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Are you considering a Danube River Cruise and wondering what the experience will be like? We’re here to tell you, it’s a wonderful way of traveling that makes the journey as fun and interesting as the destination.
One of the things we loved about our first European river cruise was the ability to visit multiple destinations in multiple countries.
We recently partnered with Avalon Waterways on their 8 Day Legendary Danube Cruise which typically goes from Nuremberg, Germany to Budapest, Hungary, passing through Austria, with the option of visiting the Czech Republic for a day!
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Our cruise in late June was altered slightly as the Danube River was unusually low (hello global warming), which meant the ship could not get into Nuremberg. We departed instead from Vilshofen, about 2-hours southeast of Nuremberg.
Avalon were excellent about this unexpected itinerary change, compensating everyone by offering the opportunity to take the optional excursion to Salzburg or Czech Republic at no additional cost and giving everybody 30 Euro to spend in Regensburg.
Making sure you’re happy is something I’ve seen time and time again with Globus’ range of brands.
In our previous posts we shared what the Avalon Waterways experience is like onboard the ship, and why it was a great European river cruise for families and thoughts from our tween and teen on the river cruise.
In this post, we are going to dive more into detail for each day of the 8-day itinerary, sharing the different excursions we did and experiences we had.
A Note on Land Excursions
With each stop on the cruise, you can choose from 2-3 excursions ranging from traditional guided city tours, to hiking and biking adventures, and more specific optional experiences like food and wine tours.
Traveling as a family of four was great as we could split up and choose activities to suit all our interests. For kids over the age of 16, they can also go off and do tours on their own. It was great as it gave us different dinner conversations as we each shared our experiences and could live vicariously through each other.
This also meant, as content creators, we could gather even more insights to share with you which will help you make a better decision about which tours will be best for you!
- A Note on Land Excursions
- Why cruise on the Danube River?
- Daily Events on the Avalon Ship
- 8-Day Danube River Cruise Itinerary
- Day 1: Vilshofen, Germany
- Day 2: Explore Regensburg, Germany
- Day 3: Passau, Germany
- Day 4: Linz / Salzburg / Cesky Krumlov (Austria & Czech Republic)
- Day 5: Melk – Vienna, Austria
- Day 6: Vienna, Austria
- Day 7: Budapest, Hungary
- Day 8: Disembarkation
- Final Thoughts
Why cruise on the Danube River?
The Danube River is often referred to as the “Queen of Europe’s Rivers.” At over 2,800 kilometers, it is the second largest and longest river in Europe, connecting ten countries as it waves its way from Germany’s Black Forest to the Black Sea.
A river cruise along the Danube is a journey filled with history, culture, and stunning landscapes. It will transport you to charming medieval towns, spectacular valleys and gorges, and vibrant cities bursting with architectural wonders and fascinating history. Not to mention great food, wine, art, and music!
Sailing the Danube River is a cultural experience to remember, and Avalon Waterways run several cruises along the Danube River of varying lengths, and in both directions, year-round.
You can cruise it on an 8-day itinerary like we did, on shorter 4-day cruises, or longer 14-day cruises that go from Amsterdam to Budapest and include cruising on the Rhine River.
Daily Events on the Avalon Ship
Instead of repeating myself for each day of this river cruise itinerary with Avalon Waterways, I’ll describe the daily activities here.
Some days we missed Afternoon tea (shattered children) because we were out wine tasting or exploring Cesky Krumlov and Salzburg for the day – but they will still have it for those who can make it!
Your adventure host will run a 30-minute morning exercise class, usually yoga. Check the schedule each day for the time, but it was normally 7am for us.
It was a relaxing way to get ready for each day, and a good opportunity to stretch those tired muscles from days of exploring. As with all yoga classes you can adapt poses to suit your ability level. Our yoga class was in the premium lounge; I would have loved it to be on the top deck!
Breakfast is generally 7am-9am each morning in the restaurant. There is a buffet with every breakfast food you can imagine from baked beans, to pancakes, omelets, sausages, cereal, yogurt and even vegemite! You can get sparkling wine also if you’re in the mood.
Or there are options you can order from a menu like Belgian waffles or eggs benedict. If you want a lazier morning staring at the view from your suite, you can order a continental breakfast in bed.
If you are having lunch on the ship, it is typically a more casual style buffet in the Panorama lounge with a variety of choices.
On some days when the weather and views were fantastic, the chefs prepared us a wonderful BBQ lunch on the SkyDeck. Lunch always comes with complimentary beer and wine!
The daily event on board Avalon Visionary our girls ensured they never missed was afternoon tea. In the panorama lounge was a large selection of cakes, sandwiches, and yummy sweets.
The girls would pile their plates with black forest cake, cheesecake, chocolate mousse, and macarons – perfect after a day of exploring.
