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Viking River Cruises Danube Waltz itinerary may be one of the best Viking cruises we have done to date.
The Danube Waltz Passau to Budapest cruise was our fourth cruise with Viking Cruises. We have cruised on their river ships through Russia on the Waterways of the Tsars from St Petersburg to Moscow (we still maintain this is the best way to see Russia) and explored the infamous Eastern Bloc on the Passage to Eastern Europe Cruise from Bucharest to Budapest.
What Made the Danube Waltz Cruise Stand Out
There is no doubt all of the previous cruises we have done with Viking encompass some pretty impressive destinations. Also, the same high standard of accommodations, dining and service are consistent whether cruising on Viking’s ocean ships or river longboats. This cruise was no exception, Viking always delivers boutique cruising at its best. So, what made the Danube Waltz such a standout cruise for us?
True to the Viking Cruises ethos of making the destinations the focus, the Danube Waltz cruise packs some very memorable destinations into an eight-day cruise itinerary that never felt rushed.
The itinerary includes some of the most famous and enchanting cities in Europe such as Passau, Vienna and Budapest. It also uncovered some lesser-known towns that exceeded expectation, such as Krems, Bratislava and Český Krumlov.
In between, the opportunity to enjoy the riverside beauty of the Danube, especially the Wachau Valley made the actual cruising feel like a destination in its own right. It does not surprise us this route is one of the most popular river cruises in Europe.
The Danube Waltz Excursions
To complement the itinerary, we were very impressed by the variety, quality and scheduling of the Danube Waltz shore excursions. There were so many great excursions to choose from. Excursions to suit all interests but also allowing ample time to explore on your own if you so desired. We believe the possibility for independent exploration is what sets river cruising apart.
Danube Waltz River Cruise Video
It’s All About The Destinations
Viking Cruises prides themselves on their destination-oriented itineraries. Itineraries tailored to encompass more than just the cultural highlights. Excursions are designed to offer glimpses of local life, exclusive access and behind the scenes cultural experiences to allow people to further connect with the destinations.
The Danube Waltz Cruise has an exceptional offering of both included and optional excursions. So much so, we had trouble choosing what to do in each port. Thankfully, the pace of this cruise allowed us ample time to enjoy all the Viking excursions we wanted to do as well as explore on our own.
One aspect of river cruising that sold us on this style of travel a few years ago is the accessibility to the destinations. It makes independent exploration so easy for passengers who may at times prefer to explore solo.
Spending the night in both Budapest and Passau, walking distance to the highlights of each city allowed us so much extra time to enjoy these cities on our own.
When not docked overnight, many of the port departures were later in the evening to ensure maximum time at each location. We were able to structure our schedule to have at least an afternoon or morning free when docked in smaller towns such as Bratislava where we could come and go from the ship at our leisure.
Danube Waltz Itinerary
While The Danube Waltz is a Passau to Budapest cruise, you have the option of starting the cruise in Budapest as we did. A city we fell in love with at the end of the Passage to Eastern Europe cruise two years ago.
The itinerary covers five countries over eight days.
- Passau Germany
- Linz Austria (Option of an included tour to the Czech Republic to visit Český Krumlov)
- Krems Austria (with scenic sailing through the Wachau Valley)
- Vienna Austria
- Bratislava Slovakia
- Budapest Hungary
Danube River Cruise Map
Passau to Budapest river cruise route.
Map courtesy of Viking Cruises
We had a full day and overnight in Passau – The “City of Three Rivers”. A small city in Bavaria, Germany on the Austrian border set at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz and Danube Rivers.
A delightful city of elegant baroque architecture and beautiful arcades overlooked by the Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century hilltop fortress. In Old Town, the magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral houses the largest cathedral organ in the world. Its distinctive onion-domed towers are visible from all over the city. Passau was a delightful surprise. We were not all prepared for how pretty and interesting the city is.
- Passau Walking Tour and Organ Concert (2hrs) – Included
- Hike the Passau Hills (3.5hrs) – Optional
- Bavarian Farm & Countryside (2.5hrs) – Optional
Hike the Passau Hills
We opted for the Hike the Passau Hills excursion which incorporates a short tour of Old Town. It also enables you to join the walking tour group for the organ concert later in the morning if you choose.
The tour starts on Mariahilf Hill, named after the pilgrimage church above the Inn River. Pilgrims approach via the “heavenly ladder”, a 321 step covered staircase from the Passau Innstadt to the top of the hill. The pilgrims kneel and pray at each step as they ascend to the church. The walk takes you down the hill and across the Inn river to explore the old town.
