Cruise along the southern reaches of the Danube into the heart of the Old World, a land of sophisticated art and culture, medieval wonders, rich folk traditions, fairy-tale villages, bountiful comfort food, and so much more. Your itinerary takes you between elegant Budapest and fascinating Bucharest, visiting five different countries: Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. Along the way, 29 included tours and Cultural Connections — boasting small groups of only 20 travelers per excursion — reveal fascinating attractions and the spirit of eastern Europe. Be the lunch guest of a Croatian family in their home . . . hoist a few with the locals during a Belgrade pub crawl . . . learn your Cyrillic ABCs from Serbian schoolchildren . . . try your hand at Hungarian crafts in the folk village of Kalocsa . . . and more.
A unique bonus will be your included visit to legendary Transylvania, long associated with Count Dracula. Your visit showcases the romantic region once ruled by Dracula’s real-life inspiration, the notorious Vlad “the Impaler” Dracula. But you’ll find that Transylvania’s supernatural mystique is surpassed by its natural beauty, for this Carpathian jewel is Romania’s most unspoiled and pleasant retreat — a must-see.
If you’re interested in this itinerary and want to revel in even more Cultural Discoveries and immersive experiences, check out our combination river cruise Grand European River Cruise. Explore more and save.
Today you’ll board an overnight flight to Budapest, Hungary. Or, depart earlier for your pre-trip extension to Warsaw & Krakow.
Arrive in Budapest, and settle into your river ship with a Welcome Briefing
Arrive in Budapest today. If you purchased your airfare from Vantage, our representative will meet you outside the arrivals area and assist with your transfer to your deluxe river ship. Or, if you embarked on our optional pre-trip extension to Poland, you’ll arrive on Day 2 to join the program. Tonight, attend a Welcome Briefing and the Captain’s Welcome Reception — enjoy a drink in the lounge before dinner on board.
Vantage Onboard Enrichment:
Explore Pest, visit the Central Market Hall
Divided by the Danube, Budapest is actually two cities — Buda and Pest — and its entire urban landscape has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today you’ll have two choices for included sightseeing here:
Explore the best of historic Pest, beginning with an inside visit to St. Stephen’s Basilica, the most important church in the country. Named for Hungary’s first king, it stands 314 feet high and by ordinance, no other building in Budapest may surpass its height. You’ll also see City Park; Heroes’ Square with its stirring monument to the seven Magyar chieftains; and elegant Andrássy Avenue, lined with neo-Renaissance palaces and homes. Your tour also offers a peek at the iconic Parliament building, which you’ll explore in-depth tomorrow.
If you choose to forego today’s Pest tour, as an alternative you can join your Concierge for a sensory experience like none other: a visit to the Central Market Hall, Budapest’s oldest and largest indoor market. Dedicated to all things culinary, it has a lively fish market and pickled vegetable stalls in the basement; a ground floor for produce, baked goods, meats, cheeses, candies, spices, and spirits; and an upper level lined with eateries and souvenir shops. Eye-popping displays, heavenly aromas, the sounds of hawkers and sizzling grills, the feel of being immersed in daily life, and of course, the mouthwatering tastes, will leave you quite satisfied.
The afternoon is free for you to explore on your own, or join fellow travelers on a guided bicycle ride.
Back on the ship this evening, a folk music and dance show rings in your eastern European journey in style.
Take a walk on the Buda side and go inside Parliament
Arguably Budapest’s most historic building, the Parliament, towers over the Danube with its intriguing blend of architectural styles and 365 spires — one for every day of the year.
Tour the inside of the Parliament building in this Vantage-exclusive experience that allows us fast-track entrance. We’ll also visit Castle Hill to enjoy the turrets and lookouts of Fisherman’s Bastion. This evening, your ship will cast off towards Kalocsa.
Hands-on discovery in the folk center of Kalocsa, and tour choices in historic Pécs
After an early breakfast you’ll depart for a full day of exploration.
Visit the town of Kalocsa today and embark on a city tour that includes folk art workshops where you’ll try your hand at egg painting, embroidery, and the making of traditional Hungarian paprika bread. You’ll taste some local treats, too, before transferring to the pretty main square and entering Kalocsa’s cathedral for an organ concert.