New on Avalon river cruises in 2023 is a complimentary Happy Hour every afternoon about an hour before dinner. Head to the panorama lounge for selected cocktails, beer, and wine to enjoy views and conversations.
It was a great way to interact with other passengers. Kids can also get mocktails, which our girls really enjoyed.
One of the best things to love about an Avalon Waterways river cruise is the four course, fine dining experience every evening in the restaurant on eye level with the river and fantastic service. It was some of the best food we had on our 4-week Europe trip.
Each dinner course has about 4 selections – to suit all tastes and diets – some will be regional, some will be Avalon specialties, and some will be regular appearances like steak and grilled chicken for those with plainer taste buds.
The wines also change every evening, and they are mostly from the region that you are traveling through.
Dinner is usually at 7pm every evening. And if you are somehow still hungry, there are 24-hour snacks like mixed nuts, cookies, and cakes in the club lounge as well as an espresso machine (including hot chocolate). Kids will love raiding these!
Worried about keeping on top of the Danube river cruise itinerary and daily activities? Your cruise director will hold a port talk each evening before dinner and give you all the information you need for the following day on board the ship and on land.
8-Day Danube River Cruise Itinerary
Day 1: Vilshofen, Germany
Day one is all about embarkation: Getting checked in to your room, unpacking, exploring the ship, getting to know the crew and fellow passengers, and enjoying a welcome drink and dinner.
Another important task to attend to is informing the chef of any dietary requirements. There is an afternoon meeting, but you can still talk to them if you miss it. As mentioned in our things to love about our Avalon Visionary cruise, I was thrilled to be taken such great care of with my gluten free requirements.
Our flight arrived early in the morning from Verona; thankfully we were allowed to board the ship and enjoy the amenities.
It gave us plenty of time to explore, take photos, and eat a delicious light lunch (the first indication food on this Danube River cruise was going to be awesome).
Free time in Vilshofen
Vilshofen is a small village located on the Danube, you can explore at leisure while you’re waiting for the cruise to start. I took Kalyra and the girls up to the village for a mani pedi. After three weeks of walking 10 – 15 miles a day my feet needed it.
After, the Captain of our cruise, Captain Thijs, was kind enough to take us to a small swimming beach on the cruise dinghy. We never pictured we’d be swimming in the Danube River on this trip.
It was a cool experience and a great way to experience a little German culture with groups of friends and jet skiers milling about at the beach bar.
Day 2: Explore Regensburg, Germany
Guided tour of Regensburg
We began our half day in Regensburg on a guided tour with a local guide, Mattea. He led us over the oldest stone bridge in Germany to the old historical part of the city, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Regensburg is one of the best-preserved cities in Germany as it was not bombed during the Second World War.
This city has a history of feast and famine which Mattea shared as we wandered the cobblestone streets and looked at the architecture of the buildings and squares. He told an interesting story of the wealth and prestige that was once a part of Regensburg due to its position on the Danube River and the Spice and Silk Road.
But, by the 1950s and 60s, it was an ugly and poor city without any industries (a reason it was not bombed). The city changed this around by bringing a university into Regensburg and a BMW factory in the 80s. The city is now one of the top 10 wealthiest cities in Germany.
The other important thing they did was invest a lot of money to refurbish the buildings, which is why now you see a tapestry of colored buildings throughout the city.
Free time in Regensburg
After our guided tour, we had free time in Regensburg to explore the city on our own. We decided to walk along the river, sample some German pastries and coffee at a bakery, and walk inside the impressive St Peter’s Cathedral, which is very similar to the cathedral in Prague and Vienna.
Sausages and beer at Historische Wurstküche
Probably our favorite spot – at least Craig’s – was enjoying bratwurst (that’s German for sausage), sauerkraut, and a German beer at, what is said to be the oldest sausage kitchen in the world! Historische Wurstküche is located on the banks of the river, right near the stone bridge.
Perhaps the sausage kitchen started to feed the hundreds of hard-working people who built the bridge in a span of 11 years. Avalon gave us all vouchers for the sausage and beer experience!
Onboard: Live Entertainment with Lindsey Hamilton
We were not expecting such an incredible evening of entertainment on the ship after dinner on our second night.
Lindsey Hamilton is an English Broadway singer who once performed as Fontaine in Les Mis and Eva Peron in the West End London. She flawlessly sang several big hits from Broadway.
But it was also part comedy show. Lindsey was quick witted and hilarious with her jokes and storytelling. She even invited our 11-year-old Savannah to sing along with her on her final song, “This is Me.” Savannah LOVED this show and asked to buy her CD and have a photo with her.
On day two of this Danube cruise, we sailed overnight to Passau, Germany
Day 3: Passau, Germany
One bonus of having our itinerary changed is that we all got to experience Passau and the stunning afternoon scenic sail.
