Welcome back to our wonderous adventure along the Danube river with Avalon Waterways.
As we continue on our journey through Austria we head through the Wachau Valley, spend time in Vienna, visit Bratislava, Slovakia and finish in beautiful Budapest, Hungary.
Day Four – Spitz and Vienna, Austria
We woke up to another stunning day on the Danube in Spitz, right in the heart of the Wachau Valley. This is a picturesque part of Austria and one of the most popular tourist destinations, particularly with the high quality wines it produces, including Riesling and Grüner Veltliner (yum!). Not only is the landscape stunning, but the architecture is also elegant with various monasteries, castles and ruins dotted along and around the Danube.
Like many rivers in Europe, many people spend the summer travelling along the Danube on bike. The Wachau Valley is the perfect spot to take to a bike and enjoy the breath-taking scenery. So, we took one of the organised cycling excursions from Avalon Waterways – spending the morning cycling 12-miles through the Valley enjoying the various vineyards along the way.
Truth be told, I can be a nervous cyclist when it comes to travelling on roads and things, but I was quickly put at ease with our brilliant, fun an professional tour guides. Our excursion took us from the ship away from main roads onto some of the side streets and dirt paths that run parallel to the Danube. Not only is the Wachau Valley a stunning experience, it’s particularly beautiful by bike it turns out.
We found ourselves in the small town of Dürnstein. This is another picture-perfect spot nestled on the Danube, famous for Dürnstein Abbey. We spent a little time here resting up and enjoying the views – which as you can see are spectacular.
The real beauty about this excursion was that we weren’t heading back to the ship, rather Avalon Impression was following us up the Danube, and as we sat relaxing in Dürnstein, she passed us and headed up to the next port where we would meet her.
Our journey continued to the town of Krems, on the edge of the Wachau. It really was a lovely morning and I thoroughly recommend cycling the Wachau if you have the opportunity.
After such a busy morning, we spent the afternoon resting up and once again sailing through the Danube on our way to Vienna (and of course there was more afternoon tea!).
Another beauty about river cruising is docking overnight in cities, giving you ample time to explore. This itinerary was no exception as we docked in Vienna for two-nights, allowing us to immerse ourself in one of the World’s most illustrious cities. We arrived early evening which was great as it gave us enough time to hop off to explore once again.
After enjoying dinner on board, we decided to head out into Vienna. This is another example of a city that’s great to walk and cycle, so it’s easy to get about. The River is also not far from the Metro so you can easily head into the centre of town.
It was dusk in the city and we decided to enjoy the warm night with goings-on throughout the city. It had been a long day, so after walking off dinner we headed back to the ship for a night cap before hitting the hay. Can we just appreciate this sunset for a moment!
Day Five – Vienna, Austria
I have to say, the weather on this cruise was absolutely incredible – so sunny and lovely every day. Vienna was waking up and we had a whole day to enjoy the city.
In the morning, we decided to take one of the included tours with Avalon. Truth be told, there is so much to see and do in Vienna, so it’s hard to know where to start. On this tour, we jumped on a coach and passed through the city up to the Belvedere Palace.
Overlooking the city, the Belvedere Palace consists of two Baroque palaces (the Upper and Lower). Our visit took us through the Baroque park landscape that is set on a gentle gradient and tiers that has a unique view of Vienna. The Baroque palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy.
Today, the Belvedere houses the greatest collection of Austrian Art from the Middle Ages to today. Our knowledgeable tour guide took us through the various galleries providing a great oversight to Austrian art. It also houses the World’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings from the 1900s, together with his contemporaries. Of this, it was wonderful to see and experience The Kiss in person. It’s such an amazing piece of art.
After a morning in the Belvedere we decided to part ways with the main tour and head into the central part of Vienna. As I’ve said before, the Metro is very easy to use and we found ourselves in St. Stephens Square in just a few minutes. This is the very heart of Austria with so much to see and do – from the famous St. Stephens Cathedral, The Hofburg and many other historical sites. In fact, you could fill your whole day taking it all in (which I’ve done before and I do recommend it). I’ve been to Vienna quite a few times and I wanted to do different things this time round – the Belvedere being the first on of those. You can read about my other visits to Vienna here and here.
Having said that, we did wander around this area and take in the splendour and beauty of the architecture (it’s hard not to), but as we were getting hungry we decided to grab some lunch. After a bit of research we found what turned out to be the best Korean in Vienna, Yori, and honestly, it did not disappoint. The food was absolutely delicious and just what we fancied. I definitely recommend it when you next visit.
Of course, you cannot come to Vienna without embracing coffee culture – There’s so many places to enjoy this, one of my favourites is Café Diglas. It’s atmospheric, the coffee is delicious and you cannot leave without trying the sachertorte.
After all that food, we decided to walk back to the ship. While it isn’t exactly far, it is quite a walk. Again, it was a lovely opportunity to take in the architecture of Vienna and some of the historic sites (if a bit hot!). Back at the ship, we decided to take in the wonderful weather on the top deck – I mean, this is where the jacuzzi on board really came into its own.
As we had another evening in Vienna we wanted to get out and enjoy the city some more. Heading a little off-piste, we went to the Vienna Prater. This is a huge amusement park full of attractions, restaurants and various goings on. It was a different side of Vienna I really wanted to check out.
