Continuing our adventure down the Danube, we left Krems, Austria and made our way to the next port-of-call, Vienna.
I’ve wanted to visit Vienna for a number of years. It’s just one of those places that’s steeped in culture and history. As usual, we arrived in the city at the crack-of-dawn. One thing I love about river cruising is that you’re either in a port over-night, or at the very least you’ve docked already by the time you wake up on port days.
After a short coach journey from the ship, we hit the streets and took a walking tour of the city centre which included seeing St Stephen’s Cathedral, taking in The Hofburg and its museums, the cute boulevards ands side streets of the city and the Stallburg, home to the famous Lipizzan horses of the Spanish Riding School. It was a great way to get a feel for the city.
After our walk it would have been rude not to take in the famous coffeehaus culture which the city is known for. We found ourselves in a beautiful coffeehaus (Café Diglas ) just off the beaten track and enjoyed some pretty amazing cake and delicious coffee. I was buzzing (literally). You simply cannot visit Vienna without experiencing this.
But that wasn’t the end of our day. As we weren’t sailing until late, in the evening Viking took us to see a beautiful classical concert in the city, focussed around the music of Mozart. Set within a gorgeous Baroque concert hall, we were treated to classical dancing, opera and performances by some very talented musicians. It really was something. Upon arriving back at the ship, we were greeted by the lovely staff on board and invited to join them in the Aquavit for a drink and some authentic goulash. Yum!
I have to admit, before the trip I wasn’t sure what to expect from Bratislava and it was somewhere I wasn’t as familiar with as much as some of the other destinations. However, it turned out to be one of my highlights.
Arriving bright and early (as usual), we visited Bratislava Castle. Dominating the skyline of the city, the Castle dates back originally to the 9th Century and hosts the Slovak National Museum. But it’s all honestly about the view which are incredible across the city. Leaving the Castle, we took a walking tour of the old town, seeing many of the sites including Michael’s Gate, one of the original entrances to the city, the Old Town Hall and Square and the Slovak National Theatre. The whole city had a friendly feel to it.
If you find yourself in the city, make sure you visit the Man at Work statue. This fun bronze statue of a sewer worker looking out from a grate is the most photographed statue in the city. There are two back-stories to the statue. Firstly, that he is a communist-era worker who isn’t interest din the work he’s doing. Secondly, and more fun, is that he’s looking under women’s skirts. Let me know what you think the real story is.
It was a shame we only had half a day in Bratislava, as I could have happily explored some more. We had a final afternoon of scenic sailing ahead of us before arriving in Budapest in the evening. One thing that really strikes me about river cruising, is the experience of going through locks – it’s quite a surreal, but fun experience going through these man-made marvels.
There were many highlights from this trip, but perhaps the most special was sailing into Budapest at night. Everyone took to the top deck as our Programme Director, Terry, gave us an insightful, animated and fun commentary of our arrival. From utter darkness we turned our last bend of the Danube and were showered by golden light from the city. From the Parliament Building to the other historical monuments, the city was radiating a glorious glow. It was honestly something to behold. Our physical cruise finished with us sailing under the famous Chain Bridge and docking just by it, right in the city centre. However, that isn’t the end this story, as we had two full nights to explore this marvellous city.
We woke up bright and early on our first full day in Budapest. The sun was shining, and the city was coming to life. Our morning was spent exploring the city, firstly on a panoramic tour of the new Town, or Pest. We then ventured into the old town, or Buda. Here we climbed to the top of the old town with its majestic views over the city. We found Matthias Church, a Roman Catholic church dating back to the 14th Century and has served as the coronation church for the Hungarian Kings. Surrounding the Church and overlooking the city is Fisherman’s Bastion. This fairy-tale setting could honestly have been taken straight from a Disney story. It was built as a viewing platform after the Siege of Budapest.
Something that struck me about this whole trip is that while we count the 20th Century as history we don’t always appreciate the personal stories of the people that lived through historical events, such as the cold war. It was so fascinating to listen to our local guides tell us about how things have changed in 30 years all along the Danube and their first-hand accounts of their experiences. It’s really insightful.
On our way back to the ship I could not pass up the opportunity to visit Shoes on the Danube. This memorial is situated in front of the Hungarian Parliament on the banks of the Danube. It serves as a poignant reminder of the past and some of the darkest days in the World. Sixty pairs of iron rusted shoes symbolise Hungarian Jews who were rounded up and told to take their shoes off by the Nazis, before being shot and whose bodies fell into the Danube. It was by far one of the most touching and emotional sites I’ve ever seen, with people sitting and standing solemnly taking in the memorial. I went back again the next morning as it honestly touched me so much.
One of the top tips for visiting Budapest is to not leave without trying one of the many baths in the city. So, in the afternoon we ventured out to one such bath (the Lukacs Baths). With a mix of indoor and outdoor pools, thermal baths and saunas, it was the perfect place to spend a few hours winding down and letting any of life’s worries melt away. I felt like a new person by the time we left.
And so, as the sun set in beautiful Budapest, our adventure through Germany, Austria and Hungary came to a close. Honestly, what an eye-opening experience. In starting this blog series, I said that I’ve always wanted to take a river cruise, but more so that I wanted to experience the famous Danube River. Coming away from this experience not only did I learn a lot, but I also fell in love with this type of cruising where you can destination hop in true comfort. I couldn’t recommend it enough.
To see more details about our itinerary, together with the Viking Longships, head here. Click below to go back to the start of this series.