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If you’re not humming the melody to this Johann Strauss waltz by the end of your Danube river cruise, well, there’s something amiss. Depending upon your location and sunlight, there is some truth to the fabled blue color.
The mighty Blue Danube river flows nearly 1,780 miles from the southwest corner of Germany to its delta in the Black Sea. Along the path, the Danube passes through nine countries and all but one (Ukraine) are on major river cruise lines’ itineraries. Industrialized northern cities, rolling countryside dotted with towering castles and the rugged wilderness of the Iron Gates gorges in Serbia transport you from modern and medieval times to ancient Roman battlefields and the lingering remnants of communism.
Along the Danube river
In Austria, the Danube meanders through the UNESCO-designated Wachau Valley, one of the most charming and picturesque regions on the river. Only twenty-five miles long, cities in the Wachau Valley include Melk with its imposing, gold-color Melk Abbey. Also on its journey to the Black Sea, the Danube flows past ancient Durnstein, where castle ruins remain where Richard the Lion-hearted was imprisoned.
As the Danube twists and turns on its southbound journey, the glittering cities of Vienna and Budapest give way to the sharp contrast of war-torn towns and villages of Croatia and Serbia, whose bullet-ridden buildings are a constant reminder of late 20th century fighting.
Finally, the mighty Danube winds its way to the Black Sea. Almost every river cruise, however, doesn’t journey past Giurgiu, Romania or Russe, Bulgaria; cities on either side of the border of those two countries. Bucharest is the closest major city. Lower Danube river cruises ofter begin or end in one of those two ports.
Danube river cruises vary in length from seven days to over two weeks. Spring and fall seasons bring cooler temperatures, less humidity and fewer tourists. An early spring thaw in the Alps can cause flooding on the Danube just as not enough rain can bring river traffic to a grinding halt in the summer. Be prepared for whatever Mother Nature might have in store and experience one of the grandest inland waterways in the world.