Stepping aboard you will appreciate the superb surroundings of your floating luxury hotel for the next seven nights with spacious and well-appointed cabins or suites, private bathrooms and meticulously prepared fine cuisine.
From Budapest, we slip our moorings and head on our journey north to Esztergom spending the morning exploring its historic centre, which once was Hungary’s capital, before continuing westwards to the beautiful old town of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Navigating through Lower Austria we then reach the romantic town of Dürnstein, where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned, having been shipwrecked on his return from the crusades. After we visit the remarkable monastery in Melk, with its 200m long Emperor’s Gallery, lined with portraits of Austrian emperors.
Soon we arrive in Linz where we take the short drive to Salzburg. During the guided tour of the old town we will see the imposing fortress Hohensalzburg towering over the city and of course the birthplace and residence of Mozart, Salzburg’s most famous citizen. On our way back eastwards we will reach classical Vienna, home of Strauss and many great composers. This city offers up so much wonderful architecture as well as a host of other things to see including the Spanish riding school.
Finally, cruising into Hungary, we arrive back in imperial Budapest, straddling the picturesque Danube. After a guided tour of this palatial city we spend the evening on board, where the Captain hosts another spectacular dinner, an excellent finale to this most exceptional and relaxing cruise.
Arrive in Budapest, where your five-star floating hotel is moored. The dedicated crew will welcome you on board, ensuring you settle into your comfortable and extremely well-equipped cabin and familiarize yourself with the ship. There is always a sense of expectancy and excitement on the eve of a cruise and after an excellent dinner in the stylish restaurant, conversation is sure to revolve around the delights ahead of you.
Experience one of the great joys of cruising as you awake in a completely different location. Overnight we slipped upstream to Esztergom, one of Hungary’s oldest towns, a royal capital during medieval times and today the seat of the country’s archbishop. Esztergom is famous for its enormous neoclassical basilica, Hungary’s largest church, standing sentinel over the Danube on the border with Slovakia, and boasting one of the world’s largest altarpieces and a wealth of priceless religious artefacts. The castle is also worth exploring; it was the seat of government until the Ottomans invaded in the 16th century. Nestling below are myriad atmospheric churches resonating with the enchanting sounds of choirs, adding to the unmistakable Central European atmosphere. This is the best of provincial Hungary and is little changed since Habsburg times. As you enjoy your first lunch on board we gently leave Esztergom in our wake, affording a fascinating opportunity to compare the different landscapes, towns and villages of Hungary on one river bank and of Slovakia on the other.
This morning we explore Slovakia’s fast-emerging capital city, Bratislava, on a guided tour. Until recently swathed in the drab uniformity of Communism, the city has rekindled the splendour of its imperial past in its beautifully restored Old Town. Equally impressive is the imposing 17th-century castle commanding expansive views across the Danube.
This afternoon we cruise into Lower Austria, a peaceful, bucolic region and home to some of the country’s best wines. By now the stresses of everyday life seem distant as you absorb the ever-changing scenes we pass: children playing on the river banks, young couples strolling arm in arm like generations before them, vignerons carefully pruning their vines, and cobbled quaysides lined by half-timbered buildings, teeming with life. You’ll marvel as the Captain skilfully navigates the ship along the serene river and through locks whose mechanisms never cease to fascinate, as we cruise towards Dürnstein while enjoying another superb dinner.
As well as being a delightfully picturesque town in a landscape of forested hills and vineyards, Dürnstein is known principally for two things: first, for the ice-blue tower of its abbey, which dominates the view, and second, for the castle where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in 1192 after being shipwrecked on his return from the crusades then captured by his enemy, Leopold V, Duke of Austria. Set on a rocky outcrop high above the river, the castle is now ruined, but it’s easy to imagine England’s legendary monarch seething with frustration far from home, while waiting for his family to raise funds to pay his ransom.
After lunch you visit the remarkable Melk Abbey. Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of this enormous honey-coloured building, standing resplendent above the surrounding countryside. Originally a castle, it was gifted to the Benedictine Order in the 11th century and, although reconstructed in Baroque style during the 18th century, it has remained a monastic school and monastery ever since. The Abbey is renowned for its 214-yard-long Emperor’s Gallery lined with portraits of Austrian royalty, many fine rooms and an ornate library containing over 100,000 volumes, including a unique collection of medieval manuscripts. After we re-join the ship, dinner is served during the final part of our cruise upstream through the pretty Nibelungengau, immortalised in the music of Wagner.
Reaching Linz, you will have the choice to stay in the city and take a guided walking tour, exploring its charming baroque old town. At its heart you’ll see one of the finest squares in Austria, lined by grand pastel-coloured facades with an impressive central Trinity Column of white marble, crowned by a gilded sunburst. There’s also the fortress-like castle, built high above the city by Emperor Friedrich III, now a museum housing a fine collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century artworks.
