I’ve been known to say “I’m not a cruiser,” but that was before I had an extraordinary experience sailing the Danube River with Viking Cruises. You’d think that growing up in Miami – home of the world’s largest cruise terminal – would somehow have inspired me to go on many ocean cruises. But the truth is that the whole mass-tourism thing, especially when you don’t get enough time to properly explore each destination, has never appealed to me.
Thankfully, there’s river cruising. You could say that it’s the anti-cruiser’s cruise. The intimate atmosphere of the ship, the in-depth guided tours, and add-on shore excursions were exactly what made my European river cruise from Nuremburg to Budapest one I won’t soon forget.
My itinerary was called Bavaria to Budapest. The stops were:
- Nuremburg, Germany
- Regensburg, Germany
- Passau, Germany
- Krems, Austria
- Vienna, Austria
- Esztergom, Hungary
- Budapest, Hungary
We sailed on the Egil, a Viking Longship with a streamline design and breathtaking views from all three decks. The ship has only 95 guestrooms with a total of 180 passengers, which makes things a lot less hectic and gives guests the opportunity to enjoy a more intimate setting. Plus the crew – passenger ratio is higher than on an ocean cruise liner, making the attention to detail that much better.
Below I’ll share some of the best parts of the trip.
I arrived in Nuremburg on a Saturday afternoon and immediately dropped my luggage off at the ship and went off to explore the city. My first impression of Nuremburg was how idyllic the Medieval Old Town looked, especially against the backdrop of the river.
The timbered architecture and cobblestone streets were a pleasure to photograph – it was impossible not to get a great picture of the Old Town. You would almost forget its dark past as a Nazi rally site during WWII.
Check out our article about Things to See and Do in Nuremberg, Germany
One thing I recommend you try in Nuremburg is the famous bratwurst sausage. I had the pleasure of a filling plate of bratwurst with sauerkraut accompanied by a dark Tucher Bavarian beer at Bratwurst Roeslein.
The next morning we arrived in Regensburg and took a 25-minute bus ride to the town of Kelheim. From there, we took a 45-minute ferry ride through the beautiful Danube Narrows to get to Weltenburg Abbey. Our tour at the Abbey led us through the chapel and then to the onsite biergarten. There I had a beer from the Weltenburg Abbey brewery, which has been brewing beer since 1050!
When we got back to Regensburg I was quite hungry so I decided to grab lunch at Wurstkuche (Old Sausage Kitchen), recognized as one of the oldest restaurants in the world. Wurstkuche serves up traditional Bavarian fare, but I decided on the house specialty – the charcoal-grilled sausages served with sauerkraut and mustard.
Check out our article about the 5 Must Does in Regensburg, Germany
What makes Regensburg so amazing is that it’s like stepping back in time. Because the city was spared significant damage during WWII, there are several centuries of history to see here – from the Roman walls, to the 12th century Bridge, and the colorful Patrician houses.
This is hands-down one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Europe. I started off my day at an organ concert St. Stephan’s Cathedral, home of the world’s third-largest organ (17,774 pipes in total). I then stuck around to explore the Alstadt (Old Town).
Afterwards I hiked up to the Veste Oberhaus fortress to get the best views of Passau. From the top of these 13th century walls I was able to capture incredible photos. Thankfully I had my waterproof Ugg boots on, which kept me dry and comfy while climbing all those steps.
Check out our article about the Top Things to Do in Passau, Germany
I was told that Simon Café was a must-visit for gingerbread and to buy chocolate, so I made sure to stop by before heading to Roman Museum Fort Boiotro to check out some of the old Roman-era walls and artifacts uncovered in excavations.
Last but not least I went to the Pilgrimage Church where people are often seen praying at each of the 321 stairs to the top. On the way back to the ship I made a quick stop at Wirthaus Bayerischen Löwen for (you guessed it) some more Bavarian sausage and the local Innstadt beer. After the day spent in Passau, it was time to say goodbye to Germany and hello to Austria…
Before arriving in Krems, we sailed through the Wachau Valley. It’s known for its scenic landscapes, beautiful castles, and local vineyards. The weather wasn’t great but we managed to avoid a downpour and enjoy the views from the sun deck.