Crossing the Danube River, you will climb to Veste Oberhaus, the mighty 13th-century fortress perched atop St. George’s Hill. A gradual incline with some steps at the beginning of the climb. From the fort, you have spectacular views over the city and its surroundings. Return to Old Town for the organ concert if you like or stay at the fortress to sample a local beer or a coffee while enjoying the view.
This excursion is a perfect way to incorporate the highlights of Passau. It offers fabulous views of the city from two of it’s best vantage points, explores the old town and is an excellent opportunity to walk off some of Vikings onboard fine dining. It also allows for an afternoon and evening to explore Passau on your own.
Passau Organ Concert
The magnificent 1688 baroque church, St Stephens Cathedral is home to the largest pipe organ in Europe and the largest cathedral organ in the world. The organ has 17,974 organ pipes, 233 stops and four carillons. Made up of five separate organs, each with a unique tone. The five organs can be played as a stand-alone instrument from the main keyboard. The result, a surround sound effect which made us feel like we were listening to a film score rather than a church organ.
The sound produced by the organ can be so loud; they say it can make some people feel overwhelmed or even a little sick. Staff are on hand to allow you to leave the church if you do feel overwhelmed. Thankfully, it did not have this effect on us or anyone else at the concert. Even if you don’t like organ music, this is a worthwhile excursion.
- Concerts are held every day at midday and last for 30 mins.
- You must have tickets to gain entry. Viking provides these as part of the included excursion so, ensure you arrange these in advance if you are not joining a prearranged tour.
- The doors to the church will be locked shortly before the concert begins, so be there in plenty of time.
The provincial capital of Upper Austria, Linz is famed as a vibrant and leading cultural centre. We had a full day in Linz, and there is much to be enjoyed in Austria’s third largest city. However, it was a day trip to the Bohemian town of Český Krumlov across the border in the Czech Republic that won favour with the majority of passengers.
- Austrian Countryside (4.5hrs) – Optional
- Linz Walking Tour (2hrs) – Included
- Český Krumlov Walking Tour (8.5hrs) – Included
Český Krumlov The Czech Republic
Perhaps it was the indulgence of checking off another country that swayed the majority of passengers to do this tour. Or, was it the allure of seeing first hand Bohemia’s quintessential fairytale town.
The word “Fairytale” gets bandied around a lot, especially in this part of Europe. However, Český Krumlov, described as a “Medieval Treasure on a Meandering River” is well deserved of the title. Clusters of gabled roofs punctuated with medieval spires encircled by the Vltava River. Český Krumlov is the stuff of fairytales.
It is only an hour an a half bus ride from Linz to Český Krumlov through the astonishingly beautiful Czech countryside. Even though the excursion looks like a long day, Český Krumlov is an easy and delightful day trip.
Český Krumlov Walking Tour
From the towns highest point the walking tour takes you down the castle hill. You will pass through the Castle Garden, Český Krumlov Castle, the Cloak Bridge and the Upper and Little Castle finishing in the town centre. It is a relatively quick walking tour aimed to give you some history and context as well as some bearings for you to explore the lovely town on your own.
An afternoon to spare allows ample time to wander around the charming town and, enjoy a nice slow lunch savouring local dishes. There is no shortage of good restaurants, cafes and more importantly, microbreweries where you can sample some of the brews the Czechs are famous for. Best of all, it is excellent value for money.
Český Krumlov was a definite highlight for us, and the tour sets a lovely leisurely pace. Our only regret was we didn’t know of the possibility of hiring a canoe to enjoy the scenic town from the water. We would have dressed accordingly as we certainly had enough time.
Krems and The Wachau Valley Austria
Often described as the loveliest stretch of the Danube, The Wachau Valley, west of Vienna is known for its rolling hills, vineyards and fortresses. So impressive, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 for its cultural importance and physical beauty.
Arrival into Krems is one of the most scenic sailings of the voyage. You will sail past beautiful towns like Dürnstein – “Pearl of the Wachau”. The ruined castle that imprisoned Richard the Lionheart for a year sits perched above the 16th-century village and beautifully restored Augustinian Monastery.
Aside from the scenic beauty and the temptation of the regions world renown wines, nearby Gottweig and Melk Abbey’s are highlights of the area.
