I have long been fascinated by the mighty Danube river. Maybe my interest comes from its passing through more countries than any other river in the world, ten in total. Or maybe I’m intrigued by its history, including the long period when it formed the north-eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. Or maybe I’m attracted by its romantic connotations as exemplified by the Blue Danube waltz of Johann Strauss II.
Whatever the reasons, my fascination has led me over the years to visit many of the towns and cities along the Danube, from Germany through to Serbia, taking in Austria, Slovakia and Hungary along the way, and including of course the Hungarian capital, Budapest, often referred to as the ‘Queen of the Danube’
It has involved me in thousands of miles of driving over sometimes rather indifferent roads – not really advisable for senior travellers. Hence I was pleased to learn that TUI River Cruises have organised a range of Danube cruises for 2020 that take in many of the places that I’ve most enjoyed visiting. Their Danube Treasures, Magical Danube and Danube Delights cruises have ports of call along the Danube from Germany to Hungary, whilst their East Danube Explorer cruise has ports of call in Hungary, Croatia and Serbia. All include time to visit Budapest.
The source of the Danube, or the Donau as it is called in Germany and Austria, is in the Black Forest region of south-west Germany, but the most scenic parts of the river start in Regensberg in Bavaria.
Regensberg itself has an attractive old town, with a 12th Century 16-arched Stone Bridge and a 13th Century twin-spired Gothic Cathedral.
Eighty miles east along the Danube brings you to one of my favourite Bavarian cities, the ‘Three Rivers City’ of Passau. Here the Danube is joined by the Inn and Ilz rivers. Standing at the Dreiflüsseeck, the viewpoint where the three rivers merge, gives great views of the hilly countryside around, including the 13th Century hilltop fortress, the Veste Oberhaus, that overshadows the city.
Linz, just 50 miles over the border from Passau, proved a very pleasant surprise when I first visited four years ago. See my article: Austria’s Forgotten City. I particularly enjoyed taking the Pöstlingberg Tramway across the Danube and then steeply up to the hilltop church of Pöstlingberglirche. There are great views back towards the the Old Town of Linz and along the Danube valley.
The magnificent Melk Abbey, standing on a rocky outcrop above the Danube, totally dominates the stretch of the river leading to Vienna. But having marvelled at its vast, lavish exterior, I strongly recommend you view its equally stunning interior and relax in its gardens.
The Danube is not a dominating feature of Vienna, being rather isolated on the north-eastern edge of the city. But of course Vienna itself, with its grand imperial palaces and contemporary modern buildings by artists like Gustav Klimt, has much to delight the visitor.
The Danube, or rather the Dunaj as it is known in Slovakia, passes through the capital Bratislava, overlooked by its hilltop Castle. I enjoy wandering around the narrow streets of its traffic-free old town, sampling the bustling bars and cafes, before taking the City Train up to the Castle and relaxing in its Baroque-style gardens.
Another 120 miles or so along the Danube, or Duna as it is called in Hungary, takes you past Esztergom Cathedral, the largest church and tallest building in Hungary, and along to the ‘Danube Bend’. Here the river dramatically changes course from travelling east to south. After a further 30 miles Budapest comes into view.
Yes this is truly the ‘Queen of the Danube’ sitting firmly astride the river. Indeed, until 1873 it consisted of two cities, the hilly Buda on the west bank of the river and the flat Pest on the east bank. Its many bridges when lit up at night form a dazzling display with the famous Parliament Building and Buda Castle being equally striking.
I have visited Budapest many times over the last thirty years but each time find new things to see and do. For some ideas when visiting Budapest, see my Top Ten Highlights.
The Danube immediately south of Budapest, is quite industrial, but not far beyond are the pretty riverside towns of Kalocsa, Baja and Mohács. I enjoy walking around sleepy Mohács with its Moorish style Town Hall and historical Votive Memorial Church. It is also a good starting point for visiting Pécs, arguably the most beautiful city in Hungary, and the wine-growing Villány region
Serbia and Croatia
The Danube, or Dunav in Serbo-Croat, now repeatedly passes between Croatia and Serbia as it flows further south, past the Croatian town of Vukovar and Serbian city of Novi Sad.
The fortress sitting above Novi Sad is well worth a visit, both for the panoramic views across the city and for the tours deep beneath the fortress battlements.
The capital of Serbia, Belgrade, is just another 50 miles down river and another hilltop fortress comes into view. Belgrade Fortress towers over the point where the River Sava meets the Danube and is the city’s number one tourist attraction. It contains museums, including a military museum, and is next to a quiet park.
I enjoy visiting the cobbled streets of the Bohemian Skadarlija area and then wandering on to admire the Church of St Sava, one of the largest churches in the world.
Cruising the Danube
If you opt for the leisurely cruising way of following the Danube, then the four options offered by TUI River Cruises cover all the places I’ve mentioned above. And excursions available include, for example, touring Melk Abbey, taking the City Train tour of Bratislava and visiting many of my highlights of Budapest, including the Great Synagogue and the hilltop Citadel.
However you choose to travel down, or up, the Danube, I can guarantee superb scenery and interesting and inspiring stops along the way. This article has only skimmed the surface of the wealth of history that all the places mentioned have to offer. And, I should add, I have always found friendly, helpful local people wherever my Danube travels have taken me.
POSTED 5th AUGUST 2019 by STEVE HANSON.