Flowing from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, the Danube River leads to fascinating Old World cities and picturesque villages on its route through 10 countries.
Many Danube itineraries start in Nuremberg, a well-preserved medieval city in Germany. Its Imperial Castle was one of the most important fortifications of the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages and provides great views from its hilltop perch.
To the south is Regensburg, originally a Celtic settlement and then a Roman garrison. Here you can see an old Roman gate and stop for a bite at The Wurstkuchl (Sausage Kitchen), one of Germany’s oldest restaurants. In Passau, you might be treated to a concert on the 17,774-pipe organ in St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
After your ship crosses the border into Austria, it will likely stop at Melk, where most passengers head for the 900-year-old Benedictine abbey that sits above the town. Be sure to check out the ceiling frescoes and the enormous library filled with thousands of books.
Austria’s Wachau Valley is one of the most scenic parts of the Danube, lined with terraced vineyards and picture-perfect villages like Durnstein, centered around a pretty blue and white church tower. Many Danube River itineraries include an excursion to Salzburg, where you can seek out the mustard-yellow home where Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 and stroll through Mirabell Park, a filming location for “The Sound of Music.”
In Vienna, visit the imperial Hofburg Palace and St. Stephen’s Cathedral -- its roof is covered in a colorful pattern of 230,000 glazed tiles -- and see the opera house and the Ringstrasse, a broad avenue lined by stately buildings.
Bratislava is the heart of Slovakia, and it’s the only national capital that borders two other countries, Austria and Hungary. It has an attractive Old Town and baroque palaces. Farther east is the Hungarian capital, Budapest, divided by the Danube. Passengers usually visit the Fisherman’s Bastion, a large terrace that overlooks the city and river, as well as the ornate parliament building and Heroes Square, one of the city’s most visited sites.
In Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, popular attractions include the 1920s-era Royal Palace and Knez Mihailova, the pedestrian-only, main shopping street. Upon leaving Belgrade, Danube riverboats sail through the Iron Gates, a spectacular gorge that forms the boundary between Serbia and Romania.
The Danube runs along the border between Romania and Bulgaria before it empties into the Black Sea. In Bulgaria, your ship may stop at Vidin, where river cruise guests usually head to Belogradchik to view the unusual rock formations on the western slopes of the Balkan Mountains. Another destination for outings is Veliko Tarnovo, which served as Bulgaria’s medieval capital and offers the Tsarevets Fortress and inviting cobblestone streets to explore.
Bucharest, about 40 miles from the Romanian river port of Giurgiu, often is incorporated in Danube itineraries. Top sights in the capital include the Patriarchal Cathedral, its whitewashed exterior adorned with richly colored mosaics, and the 1,100-room Palace of the Parliament, said to be one of the world’s largest administrative buildings.