Viking River Cruises showcases charming cities in Hungary, Austria and Germany along the Danube River

Today’s active adults often seek out vacation options that appeal to their passions for history, art, cuisine and intellectual enrichment. European river cruises fit the bill perfectly.

Journeys along Europe’s scenic waterways sail into the heart of bustling cities and quaint towns, offering opportunities for cultural immersion. These leisurely river cruises can easily be customized to fit specific themes and allow travelers to experience multiple countries in a single trip.

Viking River Cruises is a leader in European river cruising. The line has received numerous accolades, including being named “Best River Cruise Line” 11 times by both Travel Weekly and TravelAge West. Viking offers idyllic itineraries along a number of European rivers including the lovely “Blue Danube.” Our epic Viking Gullveig cruise sailed the Danube River from Budapest to Nuremberg, calling on charming towns and cities in Hungary, Austria and Germany.

Related: Voyages Cruise Guide by Leisure Group Travel

Discovery and Enrichment Opportunities On-Board River Cruises

River cruising provides a stress-free way to explore new destinations and cultures. Viking’s river cruise ships tie up in or close to towns. It’s generally quite easy to stroll off the ship and walk to museums, churches, historic sites, cafés and other attractions. With no driving or constant packing and unpacking, there’s plenty of time for individual exploration.

Viking’s included shore excursions feature exceptional guides who expertly bring their cities and towns to life. In addition to taking part in these multi-hour tours, we added highly immersive experiences matching our interests in almost every port of call. Some were Viking’s well-designed optional shore excursions, while others were independent visits to local markets, concerts, museums and restaurants. Our Viking Gullveig hotel manager, program director and concierge were more than happy to provide excellent suggestions on what to see and do.

Viking River Cruise

A historic spa in Budapest, Hungary – (Photos by Nancy Schretter)
The trip began in Budapest, an enchanting city divided by the Danube River. Our ship was moored close to Chain Bridge, making it easy to explore both the Buda and Pest sides of town. We visited Castle Hill to take in Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, climbed up to the observation deck of St. Stephen’s Basilica to take in panoramic city views, and spent hours perusing the foodie scene at the city’s three-story Grand Market Hall – truly a feast for the senses. One of our favorite experiences was spending an afternoon soaking in the therapeutic thermal waters at one of Budapest’s oldest spas, a centuries-old tradition. As our ship sailed away in the evening, guests lined up on deck to view Budapest’s beautifully illuminated Parliament Building and other landmarks.

Vienna, our next major port of call, is a treasure trove of delights for travelers. Once the home of the Hapsburg dynasty, the city is filled with exquisite palaces and Baroque churches, exceptional art museums, world-class restaurants and coffee houses, opera houses and music venues and captivating markets. After watching the world-famous Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School, we headed to Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum to view the extensive collections of paintings, sculptures and antiquities. The Albertina and Belvedere Palace are other extraordinary museums. Some of our favorite experiences in Vienna included attending evening opera and music concerts, sampling local foods and browsing flea market stalls at Vienna’s Saturday Naschmarkt, exploring imperial Schönbrunn Palace and enjoying Viennese dishes at historic Griechenbeisl restaurant. Dining at Tian, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant awarded a Michelin star in 2014, was one of the most memorable moments of our cruise.

Viking River Cruise

Vienna’s imperial Schönbrunn Palace

After two bustling days in Vienna, we enjoyed a leisurely morning visit to Göttweig Abbey. Overlooking Austria’s Wachau Valley, the monastery, founded in 1083, is known for the magnificent ceiling fresco above the grand staircase and the outstanding wines it produces. We spent the afternoon relaxing onboard as the Viking Gullveig cruised through the Wachau Valley, viewing ancient castles ruins and picture-perfect towns along the way.

When our ship called at Passau, we took Viking’s optional day-long excursion to the magical city of Salzburg, Austria. As the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for The Sound of Music, Salzburg is a must-see destination. We strolled around Mirabell Palace and Gardens, where scenes from the movie were filmed, then walked over to Mozart’s childhood home and the Baroque Salzburg Cathedral. Rather than having lunch with the group, we split off to explore the St. Peter’s district, Salzburg’s charming shopping venues and medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress set high atop a rocky cliff.

Founded well over 2,000 years ago, Regensburg is one of Europe’s best preserved medieval cities. The storybook town was not severely damaged during World War II and features the 12th century Old Stone Bridge, half-timbered buildings, St. Peter’s Cathedral, and Thurn and Taxis Palace. Visitors and locals alike enjoy dining on grilled sausages at Germany’s oldest restaurant, the Alte Würstküche, which has been operating in some form since the 12th century. Our scenic afternoon cruise through spectacular Danube Narrows to Weltenberg Abbey was another trip highlight.

Vienna’s Naschmarkt

The trip ended in Nuremberg, a city filled with historical significance. We spent the morning in Old Town exploring the grounds of Nuremberg Castle, the Church of Our Lady, St. Lorenz Church and the Hauptmarkt market square area. Our exceptional, but far more sobering afternoon tour took us back to a darker time in history. Viking’s World War II tour visited the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, the massive Documentation Center Museum with its exceptional “Fascination and Terror” exhibition, and the Palace of Justice, where the Nuremberg Trials took place. As we sat in Court Room 600, our guide brought history to life as she told us about the trials and their outcomes. It was certainly an enriching conclusion to our cruise experience.

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Magnificent ceiling fresco at Göttweig Abbey

River Cruising Offers Comfort and Style

River cruise vessels offer a highly personalized, comfortable vacation experience and cater to a variety of activity levels. Viking’s signature Longships are designed to accommodate fewer than 200 guests. These ships are like spacious luxury boutique hotels floating down Europe’s waterways. Viking’s ships feature an open floor plan and stylish contemporary interiors with a Scandinavian feel. Viking River Cruise’s amenity-rich staterooms provide the perfect oasis after a long day of exploring. Shipboard enrichment activities include lectures on history and regional customs, wine tastings, informative port discussions, and music and dance performances by local artists.

Culinary excellence is a focal point of Viking River Cruises. On Viking Longships, guests may choose to have their meals in the main dining room or the indoor-outdoor Aquavit Terrace for more casual al fresco dining. Menus feature excellent, regionally-focused food and wine selections with fresh, local ingredients. The Viking Gullveig’s sumptuous “Taste of Germany” buffet and multi-course dinners were exceptional. Because river cruise ships are a more intimate environment, dining has a more social, personalized feel.

The ship’s staff and crew play an important role in the overall guest experience. Both were extraordinary on the Viking Gullvieg. The ship’s staff went out of their way to make every guest’s vacation unique and memorable. After weeks away from the ship, it’s often those little touches travelers remember most. They make Viking’s iconic river cruise experience even more special.

By Nancy Schretter