In Central and Eastern Europe, home to the second largest river in Europe, you’ll find some of the most spectacular landscapes, architecture—castles, churches and war memorials—as well as some of the most colorful, inviting cultures in the world. So how is the best way to see it all? You could take a roadtrip, which happens to be one of my favourite ways to travel, but the issue is time. Escorted coach tours are another great option, however, it’s a lot of moving around, different hotels every other night, and neither of these experiences compare to the ease and luxury of a Danube river cruise.
The Danube river flows through the second largest number of countries in the world, and here are 7 incredible storied landscapes you get to explore on an AmaWaterways Danube river cuise:
The journey begins with a guided tour through the beautiful medieval city of Nuremberg where you’ll see the Imperial Castle, the famous town wall and the legendary fountain of the Market Square. For history buffs, there’s a guided tour of the city’s most significant WWII sites, including the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds, and the Nuremberg Trials Memoriam and Courtroom 600 (if the courtroom is not in session). The sheer size of these grounds is chilling, and often stirs up unexpected emotions.
Next, to lighten the mood, you can savor traditional Franconian specialties including Nuremburger bratwurst, rotbier (red beer) and lebkuchen (gingerbread). While en route to the next destination, Regensburg, you’ll cruise through the man-made Main-Danube Canal.
At Regensburg, you’ll be treated to a guided walking tour through one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities. In Regensburg, you’ll see all the city’s architectural highlights, including the Old Town Hall and the Porta Praetoria. And if all that walking makes you hungry, there are plenty of old Bavarian specialties to sate your appetite—beer, sausage, and pretzels galore.
Next, take a bike tour to Walhalla where you will see the neoclassical white marble temple inspired by the Parthenon in Athens.
The journey continues as you cruise to lower Bavaria’s city of Passau, where a walking tour will take you along cobblestone streets to explore Gothic and Italian Baroque architecture as well as St. Stephen’s Cathedral. If you’re looking to work in a little more exercise, choose between a guided bike tour along the Danube, or a guided hike up to the Veste Oberhaus Fortress.
Continuing down the Danube, next stop is the scenic town of Melk, renown for its magnificent Benedictine Abbey. The abbey contains the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau and the remains of several members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. Consider joining a guided bike tour that takes you through the UNESCO-designated Wachau Valley; or slow it down and take a walking tour along Dürnstein’s cobblestone streets to the famed Baroque church tower, Stiftskirche. Later in the day, set sail through the vineyard rich Wachau Valley.
No trip to Austria, nor Danube river cruise, would be complete without a stop in Vienna, “The City of Waltzes.” Vienna is a treasure trove and your tour showcases its regal splendors, including the majestic Opera House and the former Imperial Palace of the Habsburgs. Conclude your tour in the designated historic city center and visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral. For a more active exploration, take a guided bike ride to Klosterneuburg Monastery.
The city of Budapest is known as the Queen of the Danube, and your tour begins with a visit to the Great Market Hall. The remainder of this tour takes you to both the Buda (hilly) and the Pest (flat) sides of the river. Alternatively, hike up to Castle Hill for breathtaking views of the city. Cap the day off with an illumination cruise.
Continue your trek through Hungary with a pit-stop in Puszta. Known as the Great Hungarian Plain, tour a genuine Hungarian csárda (farm) run by world-champion carriage-drivers. Afterward, be treated to an unforgettable performance of horsemanship and then experience the Hungarians’ warm hospitality, along with a traditional lunch complete with authentic goulash.
From Puszta, set sail to Mohács where you’ll enjoy a scenic morning cruise past a town sprinkled with magnificent churches, including the 18th-century Baroque Protestant church, the Roman Catholic church (1776), the Serbian Greek Orthodox church, the votive church (1926), and the Avas church with its bell tower. Next, you’ll cruise to Pécs, a city founded more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans. In Pécs, you’ll find a city filled with historic architecture including the Christian Necropolis; St. Peter’s Basilica, the city’s main Catholic cathedral along with its catacombs; and Széchenyi Square, the heart of Old Town Pécs. For wine connoisseurs, there’s the Szekszárd wine region, one of the oldest red-wine-growing areas in Hungary, established more than 2,000 years ago.
