The Rhine and Upper Danube Rivers are the most popular European river cruise itineraries, for many reasons. Quintessential Europe, including castles, vineyards, quaint towns, Hapsburg era palaces and iconic capitals. So much to see.
But if you are looking for something different, fewer tourists and crowds a bit off the beaten path, consider a cruise along the Lower Danube. Cruising between Budapest and Bucharest (you dock in Giurgiu) is a special itinerary - a chest full of unexpected treasures.
Very different from the Upper Danube itineraries, the Lower Danube has you sailing through five countries - Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania – the latter four part of the Balkans, each with unique histories, different religions, architecture, traditions and foods to excite your cultural taste buds.
One thing in common – happy people who are excited to share their country with you.
Cruise lines offer a number of different itineraries and options. You can cruise this region multiple times and experience something new each time. Perfect! Following are a seven top highlights:
Pécs was founded back in the 2nd century by the Romans, and is known for their religious sites including the UNESCO World Heritage site Early Christian Necropolis, the Turkish Mosque of Pasha Qasim and the Pécs Synogogue. A charming city, Pécs also is known for the beautiful and impressive Baroque buildings.
A visit here will take you a Hungarian ranch where Magyar cowboys demonstrate their equestrian skills in a horse show. The Magyar tribes originated from an area that is now China, and settled in Hungary around 895 AD.
Kalocsa is also called the paprika capital of the world for its many acres of paprika peppers grown in the area.
Novi Sad (Serbia)
Novi Sad is Serbia’s second largest city, yet very different from the capital. In 2019 it was dubbed as the European Youth Capital and is pegged to be the European Capital of Culture in 2021. A melting pot of ethnicities and languages, Novi Sad’s history includes synagogues, Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals and a variety of architectural styles. One of the main attractions Is the Petrovaradin Fortress, originally part of the Ottoman Empire, eventually taken by the Hapsburg Empire. Yugoslavia’s first president, Josip Tito, was held prisoner here (in the catacombs) during WWI.
Belgradchik Fortress (Bulgaria)
The fortress was first started by the Romans over 2000 years ago. Built into the natural rocky landscape, only 2 sides had to be built. Initially built as a lookout point, it was turned into more of a military structure in the 14th century during the Ottoman Empire. The last time it was used as a military fortress was during the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885.
Skadarlija Bohemian Quarter, Belgrade (Bulgaria)
Called the best Bohemian street in the world, Skadarlija is historic residential borough with beautiful character that attracts many visitors. Cobbled lanes and alleys are home to wonderful restaurants, artisans, galleries and shops.
Iron Gates (Romania and Serbia)
The Iron Gates is a magnificent gorge between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, a natural border between Serbia and Romania. Along with the Wachau Valley, many consider this portion of the Danube the most beautiful. The most iconic site is the stone carving of Dacian Chief Decebalus on the Romanian side, who fought many a battle with the Romans.
The story has it that the area was named the Iron Gates by the Romans. This section was the shortest distance across the river, yet the most treacherous and difficult because of the rapids. This made invasion more difficult – like an Iron Gate.
To help control the speed of the river and make navigation easier, a massive lock and dam was built in the 1960’s. You’ll pass through two of Europe’s deepest locks (50 miles apart) – over 100 feet deep.
One of Bulgaria’s oldest towns, Veliko Târnavo was its ancient capital and known as the City of Czars (Bulgarian Kings). The centerpiece is the Tsaravets Fortress, which transports you back into Medieval Bulgaria.
A cruise along the Lower Danube is a perfect option for history and culture seekers. From medieval to WWI and WWII times, you'll find plenty of experiences to feed your curiosity and soul.
And for even more adventure, consider a pre or post stay in Istanbul, Turkey or Transylvania where you can discover the legend of Dracula (and even have dinner inside).
For more information about river cruising
reach out to me at 602.540.7338 or HERE.
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder