The Danube is to European river cruises what the Caribbean is to ocean cruises. It’s the de-facto destination everyone thinks of when the words “river cruise” are mentioned; the river shown from high-angle aerial shots in all the advertisements you’ve seen.
But, like the Caribbean, the Danube is too big, too varied and too different to simply be lumped into a single category. To expect a consistent experience from the Black Sea to Germany would be unrealistic, though your river ship itself should be consistently good no matter which section of the Danube you’re preparing to sail.
In order to help you prepare for your first (or twenty-first) Danube River Cruise, we’ve put together a list of common misconceptions – some of which have come as a surprise even to us after having sailed this fabulous river dozens of times.
There are essentially two Danube Rivers: the one west of Budapest, and the one to the east of Budapest.
To the west, you have prosperous Germany and Austria. You have medieval towns like Regensburg, big-name cities like Vienna, and quaint villages like Durnstein. It’s picture-perfect river cruising from start to finish.
Then, there’s the Eastern Danube, which weaves its way through Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. These countries are filled with plenty of history and rich cultural offerings. They’re absolutely authentic, and they wear their war-torn scars like a badge of honor. But they’re not picturesque in the same way that the stretch of Danube west of Budapest is. In fact, we’d recommend an Eastern Danube sailing for experienced river cruisers who have already seen the western half of this exciting waterway; first-time river cruisers are likely to get much more out of the western stretch from Nuremberg to Budapest.
As with many things in Europe, there is a multitude of cultures and ideals crammed into a very small geographical space. And the lifeline that unites them is the Danube. Understand that, and you’ll have no issues enjoying your Danube river cruise – no matter what stretch of it you intend to sail.
One of the great things about taking advantage of Viking River Cruises are the included tours which help you to bypass lines at many of the best attractions.
The truth is most of Europe during the summertime is crowded due to the great weather and peak tourism season. It’s important, particularly in the high season months of June, July and August, to pack your patience on the Danube, and just recognize that crowds will be a substantial part of your experience.
However, having said that, it’s always possible to find a quiet café in Vienna, even during the summer months. The trick? Ask the locals – and don’t do as every other tourist does. Now is your opportunity to get off the beaten path.
This is particularly true for voyages that sail between Nuremberg and Budapest. In order to transit from Nuremberg to the heart of Bavaria and the start of the Danube, ships must first traverse the Main-Danube Canal; a man-made marvel of engineering that opened in 1992.
It sounds like fun – and it is. But with 16 locks to traverse, this is the one place your ship can get held up – and the one place you might not have the best sleep, as your ship pings and bumps off lock walls and bumpers all through the night.
Herein lies the difference between ocean and river cruising: when oceangoing ships tie up next to each other, they’re separated by a pier. River cruise ships have no such separation; they pull right alongside and tie up to your ship. This is very common on many rivers, but it seems to happen a lot more on the Danube than the Rhine and other waterways (it’s very rare, for example, on Portugal’s Douro River).
Don’t be surprised when it happens, just wave at your fellow world travelers and then embark on your day of discovery in a new wonderful port.