One of the main reasons, the Danube River is perfect for cruising is that it’s a waterway that connects more capital cities compared to any other rivers. That’s why European river cruises are a popular way of exploring Danube river cities and discovering countries that were once hidden behind the iron curtain.
Flowing from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, the second longest river in Europe flows past larger European cities like Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Bratislava.
In other places, dense forest covers the cliffs in a breathtaking palette of autumn shades that tumble all the way down to the grey-green river.
- Danube River Cities
- 1- Vienna (Austria)
- 2- Linz (Austria)
- 3- Ruse (Bulgaria)
- 4- Nikopol (Bulgaria)
- 5- Vidin (Bulgaria)
- 6- Ilok (Croatia)
- 7- Vukovar (Croatia)
- 8- Regensburg (Germany)
- 9- Passau (Germany)
- 10- Ingolstadt (Germany)
- 10- Pecs (Hungary)
- 11- Budapest (Hungary)
- 12- Ungheni (Moldova)
- 13- Comrat (Moldova)
- 14- Bucharest (Romania)
- 15- Novi Sad (Serbia)
- 16- Iron Gates (Serbia/Romania)
- 17- Belgrade (Serbia)
- 18- Bratislava (Slovakia)
- 19- Izmail (Ukraine)
- 20- Reni (Ukraine)
Danube River Cities
The Danube River passes through 10 countries in Europe and several cities and off-the-beaten-track towns that are difficult to get to by other means of transport, which makes cruising a great way to explore.
At some destinations, the ports are located so close to the towns that ships are able to dock a short stroll to the sights.
While at other ports, the Danube river is a means of accessing cities close by through a short road trip through the countryside.
Another way to explore the region is to cycle the Danube River.
The most popular section to bike it is in Germany and Austria, between Passau and Vienna.
Here’s an A to Z of Danube River cities in 10 countries in Europe.
1- Vienna (Austria)
Vienna is the capital of Austria. Population: 1.868 million
A beautiful imperial city with stunning UNESCO World Heritage-listed buildings, Vienna is the city of music and Mozart.
It’s a fabulous city for culture and history, with wonderful museums and galleries. Also a city with some of Europe’s best restaurants, it’s not surprising that all cruise ships dock in Vienna.
Here are some things to do in Vienna.
2- Linz (Austria)
Linz is Austria’s third largest city. Population: 203,012
30km from the border of the Czech Republic, Linz is the largest city in Upper Austria, a European Capital of Culture and member of the UNESCO Creative Cities (UCCN) Media Arts network.
3- Ruse (Bulgaria)
Ruse is the fifth largest city in Bulgaria. Population: 223,489
One of the most vibrant Danube river cities in Bulgaria, Ruse is connected to Romania’s capital by a bridge.
Bucharest is 75 km from Ruse, which is a port where many cruise ships use to gain access to day trips to Bucharest.
Ruse is one Danube river city that has lovely architecture, where most of Ruse’s designs is a nod to the Viennese style.
While on Ruse, also visit the Basarbovo Monastery and Ivanovo Rock-Hewn Churches for a peek into Bulgarian Orthodox Christianity.
4- Nikopol (Bulgaria)
Nikopol is on the border of Romania. Population: 10,602
5- Vidin (Bulgaria)
Vidin is a port in Bulgaria. Population: 88,867.
Vidin’s narrow streets hide thousands of years of Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman and Bulgarian culture.
This rich history has left Vidin with a potpourri of architectural styles and fine churches.
At the 14th-century Bada Vida Fortress, we’re treated to a performance by a local theatre group dressed in colourful historic costumes.
The actors bring the story of the Ottoman conquest of the fort to life with a short Bulgarian play.
6- Ilok (Croatia)
Ilok is a town in the region of Syrmia, with views of the Danube River. Population: 6,767
Ilok is a tidy town with homes with tidy gardens, dormer windows, brown-tiled roofs, timber sheds stacked high with firewood, neatly pruned waist-high green hedges and tall shady trees.
St John Capistrano church, along with a Franciscan monastery and Odescalchi Castle are the main sights in the medieval town.
Built by the King of Bosnia, Nicholas of Ilok during the 15th century, Odescalchi Castle fell into the clutches of the Odescalchi family in the 17th century when a family member was chosen as Pope Innocent XI.
The Odescalchis planted new grape varieties, began a bottling operation, restored the castle and built the castle’s cellars.
Croatia has a wine-making industry that is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to possibly the Bronze Age.
Now centuries of wine-making techniques are falling into place for Croatian winemakers.
Drinking is a serious pastime in Croatia where beer, wine and spirits are skulled in one sitting.
The country is famous for its fruit brandy, or rakija, usually distilled from plums, grapes or figs and aged in Slavonian oak casks.
Also popular is bitter herbal digestive, Pelinkovac, and Maraschino, a liqueur flavoured with sour Marasca cherries.
I experienced this while on a cruise a few years ago. Here’s what happened:
In a garden near the jetty were long tables draped with white table linen and rows of glasses filled with mysterious liquids.
A beaker-shaped flute of straw-coloured slivovica (plum brandy) is thrust into my hands.
The mayor delivered a short speech in Croatian and offered a toast. I raised my glass and drank from my beaker. The liquid set my throat on fire.
I was offered a shot of dark mahogany walnut liqueur called orahovac. The liquid slid down my throat like a smooth port with a hint of bitter.
In 2009, Croatian wines won eight gold awards at the Decanter World Wine Awards in the UK competing against 10,285 entries from around the world.
It’s an impressive achievement for a country where many of its leading vineyards were destroyed in the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990s.
At Odescalchi Castle’s Old Cellar, where the Odescalchis first made wine using traditional methods, Croatian wine company Ilocki Podrumi owns the cellar, 290ha of vineyards along the banks of the Danube and a modern wine-making plant in Ilok.
