by John Wilmott, The Telegraph, August 17, 2018
Think you know the Danube? The majority of river cruises concentrate on the upper river, west of Budapest. It’s a different story on the lower reaches between Hungary’s capital and the Danube’s exit into the Black Sea. From west to east, here are 10 highlights you could visit on this compelling journey.
Paprika is essential to many tasty Hungarian recipes, not least goulash, and the finest is said to come from peppers grown around this ancient city. Its Paprika Museum tells the story, but you’ll also want to check out the 18th-century baroque cathedral and the Archbishop’s Palace across the square. Calls at Kalocsa are often combined with a drive out to the great plains of Puszta to admire the equestrian skills of Hungarian cowboys.
Cruise lines: Many, including A-Rosa, Emerald Waterways, Riviera Travel, Fred Olsen.
Nowhere represents Hungary’s period of Turkish occupation better than the Pasha Gazi Kasim Mosque in Pécs. Construction of the domed building started in 1543; sadly, its minaret has long gone but it is still a fascinating place. The city is packed with architectural beauty – especially the National Theatre – and famed for its porcelain. Look out for treats made from the many fruits and nuts grown in this region, which is accessed from the port of Mohács.
Cruise lines: Many, including Saga, APT, AmaWaterways.
If you want to witness a city slowly rebuilding itself, Vukovar in Croatia is an enlightening example. Many of its buildings, including fine baroque examples, were destroyed in the Yugoslav war but a major reconstruction effort is under way. Several cruise lines offer a trip from here to Osijek on the River Drava, the best features of which are the picturesque market square and the tall, elegant spire of the co-cathedral.
Cruise lines: Most, including Saga, Emerald Waterways, Uniworld, Viking.
Novi Sad, Serbia
The fact that Novi Sad will in 2021 become the first non-EU city to be a European Capital of Culture says much about the re-emergence of this Serbian city. Bridges destroyed in the conflict in 1999 have been rebuilt and the city is once more a thriving creative hub, much like it was during the 18th and 19th centuries when it was known as the ‘Athens of the North’. Unmissable is the Petrovaradin Citadel which sits on an enormous rock slab beside the river – a guide will tell you why its clock hands are reversed.
Cruise lines: Many, including The River Cruise Line, Tauck, Amadeus, APT.
Dominating the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers in Serbia’s capital is the mighty Kalemegdan fortress on a ridge. It has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over 2,300 years and remains the city’s focal point. A stroll through the adjacent green park, where local men play chess, makes an ideal approach. Cruise ships dock close by. Other key sights in Belgrade are the Bohemian quarter of Skadarlija and the mausoleum of Yugoslavia’s former leader Tito.
Cruise ships: Most, including Avalon, A-Rosa, AmaWaterways, Noble Caledonia.
Read more: Telegraph Travel's Danube River Cruise Guide
Iron Gates, Serbia/Romania
Just as the Rhine has its Gorge and the upper Danube has its Wachau Valley, the eastern Danube has its own spectacular canyon through which the river squeezes. The Iron Gates refers to one narrow section but the name is usually given to the whole 80-mile stretch, which separates Serbia from Romania among the Carpathian mountains. Sights along the way include the impressive Golubac Fortress and a giant Mount Rushmore-style carving of first-century king Decebalus.
Cruise lines: All – Uniworld and Titan stop at Golubac.
Belogradchik Rocks, Bulgaria
Adam and Eve, a shepherd boy, a lion, and a monkey are among the characters you can meet on a trip to Belogradchik, a short drive from the port of Vidin in Bulgaria. They can be found in a 20-mile-long series of rock formations, the most dramatic of which are 300ft pinnacles contorted by the elements into bizarre shapes and tinted red by their iron content. Nestling among the rocks is the Kaleto Fortress, which has its roots in Roman times.
Cruise lines: Many, including Scenic, Avalon, APT.
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
Clustered high above sharp bends in the River Yantra, Veliko Tarnovo is one of Bulgaria’s oldest towns. Its historic lanes and 19th-century buildings are pleasing enough but its main attraction is the huge, medieval Tsarevets Fortress, with a church crowning a hill at its centre. A trip here, from the port of Rousse (itself a delightful destination), is usually combined with a visit to the nearby village of Arbanassi, where churches are filled with numerous ancient frescoes.
Cruise lines: Most, including CroisiEurope, Tauck, Titan, Viking.
Danube Delta, Romania
The Danube comes to a spectacular conclusion when it reaches the Black Sea. Covering an incredible 2,000 square miles, the Danube Delta is a maze of waterways, lakes, reed beds and tangled foliage. It’s no surprise that the highest concentration of birds in Europe gathers here, including countless white pelicans. You’ll need to switch to a smaller boat to explore. Many cruises terminate before the delta, so choose carefully if this verdant wilderness appeals.
Cruise lines: Several, including Amadeus, Riviera Travel, Fred Olsen, Noble Caledonia.
If you want to see one of the greatest monuments to dictatorial excess, stand in front of the colossal Palace of Parliament in Romanian capital Bucharest. Built in the 1980s by Nicolae Ceausescu, it is the world’s second largest building after the Pentagon. Elsewhere, Bucharest has plenty of leafy avenues, 18th-century churches and belle époque architecture – and many cruise lines include a pre- or post-cruise hotel stay in Bucharest.
Cruise lines: Saga, Scenic and Viking are among those including a one-night stay.
Read more: Telegraph Travel's Danube River Cruise Guide