Originally on this day, Craig was going on a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, and I was going to stay with the girls to enjoy the included Avalon excursions. Instead, the Cesky Krumlov and Salzburg day trips were pushed back to the following day.
Our family split up for the morning’s exploration of Passau, with Craig and Savannah doing the guided hike, and Kalyra and I doing the City Walk.
Guided City Walk
The Bavarian city of Passau is known as the City of Three Rivers, due to its unique location at the confluence of the Danube, Ilz and Inn Rivers.
The Ilz is dark in color because it travels through the marshland of the Bavarian forest while the Ilz is green because of the glacial melt water from its source at St Moritz, Switzerland and you can get a good view of these two colors meeting from the castle on the hilltops above.
Kalyra and I joined Maria, a local from Passau who guided our small group through the cobblestone streets of this small hilly town.
Firstly, we passed down the cute Art Alley with brightly painted rainbow stones leading to the various art studios along it. She stopped to share the history of the town including the great fire of 1662 which destroyed most of it and the constant flooding the town must deal with, the last big one in June 2013. We stopped to look at the high flood marks that went way above our heads.
We learned more about the Church’s control for power during the Middle Ages, the Royal family including beloved Princess Sissy who stayed here – we would go on to hear a lot about her in Vienna and Budapest. We also learned more about Bavarian culture, life today in Passau including schools and coffee culture and interesting facts, like Germans can drink beer at 16!
Like Regensburg, Passau was filled with pastel-colored buildings, alleyways, and large squares. My favorite view was this one looking back on what they call the Mother Church at the end of a hilly street lined with cafes.
All roads in Passau lead to the cathedral – St Stephen’s Cathedral is home of the 5th largest organ in the world and the largest Catholic church organ. It has 17,974 pies, with the biggest at 36ft. The other claim to fame is that Arnold Schwarzenegger once played it. News from Maria is that Vienna copied their St Stephen’s Cathedral from them. Although they do look quite different!
We had free time after, so Kalyra and I wandered around a few more cobblestone streets and stopped for a coffee and an affogato (hers for the first time!)
I’ll let Craig share his adventure activity in Passau experience. I was very jealous seeing his photos!
Hiking in Passau with Hristo
I love morning hikes and cities with rivers flowing through them so was easily inspired to get my steps in and get a panoramic view of the old town and the three-rivers from above, with our ultimate target being the Veste Oberhaus, a hilltop fortress dating to 1219.
Hristo, our enthusiastic adventure guide, gathered our group of about 15 eager passengers including young Savannah who was up for a walk with dad, then we headed off along the pedestrian pathway that straddles the river, then across the Schanzlbrücke bridge that spans both sides of the Danube. Here we paused for our first of many photos with an elevated view of the river and views back towards our Avalon Visionary cruise ship and the old town.
Once on the northern side of the river, we started our climb up the steps through the forest passing some residential buildings and the higher we went the more the views started to open up.
The path up was a combination of concrete steps with a handrail and then natural surface, and Hristo was respectful of everyone’s physical ability, with plenty of stops for drink breaks and walking at a pace so we all stayed together and he could share his commentary of the area as we progressed.
Reaching a certain elevation, we then headed east on more of level trail parallel to the Danube below towards the fortress, with points along the way offering views above the treetops of the Passua below.
Arriving at the Veste Oberhaus fortress was a time for a bathroom break, then a brief walk through the grounds taking in some of the displays and Hristo sharing more commentary of the history of the fortress.
The fortress was built in 1219 by Ulrich II, the first prince-bishop of Passau. The intention was to express the military strength of the bishopric and support the bishop’s status as an elector of the Holy Roman Empire, granted in 1217, and also to protect against both external enemies and internal threats.
It is currently the site of a museum, a youth hostel, and a restaurant, as well as an open-air theatre dating to 1934.
The views from here of old town Passau and the three rivers is spectacular, a view worth seeing and worth the climb! Savannah was reveling in the adventure, chatting with the other passengers, and taking her own photos.
The walk back down was gentle, and we crossed back over the Danube this time crossing the Prinzregent-Luitpoldbrücke bridge. Once back on the city side of the river, we walked around to the point where the three rivers converge for more photos, and then strolled through the cobblestone streets of the city center taking in the beautiful architecture of the buildings, and a morning market.
I loved this start to the day, it was a great combination of adventure and exercise to walk off all the delicious cruise food, learning about the history of Passua, and great photo opportunities.
Sky Grill on the deck
What a treat we were given when we all returned to the ship. The Chef’s team decided to take lunch up on the SkyDeck so we could enjoy the beautiful sunny weather and the views of Passau – the pastel pink Mother Church on one side and the castle perched on top of the hill on the other.
Lunch was a fantastic BBQ spread of burgers, minute steak, salads, paired with regional wine and beer and finished with ice cream! How to make the kids happy after a day exploring on land!
