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danube river cruise

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:

Danube River Cruise
Nuremberg, Germany

Germany

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.

Wachau Valley, Austria

Austria

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.

Belvedere Castle, Vienna

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.

Budapest, Hungary

Hungary

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.

Puszta, Hungary

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.

Széchenyi Square, Hungary

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.

Vukovar, Croatia

Croatia

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.

danube river cruise
Novi Sad, Serbia

Serbia

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.

danube river cruise
Iron Gates, Romania

Romania

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.

Belogradchik, Bulgaria

Bulgaria

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.

danube river cruise
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

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.

Becoming a travel advisor was not a career I always dreamed of. I’m not what you would call a “natural born traveller”. Those who know me might be surprised by that fact, but nonetheless, it’s true. I wasn’t jet-setting around the world from infancy (like my own son). The extent of my travels, included family roadtrips, and the times we had to move because my parents were in the military. I wasn’t enamored with life on the road. I was a more of a reserved kid, with a big imagination. I loved the safety of traveling through books. I preferred skipping out on recess, and sitting cross-legged on the floor of my school library, flipping through the dog-eared pages of old National Geographic magazines. I was obsessed with Africa. The Great Migration. Endless herds of elephant, wildebeest, zebra being stocked by prides of lion splashed across those pages. But as much as I loved getting lost in those scenes, never in my wildest dreams, did I ever think I would travel there. Other people did that.

Or so I thought.

Fast forward a few years to one fateful day when I was strolling down the street and a glossy window display caught my eye. “Everything is better in Havana.” The advertisement practically shouted at me. I was intrigued. I had graduated high school a few months earlier, and unlike many of my friends who had taken off for Europe or Australia to trot around before Uni started, I didn’t have the funds to go on such adventures. But a quick little beach trip? I could swing that.

becoming a travel advisor
Trinidad De Cuba – Birthplace of My Travel Addiction

I breezed through the doors of the travel agency and was met with four sets of eager eyes. I was beginning to feel my palms sweat. “Hi,” I squeaked. I was just wondering about that ad on your win-” and before I could finish my sentence, they simultaneously replied, “I can help you here!” I slid into the closet chair to the door (in case I had to make a quick escape, lol). Turns out I didn’t need to escape. Because Sandra, my travel advisor, wasn’t just there to sell me a trip, she made it her business to make me fall in love not only with a place I had never been, but a place that was never on my radar.

Sandra knew Cuba like the back of her hand, and took upon herself to write out every not-to-be-missed activity she could think of. She told me what to eat, what to drink, what not to eat and drink, the climate differentiation from the mountains to the beaches, where the best dance clubs, hidden museums and daiquiri bars were, and how to escape the rowdy tourist hoards. She was a walking travel guide. She regaled tales of learning Salsa in Santa Clara, and taking a pottery class in Trinidad de Cuba. She told me where I could catch a Cuban ballet and gave me the name of a local guide who could show me underground art exhibitions. And to this day, I will never forget what she said: “Cuba isn’t fancy. It’s not there for you to be dazzled, it’s there for you to feel, to be moved by, to appreciate for what it is in this moment in time.” Sandra wasn’t just a travel advisor, she was a storyteller. And I wanted nothing more than to be a tiny An hour later, not only did I walk out of that agency with a trip booked, but a planted seed that would later flourish into a sixteen year long consulting career, a travel writing career that included an editing job with The Lonely Planet, nearly 80 passport stamps and a degree in anthropology. I guess that makes me a full travel convert.

becoming a travel advisor
Sao Miguel, Brazil

So why am I writing about becoming a travel advisor at a time like this? I mean, who in their right mind is looking at anyone working in the travel industry and thinking they missed their calling? NO. ONE. And I’m not going to sit here and pretend life is currently awesome. It’s been an endless tsunami of cancellations, disappointed emails, phone calls and messages, and obviously, devastating economic loss to my family. We as an industry are struggling. Yet I still think it’s the best job in the world.

In any given year, 98% of my job is making dreams come true. That isn’t the case for every travel advisor. Many of all of us started in brick and mortar shops, selling products we weren’t necessarily in love with, working for very little pay, working with clients that didn’t necessarily value our work. This career isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to earn your stripes. But when you start building those relationships, earning that trust, planning those family holidays, honeymoons, reunions, special occasions, you have a very unique window into people’s lives. They come to you to create, inspire and deliver something completely intangible, and incredibly memorable. Other than their loved ones, you are the one person in the world they turn to when they want to do something that makes them happy. If that isn’t a reason to love your job, I don’t know what is.

becoming a travel advisor
Enroute to Sri Lanka

Now, is it all rosy? No. Does it always go perfectly to plan? Absolutely not. That perfect hotel you hand chose may have let its standards slip since you were last there. Or that flight you booked with the amazing connection ended up being the flight from hell because of some sort schedule delay or substandard food, or lost baggage. Or, the virus of all viruses strikes, and everything to do with tourism grinds the entire world to an abrupt halt. No, this job isn’t perfect. So far from it. But I still love it. My clients are incredible, and they need me. They need me to stay positive, to keep my chin up, to keep inspiring them to travel, to encourage them to push their own boundaries by being an ambassador of sorts. We may all be grounded now, and this experience may change the way we travel forever, but becoming a travel advisor is a decision, that even in these trying times, I will never regret, and I cannot wait to get back to designing dreams.

Quad Biking the Dunes in Namibia