- Göttweig Abbey (3hrs) – Included
- Melk Abbey (3.5hrs) – Optional
- Wachau Valley by E-Cycle (2.5hrs) – Optional
The Benedictine Abbey of Göttweig, a working monastery for more than 900 years stands solitary on the Gottweig Mountain, an impressive edifice overlooking the Wachau Valley vineyards. Attracting visitors from all over the world, the Abbey serves as a spiritual centre run by a community of about 45 monks.
Göttweig is an experience of high baroque in all its splendour set in picturesque apricot gardens. One of the most impressive aspects of the abbey is in the museum in the imperial wing. The grand imperial staircase with the ceiling fresco by Paul Troger from 1739. It is one of the largest and most beautiful baroque staircases in Europe.
Above the town of Melk, perched high on the cliffs overlooking the Danube, is the Melk Benedictine Abbey. Benedictine monks have been living and working in Melk Abbey continually since 1089. Considered a masterwork of baroque brilliance, Melk Abbey is one of the most significant and beautiful European Baroque buildings and possibly the most elegant landmark of the Wachau Valley. The abbey’s stunning architecture is famous worldwide securing its place in UNESCO’s world cultural heritage.
A visit to the abbey will take you through the imperial rooms, now home to a museum chronicling the abbey’s history from its beginning to present times. You will have time to take in the interior of the abbey’s impressive church, an astonishing display of Baroque excess.
For some, the most impressive aspect of the abbey is the monastic library. Renowned for its extensive manuscript collection from The Stiftsgymnasium Melk, a monastic school, founded in the twelfth century.
The City of Waltzes, Europe’s centre of classical music is possibly one of the most elegant cities in the world. There is so much to see and do in Vienna one full day may not seem like enough time. However, Viking has put together a very comprehensive schedule of excursions that cover off on the best things to do and see in Vienna so you won’t feel short-changed in the fabulous city.
- Panoramic Vienna (3.5hrs) – Included
- Vienna Highlights (8hrs) – Optional
- Schonbrunn Palace (3.5hrs) – Optional
- Behind the Scenes at the Lipizzaner Stallions (3.5hrs) – Optional
- Mozart & Strauss Concert (3hrs Evening)- Optional
- Heurigen Evening (2.5hrs Evening) – Optional
We found, much like St Petersberg on the Viking Homelands Cruise, there is so much to do in Vienna and Viking caters accordingly with a lot of optional excursions on offer. If you were going to put all of your optional excursion eggs into one basket, other than Budapest, this could be the city to do it.
However, unlike St Petersberg, in Vienna, you don’t have any visa worries. Also, as the city centre is easily accessible from the ship, independent exploration is very easy. The boat is berthed in Vienna for an entire day from early morning until nearly midnight, so there is ample time to see and do quite a lot. We managed two excursions as well as time sightseeing on our own.
We chose to take the included Panoramic Vienna tour as it makes its way along the Ringstrasse to see some of the city’s most impressive baroque architecture. The bus tour is followed by a walking tour through The Museumsquartier, finishing at St Stephen’s Cathedral.
We had an entire afternoon to explore the city on our own. It was the perfect opportunity to spend some time enjoying Vienna’s famous coffee houses, soaking up the atmosphere of one of the world’s most famous cities. If you wanted a more comprehensive tour of Vienna, the Vienna Highlights tour would be a good choice.
Mozart & Strauss Concert
The Mozart & Strauss Concert with the Vienna Residence Orchestra in the evening was possibly the most popular optional excursion in Vienna. We have found with other Viking itineraries; the concerts are often a highlight of the cruise. We still talk about attending the ballet in St Petersberg and the orchestra evening in Moscow. An evening of Mozart & Strauss in Vienna is one of those must do experiences you will never forget.
Bratislava, dubbed “The Heart of Europe” thanks to its geographic location at the centre of Europe wins hearts for many other reasons. A beautifully green city that hasn’t been entirely tarred by Communism’s bleak urban facelift. Although, the startingly Communistic UFO Bridge competes with the 13th century Bratislava Castle for your attention. A stark juxtaposition of Bratislava’s history on the city skyline.
- Panoramic Bratislava (2hrs) – Included
- Bratislava Walking Tour (2hrs) – Included
- Bratislava Home-Hosted Visit (3hrs) – Optional
The old town of Bratislava is intimate, vibrant and very laid back. Despite, the little city being a hotspot for British Stag parties, much like Riga, Estonia or Ljubliana, Bratislava is a charming city to spend a day.
The ship berths right in the centre of town, so it is an easy day to explore at your leisure. The walking tour was perfect for gaining some insight into the city and its history, but we mostly enjoyed our time wandering the squares and lanes of Old Town on our own.