By now, you are starting to appreciate the cultural, architectural and culinary diversity on a Danube river cruise. Next up, a “Best European Destination” winner, the Baroque Croatian city of Vukovar is situated at the banks of the Vuka and Danube Rivers in the region of Srijem/Syrmia. Known as the “hero town” for the valor of brave Croatian civilians and volunteers during the 1991 war with Serbia, your city tour will include important war landmarks such as Ovčara Memorial and Eltz Castle. Or, you can opt to go wine tasting in Ilok, a center of wine production since Roman times, where you’ll sample its famous Grasevina, Traminac and Frankovka wines. Back on board, cruise to Novi Sad, sometimes called the “Serbian Athens.” Discover Novi Sad on a walking tour to Dunavski Park and through Stari Grad, the Old Town center. If you prefer a more active exploration, join a guided biking or hiking tour. During the evening, visit Petrovaradin Fortress.
An under-explored and underappreciated Serbia awaits. Explore Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, on a city tour that includes the Kalemegdan Fortress and the Serbian Orthodox Temple of St. Sava. Later, choose from three intriguing excursions. Visit the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Serbian Royal Family; and then tour the House of Flowers, the mausoleum of Marshal Tito, who became the first President of Yugoslavia. Or enjoy a taste of the region by sampling Serbian plum brandy, Šlivovitz, and delicious local delights at the Quburich Distillery. For those wishing a more active adventure, join a guided bike tour.
Romania, without a doubt, is a country you are going to want to revisit after you set eyes on these mythical landscapes. Enjoy a full day of scenic cruising as you pass through the Iron Gates, one of Europe’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders. At the Iron Gates, the Danube narrows as it winds through a series of magnificent gorges between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains.
Next up on your Danube river cruise, explore Vidin, a city that has existed for over 2000 years and is one of Bulgaria’s oldest. Discover Baba Vida Fortress, the largest preserved medieval castle in Bulgaria. Continue on to Belogradchik, one of Bulgaria’s natural wonders, where you can hike around its most spectacular rock formations. Alternatively, visit a local home for a culinary demonstration on traditional Bulgarian yogurt and Banitsa, a pastry you will also get to make! You also have the option of cycling through Vidin and to the castle.
Visit Bulgaria’s ancient capital, Veliko Tarnovo, with its medieval fortress and multiple orthodox temples. You can opt instead to go to Rousse, known for its 19th- and 20th-century Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo architecture, and then afterward visit the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo with frescoes revealing exceptional artistry of 14th-century paintings.
Every single one of these breathtaking countries is worthy of a trip all on its own. I took my young son to Germany a couple of years ago, and I couldn’t believe how much was left to explore even after we absolutely crammed our itinerary. It was exhausting. A Danube river cruise slows the pace right down, transports you back to the days of the Roman Empire and lets you literally step into the heart of some of the most picturesque cities on Earth, all on one itinerary.
I know, with everything going on in the world of travel right now, you may be hesitant to consider a river cruise, but remember this: Most guests book their river cruises a minimum of 6 months to a year in advance, so don’t worry, you’re right on schedule. And if you’re worried about putting a deposit down, there are flexible booking options aplenty. So put your worries aside, give yourself an experience to look forward to and let’s schedule a complimentary Zoom meeting to answer any questions you may have.
It may be hard for a veteran ocean cruiser to be convinced they’ll love river cruising, but I want to give it my best shot. Ocean cruises may have been a popular way to ‘sea’ the world for decades, and for good reason. They’re affordable, convenient and offer travelers peace of mind knowing that everything they need for a fantastic getaway is all in one place. What could be better than that? But perhaps its time to come in from the ocean and take your experience inland on a culturally enriching river cruise.
You might think that the words “inland” and “cruise” are incompatible. Well, let me take the month of May to convince you that a luxury river cruiseline like AmaWaterways will have you re-thinking life on the ocean. AmaWaterways river cruises combine all the comfort and convenience of an ocean cruise with the excitement of European excursions at each port of call.
To all cruise-lovers, perhaps it’s time to shake up the ocean liner experience for an entirely new way to explore the world’s waterways. Let’s talk about why my past ocean cruisers love rivercruising, and why they love experiencing Europe, Egypt and Africa’s iconic rivers with AmaWaterways.
