The secret gems of the Danube
The Danube is one of Europe’s most popular rivers to cruise. And it’s no surprise, either – treasures along its banks include glorious cities like Vienna and Budapest, historic towns like Dürnstein and Melk, and the vine-striped landscapes of the Wachau Valley.
But it’s not just the big names that make the Danube such a delight to cruise – there are some real unsung heroes to discover. Many of them lie on the river’s lesser-visited eastern stretches, but there are a couple along the most popular routes, too. From wildlife-rich wetlands to an impeccably preserved medieval town, here’s our pick of the Danube’s secret gems…
Also written as ‘Ruse’, this elegant Bulgarian city is nicknamed ‘Little Vienna’ for its grand belle époque architecture and leafy squares and parks.
Amble around the old city centre and admire the hundred-year-old Monument of Liberty in Ploshtad Svoboda square, and step inside the Church of the Holy Trinity, where murals and icons commemorate the 453 local heroes who died during the struggle for freedom.
There are also a host of museums to tour, as well as a ruined Roman fortress that sits on a high banks overlooking the waters of the Danube (you can visit it on an optional excursion during our ‘Eastern European Explorer’ riverboat cruises).
The Danube Delta, Romania
Europe’s best preserved river delta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and a real highlight if you cruise the Danube River’s eastern stretches. Sprawling across 580,000 hectares, it’s a pristine wetland that’s home to pelicans, storks, herons, terns and more.
Exploring these lush waterways with a wildlife guide gives you the chance to spot some of the 300-plus species of bird that gather here, as well as fish, tortoises, frogs and emperor dragonflies.
Vienna and Budapest are the two big-name cities that you’ll find on a Danube river cruise. But head east and you can add the Romanian capital of Bucharest to your itinerary.
The port city of Oltenita is your gateway. From here, it takes a little over an hour to get into Bucharest by road. The imposing Palace of Parliament is a must-see, but take some time to discover Bucharest’s quieter charms, too – the tree-lined parks, the cool coffee shops and the ‘garden bars’.
Serbia’s eastern fringes are all about dramatic scenery – think soaring cliffs, jaw-drop gorges and quirky rock formations.
The most striking scenery can be found at the Iron Gates, a breathtaking gorge carved by the Danube which acts as a natural border between Serbia and Romania. We spend a day slowly cruising through on our eastern Danube river cruise.
The pretty town of Donji Milanovac is another great port of call, with its quaint streets, artefact-filled church and spectacular views.
Once the capital of Bavaria, Regensburg is one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities. Delve into the old town (designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and you’ll discover atmospheric lanes, tall townhouses and towers, and a handful of centuries-old churches.
A staggering 1,500 buildings are listed – some of our favourites include the castle-like patrician townhouse ‘Heuport’ and the Old Town Hall, built over a torture chamber that dates back to the Middle Ages.
OK, so it’s not technically on the Danube, but the little Bavarian town of Oberammergau is an incredible side-trip. On offer for one year only, our exclusive itinerary combines a River Danube cruise with the chance to attend the 2022 Passion Play, a performance that takes place across just one summer every decade.
If you’re interested in cruising the Danube, take a look at our online river cruise brochure or get in touch with our friendly travel advisors for more information.
Article published on: 23rd July, 2021
Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.