Scholl Schonbuhel, a 12th century castle along the Danube River in the Wachau Valley of Austria between Melk and Durnstein
Scholl Schonbuhel, a 12th century castle along the Danube River in the Wachau Valley of Austria between Melk and Durnstein.

Sailing along Europe’s Danube River conjures images of historic castles, rolling vineyards and UNESCO World Heritage towns. With flowers in bloom, spring is a great time to visit. Fewer crowds compared to summer means easier access to popular attractions along with money saving opportunities. 

A Danube River Cruise offers a treasure trove of highlights. Companies like Emerald Cruises offer a variety of itineraries to stylishly explore inspiring destinations. Panoramic windows in state rooms, along with a spacious rooftop deck offer ample opportunities to view gorgeous sites both privately and publicly.

Emerald Cruises' Emerald Destiny
Emerald Cruises’ Emerald Destiny docked along the Danube River. The ship launched in 2017 and has a maximum capacity of 182 passengers and includes amenities like an indoor pool, night cinema, spa massage room, fitness center, lounge, fine dining restaurant and a sun deck with putt putt golf.

I explored 8 beautiful destinations in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary without worrying about travel logistics. Another perk of cruising is the variety of expertly guided excursions, activities, fine dining and cultural experiences. Guests can also freely choose how they spend their time in ports as well as on board the ship. It’s great to avail of included walking tours in the morning, followed by self exploration afterwards.

My Danube cruise began in Nuremberg. Bavaria’s second-largest city offers highlights like Kaiserburg Castle, where Popes once crowned German kings during the Holy Roman Empire. The medieval fortified buildings atop a sandstone ridge offer sweeping vistas overlooking its charming historic center.

Emerald Destiny passengers enjoy sailing into Durnstein, Austria atop the sundeck
Emerald Destiny passengers enjoy sailing into Durnstein, Austria atop the sundeck. It’s popular for the ruins of Durnstein Castle and sprawling vineyards around its historic center.

Nuremberg resonates with history buffs for the Memorium Nuremberg Trials, a museum and active courtroom where high ranking Nazi officials were tried. Art buffs should visit Albrecht Durer’s House, the former studio of Germany’s most famous Renaissance painter. A longtime friend from university days, Felix Oettner, owns the Albrecht Durer Museum Shop, which features antique tiles from the 1700’s.

Sailing along the Danube from Nuremberg to Regensburg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visitors learn about the bratwurst rivalry between two picturesque German towns. It’s the perfect setting to enjoy delicious brews in a beer garden like Spitalgarten.

Overlooking the “Three Rivers City” of Passau, Germany from Veste Oberhaus
Overlooking the “Three Rivers City” of Passau, Germany from Veste Oberhaus.

Passau, Germany is called the Three Rivers City because it rests along the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers. I marveled at the breathtaking view of Passau’s charming historic center and the three rivers atop Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century defense fortress built by prince-bishops. Dom St. Stephen is a stunning baroque church that houses the world’s largest organ, made of 17,974 pipes.

Sailing through the Wachau Valley of Austria offers another idyllic European setting. Melk Abbey is an impressive Baroque style Benedictine abbey. Adorned with elaborate frescoes, it offers sweeping views above a perfectly charming Austrian village. The incredible 28km sail from Melk to Durnstein is lined with scenic towns, rolling vineyards and historic castles.

The grandeur of Vienna is well suited to be called the “City of Music.” A visit to ornate palaces like Schönbrunn and Belvedere showcases lavish gardens and offers a glimpse into the aristocratic life of a bygone era.

Eroica Hall, where Beethoven performed the premiere of his Third Symphony, is the perfect setting for a concert. Fabulous music is capped with a soaring rendition of Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz. Emerald Cruises organizes the concert as an additional outing you can select and includes pre-concert champagne in the foyer.

Melk Abbey Courtyard in Melk Austria
Melk Abbey Courtyard in Melk Austria is an exquisite example of baroque architecture that survived the Reformation. It’s home to around 30 Benedictine monks who maintain and reside at the abbey.

Founded in 1447, Griechenbiesl is the oldest inn in Vienna. Grab a seat on their terrace and savor Vienna’s most popular dish, wiener schnitzel! Cafe Central, founded in 1876, is an iconic venue to savor Viennese cakes like sachertorte, gugelhupf, dobos torte and strudel. 

It’s a short sail down the Danube River from Vienna to Bratislava. The revitalized capital of Slovakia is a charming and easily navigable destination. River cruises dock in the heart of town, and its quaint historic center is packed with delicious cafes and punctuctated by Bratislava Castle, which overlooks town. 

Hungarian Parliament
The impressive Hungarian Parliament viewed from the sundeck of the Emerald Destiny on a Danube River Cruise.

Sailing into Budapest is an epic way to conclude a Danube River cruise. The Hungarian Parliament, built in 1904, is a grand example of Gothic Revival architecture. Waking up to view the striking building in early light, while the ship makes 360 degree turns to offer panoramic views of other sites like Castle Hill, is a remarkable experience.

Nicknamed “Spa City,” Budapest rests atop 123 thermal springs. Roman settlers built the first spa baths, and the tradition continued through Ottoman occupation. Popular Budapest baths include Szechenyi, Rudas, Gellert and Kiraly. Budapest houses more medicinal baths than any other world capital. 

A Danube River cruise is a fantastic way to experience Europe in spring. Waking up to explore exciting new destinations, in different countries, all without swapping your room, is a memorable journey sure to elicit frequent doses of nostalgia.