In September we took a river cruise along the stretch of the Danube from Budapest to Passau covering 4 countries Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany so it was interesting to see the contrasts and different cultures of each place.
The Danube cruise we felt was generally less picturesque and leisurely than the Rhine but it is a great way to see the classic cities of Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna on one trip and it is extendable at both ends. We also felt that we didn’t get enough time to appreciate each place.
Budapest is an interesting city which has a lot of similarities with London. The Parliament building standing majestically on the riverbank dominating the skyline and the castle on the Buda side. The bridges remind me of London, chain bridge and Elizabeth Bridge both resemble London’s Victorian bridges. Budapest has an underground and a tram system which will help you get around the city cheaply and efficiently. An integrated day pass is around £5. Budapest has some great bars including the famous Buddha Bar. Budapest cashes on its reputation as a former communist capital and has a Communist themed bar, lots of Russian memorabilia but it does mean there are some interesting souvenirs to buy. I realised quite early on that a Danube cruise isn’t ideal for the disabled and Budapest was unfortunately a bit of a challenge for the wheelchair passenger on board.
After passing round the picturesque Danube Bend we reached Esztergom which has a massive cathedral, the largest and most impressive in Hungary. At first sight this looks impossible to reach but eventually I found a gentler road leading to it and a lift to get to the cathedral itself. It was worth the hike. Some parts of the cathedral, the Cupola and the treasury are at an extra charge but there is enough to see without having to pay and it is a very impressive Catholic Cathedral. There is fabulous panoramic view from the top. Esztergom although quite small, also has a couple of museums and art galleries.
Our next stop was Bratislava which I went to last year so this time we went to the shopping arcade which was closed last time as it was Sunday. The mall has all the well known brand names but at cheaper prices than neighbouring Austria. The Viennese get the train to Bratislava to stock up on cigarettes and booze at the weekends. The mall is very close to the centre so once I got my bearings we ventured into the “House of Beer” in the main street which we discovered last year.
From Bratislava, we had a brief stop in Linz which is a large and industrial city in Austria, hardly chocolate box but it does have a very impressive cathedral which is well worth seeing.
From Linz, we sailed straight to Passau in Germany. We liked Passau, very walkable and set on two rivers, it is a really pretty town with character and plenty to see. It was lovely just to walk around and sit by the river as we had a few hours there. The shopping is good and there is a large shopping mall but also a more traditional high street leading to the ancient fortress and cathedral. Ancient and modern works well.
Melk was our next stop and the famous Melk Abbey and Gardens are almost vcertainly bigger than the town itself. I would have liked to spend longer at the Abbey and I didn’t have enough time to see the gardens (extra charge) but I did walk up to the viewpoint which was lovely. Most of our group went onto Durnstein by bus which gave them longer at the abbey but I took the electric bus down and cruised along to Durnstein. This was a good decision as this was by far the prettiest and most leisurely stretch of river on the entire trip and I would hated to have missed the experience with the other 15 that stayed on board.
Durnstein was also very pretty but also expensive and touristy but the walk up to the the top was worth the view over the picturesque Wachau Valley.
Vienna was out final stop but the ship docked a few miles from the city so most of the group were disappointed that they saw very little of Vienna. Fortunately our flight was a late one so we left our luggage at the airport and ventured into the city for a few hours, so I would strongly advise extending your river cruise by at least one night.