Highlights from a Danube River Cruise in Eastern Europe with AmaWaterways

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Going on a river cruise has long been on my bucket list. There's just something about cruising down a major river, stopping in new cities every day, that has always appealed to me. I've been on many ocean cruises and have enjoyed them well enough, but I had a feeling that river cruising was going to be even more my style.

And I was definitely right.

Sailing along the Danube

I spent a week onboard the AmaPrima, cruising down the Danube from Budapest to Bulgaria on AmaWaterways‘ Black Sea Voyage. It's a route that's not as popular as others in Europe (for example, you'll find many more people who have cruised through France and Germany, or the upper part of the Danube), but I wanted a different cruising experience. I didn't want to go where everyone else was going.

The Black Sea Voyage was definitely that. We were in a completely different part of Europe — one with history both ancient and recent; one where you still have to pass border controls at every stop; and one where I knew I would visit places that I might not otherwise ever see.

I'll be writing a full review of the cruise in the coming weeks (expect all the details about the ship, the food, etc.), but for now I just want to share some of the highlights with you in photos.

Here's a sneak peek at the Black Sea Voyage:

Budapest

We boarded our ship in Budapest, Hungary, in the afternoon on the first day of our cruise. The highlight that night was sailing up and down the Danube in Budapest, enjoying the illuminated views of the buildings along the river. The star of the show was of course the Hungarian Parliament building, which is ridiculously pretty — especially at night.

Hungarian Parliament at night

Pecs, Hungary

Our first port of call came the next morning. We docked in Mohacs, and then had the option of taking buses to Pecs for a city tour. Pecs is a gorgeous little university town near the border of Croatia, and was named the European Capital of Culture in 2010. We did a walking tour of the city, and then had some free time to wander around and have a beer or coffee (or, in my case, take photos).

Pecs, Hungary

Pecs, Hungary

Villany, Hungary

In the afternoon of Day 2, we went on an optional wine tour to the Villany region, about halfway between Mohacs and Pecs. Villany is one of Hungary's top wine regions, known for its reds. The wine cellar we visited reminded me a lot of the cellars I went to in the Valley of the Beautiful Women in Eger a few years ago.

Wine cellars in Villany, Hungary

Wine tasting in Villany, Hungary

Vukovar, Croatia

Day 3 began with a somber walking tour of Vukovar, Croatia. The town was mostly destroyed during the Yugoslav Civil War (known as the “Homeland War” here in Croatia) because of its location on the Danube directly across from the border with Serbia. The town is still feeling the effects of the war from the early 1990s — unemployment is over 40 percent, and many buildings still show the scars of heavy shelling.

Vukovar, Croatia

Scars in Vukovar, Croatia

After our walking tour of the town, we headed out to the memorial dedicated to people from Vukovar who died in the war. Many died during the fighting, but hundreds of others were captured after the city fell, taken to a farm on the outskirts of town, and executed.

Vukovar memorial

This wasn't a pleasant tour, but I'm glad I went — this is history that happened in my lifetime, and I think it's really important to learn more about it.

Vukovar cemetery

Novi Sad, Serbia

We sailed a little further down the river during lunch, and docked in Novi Sad, Serbia, in the afternoon of Day 3. I had absolutely no expectations of Novi Sad, and ended up loving it. We took a walking tour in the old city center, which was beautiful and bustling with locals out enjoying the warm spring afternoon.

Novi Sad, Serbia

Novi Sad, Serbia

Novi Sad, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia

Day 4 was completely dedicated to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. We took a city highlights tour in the morning, with our guide pointing out important landmarks and telling us more about Tito, the man who held Yugoslavia together for many years.

St. Sava Church in Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade has been bombed and rebuilt five times in the past 100 years, which I could hardly believe. Today, the only evidence of this are a few government buildings that still bear bomb holes from the NATO bombings here in 1999 to end the Yugoslav occupation of (and genocide in) Kosovo. Our guide said the city doesn't have the money to tear the buildings down, so they stand, hollow with gaping holes.

Belgrade, Serbia

In the afternoon, Elliot and I signed up for a bike tour in Belgrade. The other option was to have free time in the city (many people wanted to go shopping), but we opted for something a little more active. We ended up cycling along the Danube for about 8 kilometers until we reached Sava Lake, a man-made lake not far from the center of the city that's lined with beaches, bars, and cafes. It's one of those places that you probably wouldn't find on your own — one of the things I love about bike tours in new cities.

Sava Lake in Belgrade, Serbia

The Iron Gates

We had a break from sightseeing on Day 5 — it was a day spent sailing, with the highlight being passing through the narrow gorges that separate Serbia and Romania, and ending in us passing through two huge locks (hence the “Irong Gates” name). Sailing through the gorge in the morning was definitely my favorite part of the day, and then it was nice to just relax onboard in the afternoon.

Sailing through the Iron Gates

Sailing through the Iron Gates on the AmaPrima

Sailing through the Iron Gates

Belogradchik, Bulgaria

On Day 6, we docked in Vidin, Bulgaria. There was another optional bike tour here to visit the town and its fortress, but Elliot and I opted for a bus ride out to the town of Belogradchik instead. I had seen photos of this place and knew we HAD to go. Above the small town sits a collection of rock towers and formations that form almost a natural fortress. Fortifications were built around it by the Romans and then eventually expanded by the Turks during Ottoman rule in Bulgaria.

Belogradchik Fortress, Bulgaria

Belogradchik Fortress, Bulgaria

We spent an hour or so climbing around in the twisty, towering rocks. It reminded me a bit of Meteora in Greece — just without the monasteries.