Alternatively, we drive to Salzburg, once an independent state whose archbishops turned it into one of the most sophisticated cities north of the Alps. Dominating the skyline is one of Europe’s largest stone fortresses, the Hohensalzburg, while beneath its walls church domes and spires rise from the delightful Altstadt, or Old Town. Then there’s the wonderful Hellbrunn Palace and the splendid formal gardens of the Mirabell Palace – a must for horticulture fans.
This morning, discover some of the city’s main sights in the company of an expert local guide, then you’re free to explore as you wish. Everywhere there are sights associated with the city’s most famous resident, Mozart, who played the harpsichord aged three, composed rudimentary music at five and wrote his first opera when he was 11!
Please note lunch is not included on this full day excursion to Salzburg; however, the ship will offer a packed lunch. We return to the ship for another splendid dinner.
For many, today’s visit to Vienna will be one of the highlights of the cruise. The city’s very name provokes images of elegance, fine music, wide boulevards, Baroque architecture and a rich tapestry of peoples who were drawn here from all corners of Europe. For 200 years until the First World War, Vienna was the cultural centre of Europe and many of the showpiece buildings, galleries, aristocratic palaces and magnificent churches you see today were built to reflect its imperial status.
The city’s most iconic monument is the breathtaking Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, whose striking multicoloured roof and huge Gothic South Tower dominate the skyline. There’s also the colossal Hofburg, the former royal court that is now home to a collection of museums, the Crown Jewels and the Spanish Riding School, and where the Vienna Boys’ Choir performs. Then there are the lavish Imperial Apartments and an outstanding collection of relics of the Holy Roman Empire, including, allegedly, the sabre of Charlemagne himself. The Kunsthistorisches Museum, which contains the world’s fourth largest collection of paintings, is just across the road.
This morning we have a tour with a local guide offering insights into why Vienna is one of Europe’s great capitals – the seat of the Habsburg emperors and home to some of the world’s finest classical composers, including Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart and, of course, a whole family of Strausses. During the afternoon you’re free to explore as you wish. Take a stroll in the Prater, notable for the huge Ferris wheel that features in several Cold War spy thrillers. Or, for something quite different, visit the Schönbrunn Palace, a former royal residence now housing a range of world-class museums and galleries. Perhaps, though, just take a stroll through Vienna’s atmospheric side streets, enjoy a coffee and a slice of delicious Sachertorte in one of the extraordinarily ornate coffee houses, or admire the skill of the street entertainers and even the occasional opera singer.
This evening we’ve arranged truly the ‘icing on the cake’: no visit to Vienna is complete without a live musical experience, so after dinner we have a classical recital on board. To hear this exquisite music played in the city of its creation makes a wonderful finale to the day.
Enjoy a leisurely morning as we cruise majestically through Hungary’s peaceful pastoral landscape towards Budapest. After lunch we enjoy a sightseeing tour of this captivating city, which truly lives up to its reputation as the ‘Pearl of the Danube’. The twin cities of Buda, built around the hilltop fortress, and Pest, with its wide boulevards, were fought over through the centuries. The Ottomans ruled here for 150 years before being ousted in the late 17th century, but their legacy lives on in the many thermal baths fed by hot springs, giving rise to Budapest’s other sobriquet – the ‘City of Spas’. After the end of Ottoman rule, Budapest became an imperial city of the Habsburg Empire, attracting great cultural and commercial wealth.
Castle Hill is Budapest in microcosm: two churches, seven museums and a theatre among streets and squares with their own special atmosphere and a dramatic view across the river to the awe-inspiring neo-Gothic Parliament Building. Budapest’s endless galleries, museums, outstanding Art Nouveau architecture and excellent shopping offer a fittingly elegant end to your Danube cruise. This evening’s Gala Dinner closes with a Hungarian folklore show, giving you time to bid farewell to your travelling companions and reflect on all the inspirational places, sights and sounds you have experienced on a truly ‘imperial’ cruise.
For those continuing their holiday with our three-night extension, we leave the ship and return to the dramatic Danube Bend to explore some of the region’s hidden gems. First we visit the medieval town of Visegrad, renowned for its historic Royal Palace and fantastically preserved citadel. The palace, now beautifully restored, was originally built by King Charles Robert in the 14th century when he decided to move the royal court to Visegrad from Budapest. It was abandoned after the Ottoman conquest and lay buried for centuries under mud washed down from the surrounding hills until a chance discovery by an archaeologist in 1934 helped identify the building’s location. You may wish to visit the palace, gardens and remarkable royal chapel featuring a stunning gilded wooden ceiling before enjoying a tasty lunch. There’s also a chance to visit Solomon’s Tower, a 13th-century hexagonal keep housing a museum with fascinating Gothic and Renaissance discoveries excavated from the town.