It was time to bid farewell to Bavaria as we departed after lunch for our scenic sail to Linz, Austria.
It was gorgeous sailing away from Passau as we got to see the three rivers converging from behind the boat. The river then turned green for most of the afternoon.
It was spectacular sitting up the front of the boat with an expansive one-eighty-degree view of the gently sloping tree-covered mountains and river in front of us.
Cruise Director, Csaba shared commentary along the way to help us learn more about the river. And one time, he had us all lined up at the edge of the boat to throw coins at a statue on a small island as we came out of a lock for good luck! It was loads of fun and only one of us on the ship hit the target for luck.
I loved how the smaller nature of the river cruise gave us the opportunity to do things like this as if we became a group of friends, not just separate passengers.
We also used this time to enjoy the lounge chairs on the top deck and play a game of giant draughts/checkers together. It was a good bonding time and allowed me to teach Savannah a few strategic moves.
Evening Drink in Linz
As we were leaving Linz the next day for a full day excursion, Craig and I decided to head into Linz after dinner to walk around the square, soak up a bit of the buzzing, young atmosphere, and have a drink at a pub.
The girls decided to stay in their room for some quiet teen time. There was also a movie and popcorn happening in the Club Lounge. Since it was Elvis and we’d all seen it before, we decided to skip it.
Day 4: Linz / Salzburg / Cesky Krumlov (Austria & Czech Republic)
Today you could choose to join a guided tour of Linz in the morning and a hike to Postlinbnerg viewpoint in the afternoon or take one of the optional excursions to Salzburg Australia or Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic.
It is a difficult decision to make. Kalyra decided to come with me to Salzburg, and Savannah went with Craig to Cesky Krumlov.
Part of me wishes I stayed in Linz, as I heard so many great things about the tour and city. But alas, the Hills are alive with…
The Sound of Music in Salzburg
Yes, Maria was calling me to this pretty little town in Austria.
Literally, Maria from Salzburg was our local tour guide. She joined us in Linz for the 75-minute bus ride to Salzburg where she shared with us about the town and people, and of course, the Sound of Music – the true story of the Von Trapp Family.
Surprisingly, not many Austrians, especially those from Salzburg have seen the Sound of Music. After the war, Austrians wanted to move on and forget about what happened. They did not want to be reminded and see Nazis once again marching across their Residenzplatz Square.
Salzburg did not belong to Austria until the 19th Century, so they have a very different background and personality and are proud of it. The town is small, easy for walking, and colorful like the previous towns visited on this river cruise along the Danube.
We visited several historical locations in the tour starting in the picturesque Baroque gardens of the Mirabell Palace, which was originally built by the bishop Wolf Dietrich for his beloved mistress (and he also had 16 children!)
Maria pointed out several spaces that were used in the filming of the Sound Of Music including Pegasus Fountain in front of the palace Maria and the children danced around, and the steps in front of the Rose Hill where they sang Do Rei Me. I decided to embarrass my teen daughter, Kalyra, by doing the same thing!
Not only is Salzburg famous for the Von Trapp family and the Sound of Music, but also Mozart. He was born here so we visited the outside of his house of birth, learned more about his geniuses and rebellious personality (which I loved) and his premature death.
No thanks to the blood-letting practices of this time, Kalyra and I later had an apple strudel and coffee at Cafe Tomaselli, a café he would often frequent.
Unfortunately, right as our tour finished and free time started, it poured with rain. Kalyra and I were going to head to the fortress for views but instead had a sausage plate in a small restaurant to escape the rain. It did dampen our time in Salzburg a little – something that no one can control or help.
But our spirits picked up on the journey home when the sun came out and we stopped in at Mondsee (Mond Lake), this stunning lake popular for holidayers only 30-minutes outside of Salzburg.
We visited Basilika St. Michael, which is the church Maria got married in the Sound of Music. This is a Basilica Minor given that title by a pope for its beauty – and it was!
The town here was beautiful with its row of colorful buildings and restaurants and stunning lake. Kalyra and I finished off a good day together with a bowl of Austrian ice cream – it was as good as the long lines indicated – and a walk down to the lake.
Here’s Craig with insights into Cesky Krumlov.
Cesky Krumlov, a medieval beauty awaits
I first heard of Cesky Krumlov 25 years ago when a friend visited who said if you can’t get to Prague, a great alternative on a smaller scale is here, so I was excited when I noticed Cesky Krumlov as an option on our cruise itinerary.
This is a full-day guided optional excursion to the picturesque medieval and bohemian town, Savannah was keen ti join me and our day started with a 90-minute bus ride while our guide shared fascinating commentary as we admired the scenery.
Upon arrival at Cesky, we enjoyed a 90-minute guided walking tour with a local expert who shared interesting historical facts and stories as we wandered the cobblestone streets and across bridges taking in the town’s architecture and top attractions such as the Castle, once the home to the Rosenberg dynasty for 300 years beginning in the early 1300’s, walked across the Lavka pod Zamkem (a picturesque wooden bridge connecting the castle grounds and the city), and the historic city square.
