One of the many selling points of a river cruise, particularly in Europe, is the access it provides to a slew of inland cities, regional centres and small towns, whose only access to a waterway is the very river on which you cruise.
While the cities benefit from more established modes of access, tourism is often a major source of revenue for these towns, who capitalise on the eons of history connected with their subtle way of life, to welcome tourists who otherwise may not have even considered their little pocket of the world to see as part of their holiday.
River cruising gives them this in spades during the non-winter months and in turn, shows travellers another side of Europe they might not otherwise have found. Here, we take a look at some of the places – large and small – on the menu for APT river travellers along the Danube stretch between Budapest and Nuremburg.
Essentially a tale of two cities – Buda and Pest – the Hungarian capital is split by the Danube and is one of those cities which offers so much, you should definitely allow a few days before you board your river cruise or a few days before your onward flight to explore both of them.
The Pest side is the flatter of the two and features most of the city’s tourist-friendly region, with many hotels, restaurants and attractions. Over any of the bridges spanning the river, the Buda side is quite mountainous and in turn boasts opportunities to take in some of the best views in all of Europe (such as the above).
Much of the city sits between the Chain Bridge and the Elizabeth Bridge, so this is where you’ll want to try and get your hotel. This part of the river also plays host to most of the river cruise vessels, and while many of them will offer hotel pick-up / drop-off to assist you with your luggage, also know the distance to the city’s main streets is easily covered on foot.
Early in a river cruise itinerary departing from Budapest, you’ll have the chance to spend the afternoon at the Szentendre Horse Farm on the city’s outskirts.
That morning, you can enjoy a city tour of Budapest, during which your ship will actually set sail for Esztergom without you, however your tour bus will take you to meet your ship after the tour. Then in the afternoon, you can hop into a horse-drawn carriage for a short ride to the horse farm, where you’ll learn about the role horses have played and continue to play in Hungary’s agriculture and farming industry.
This will be followed by an entertaining show where teams of talented horse riders perform tricks and carefully orchestrated maneuvers atop their animals, before a coach ride back to your ship where your cruise really kicks off.
Most APT cruises will spend two full days in the Austrian capital, with a wide variety of shore tours at your disposal.
Vienna is one of those cities which you will probably get the most from if exploring it on foot. A short walking city tour can be combined with a visit to the Spanish Riding School, or if you’d had your fill of horses from Esztergom, you can also skip this in favour of a longer city tour, which is quite fascinating as you learn about the Habsburg Dynasty.
During a very generous few hours of free time you’re given to explore the city at your own pace, a visit to the Sofitel down by the Little Danube Canal is a must as it will allow you to see the city from high above and enjoy a coffee or drink at the sky bar. There are also a number of amazing cathedrals in the city centre to see, in exchange for a small donation.
One of the shore tours you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy while your ship is in Vienna is a trip across the border and into Slovakia to spend the day in the capital, Bratislava, another city steeped in history. You’ll board a bus early that morning for the short drive – only 56kms or around an hour – from Vienna for a visit to the overarching castle which sits high above the city.
Afterward, a walking tour will showcase some of the narrow streets. You’ll have the afternoon free to explore on your own before heading back to the ship. Only a short window is then given to change for an early dinner and an evening APT Royal Signature Experience at City Palace, where an enchanting performance by the City Palace Orchestra and Choir awaits.
Leaving the capital cities, the next few stops take you deep into the heart of Austria and the Wachau Valley. Literally surrounded by exquisite countryside and some of the most bountiful wine-producing vineyards in Europe, the brief morning (or afternoon, depending on direction of travel) in Durnstein provides everything the big cities can not – a quiet escape into rural Austrian life – before you set sail again.
One of the unfortunate downsides of visiting these ancient towns nestled in the countryside is that they are not always well set up for the less ambulatory. Some of the streets can be quite narrow and fairly steep, however touring is taken at a slow pace so it shouldn’t be a problem. There is also a small choo-choo train which can take those who aren’t comfortable tackling the steep streets all the way to the top.
From the top, the views over the valley cannot be understated and the tiny merchants and markets which make their home in the town offer a range of home-made souvenirs which make for great presents for loved ones back home.
Another small town in rural Austria, you’ll have a few hours to enjoy here on the same day as your visit to Durnstein. The landscape in the town of Melk is dominated by Melk Abbey, which can be explored on a walking tour. If you prefer, you can forgo this and extend your walking tour into the main part of the town to explore the shops.
Owing to the hilly nature of Melk, buses take you from the ship in this town up to the Abbey and travellers can walk back to the ship – a leisurely ten minute stroll – which is either totally downhill or flat so can be easily completed by anybody.
Accessed via a short deviation from the Danube, the town of Regensburg is one of the first you’ll encounter after crossing the border into Germany. Like many others, the history associated with this quaint little village extends back hundreds of years well into Medieval times and beyond and this is clearly evident with the standard of infrastructure still reflective of this period.
Just around the corner from where your ship docks is a sprawling town square and the city’s cathedral, and you’ll have a choice whether you’d like to see and learn about this with the help of a local guide or on your own. It is free of charge to enter the cathedral if you wish.
One hidden highlight which we recommend is to try and find Regensburg’s famous Christmas shop. Tucked away in one of the little alleys not far from the central marketplace, you will absolutely fall in love with the home-made decorations and gifts on sale.
One of the last stops before the Danube becomes the Main River, Nuremburg is a semi-major city but it one which will enthrall any fan of European history, both ancient but particularly its more recent involvement in world events of the last century.
A short drive from the ship will take travellers to the Nuremburg Rally Grounds where the Nazi Party held its annual propaganda rallies. The main structure on which Adolf Hitler stood and addressed his fellow citizens can be accessed, with tour guides providing a fascinating insight into life at the time as well as restored photographs from these events. While large parts of the structure has been removed or demolished, the core centrepiece remains.
This tour will also take you into the never-finished Nazi Congress building, an imposing structure adjacent to a large lake which has been left to ruin and is now open for exploration.
These cities and towns are all featured on many APT river cruise itineraries, particularly its flagship 15-day ‘Magnificent Europe’ journey between Budapest and Amsterdam.