Here are the top 10 reasons we know why, as an ocean cruiser, you will love river cruising, and why AmaWaterways is an excellent first way to experience the world’s most iconic rivers:
1. The Scenery Changes All Day
While ocean cruises take you to countries, river cruises take you through them. You can spend two full days at sea or more getting to a destination, and don’t get me wrong, there is something incredibly serene about endless ocean as far as the eye can see. However, river cruises boast postcard perfect scenes all day, and because of their smaller size , river ships bring you to destinations ocean cruises cannot.
2. A More Intimate Experience
River cruising offers a more intimate setting. While ocean lines can be anywhere from 600 – over 5000 passengers, most river ships range from 144 to 196 passengers. This means that you’ll never have to wait in line, for anything. You have more time to enjoy all of the onboard amenities and experience closer encounters with your fellow passengers and crew. It’s hard not to become fast friends on a river cruise. There are also no tenders, which means you don’t have to waste time getting to and from ports so no more worrying about ‘beating the crowds’ off the ship.
3. Dive Head First into the Local Culture
Ever get that sinking feeling when you pull into port on one of those smaller, more intimate islands and there are already 4 other gargantuan ships when you arrive? Me too. AmaWaterways lets you get away from the touristy ports and explore hidden gems. Large ocean liner ports can receive up to 20,000 visitors on the same day but with a river cruise, you’ll arrive into port with only a few hundred visitors. Not only will you avoid long lines at your destination, but you’ll also enjoy leisurely excursions at each incredible port of call. You’ll be able to take in the local culture and history of every unique town that you visit.
4. Take Your Time On Shore
With many departures from the destinations being later in the afternoon or evening, unlike most ocean cruises, river cruises allow you to enjoy local nightlife in select ports of call. Whether you choose an evening walk through cobblestone streets, catch a local show or performance, or savour a cocktail after dinner while listening to a local musician. Being able to immerse yourself in the local culture day and night is far more fulfilling than just popping onto an island for the day.
5. Castle Views
That’s right, castle views from the luxurious comfort of your private balcony. From Amsterdam to Basel, along the Rhine River and in Budapest, Bratislava, Durnstein and Passau on the Danube, there are castles aplenty. And what’s more, you get to throw on some walking shoes, step ashore, and take a wander through the pages of your favourite childhood fairytale.
6. 5-Star Reviews
5-star reviews are only earned through 5-star service. River cruises in general have a much higher satisfaction rating than most ocean cruises. And whether you’re unwinding with a glass of wine on the Sun Deck, enjoying the night breeze under the stars, or enjoying an unexpected encounter with kind locals on a meticulously arranged walking tour, you’ll soon find out why AmaWaterways is award winning.
7. River Cruises Are Perfect for Families & Groups
One of the biggest misconceptions about river cruising is that they are for individuals of a certain demographic. Not true. I’ve personally booked a number of multi-generational families, from grandparents, to teenage children. The entire family will bond over a range of themed cruises and activities from food to history to countryside excursions. As for groups, AmaWaterways offers the ideal venue, luxury accommodation, superb food and drink and of course, myriad activities and excursions. Some members of your group may choose to take advantage of spa services, or the sundeck pool, or cultural activities, while others may prefer to seek out a quiet space with a book. And mealtimes are the perfect opportunity for everyone to come together again as a family or group.
8. Taste the Difference
Whether you’re into wine tasting or local street food, a river cruise provides an exceptional culinary experience both on the ship and at every destination. The onboard culinary team focuses on utilizing fresh local ingredients. Dishes are paired with local wines. There are absolutely no mass-produced meals, nor any basic buffet food when you cruise with AmaWaterways.
9. A Higher Variety of Experiences
Let’s not forget just how diverse every European country is. Some ocean cruises can feel like much of the same over and over. The charming towns and cities perched on the banks are both in close proximity to these iconic rivers, and each port is treasure trove of history, culture, architecture and stories. Guests can choose from myriad experiences like visiting local breweries, hiking to castles, cycling through trendy neighborhoods or visiting museums that highlight the local culture.