Our guide pointed out recommended foods to try and places to eat and drink, and what I love about Avalon is the ample free time we got to explore on our own, and with that knowledge in hand Savannah and I had a further two hours to explore on our own.
We relaxed and recharged over a coffee and sweet treat at a local cafe, then climbed the steps to the top of the castle tower (small fee) for fantastic views out over the city, I highly recommend you do this if able.
For lunch we took one of our guides recommendations and headed to Papa’s with a wonderful view of the river from the outdoor terrace. I went with the local suggestion of Confit duck leg, red cabbage, and dumplings and thoroughly enjoyed it, washed down with a local beer. While Savannah kept it safe and simple and ordered a pizza!
We then stretched our legs and took in some more stores and cobblestone streets, before finishing off with a local ice cream, Trdelnik, in a cinnamon coated cone that Savannah devoured.
Live Entertainment with Brett Reid
This evening, an Australian singer Bret Reid, who lives in Austria, came onboard with his guitar to sing a variety of catchy tunes we all danced to. We loved being able to share some Australian banter with him. A highlight was when he played Land Down Under and brought up Aussies and kiwis – including myself – to shake the clappers and tambourine and sing along with him!
So much fun! Thank you, Brett, for that lovely taste of home.
Sail overnight to Melk, Austria.
Day 5: Melk – Vienna, Austria
It was pretty waking up to serene Melk this morning. We had two activities to choose from, this time Savannah and I went for a power walk with Hristo to Melk Abbey, and Craig and Kalyra joined the guided tour to the Abbey, which included a look inside.
Power Walk to Melk Abbey
After a couple of days of consuming a lot of information on guided city tours, I decided to have a break and appreciate the beauty of Melk Abbey in a different way.
Our walk took us along the river and into the forest where we walked for about an hour with nothing but the sound of birds. The trail took us to the bottom of the hill with views of the Abbey sitting above the town. Hristo was fantastic at taking photos of Savannah and I as we walked.
We then walked through the cute and colorful village before heading up the stairs into the abbey. Our tour did not give us permission to go inside the abbey, but we could enjoy the beauty of the outside and inside the church to see its elaborately decorated ceiling.
I’ll let Craig tell you more about the Abbey itself as they dove a little deeper. I was very happy with this relaxing and pretty hiking experience to Melk Abbey.
Melk Abbey tour, Icon of a Millennium
Kalyra and I joined the guided tour of Melk Abbey. Founded in 1089, this is a Benedictine abbey above the town of Melk on a rocky outcrop with a gorgeous location overlooking the Danube and adjoining the Wachau Valley.
Starting off in the grounds outside, we enjoyed a guided tour of the interior (no photos allowed) and was impressed with the artifacts on display and the architectural beauty including the Imperial Staircase and Imperial Corridor.
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.
It is a spiritual, intellectual, and cultural center, and the school which was returned to the abbey after the Second World War, now serves nearly 900 pupils of both sexes.
The highlight was definitely spending time inside the incredible library, one of the best I’ve seen, with countless medieval manuscripts, including a famed collection of musical manuscripts, and frescos by Paul Troger. I wish I could show you proof with my images, but you’ll just have to go and see it for yourself!
Scenic sail through Wachau Valley
Now came one of my favorite parts of our Danube River cruise – the afternoon scenic sail through the Wachau Valley, known for its vineyards and cycling trail. As it was right after lunch, we could enjoy it with a glass of wine. (You can also buy your own drinks outside of complimentary hours).
The Wachau Valley in Austria lies between the towns of Melk and Krems and stretches for 36 kilometers. There’s no better place to take in its beauty than aboard a cruise ship with panoramic views. It is also renowned for its wine production, particularly the Grüner Veltliner and Riesling varieties.
We were all excited to finally see our first castle as we entered the valley. The stunning scenery continued with more castle ruins, rolling hills, and terraced vineyards. What I loved most were the charming colorful villages on the river’s edge that looked as if they were painted on.
It was so picturesque, and I was envious of the many cyclists we saw riding the river path. I made a mental note that perhaps that would be a fun adventure in the future.
Once again, Csaba gave us commentary as we sailed along the Wachau.
Cornhole Tournament on the SkyDeck
After the most scenic part of the cruise, Hristo hosted a cornhole competition for the passengers. It is a fun way to come together for an hour and play with beautiful views. Savannah put up a good fight and narrowly lost to Craig! As I threw a corn sack as good as I roll a bowling ball, I sat out asthe photographer!
Classical music concert in Vienna: The Royal Waltz
After dinner, we had the most unexpected highlight of the Avalon cruise: a classical music concert in an elegant Viennese hall performed by a costumed cast of top European singers and the Original Vienna Salon Orchestra.