We spend the rest of the day in picturesque Szentendre. Nestling below the rolling hills behind, this charming riverside town has a lovely Baroque square lined with brightly painted facades and pretty churches. It’s also one of the sunniest spots in Hungary and consequently home to an artists’ colony. Described as the ‘Montmartre of the Danube’, the rich, rusty reds and warm orange and yellow hues of its handsome townhouses dazzle in the rosy light. This is the perfect spot to while away a lazy afternoon, exploring the Old Town’s delightful maze of cobblestone streets.
We return to Budapest where we stay for the next three nights, with breakfast, at the Hilton Budapest City.
Budapest is truly a magnificent city – an alluring collage of palatial buildings and grand churches with dramatic spires and magnificent domes straddling the vast waters of the Danube. Numerous foreign powers have ruled here and this is reflected in the city’s eclectic architectural mix, including Roman ruins and Turkish baths recalling the days of the Ottoman Empire, but the greatest influence on its architecture was Hungary’s union with Austria in 1867, which initiated a period of huge growth continuing up to the First World War. This resulted in some sensational buildings in a range of styles, including the elegant Art Nouveau Gellert Hotel and its sumptuous thermal baths, resplendent with gleaming majolica tiles and colourful mosaics.
The iconic Parliament Building – the world’s third largest – was also built during this period. Constructed in neo-Gothic style and arguably grander than our own Houses of Parliament, it dominates the river bank with its striking central dome and spires soaring into the sky above. Its cathedral-like interior is breathtakingly ornate, with fabulous frescoes, stained glass and mosaics. During an included tour we’ll see the Domed Hall, home to the Hungarian Crown Jewels, the 16-sided Central Hall with its stunning gilded ceiling and intricate carvings, and the astonishing Golden Staircase.
Our next stop is the impressive National Gallery, which is located in Buda Castle and includes a phenomenal collection of Hungarian masterpieces spanning the centuries as well as a crypt containing tombs of several members of the Habsburg dynasty. We enjoy a visit to this world-famous collection, then the rest of the day is free for you to explore this fantastic city and its multitude of cultural attractions. Perhaps spend more time in the Castle District, admiring its panoramic views of the city and exploring its tiny winding passages, Gothic arches and colourful houses, mostly dating from the 17th to 19th centuries. Don’t miss the wonderful Matthias Church, where shafts of light from the intricate rose windows pierce the darkness within, illuminating the splendid altar and statues to great effect.
When it’s time for a well-earned break, try one of Budapest’s many cellar cafés or sample local cuisine in a cosy restaurant. Hungary is legendary for its goulash and dumplings, but you’ll find many other hearty dishes on offer, often seasoned with the locally produced paprika, which ranges from sweet to hot and is said to be the best in the world due to its rich colour and robust flavour.
Today we leave the bustling city behind for something different. The landscape gradually begins to change as the thickly forested hills of the uplands to the north come into view, while isolated sleepy villages and remote ruined castles are all that interrupt the swathes of lush vineyards of this world-class wine-producing region. Our first port of call is the attractive Baroque town of
After a wonderful cruise and tour, we check out of the hotel at the appropriate time with memories to treasure of this diverse and unique country.
Prices are per person, based on two people sharing a twin cabin with a limited number of single cabins available on all decks, at the relevant supplement. The price includes full board from dinner on your day of arrival until breakfast on your final day; if you choose to travel with us on any of the full day excursions by coach, a packed lunch will be provided. Anyone choosing to stay on the ship may of course have lunch in the restaurant; morning/afternoon tea and coffee; all visits and excursions as mentioned in the brochure, coach travel as mentioned and the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager.
While we include everything you might need in our prices, we never charge for something you might not. If you prefer to pre-order your drinks, you can purchase our drinks package which offers superb value and includes a selection of drinks during lunch and dinner.
Simply relax and when it’s time to dine in the restaurant, take your pick from a range of: draught beer; non-alcoholic beer; soft drinks; juices; red, white and rosé house wines; and wine recommendations from the menu by the glass.
If you choose not to purchase a drinks package, there is a vast selection of drinks on board each ship available for individual purchase. To see an example bar list please see our dining information.
The cost of the drinks package is $129pp for 2018 departures and $159pp for 2019 departures.
Drinks packages must be purchased by all guests in the same cabin or suite, and do not include drinks from the bar. To book the drinks package please call the reservations team.