2/19/2024     by Guest Contributor

Dreaming of the Danube

Ancient castles, steep vineyards, vibrant cities and sleepy villages are among the many sights on a cruise through Europe. The Danube River is a feast for all the senses, especially when sailed. Whether it’s musical Vienna, where even the horses at the Spanish Riding School perform dressage movements to classical tunes, pretty Austrian winemaking towns serving fruity Grüner Veltliner, or Budapest where delectable dishes are spiced with fiery red paprika — there’s something new at every stop.


Setting off from Passau in southern Germany and ending in Budapest, the Danube Dreams (Eastbound) cruise is a fascinating voyage of discovery which sails through four countries and takes in three very different capital cities. In between sailing and soaking up the history and atmosphere of culture-rich towns and villages, guests can also hike through beautiful countryside and visit atmospheric bars and restaurants to try local specialties. Here’s our guide to some of the many highlights and things to do on this Avalon Waterways itinerary.


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St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Passau, Germany


Known as the City of Three Rivers, Passau sits at the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz. In 1662, following a devastating fire, it was rebuilt in the Italian baroque style, earning it the additional nickname, the Bavarian Venice.

Beyond the riverside promenade, there’s a picture-postcard Old Town where the squares are lined with the former homes of wealthy merchants. Wandering the narrow streets, it’s impossible to miss St. Stephen’s Cathedral, rebuilt in 1682 on the highest spot in the historic neighborhood. Its other claim to fame is having one of the world’s biggest church organs, with 17,974 pipes and 233 registers; you can buy tickets for the rousing daily recitals starting at noon.

On the way back to the ship, keep an eye (and ear) out for the 14th-century town hall on the waterfront. The building is home to Bavaria’s largest glockenspiel clock, and several times a day the melodious chimes ring out across the city. If you’re feeling energetic, you can climb a “heavenly ladder” of 321 covered steps to the pilgrimage church of Mariahilf, across a bridge on the Inn side of the river, or join your Avalon adventure host for a hike next to the Ilz. Then relax in the afternoon as your ship crosses into Austria and navigates the Schlögen Oxbow, a dramatic horseshoe bend on the Danube.


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Hauptplatz Town Square in Linz, Austria


Austria’s third-largest city is a vibrant UNESCO City of Media Arts and a former European Capital of Culture. The overnight mooring spot is close to the futuristic and eye-catching Ars Electronica, which is lit by a changing kaleidoscope of colors at night. The following morning, take a look inside this amazing high-tech arts center, which includes a thought-provoking new artificial intelligence exhibition. Or visit the equally striking Schlossmuseum, which combines historic and modern architecture.

It’s a 15-minute walk, much of it through green parkland, to Hauptplatz, which is one of Austria’s largest city squares. The centerpiece is a 65-foot white marble column built in 1723, in gratitude for the city having survived disasters, and as a protection against fire, war and plague. From here it’s an easy to stroll to the Old Town with its colorful mix of medieval and renaissance buildings. Stop and admire the white facade of Mozarthaus, where Mozart wrote his Linz Symphony in 1783. For a different perspective of the city, take a 20-minute scenic ride on the Pöstlingberg mountain tram from Hauptplatz.

Linz is also a jumping-off point for day tours to Salzburg, a must-do experience for fans of the classic movie The Sound of Music. A highlight is Mirabell Gardens with the instantly recognizable steps where Maria and the von Trapp children sang Do-Re-Mi. Afterward you can follow in their footsteps and skip around the fountain that is also featured in the same scene.


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Artstetten Castle in Artstetten, Austria


Ybbs is an interesting and lesser-known port of call. Here is the first hydro-electric power plant on the Danube, and on the waterfront you can take photos next to one of the original turbine propellers installed in 1959. Be sure to visit Melk Abbey — widely regarded as Europe’s most spectacular baroque monastery. It’s perched on a promontory 140 feet above the river, while inside there’s a corridor lined with portraits of Austrian rulers, and a huge library with 90,000 volumes beneath beautiful ceiling paintings.

Alternatively, take a tour to Artstetten Castle. Topped with distinctive onion domed towers, it’s the tranquil final resting place of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, whose assassinations in 1914 helped to spark the First World War.