I explored Krems for about an hour before my tour of Gottweig Abbey. It’s a town that you could easily see in less than a day. Highlights were the Steiner Tor gate and Obere Landstrasse pedestrian street. Make sure you have a Topfenkolatsche (cheese Danish) at a local bakery.
Check out our article the 5 Things to Do in Krems, Austria
Gottweig Abbey was definitely a highlight for me on this cruise because of how impressive the ceiling frescos are in the abbey’s Imperial wing. You can see depictions of the Greek god Apollo and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.
This Benedictine abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to approximately 50 monks at any given time. They are known for their “Göttweiger” wines –a tradition since 1083!
The next two days were dedicated to Vienna, the capital of Austria and the “city of waltzes.” Our first evening was spent enjoying a Mozart and Strauss concert we were treated to classical masterpieces and Austrian waltz performances.
The next day I went off on my own to explore the city center. I walked along Kärntner Strasse, the main pedestrian shopping street in central Vienna, then stopped into Café Sacher for a slice of their famous chocolate cake with a cup of coffee.
Check out my guide to the top 5 cafes you should visit in Vienna!
Lunch that day was a delicious plate of weiner schnitzel at Figlmuller. Highlights of my first day in Vienna were the views from the top of St. Stephan’s Cathedral, seeing what is left of the Roman wall at Michaelerplatz Square, and the Heurigen dinner at Winery Wolff courtesy of Viking Cruises.
My second day in Vienna was just as awesome. We started my taking a tour of the Gardens of Schönbrunn, the former summer residence of the Habsburgs. When we got back to the city center I went to try tafelspitz at Restaurant Plachuttas, a beef dish made famous by Franz Joseph I, former Emperor of Austria.
Last but not least, I strolled the Naschmarkt. Lucky for me, the vendors let me sample their cheese, cured meats, and even their wines. Now off to Hungary!
After sailing all night we arrived in Dunaalmás, a village 30 minutes outside of Esztergom. Our shore excursion was all about learning to prepare savory and sweet local specialties like Hungarian poppy seed strudel. We were greeted with Pálinka (fruit brandy) before diving into the culinary demonstration.
The passengers took a bus ride to Esztergom while the ship sailed to meet us there. We toured the largest building in Hungary, the Esztergom Basilica. We saw the Bakocz Chapel, which was built by Italian masters in 1506. From the cathedral we got epic views of Esztergom and the Danube River.
We then sailed through the scenic Danube Bend on out way to Budapest. This particular 40-mile stretch of the Danube is quite beautiful. We passed several farms, lush forests, and charming villages.
We soon arrived in Budapest, our final stop on the itinerary. Budapest spans both sides of the Danube River, with historic Buda on the east bank and modern Pest on the west. I had visited back in 2007 but didn’t have enough time to see everything, so I was very happy to be back.
The morning after docking in Budapest, I took the bus tour to see the National Opera House, Heroe’s Square, and see some highlights in the Castle District in Buda such as Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion.
That night, the Egil took us on a scenic cruise to see the Budapest skyline at night. The Parliament Building was completely lit up and very impressive. My last morning with Viking was bittersweet. The cruise had come to an end, but I decided to extend my trip an extra two nights in Budapest to properly see the city this time around. After checking into my hotel in the Castle District, I went to Gellert Baths and Spa and sampled langos (baked cheese bread) at the Central Market Hall.
My overall experience with Viking Cruises was exceptional. I thought that they made great efforts to keep guest off shore experiences as authentic as possible – from the knowledgeable local guides, to the food we tried, and the wines we sampled. I especially loved all the free time we were given to explore on our own – a luxury you don’t get on an ocean cruise.
Special thanks to Viking Cruises for inviting me, and Ugg for Men for keeping my feet dry and warm in freezing Europe.
Have you been on a European river cruise or any of these cities before? Tell us about it! Leave us a question or comment below!