It is destinations like Bratislava that make the Danube Waltz cruise feel so relaxed. A full day in Vienna may be busy, but the following is a relaxed day exploring a small city at your leisure.
As mentioned earlier, we had visited Budapest two years prior at the end of the Passage to Eastern Europe cruise, and we fell in love with the city. “The Pearl of the Danube”, Budapest boasts a mix of sophisticated elegance to rival Paris or Vienna with a cool counter-culture attracting people from all over Europe. Budapest has a unique atmosphere that has made the city one of Europe’s top weekend getaway destinations.
Split into two sides, Buda and Pest, there is so much to explore in Budapest, but it is easy to see a lot in a short amount of time. As the ship docks in the middle of the city overnight, it is easy to get around. Much like in Vienna, Viking also has an excellent offering of excursions to ensure you experience the best Budapest has to offer.
- Panoramic Budapest (4hrs) – Included
- Budapest Castle Hill City Hike (4hrs) – Optional
- Hungarian Horsemen (3.5hrs) – Optional
- Dohany Street Synagogue & Jewish Budapest (3.5 hrs) – Optional
- Budapest Thermal Bath (3.5hrs) – Optional
- Grand Market: Taste of Hungary & Pancake Kitchen (3.5hrs) – Optional
On our last visit, other than time spent in the Castle District, a highlight of Budapest was the Hungarian Horsemen excursion. The Hungarian Cowboys of the Puszta region are famous the world over for their skill and fearlessness with horses. You can read more about the Hungarian Horsemen here.
On this cruise, our Budapest highlights were a visit to the thermal baths and the evening cruise down the Danube taking in the most beautiful aspect of the city – Budapest by night.
The Budapest Grand Market Hall
A trip to Budapest would not be complete without a visit to the Grand Market Hall to immerse yourself in Hungary’s rich food culture – Praprika anyone?
Viking offers a market tour which includes tastings and cooking demonstrations. Or, if you wish to wander the three-level marketplace on your own, it is a short stroll along the Danube from the ship. A lovely way to spend a morning or afternoon experiencing local Budapest life.
Budapest Thermal Baths
On our last cruise we opted to spend more time in the Castle District so missed the opportunity to indulge in the age-old tradition of taking the waters in Budapest’s restorative thermal baths. An experience we were not going to miss this time around.
We experienced the traditional Russian Banya on the Waterways of the Tsars cruise and the Nordic bathing rituals on board the Viking Sea. Naturally, we felt joining the Budapestian locals in a centuries-old bathing tradition is as cultural as attending the opera in Italy. After all, Budapest does hold the title of “City of Spas”.
There are 118 springs in Budapest, delivering over 70 million litres of thermal water between 21℃ and 78℃ a day. Some of the public spas are very large and very touristy. What is great about this excursion; you visit the Lukács Thermal Bath which attracts a more local crowd as opposed to large tourist groups.
Viking arranged spa packs containing everything we would need for a relaxing afternoon, including towels, fluffy robes and slippers. Bundled off with our pre-packed spa bags, we indulged in one of the most civilised rituals in the world.
An entire afternoon is allocated to the experience. Enough time to try all the different pools, to relax and enjoy the restorative powers of one of Budapest’s most therapeutic spas.
Take a Ride on the Iconic Budapest Trams
Independent exploration in Budapest is very straightforward. Firstly, it is a very easy city to navigate on foot. Secondly, there is the cities tram network. In operation since 1866, it is as iconic as the Parliament building or the Chain Bridge. Take the No.2 tram, to enjoy the beautiful views of Budapest along the Pest side of the Danube. A return trip will cost less than $4.
A river cruise is designed to offer a sampling of experiences on a particular route. A degustation of destinations. Perhaps some of these destinations will impress you enough to want to return. The Danube Waltz cruise gave us an excellent sampling of each destination. We felt we experienced the best of these destinations without being rushed. Sure, we’ve now added some more destinations to our (long) list of places we would like to return and spend more time. As far as we are concerned, that’s a fantastic thing.
Danube Waltz Cruise Facts
We travelled from Budapest – Passau as guests of Viking Cruises on the Danube Waltz Cruise.
The 8-day cruise includes 5 countries and 6 guided tours.
Prices start from $2,499 pp.
We recommend checking Viking Cruises official site for promotional deals such as Early Bird Specials or Two for One Air.
We would like to thank Viking Cruises for hosting us on the Danube Waltz Cruise. As always, all opinions are our own.