Europe's second-longest river flows through 10 countries, although cruises typically travel along the stretch between Budapest and Regensburg, with Passau, Germany as a common starting and ending point. On a classic weeklong trip, you'll sail along the borders of Hungary and Slovakia before passing through northern Austria and southern Germany — this is the "greatest hits" voyage, with stops at capital cities, vineyard-covered valleys, and standout cultural landmarks. Other itineraries extend as far the Black Sea, sailing through Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
The cruise season runs March through December. There's a risk of high water in springtime and low water in the fall, though river levels vary year to year.
What We Love
Pastries: We're talking German strudel, chocolaty Sacher torte in Vienna, and Budapest's multi-layered dobos sponge cake. Indulge!
Historic Towns: Big cities impress, but so do smaller spots, such as medieval Regensburg and Passau, or the small town of Dürnstein. All three are filled with half-timbered buildings and cascades of flowers.
Best Known For
Go for Baroque: Over-the-top landmarks like the Wachau Valley's Melk Abbey and Vienna's Habsburg palaces, as well as many churches, overflow with ornate splendor.
The Wachau Valley: This UNESCO World Heritage Site in Austria features terraced vineyards, small villages, and spectacular scenery.
Shop for Cruises
Vienna: This capital is packed with museums, music, and acrobatic Lipizzaner horses. Visit the Belvedere palace museum to view iconic Klimt works, or tour the grand halls of the Habsburgs' Schönbrunn Palace. You can also take in a concert at Mozarthaus or look for Jugendstil (art nouveau) architecture around town.
Budapest: Shop the historic Great Market Hall (also known as the Central Market Hall) for paprika, then sample some goulash. Stroll along Andrássy Avenue, Budapest's Champs-Élysées, or soak in a traditional bathhouse. Don't miss the riverside sights by night; most ships will do a sightseeing lap.
Bratislava: Wander medieval Old Town streets, take in Gothic St. Martin's Cathedral, or the striking, modern architecture of Galéria Nedbalka, home to 20th-century Slovak works. Hand-painted majolica pottery makes a perfect souvenir.
Regensburg: The UNESCO-designated Old Town delights with its Gothic cathedral, town hall, medieval patrician towers, and arched stone bridge. Hungry? Grab a sausage at the Wurstkuchl, Germany's oldest restaurant.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Gayle Keck is a San Francisco-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.