After many years of ocean cruises and land vacations, I was blessed to take my very first river cruise. The Danube Waltz with Viking (Budapest to Passau) has become one of most favorite and memorable vacations. There is a tremendous amount of cultural and historical sites throughout the region. What better way to visit each of these ports of calls nestled along the Danube River. This 8-day itinerary allowed us to see the highlights of Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Krems and Linz, Austria, along with Passau, Germany. These are not only some of the most beautiful European countries and cities but they are all designated UNESCO sites.
Overall, this was a very good cruise. Viking seems to have really mastered Embarkation and Debarkation. Very well organized as was every aspect of the ship (i.e Aqauvit Terrance, Main Dining room, cleaning, tours, evening activities, disbursement of nightly and daily information on ports or call and daily activities and weather.) The Viking Bragi is a beautiful vessel. Décor is very light and airy.
The food was also excellent as was the service team. I really enjoyed being seated at a different table each night and was able to talk with the guest. There was never a negative comment. They raved on and on about this trip being their three, fourth or fifth Viking sailing. I think this says it all!
Did you know, the chef actually grows his own herbs on the Sun Deck. You may catch a glimpse of him making his selection for meal preparations.
Day 1: Budapest, Hungary
Embarked on the beautiful Viking Bragi. This would be home for the next 8 days. Our first day was basically on our own. This was a great opportunity to visit sites that would not be a part of our scheduled tours in Budapest. We used the Hop On Hop Off bus to give us an overview of the city before embarking upon of walking tour of the area on day 2.
Day 2: Budapest Castle City Hike
This walking tour would allow us to explore both sides of Budapest “Buda” and “Pest”. We started out with a walk over the Chain Bridge constructed in the 18th century. It is the first permanent bridges across the Danube River in Hungary that connected Buda and Pest. One of the many UNESCO Sites in Hungary and a marvel all of its own. Now there are several bridges that connect these two cities, but the Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge across the Danube.
As we reached the foot of Castle Hill we took a ride on the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular to reach the top of the Castle hill. This is the oldest known funicular still in service.
Once you arrive at the top of the hill you have an awesome view of the Budapest Parliament and other bridges below. Now you also have access to old town Budapest. Here, we explored the cobblestone streets as we strolled through the grounds of the former Hapsburg Royal Palace. Originally built in the middle ages in a Baroque architecture. It was the home of the Hapsburg family for centuries. But was destroyed in the 14th century and rebuilt more in Roman style housing. Nevertheless, the mixed architecture still in place today.
Our next stop was at beautiful Matthias Church a Roman Catholic Church in Budapest. It is one of the best know landmarks in the city. It was used for as a coronation church for many of the Hungarian kings. This complex is totally awesome. Couples actually use this are for wedding photo opportunities. How awesome is that!
Fisherman’ Bastion is a terrace that still on the Castle Hill as well and is just around the corner from Matthias Church
Day 3: Bratislava, Slovak Republic
Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia. Czech and Slovak were formally known as Czechoslovakia. The Czech Republic and Slovakia separated into two countries on January 1, 1993. Many of us was still trying to figure out Slovakia certainly sounds familiar. Now we know.
Today on our Danube Waltz with Viking, we would enjoy a tour of Bratislava Castle that sits atop a hill. This would including a bus ride on Vikings motor coach as we drove past Grassalkvoich Palace and the Freedom Square up to the Bratislava Castle. These are medieval towns that look storybook. It is a pedestrian-only town. It’s as though time stood still! For here you can get a birds eye views over the city and surrounding areas.
Day 4: Vienna, Austria
Today, our own private tour would take us to the beautify city of Vienna. What a day! It started with a short drive and walk to the Tanzschule Elmayer, Vienna’s prestigious dance school. Our instructors gave us a one hour lesson on how to dance the classic waltz. Of course Austria is known as the “City of Waltzes”. Since my daughter and I were the only two who signed up for this tour, we really did have one on one instructions. If you have a desire to learn how to waltz this is a must!
From here, we took a walk to the Volkgsarten Park one of the city’s may green spaces. It is a part of the Hofburg Palace .The footpath are lined with flowerbeds and trees.
After working up an appetite on our Danube Waltz with Viking, we had a private lunch at Vestibul Restaurant known as V. The food was exceptionally good. The chef actually came out to greet us.
Next onto Schonbrunn Palace for a private tour. This is one of Austria foremost cultural heritage sites. Hundreds of people in line on a cold and rainy day. However, with Viking we had skip the line privileges and walked right inside with our tour guide. Yes, we were well pleased! Amazing after so many years Empress Maria Theresa’s legacy still lives on. This was the summer home of the Hapsburg Dynasty. With our guided tour we were able to learn about all the grandly furnished imperial apartment as well as learn something about the Hapsburg clan. Sorry taking picture not allowed inside the palace. Be assured it’s worth the trip.
On the grounds palace ground was remnants of the “The Easter Market” Very impressive.
We decided to take a coffee break to enjoy apple strudel and coffee in the coffee shop which also sits on the grounds of the palace before heading back to the ship. This is a full 8 hour tour.
Day 5: Krems, Austria and Scenic Cruising: Wachau Valley
Our tour today would take us to the Gottweig Abbey. This is a working Monastery and has been for more than 900 years. This is a living, breathing abbey where the Benedictine Monks work and worship. It sits high on a hill that overlooks the Wacha Valley along the Danube River. Today, it serves as a spiritual center in the heart of lower Austria and is run by a community of about 45 monks.
First we visited the apricot garden. At this time the orchard was not yet in full bloom. There is also short film about monastic life. Next they allow for a taste of sparkling apricot wine. This is exclusive to Viking guest. Our next stop was actually inside the church. Here were able to see the rainbow-colored interior and beautiful pews.
Later in the day as we headed back to the ship, we departed for our next port of call. As we cruised along the Danube the Wachau Valley did not reveal all of its beauty. The grape vineyards were not yet in bloom. Perhaps next time. This 18 mile stretch is also considered a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Day 6: Linz, Austria
Our destination today on our Danube Waltz with Viking is Cesky Krumlov the Czech Republic’s fairy-tale town on the Vitava River. This too is UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1992. Despite all the history even today it is used for hosting conferences, concerts and cultural events. After a scenic drive aboard Viking motor coaches we arrived this most beautiful and intriguing. We walked over a Bear Moat. Their friendly bear did not make an appearance! Here we admired the Renaissance style, the stone arches of the Cloak Bridge and the Upper and Little Castle.
Day 7: Passau, Germany
This morning we disembarked in the beautiful city of Passau, Germany. One of the first things that captures your attention are the pastel rainbow of building facades. Some say it reminds them of Italy because of the Italianate-style streets. As we strolled through the cobblestone streets we headed Bishop’s resident to the Linz River. It is one of three rivers in Passau. Terrific walk to see so many different sites and learn of the massive floorings they’ve experienced over the years.
Next we visited the magnificent St Stephen’s Cathedral. It has Europe’s largest pipe organ with more than 17,000 pipes. Sorry was not able to capture all 17,000 pipes, just a few.
As we departed the ship after our Danube Waltz with Viking in Passau for our trip back home my daughter and I agreed, we’ll be back soon!