Nearly every river cruise line sails on the Danube, Europe’s second-largest waterway which begins in Germany and travels 1,770 miles before emptying into the Black Sea. It's one of the most popular river cruise itineraries and a great one if you're new to river cruising.
Many Danube River cruises start or end in Budapest or Vienna, but the port city on the other end of the cruise can vary, usually depending on the length of the cruise. Shorter sailings tend to favor Nuremberg and Passau, Germany, while a lower Danube cruise will begin or end in Bucharest, Romania.
If you're limited by time or budget, you can test the river cruise waters, so to speak, with shorter cruises. For instance, Avalon Waterways runs a three-night Taste of the Danube cruise from Budapest to Vienna, Austria, and vice versa. Luxury line Scenic also offers short four-night voyages from Vienna to Budapest.
Seven-night cruises operate from a variety of ports in Germany and Austria, including Passau, Regensburg and Nuremberg to Budapest. Port cities include Melk, Durnstein, Vienna, Austria, Bratislava, Slovakia.
The Danube consists of three sections -- Upper, Middle and Lower -- and while many cruises focus on the first two sections, you can cruise the Lower section through Eastern European countries. These voyages usually start in Budapest, traveling through Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria before finishing at the Black Sea in Romania.
If you want to spend more time on the Danube, you can find cruises that last anywhere from eight to 16 days, giving you a more extensive lineup of port calls. Some cruise lines even offer almost monthlong journeys that encompass not only the Danube but also the Main and Rhine rivers, allowing you to sail all the way from Bucharest, Romania, to Amsterdam.
Europeans do Christmas markets better than anybody else, which might be why these cruises are so popular. (Prices are often lower during this time, too.) Whether you're craving gingerbread cookies, handmade wood carvings or just hot sausage, you'll get your fill of old-world Christmas and maybe create new traditions with your family. These Danube River cruises sail in November and December and book fast, so plan early.
Cruise operators on the Danube include AmaWaterways, APT, A-ROSA, Avalon Waterways, CroisiEurope, Crystal River Cruises, Emerald Cruises, Grand Circle, Riviera Travel, Scenic Tours, Tauck, Uniworld, Vantage and Viking. Each river cruise line has its own price point and level of inclusions.