For dinner, we had heard about a restaurant which is themed around rollercoasters. It is the first restaurant in the world where all the food and drink is delivered on a rollercoaster – that is to say, catapulted above your heads through various twists, turns and loops before gliding down in front of you. It’s quite an experience, and while the food wasn’t the highlight, overall it truly was a fun experience. It gets even quirkier as giant robots manage the dispatch of the food and drink to the right tracks, alongside light and music shows. It’s a great family option or if you really are in the mood for something fun and different.
Something that I’ve wanted to do in Vienna for years is to take the giant ferris wheel – The Wiener Riesenrad. This sits at the bottom of the theme park and as you can imagine has incredible views over the whole city. We decided (strategically) to do this at sunset.
The ferris wheel was built in 1896 to mark Emperor Franz Joseph’s 50th Jubilee. It was the largest of its kind when built. These days you can take a turn of the wheel to enjoy the sites of the city, and you can even hire a gondola for yourself for special occasions including dinner and other celebrations. Again, not to be missed if you’re after something to do in Vienna.
We arrived back to the ship to find out it was quiz night (…we got our timings wrong and we’d missed the start!). This was a lively quiz and the ship really had come to life with such a lovely vibe. Following this, perhaps inevitably, the Karaoke started and took us well into the night.
Day Six – Vienna, Austria
One our next day in Vienna, guests had the option to go on a number of excursions in the morning but we decided we wanted to do our own exploring. All my visits to Vienna have taken me around the central part of the city and again I wanted to see something a little different. So, we headed off to explore Vienna International Centre. Located on the other side of the Danube, this is a short walk from the ship.
On the way we explored The Donauinsel (Danube Island). This is a long artificial island that sits between the Danube and New Danube. This space is known as a recreational area with bars, restaurants and nightclubs. This area really has a fun riviera vibe and I’d love to visit again to see how it comes to life in the evening. It also has sports opportunities including rollerblading, cycling, swimming and canoeing. There’s also a beach to enjoy the day go by.
Our journey continued into the heart of the International Centre where we mooched about for the morning. Heading back to the ship, we enjoyed a light lunch in the Panorama Bistro before setting sail towards our final destination, Budapest. However, there’s a little twist in our tale.
In the afternoon, as we sailed south, we were informed by our cruise director that we would not be able to sail into Budapest due to the low water levels. This was a little gutting as there aren’t many things quite like sailing into Budapest at night. However, in a turn of events we were told we would spend our last day in Bratislava, Slovakia instead. I absolutely love Slovakia so I was personally quite excited by this. And we’d still get to see Budapest and we were flying back home from there.
Day 7 – Bratislava, Slovakia and Budapest, Hungary
We woke up on our unexpected final day on board Avalon Impression in Bratislava, Slovakia. The crew amazingly had totally changed our itinerary and excursions at a drop of a hat.
We had the morning and early afternoon in Slovakia and we wanted to make the most of it. In the morning, we headed off on a hiking and wine tasting excursion on the outskirts of the city wine tasting excursion – a fabulous combination.
Again, we had such a knowledgeable tour guide and vineyard host for this excursion. A we hiked the hills surrounding Bratislava, we walked through various vineyards and learnt about Slovakian wines and importantly got to taste quite a few. I have to say the wine was absolutely delicious and some of the most unique flavour profiles I’ve come across. Apparently, this is down to the way the vines grow, as they have deep roots down to a granite plate deep underneath the ground where they are able to access water freely. It was really eye-opening and I was so glad we got to do it. We even bought some to bring home with us.
After our hike, we decided to make the most of the day and go into the Old Town of Bratislava. I love it here so we did a mini-walking tour of the various sites including Michael’s Gate, one of the original entrances to the city, the Old Town Hall and Square and the Slovak National Theatre. As always, it has such a friendly vibe.
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. We had a quick bite to eat in the city before heading back to the ship to pack!
Back on board, we had a bit of time to relax and enjoy our suite for a very last time. It was then time to bid farewell to Avalon Impression. Due to the time of our flight back and the river water levels, we needed to travel to Budapest by road and stay overnight.
After a few hours of taking in the Slovakian an Hungarian landscapes, we arrived in beautiful Budapest late afternoon.
We were spending the night at the Budapest Marriott Hote. This is a dominant, brutalist building situated right on the edge of the Danube. It’s quite an incredible structure which was built in the 1960s. Today, the entire side of the hotel facing the riverbank is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside, the hotel is contemporary and luxurious, a really great spot to base yourself if you’re visiting Budapest.
We had dinner in the hotel but in honesty, were very eager to get out and enjoy an evening in the city. When the sun sets in Budapest there is a magical transformation as all the lights in the city come on (and the reason why sailing in at dusk is always absolutely incredible). We perched ourselves on the bank of the Danube and watched the city come alive. It’s such a sight to take in.
Even though we had a fairly early flight back to the UK, we wanted to make the most of our night in BUdapest, so we headed back to the hotel to the Liz and Chain Louge and terrace. This is situated right at the top of the hotel and affords some of the best views in the entire city. We took in the warm evening, watching Budapest below and enjoyed some fabulous cocktails – a wonderful end to such an incredible river cruise.
And that was it. Every time I step foot on a river cruise I’m so impressed and come away loving this type of holiday more and more. Want to know more? There’s lots of information on river cruising on the site. Go take a look.
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