in the Middle Ages.

A gentle morning sail and then Durnstein’s landmark blue and white Baroque church comes into view on a river bend. Stepping ashore, you’ll stroll past vivid green vineyards into a little walled town, crowned by the ruins of Kuenringer Castle where England’s warrior king, Richard the Lionheart, was once imprisoned back in 1192.

Pastel-painted, gabled houses cling to a rock face; wine taverns, gift shops and 16th-century townhouses line cobblestone streets. In the monastery’s peaceful courtyard, a family gathers before celebrating a baptism in the ornate splendor of the blue church, its interior laden with gold, symbolism and beautiful inlaid wood.

View from Danube on Regensburg Cathedral and Stone Bridge in Regensburg, Germany

Twin city

Another day, another country. The Danube does more than flow through Hungary’s capital Budapest, it divides it neatly in two: Buda on the western side, Pest on the east. A panorama of captivating buildings and architecture flanks the river, but none more glorious than the neo-Gothic domed Parliament on the Pest side, its 365 spires somewhat resembling lacy white cake frosting.

The ship moors up between two of the graceful bridges linking green and hilly Buda with the grand boulevards and shopping streets of plain-flat Pest. Even when raining there’s plenty to do like exploring the nearby, cavernous and colorful Great Market (Nagycsamok), where the displays are a treat for every food-lovers’ eyes.

Upstairs, a maze of little stalls show off embroidered linens and all kinds of traditional crafts, making great gifts for family and friends back home.

The following day you’ll cruise on via the Danube Bend, one of Hungary’s scenic highlights. The river weaves a meandering, looping passage beneath high wooded hills, watched over by a medieval hilltop citadel.

Stopping at Bratislava the capital of Slovakia, is a good time to explore medieval lanes, wander through quiet courtyards and climb the hill to the castle viewpoint.

In the main square, dating from the 14th century and lined with Baroque and neo-Renaissance houses, observe craftspeople setting out their stalls and outdoor cafes filling up for breakfast. The Old Town’s elegant buildings have been beautifully restored in pastel shades and given an injection of humor with eye-catching street sculpture.

Imperial splendor

There’s one more treat en route back to Passau in Germany — the magnificent Benedictine Abbey at Melk in Lower Austria. Baroque, rustic gold, red-roofed and copper domed, its vast interior decorated with breathtaking frescoes, it proudly reigns over the town and river below, perched high on a rocky outcrop. To put it simply: don’t forget your camera for this excursion.

Connecting eight countries, for centuries the Danube has been the main transport link between eastern and western Europe. Once, navigation was difficult and hazardous, with strong currents, rocks and sandbanks to be negotiated as boats drifted downstream and horses pulled them upstream. Thankfully such conditions are long past. Today a cruise on the Danube is the perfect way to travel through central Europe.

Experience more of the world, discover new places and create new memories with a river cruise vacation.