It was Kalyra’s favorite experience, which I was a little surprised about. Although, she does love music and listens to it all day long so I can understand why she was enamored. Note: we couldn’t take photos or video during the performance, but our memories are fond!
Firstly, we were all a little taken aback at how grand and impressive Vienna looked from outside the bus windows. It made me immediately change my decision from the bike ride to the city tour for the next day. I had to see more of this stunning capital of Austria.
As I’m sure you all know, Vienna is home to the Royal Waltz and classical music with the rock stars of the time, Mozart, and Strauss, living and performing here.
Vienna was the City of Music because musicians were freelance so you’re always asking for work or looking for jobs. As it was a wealthy city this is where the money was. And the famous musicians already here attracted young people to learn from or hang out with.
I was worried it wouldn’t be good as classical music can be a little dry, and dare I say boring. When I’m wrong, I’ll say I’m wrong. Many agreed that this was one of the best things we did on the trip. And can you believe it, it was funny?
It was lovely to hear so many of these world-famous songs like The Merry Widow and the Blue Danube Waltz played in the place where they were originally created.
We were given a CD of the songs as a souvenir after the concert.
Avalon had an evening snack ready for anyone who was still hungry after the performance. I wish I was after sampling some of the Hungarian goulash! You will never go hungry on an Avalon River cruise!
Watch Our Video of This Cruise: (then keep reading)
Day 6: Vienna, Austria
As mentioned, I decided to join the guided city tour last minute and I’m so glad I did. I was on my own as the girls decided to join Craig for the scenic bike ride. Others went to Kunsthistorisches Museum.
On this full day in Vienna there were also optional excursions you could take after lunch. Some chose to visit Schonbrunn Palace, cultural gem of Austria and summer residence of the Habsburg family.
As our family are lovers of food tours, we joined the Bites and Highlights food tour of Vienna.
Treasures of Vienna’s Rngstrasse
Vienna is stunning with an incredible history that we learned on this city tour with our exceptional guide, which began with a drive around Vienna’s Ringstrasse – or Ring boulevard. This 3.5-mile circle road was once the old Roman fortification walls.
Emperor Franz Joseph ordered the dismantling of it to build an impressive boulevard. He also had to create more space and jobs in the city but also to show off Vienna’s wealth and power. All Vienna’s important buildings are here, including its many museums and impressive Parliament buildings.
I loved learning all about the Royal Habsburg family, one of the most prominent and important dynasties in European history, as we wandered through the Hofburg palace, which is now an area that hosts many museums and beautiful public gardens.
I especially loved hearing about Princess Sissy, someone I never heard about until this river cruise. Her life was very similar to Princess Diana, beautiful and adored, but a little rebellious and thrown into a life and spotlight she didn’t want. But unlike Sissy, Dianna was an exceptional Mother.
We also learned about the arranged marriage by-proxy of Napoleon to Marie Louse, daughter of Emperor Francis II who was Napoleon’s arch enemy (that’s what they did back then, strategy marriages).
And about Queen Maria Therese who was one of the best leaders (and only female) of the Austrian empire. And I learned that her daughter was Marie Antoinette!
You learn so much history in Europe, it’s quite fascinating to follow the threads of these stories from country to country and put it all into place.
After the tour, thanks to our guide’s suggestion, I climbed up the 348 narrow stone spiral stairs of St Stephen’s cathedral spire. I’m so glad I did as the views were extraordinary. It was one of my favorite things to do in Vienna.
I then had time to wander on my own and soak up the beautiful architecture of the city. Before this cruise, Vienna was never on my radar, now it’s a place I’d love to come back to and experience more. It’s regularly voted as one of the best places to live, has a lot of green spaces, and a thriving arts and music scene.
Biking in Vienna with Hristo
I (Craig) and the kids joined guide Hristo and another Australian couple for an adventurous two-hour bike ride in and around Vienna. Besides walking, bike riding is my favorite way to explore a city and Vienna has a fantastic bike path system.
With over 1600 kilometers of bike trails, Vienna is one of the most bike friendly cities in the world and perfect for families like ours who love to explore on two wheels.
We started our tour by cycling along the path that runs parallel to the Danube River, stopping at viewpoints for some photos while hearing interesting commentary from Hristo.
There’s several bridges that cross the river to the island side of Vienna that make for interesting vantage points, including one of the lock systems which was fascinating to get a close up look of.
About half way in to our ride we crossed the river to the 21 kilometer long Danube island, a favorite recreational region of the local Viennese, and an expansive network of trails invites the adventurous to hike, jog, cycle and skate.
We biked past bathing areas with flat beaches, as well as natural bathing sites, a water slide park, water ski area and plenty of places to grab a bite to eat and drink with river views – this side of the river looked like a place you could spend an entire day with more time!