Belogradchik Fortress, Bulgaria

Belogradchik Fortress, Bulgaria

Bucharest, Romania

Our last real stop on our cruise was in Giurgiu, Romania. From there, we took buses to the capital of Bucharest. Here we visited the Village Museum, set within one of Bucharest's many city parks. This is actually a fascinating museum — they've moved homes and churches from different regions of Romania to this outdoor space, meaning you can “travel” around the whole country in just a couple of hours, noting how the architectural style changes from region to region. It's of course not as great as exploring the rest of Romania for real, but it was still pretty cool.

Village Museum in Bucharest, Romania

Village Museum in Bucharest, Romania

In the afternoon, we headed over to the Palace of the Parliament, the massive, gaudy building commissioned by Romania's former communist leader Ceaușescu. The building was never even finished during Ceaușescu's reign — in fact, parts of the interior are still being worked on today. It's a massive building, covering more than 3.7 MILLION square feet, making it the second-largest building in the world after the Pentagon. Our hour-long tour covered nearly 2 kilometers of hallways and huge rooms, which only equated to about 5% of the entire building.

Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania

Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania

Today, the People's Palace serves as both the seat of government in Romania, and also as a public building — you can rent halls and theaters for weddings or other functions.

Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania

Our cruise ended the next morning in Rousse, Bulgaria, where we begrudgingly disembarked the ship and said goodbye to the fantastic staff.

This was just a teaser of Eastern Europe, but it was one I definitely enjoyed! Stay tuned for plenty more content from this adventure!

Would you ever consider a river cruise like this one?

 

*Note: I was a guest of AmaWaterways on one of their Black Sea Voyages down the Danube. As always, though, opinions are my own.

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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59 Comments on “Highlights from a Danube River Cruise in Eastern Europe with AmaWaterways

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  1. Thanks for the article. We’re looking at doing the same cruise the other direction. What airport did you fly out of once you arrived in Bulgaria and how did you transfer? (through the cruise line?)

      We actually flew out of Bucharest (Romania), since you dock really close to the border in Bulgaria. And yes, the transfer was organized by the cruise line.

    The trip should have been amazing. The Danube river is very scenic and is great place for relax and taking photos. The small villages along the way are also astonishing.

      I definitely liked it! Am interested to sail the upper part of the Danube someday now too!

    Hey. Everyone has already shared how sweet the trip looked, particularly given the awesome weather.

    What about the wine in Villany? Did you walk away with a palette for anything in particular? Any recommendations?

      To be honest, I don’t really drink. I hate wine for the most part, so my boyfriend did most of the tasting. The only one we tried that I didn’t hate was Cabernet Sauvignon – and Elliot said that was his favorite, too!

    I’ve never even considered going on a river cruise in Europe but it seems like such an interesting way to see the places around! And I really am jealous of you visiting Vukovar, it’s so high on my bucket list due to the recent history (I have this weird fascination with troubled places)

      Vukovar was super interesting. I’m trying to figure out how to write more about it (and the recent troubles in that whole part of Europe), but it’s such a tricky subject!

    I think that visiting the great touristic destinations of the world is great, and for good reason, they are the touristic destinations of the world, but once you are done with that, I think visiting more ‘unknown’ parts of the world is just as important. Even though Eastern Europe is not on the top ten places to go visit, on a quick look, visiting it definitely gives you a better, bigger picture of how people and cultures really are and some things you might discover will actually surprise you. Sometimes you find gems that are really hidden and they are just as beautiful and the most famous gems. It just takes time and imagination to go find them. I feel the same way about Eastern Europe. The comfort of travelling there might not be as high as in other parts of the world, but it is definitely worth a try.

      I definitely agree! Visiting those less-visited destinations is always interesting.

    Looks like one memorable experience! That night shot of illumainted Hungarian Parliament building is enchanting. Look forward to hear more of the experience!

      Plenty more posts to come, once I actually have time to write them!

    Amazing! I just arrived from my first River Cruiz with AmaWaterways. We sailed the Rhine River. I loved it ( to actualy say the least )The ship was amazing and loved the tours and the options they offered. I will do it again!

    This sounds like such an amazing experience! Every single place you visited looks so beautiful! The only one I’ve been to myself is Budapest, and I have to agree that the Houses of Parliament are stunning – I took about 100 photos of that building alone in the short time we were in the city!

      Budapest is one of those cities that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of visiting!

    Absolutely! In fact, I did a mini cruise in Hungary and Germany about 10 years ago though, so I’m trying to negotiate going further East from Hungary as Eastern Europe is one of my favourite destinations, and you have written totally why!
    p.s. I’m sure I saw you at TBEX in Spain. I think it was at the Final Closing Session. I wanted to say “hi” to you but you were surrounded by a million other girls…. I’m so sorry to have missed you. Next time perhaps?! 🙂

      Eastern Europe is my favorite part of Europe! You should definitely explore it more.

      And aww, you should have come over and said hello at TBEX! Sorry we missed each other!

    This looks like an amazing experience! I’ve cruised the upper Danube, and would definitely like to explore more of Eastern Europe. This looks like a great introduction to the region! My only concern would be the price tag!

      It was no more expensive that cruises in other parts of Europe! In fact, I think it’s a bit cheaper – especially if you book somewhat last-minute!

    I was so excited to read about your travels ever since you announced that you would be going! I’ve wanted to see Eastern Europe for so long, and this certainly seems like the way to go! I can’t wait to read the full review – I might just book my trip right after I read it!

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