We follow the cellar guide through a long tunnel lined with wine barrels used to store the winery’s recent vintages.
The guide points out shelves of dusty bottles of wine which were hidden behind a false wall from the Serbs who ransacked the cellar during the Homeland War in 1991.
Another level down, past more barrels, we’re now 12 meters underground and the temperature is noticeably chilly.
The temperature in the cellar is constantly around 14 to 16°C all year round. But the main section can get as cold as 10°C, colder than the average winter temperatures in most places in Australia.
At the end of the tour we swirl and sip among the barrels; a splash of dry Chardonnay, a full-bodied Grasevina, or Welsh Riesling, and a delicate Rhone Riesling, which is a perfect match for a well-prepared dish of frogs’ legs.
The cellar’s signature wine is the Traminac, which has been produced here since 1710.
Two of Ilocki Podrumi’s Traminacs were awarded gold and bronze at the recent Decanter World Wine Awards. But these wines have been appreciated by connoisseurs of fine wines for a much longer time.
11,000 bottles of Traminac were delivered from this cellar to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. And according to our guide, the wine is still carried in the queen’s royal wine cellar.
7- Vukovar (Croatia)
Vukovar is a city with Croatia’s largest river port. Population: 27,683.
Many ports offer insights into the region’s war history.
In Vukovar in Croatia, the guides share stories about their personal war-survival experiences as we walk past bullet-ridden buildings.
8- Regensburg (Germany)
Regensburg is the fourth largest city in Bavaria. Population:145,465.
9- Passau (Germany)
Passau is a University town in Lower Bavaria. Population: 50,000.
10- Ingolstadt (Germany)
Ingolstadt is the fifth largest city in Bavaria. Population: 133,638.
10- Pecs (Hungary)
Pecs is the fifth largest city in Hungary. Population: 145,011.
The Hungarian city of Pecs (pronounced paych) in the heart of the Baranya wine-growing region is 200 kilometres south of Budapest.
In 2010, Pecs was one of the European Culture Capitals (along with Bremen in Germany and Istanbul in Turkey) and has a fascinating collection of Roman burial chambers, medieval churches, Ottoman mosques and grand buildings from the Austro-Hungarian era.
2000 years of Roman, Ottoman, German, Croatian and Hungarian culture makes Pecs a worthwhile place to explore.
Pecs has an intriguing blend of attractions from the Roman times (dating back to AD400) as well as dreamy Ottoman buildings (circa 1543) and grand buildings that were left from the Austro-Hungarian Empire
Pecs has some wonderful museums, most are on Kaptalan Street, including a museum showcasing the post-impressionist art of one of Hungary’s greatest artists – Tivadar Csontvary Kosztka (1853-1919).
11- Budapest (Hungary)
Budapest is the capital of Hungary. Population: 1.756 million.
12- Ungheni (Moldova)
Ungheni is the seventh largest city in Moldova. Population: 30,804
13- Comrat (Moldova)
Comrat is a Moldovian city and also the capital of the autonomous region of Gagauzia. Population: 20,113.
14- Bucharest (Romania)
Bucharest is the capital of Romania. Population: 1.836 million.
Bucharest is one of the most interesting of the larger Danube River cities.On our second day, we travel in buses from Giurgiu in Romania to the capital, Bucharest. Glimpses of elegant French Baroque palaces flash by from behind rows of stark soviet multi-level housing blocks.
Visiting the Palace of Parliament, which is the second largest building in the world (after the Pentagon), is one of the things to do in Bucharest while on a Danube River cruise.
Romania’s communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu razed one-sixth of Bucharest, 30,000 homes, to build this white elephant.
15- Novi Sad (Serbia)
Novi Sad is a city in northern Serbia. Population: 289,128.
Novi Sad’s main attraction is the Petrovaradin Fortress where Europe’s coolest bands draw 50,000 visitors a day to the Exit summer music festival.
16- Iron Gates (Serbia/Romania)
A light mist hangs above the trees casting a mysterious air over the southern Carpathian Mountains on one side of the river and the north-western foothills of the Balkan Mountains on the other.
This section of the river is known as the Iron Gates.
There’s plenty to see on both sides of the river and our tour director points out an ancient Roman plaque Tabula Traiana on the Serbian shore.
It’s a reminder of the Roman Empire’s victory over the Dacian kingdom in 105 AD.
There are oohs and ahhs as we cruise past Europe’s tallest rock sculpture, a soaring 40-metre rock carving of King Decebalus of Dacia whose stern expression is chiselled into the cliff face.
Decebalus held off two Roman Emperors before giving in and taking his own life.
On the Romanian bank, we pass the haunting Golubac Fortress. The river laps at the base of the sturdy stone turrets which have withstood centuries of invasions.
17- Belgrade (Serbia)
Belgrade is the capital of Serbia and former capital of Yugoslavia. Population: 1.374 million.
You’d be surprised at the cool things to do in Belgrade.
Not so long ago (1999) the former Yugoslavia regularly made world news as a war zone.
These days symbols of capitalism are everywhere.
Advertising billboards with glamorous high cheek-boned models push western cosmetics and chic boutiques sell the latest European fashions.
18- Bratislava (Slovakia)
Bratislava is Slovakia’s capital city. Population: 424,428.
Slovakia’s capital city is small compared to other European capitals but it’s the largest city in Slovakia.
19- Izmail (Ukraine)
Izmail is a historic city in the south west of Ukraine. Population: 72,471.
20- Reni (Ukraine)
Reni is a small city in southern Ukreaind. Population: 19,109.
If you enjoyed reading about seeing the Danube River cities, you might like to see Europe’s mountains too. Read this post about the Jungfrau Railway Experience in Switzerland.