10. WorldClass Accommodations
One of the reasons ocean cruisers love river cruising is because river cruise have some of the highest percentage of repeat clients is because of where guests like you get to lay their head every night. Guests love stepping into a luxurious and spacious suite or twin-balcony stateroom that becomes their home away from home for the next 7, 9, or 10 days. Each of AmaWaterways staterooms is tastefully decorated and is river facing. Whether you choose to have a window view, a private balcony, or twin balcony (both a French and outside balcony), you’ll always have a room with a view.
So, there you have it. 10 great reasons why ocean cruisers love river cruising, and why YOU will love cruising with AmaWaterways. Have I convinced you?
Whether you’re planning a special anniversary trip, want to take your group or family on the river, or you want to get away with some very special friends, I would love to help you start laying the groundwork for your first (or fifth!) journey with AmaWaterways. Be sure to visit my Facebook Page to join me for a Live virtual cruise event!
In 2019, travel to Sri Lanka was set to be at an all time high. The Lonely Planet had just named the island ‘The Best Place to Travel in 2019.’ With various campaigns splashed across social media, travel writers and influencers filling up the pages of their blogs with images of dreamy, palm fringed beaches, and romantic jungle settings, a tourism boom seemed inevitable. Even my partner agency, Tripzter Travel, was in talks with a luxury travel brand based in Sri Lanka. We were mere weeks away from launching our own bespoke tours to the island jewel. The world was finally waking up to this ‘resplendent‘ landscape.
That all changed on April 21, 2019, Easter Sunday, when three churches and three luxury hotels were simultaneously attacked by suicide bombers across three different cities. Two-hundred and forty-five innocent Sri Lankans and foreign nationals lost their lives and it was the first time, after a decade of peace after the Civil War, that Sri Lanka had experienced a major terrorist attack. The fanfare around this newly crowned destination was silenced. And once again, travel to Sri Lanka was placed on most travelers ‘maybe someday’ list.
Well, we didn’t want to wait for someday. We knew how far the tourism industry had come before the attacks, and we also knew that travel to Sri Lanka would happen sooner than later. Two months after that Easter Sunday, we returned to our talks with Atravele, our luxury supplier in Colombo, and hatched a plan to get some boots on the ground. As an ambassador of sorts, the intention was to first, put our clients at ease, and demonstrate that Sri Lanka was safe, resilient, and still, very worthy of making the trip. And second, I wanted to showcase the uniqueness of this storied land, by covering as much ground as I could, and by experiencing as much as I possibly could. I spent twelve days exploring Sri Lanka by car, train, safari truck and by foot, zig-zagging across some 2000km. After the third or fourth day, I decided this was going to be where I launched my very first all-female private solo group.
From the moment I touched down back home in Vancouver, it was four months of research, countless emails back and forth, information sessions with clients, online discussions, and client polls all with the hopes of curating and designing the perfect Sri Lankan itinerary. Stephani Fernando, Inbound Director for Artavele and myself, would chat over WhatsApp into the wee hours of (my) morning, pouring over every detail. Choosing hideaways, calculating driving distances, hand-selecting culinary experiences, dreaming up authentic cultural experiences, and selecting archaeological sites, Stephani and I wanted to design a full sensory experience our guests would never forgot.
In mid-February of 2020, I launched my first all-female private group tour: The Great Ceylon Gathering. There had definitely been some interest in the tour itself in the days leading up, but within three days of the launch, I couldn’t keep up with the applications. It seemed that once again, Sri Lanka was on everyone’s radar, and come September, just in time for the Elephant Gathering, my group and I would be experiencing everything Stephani and I had worked so hard to architect.
And then, Covid-19 struck. We all know what happened next. Cases out of China in January, a Canadian travel advisory the third week of February, and by mid-March, a complete border shutdown around the world. Once again, Sri Lanka, and every other destination was put back in the ‘maybe someday’ box. I was forced to cancel my tour, and the future of international travel became temporarily, uncertain.
Despite everything, this proud island nation has endured, Sri Lanka and its people are resilient, courageous and forgiving. The unspeakable acts of Easter Sunday were never a true reflection of Sri Lanka’s present, but merely a cowardly echo of it’s distant past. They have more than proven that they can come back from decades of civil war, they can survive attacks against their peaceful way of life, and now, they will show us that once again, the world will once again wake up to it’s resplendence. So let’s travel to Sri Lanka. Later.