From here, we headed back into the city and followed a short section of the designated city path trail, taking a look at the HUGE amusement park, the Prater, before our legs called it quits and we headed back to the ship.
Whether you join the city tour or this bike tour, Vienna is best explored with two feet, whether you use them walk or cycle is up to you!
We returned to the ship for another SkyDeck grill for lunch. It was a sunny day and the views of Vienna with a glass of white wine after a morning exploring were wonderful!
Optional Excursion: Bites and Highlights of Vienna
Time for tasting the delights of Viennese cuisine.
Our local guide Tom met us on the ship and took us on the train to our first stop right near St Stephen’s Cathedral – a wine bar. While not our kids favorite stop, we certainly enjoyed tasting wine from a nearby Viennese winery. There are several about 30 kms outside of the city.
The girls were right in the middle of the food tour as we continued. This time to experience some Vienna fast food – a sausage stand. Tom bought out two different varieties: pork and beef; and cheese paired with sweet and spicy mustards.
We also learned a little history as we walked through the city, passing by the building Mozart first performed when he was six years old, and Marie Theresa heard him and invited him to the palace; and the Jewish Square with an interesting monument to the 65,000 Jews killed in the Second World War. It’s designed to look like a library to represent the knowledge that was lost.
The next two stops were the girl’s favorites.
First, sampling the famous Sacher cake, a chocolate cake invented by Austrian Franz Sacher for the Prince. It is one of the most famous Viennese culinary specialties. You can visit the famous hotel where the original was made for a hefty price. But it’s commonly made everywhere now, and we were trying a version from a small bakery.
We also tried a cake that was a little moister as it had been drenched in rum – but fake rum as the bright pink icing attracts the attention of kids.
More chocolate was needed, so we headed to a chocolatier that transforms different Austrian desserts into chocolates. One was a red currant flavor representing the Linzer cake, and the other was apricot dumplings – a Viennese comfort food.
We finished our food tour in one of Tom’s favorite tapas style restaurants with authentic Austrian food for some delicious spinach dumplings. They tasted like my Maltese aunties’ spinach triangles that I would devour as a child.
Onboard Entertainment: Pressburger duo entertainment. Popular Slovakian duo
It was fitting that as we sailed away from Vienna to Budapest in the afternoon, a popular Slovakian duo played some classical tunes for us in the Panorama lounge. They were a lot of fun and demonstrated some of their own Slovakian instruments.
While we did not stop in Slovakia on this Avalon river cruise, other ones do, we did pass through it on our sail and even stopped quickly in Bratislava to drop them off at home!
Farewell dinner and Tunes (and Fun Dancing Game)
And, for our farewell gala evening, we had a fun song and dance party competition, which Savannah ended up winning.
It was a wonderful evening of dancing with the other passengers and some of the crew. I think Csaba said we were the best dancing passengers he had seen! We may have all had a little too much good wine that evening – except for Savannah of course!
Overnight sail to Budapest.
Day 7: Budapest, Hungary
Our early morning sail into Budapest was exceptional.
If there is one morning not to sleep in, it’s this one. We woke up just in time to see us sailing into Budapest. It was quite special It is an impressive skyline that we’ll see more of in the evening on this day of the river cruise.
Budapest is actually named after the two cities lying on either side of the Danube. The Buda side is the hilly part to the city, and the Pest the flatter part.
Like Vienna this was a full day exploring Budapest that involved a choice of included excursions in the morning and optional activities in the afternoon. On this day, Craig explored Budapest with the girls, and I had a full day on my own!
Tour Budapest: Queen of the Danube
I (Craig) and the kids did the city bus tour with a local guide to get acquainted with the city, which started on the PEST (flat) side of the river and headed towards Heroes Square via Andrássy Avenue, a major thoroughfare through the city lined with impressive architectural buildings.
Heroes Square is noted for its iconic Millennium Monument with statues featuring the Seven chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders, as well as the Memorial Stone of Heroes, often erroneously referred as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Next stop was a cafe in City Park to taste Kürtőskalács, a chimney-shaped pastry made from sweet yeast dough, which is cut into strips, brushed with melted butter, and wrapped around a cone-shaped baking roll. It is then rolled in granulated sugar and spit-roasted on a rotisserie until golden brown.
We then headed across to the BUDA (hilly) side of the city, and took in exterior views of the Buda Castle, and distant views across the river to the Hungarian Parliament Building and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (which was currently closed to traffic at time of visit in July 2023).
Once again, we had some free time to explore on our own and this bus tour was a nice introduction to the city, to get our bearings, and to see what we might like to go back and explore more in-depth at the end of our cruise.
Hike to the Citadel & Buda Castle
I was glad I decided to choose the adventure activity for this day in Budapest: Hike to the Citadel. I was feeling a little dusty after our fun dance party the evening before, so hiking in the heat sweated it all out of me quickly and I felt great by lunch time back on the ship.