Next up is the breathtaking 25-mile UNESCO-listed Wachau Valley. It’s arguably the most beautiful stretch of the Danube, lined with vineyards, apricot orchards and historic buildings, so be sure to be out on the sundeck to take in the panoramic views.

Take a photo of Dürnstein’s pastel blue and white Augustinian abbey and walk through the old fortified gate at the eastern end of town. It leads to the quaint Hauptstrasse, a street filled with small shops. To stretch your legs a bit more, hike to the ruins of the 12th-century castle where England’s King Richard I — Richard the Lionheart — was imprisoned.


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Viennese coffee and cake


The elegant Austrian capital is brimming with impressive buildings such as the Hofburg, one of the world’s biggest palaces. For seven centuries, the great Habsburg Empire was ruled from this vast palace, where there are tours of the sumptuous private rooms and state apartments.

In the center of Vienna, the landmark St. Stephen’s Cathedral is one of Austria’s finest Gothic buildings — it’s definitely worth climbing the 343 steps of the south tower for panoramic views over the cityscape.

From here you can walk to the Spanish Riding School, where the “dancing” white stallions — which are actually born black — are put through their paces during morning exercise sessions held in the grand chandeliered school. Tickets for afternoon stable tours, as well as special performances, are available to purchase.

Speaking of stables, the MuseumsQuartier, known as MQ for short, is housed in the former imperial court stable complex on the edge of the historic center. It’s one the world’s 10 largest cultural complexes. From Beethoven to Brahms, and of course Johann Strauss, composer of The Blue Danube, Vienna has a rich musical heritage. In the House of Music museum, you can even conduct a virtual orchestra.

Viennese coffee culture is an institution. So much so, the city’s atmospheric wood paneled coffeehouses are on UNESCO’s cultural heritage list. And while there are many imitations, the Hotel Sacher opposite the ornate opera house is the birthplace of Sachertorte, a rich chocolate cake. Although there’s always a line outside, it’s worth it.


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Statue of Cumil


The compact Slovakian capital is a delight — with streets dotted with art installations, murals and statues, and a main square lined with cafes and interesting shops. Lofty Michael’s Gate and its tower are all that remain of the city’s original fortifications, and lead to the Old Town. Look out for Cumil, a fun bronze figure emerging from a manhole. He’s one of Bratislava’s most photographed sights, along with a Napoleonic soldier leaning over the back of a street bench.

For a bird’s-eye view over the Danube, join an Avalon adventure host for a hike to the four-towered castle overlooking the river and the Old Town. The former seat of rulers, today it houses the Museum of History. For a very different viewpoint, take the 45-second elevator ride to the top of the 300-foot UFO tower (built to resemble an unidentified flying object) next to the river. On a clear day you can see for more than 60 miles.


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Szechenyi Baths in Budapest, Hungary


Divided in two by the Danube, the Hungarian capital is a city of two very distinct halves. The quieter, hilly Buda side is topped by the impressive castle and palace complex, which dates back to the 13th century and is now home to several museums including the Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest Historical Museum. To save walking, take the funicular railway to the top and then wander through charming cobbled streets lined with medieval shops and houses. On the busier Pest bank, the main downtown area, there are grand sights such as the parliament building, opera house and statue-lined Heroes Square, plus fantastic shopping streets, such as Andrassy Avenue, Budapest’s grand central boulevard. Attractions along the riverbank include the Great Market, next to Liberty Bridge, which is a good place to pick up paprika, honey, embroidery and folk art.

A fun way of getting around is the easy-to-navigate metro system, the first in mainland Europe. Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit, as Budapest has more hot thermal springs than any other capital city. Szechenyi is the largest, with 15 indoor baths and three extravagant outdoor pools, and Gellert — built in 1918 in the Art Nouveau style — has wonderful architecture including stained-glass windows and tall columns. As you’ll be docked overnight, be sure to check out one of Budapest’s ruin bars that have sprung up inside derelict buildings. One of the biggest and most popular is Szimpla Kert in the Jewish Quarter, next to the colorful Karavan street food court.

Contact our agency today to book your European river cruise.


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