**This post is dedicated to the 245 innocent victims of the Easter Sunday Attacks, the resilient people of Sri Lanka, my dear friend Stephani Fernando and the incredible team at Artravele and Walker Tours who work tirelessly every day to care for their clients and graciously share their beautiful country with the rest of the world.
Adventure travel has been my favourite niche to sell for over a decade, and for many reasons. I think it encourages travelers to appreciate the symbiotic relationship between Earth and animal kingdom; It provides travelers with the opportunity to experience an alternative way of life; And more recently, adventure travel empowers women in local communities by providing employment opportunities, financial independence and a sense of personal agency. And with rate of international tourism on the rise each year (up 7% according to UNWTO) and women occupying more than 85% of positions within the industry, it’s not only important but absolutely essential to support women living in these local communities.
Why women specifically?
When it comes to education, women and young girls are the first ones to lose out or be denied access to formal education. Domestic or familial duties often see them plucked out of school, forced into marriage, made responsible for taking care of their siblings at home, or exploited in some way that takes away their agency. A lack of education may hinder access to economic independence and make them vulnerable to exploitation. Tourism can be a means for women to glean a respectable living without formal education. It can provide a way for them to participate in the formal economy and most importantly, this empowerment encourages them to create long-term and sustainable opportunities for themselves and their communities.
So how does adventure travel empower women?
Adventure travel tends to bring travelers off the beaten path, which often means you’re experiencing deeper cultural immersion and traveling through more rural and traditional communities. Travelers who choose these types of experiences do so because they want to engage with local cultures, they want to learn about their histories, art forms, cuisine etc. Adventure travel empowers women in a way that they are able to use their domestic skills such as cooking, hosting or creating handicrafts to make money. In parts of the world where a ‘working woman’ was against tradition, adventure travel and tourism has opened doors, planted the seed, and as you will read next, encouraged local women to be entrepreneurial.
What can I do to support women in local communities with my travel choices?
When you are doing your research on adventure travel companies who give back, there are plenty of options, around the world, who contribute to the empowerment of women. However, not all give the same way. I have two organizations for you to consider.
The first adventure travel company to think about is Canadian based G Adventures. The company was founded in 1990 by avid backpacker Bruce Poon Tip, and has more than 680 itineraries in more than in 130 countries. After escorting travelers to the furthest reaches of the planet for 13 years, The Planeterra Foundation was born in 2003:
Planeterra connects social enterprises to the tourism marketplace by providing catalyst funding, capacity training, and a market link for small businesses supporting women, youth, and indigenous communities.
Planeterra focuses on long-term sustainability and social enterprise. Which means, they work in partnership with local communities, ensuring projects are spearheaded by those on the ground. 100% of the proceeds provided by G Adventures goes directly to fund the more than 50 projects they operate across 6 continents. From Women on Wheels in New Delhi, to the Sisterhood of Survivors in Nepal to the Nagadas Community Homestay in rural Java, there are ample opportunities to give, learn about local issues and fascinating cultures, and empower women.
Another adventure travel company I enjoy working with is Intrepid and Intrepid Urban Adventures, an Australian based group offering up more than 1500 itineraries in 120 countries. Like G Adventures, their focus is on locally led initiatives:
We support local organisations tackling important community issues all over the world – from conservation and wildlife protection, to education, healthcare and human rights.
The Intrepid Foundation receives proceeds from its tours, but if you choose book your tour with them and donate to the Intrepid Foundation, they will match your donation (up to $1000 per individual donor), they pay for all administrative costs which means 100% of your donation goes to the project. The Intrepid Foundation not only supports the empowerment of women, but also works in concert with locally run organizations to eradicate illiteracy, provide vocational help and support to those living with disabilities, and encourage social change through story-telling. With forty-four projects in total, you are bound to find one that aligns with your passion.
So if you’ve been dreaming up a culturally immersive, environmentally enlightening or socially transformative trip, and want to support the most vulnerable in local communities, remember that adventure travel empowers women when you partner with the right organization.
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