It was just Hristo and myself, and again he made sure to capture lots of photos for me. I’m set for Instagram for the rest of the year.
As it was just us, we could extend our hiking tour, which usually goes to the Citadel on top of the hill on the Buda side for views.
The Citadel is the fortification located upon the top of Gellért Hill, which once held strategic importance in Budapest’s military history. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.
There are many walking trails up there as well as a monument – Statue of Liberty – which is currently closed for renovation. You can see this statue from almost anywhere in Budapest.
We continued over to Buda Castle to explore the ground and see more beautiful views. After three weeks exploring many cathedrals and castles in Europe, I was happy just to walk around the grounds and see the view!
We then crossed the river and walked through town and the central market before returning to the boat.
Optional Excursion: Bites and Highlights of Budapest
One of the best ways to get to know a culture is via its food, and we always sign up for food tours wherever we go. A bites and highlights tour of Budapest introduced us to foods and knowledge I would not have experienced otherwise.
I (Craig) and the kids headed off with our group and tour leader to the Great Market Hall, one of the largest indoor markets in Budapest and boasts beautiful neo-Gothic architecture. Here, you’ll find lots of fresh produce, fish, meat, spices, cured meats, and dairy products.
Here we started off by trying several types of local honey. I love honey, I eat it every day at home and if there’s one thing with honey, the key is to source it as close to your home as possible when thinking of the health benefits and allergies.
Next up we tried various cuts of meat, from regular salamis to pork fat, tongue, and even horse meat, which was a first for me. When in Hungary…
From here we walked down some lovely pedestrian streets to Central Cafe and Restaurant 1887 where we tried a deep fried flatbread, Lángos, a common street food served warm with sour cream and grated cheese and onions – very filling!
Of course it’s no food tour without a chocolate shop, and the kids were happy our next destination was Impact Shop, a special design and gourmet shop offering ethical, sustainable, natural goods made by social enterprises and NGOs from all corners of Hungary.
Lastly, we jumped on the tram and headed to our final treat of the tour, strudels. Savannah went with an Apple Strudel which capped of our great two hours of tasting Budapest.
Optional Tour: Wine tasting in the Hungarian countryside
I snuck away from Craig and the girls for the wine tasting tour in the Eteyk wine region located just outside Budapest, known for its chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and sparkling wines.
Don’t worry if, like me, you did not know Hungary had wines as most of their wine is not exported. Why? Hungarians love wine, and they can’t keep up with production for their own countrymen, let alone have enough to export.
I loved this wine tasting tour. Our guide Michael was engaging, friendly and informative. We visited two small, family-run Hungarian wineries and sat in their tasting rooms and cellars with the owners to sample four generous servings of their different wines that ranged from chardonnay to pinot noir.
It was exactly the kind of local wine experience you want. Fantastic wine, friendly service filled with laughter and rich conversations. As you do with any great wine, we chatted about Hungarian lifestyle and culture, the importance of wine and how they grow and make their wines, language differences, politics, religion, climate change, and many other topics.
I loved getting to know, not just the Hungarians, but also the other cultures on our tour – Australians, Canadians, Serbian.
When it all became a little too heavy for us, the owner of one of the vineyards would say, “As my father says, son, at least we have wine to drink.” And he would top up our glasses. Cheers to that.
Onboard: Farewell cocktail
The farewells continue with a glass of complimentary sparking wine and some hors devourers. The crew came out to celebrate a great cruise, I love how time was taken to acknowledge the outstanding service of all staff.
A special surprise treat on our last night on the Avalon river cruise was a night sail of Budapest to see its evening illumination glory. Budapest is quite magical at night. It was wonderful sailing past Parliament House and Buda Castle sparkling as they stood guard over the Danube River.
It was the perfect, quiet evening to end a fantastic Danube River cruise with Avalon Waterways.
Day 8: Disembarkation
The drizzly weather matched our sadness this morning at having to leave the ship. For disembarkation, you have to check out of your rooms by 9am but could stay on the boat until 3pm. So, relax and make use of the amenities or explore Budapest.
A river cruise in Europe is a memorable and effortless travel experience that I would do again in a heartbeat.
We visited places I never would have thought to visit before, learned fascinating history about the area, discovered great new food and wine, and met a lot of wonderful people we cruised alongside.
The travel blues hit straight away as we walked off the ship and back into managing luggage, researching places to eat, and playing tour guide as we finished out the final few days of our Europe trip in Budapest and the Loire Valley, France.
The blues hit even harder when we arrived back in Raleigh and had to cook and clean. There is just no match for the delicious food and service we experienced on board Avalon Waterways.
Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a lover of art and music, or simply seeking a relaxing getaway, a river cruise along the Danube promises an unforgettable experience that will leave you spellbound at every turn.