You’ll then transfer by coach to charming Pécs in the foothills of the Mecsek Mountains. After lunch in a local restaurant, here, you’ll set off on a walking tour that includes a visit to the city’s UNESCO-listed Sopianae Necropolis, a Roman-era Christian burial site that harkens back to the 4th century. Built as underground burial chambers with above-ground chapels, these tombs are richly decorated with religious murals. Your visit involves some walking but if you prefer, as an alternative you may sign up in advance to enjoy a hour-long panoramic city tour by mini-train. Afterwards, you'll transfer by coach to Mohacs, board your river ship once more, and set sail for your next destination: Croatia.
Savor a home-hosted lunch in Vukovar, Croatia
As we make landfall in Croatia today, prepare for two memorable experiences.
This morning, you'll immerse yourself in different aspects of Croatian life. You'll learn about monastic tradition when you visit a Franciscan monastery, followed by a guitar concert in a village courtyard. The highlight will be your visit to the home of a local Croatian family, where you’ll enjoy a lively cultural exchange — not to mention delicious home-cooked fare. We’ll break into smaller groups, each one visiting a different household for a more intimate experience.
After lunch you’ll ride to the neo-baroque Eltz Manor, a 19th-century palace that hosts the Vukovar City Museum. Explore as you wish, then return to ship either on foot or on board the shuttle. If you prefer, you can skip the museum and just return with your motorcoach to relax on board.
Late this afternoon, enjoy an onboard folk music performance by a local tamburitza orchestra. After dinner, more music awaits you when a local band comes on board to take you through the history of 20th-century popular music.
Learn about modern Serbia, visit Belgrade and join in on traditional festivities
Begin your day with an enlightening lecture on present-day Serbia to help welcome you to historic Belgrade. You will see the Renaissance this capital city has undergone in recent years to embrace a tumultuous past and rise above the ashes into redevelopment and modern life. Visit the Kalemegdan Fortress and the Church of Saint Sava, among the largest buildings in Christianity.
In the afternoon, celebrate Belgrade’s spirit with a vibrant pub crawl. Then continue the festivities into the evening with some fun local folk entertainment, including a Salt & Bread welcome via traditionally dressed Serbians and an accordion player.
Experience Serbian village life, and the majestic Iron Gates
Some morning discovery is complemented by an afternoon of scenic cruising, as you pass through some Danube locks with insightful narration.
Begin your day with a walking tour of charming Donji Milanovac, where you’ll visit the Church of St. Nikolas.
Relax on deck this afternoon and enjoy the views as your river cruise passes through one of the most dramatic and beautiful stretches of the Danube River, the series of gorges known as the Iron Gates. This dramatic 86-mile stretch was once treacherous to pass, creating a formidable barrier to invaders with its rocky gorges and caves. Keep an eye out for the likeness of Decebalus, a Dacian ruler and Romanian national hero who fought the Romans. His face is carved into a cliff near the city of Orsova. As your ship passes through two sets of locks, you’ll hear commentary from the bridge describing the process.
Cruise into Ruse with icon painting, a Balkan BBQ, and more
Today promises to be an eye-opening day of rich cultural heritage — and fun, too. As you cruise this morning, a lecture on “Bulgaria, Romania, and the Expansion of the European Union” offers some contemporary context to our journey as we sail toward the Bulgarian port town, Ruse. Just before lunch, we'll fire up the BBQ on the sun deck for a festive Balkan-style cooking demo, weather permitting. Our dish? Cevapcici, or traditional Balkan sausages.
This afternoon, we’ll learn about the Bulgarian tradition of icon painting from a local artist, and then meet a local Orthodox priest.
This evening, celebrate the joys of your river cruise at the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Reception.
Spend a day in Veliko Tarnovo
Today offers another high point of your journey when you spend a full day in Veliko Tarnovo, a 12th-century Bulgarian capital where colorful houses perch above the winding Yantra River. Have lunch in Veliko Tarnovo before heading to the 16th-century village of Arbanassi for a lovely Eastern Orthodox choir performance at the Church of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel.
Panoramic Bucharest tour
This morning we’ll disembark ship and transfer to Bucharest, Romania’s largest city and capital, where we’ll embark on a panoramic tour and have lunch. Afterwards, explore Bucharest’s grand monuments and leafy, old-world boulevards on a city tour that includes a choice of entrances. You can visit the infamous People’s Palace, the grandiose, sprawling, and never-completed administrative building initiated by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Alternatively, take a fascinating walking tour of Manuc’s Inn, Bucharest’s oldest hotel building, which was built as a way station for caravans and surrounds a large open courtyard. Tonight, we’ll savor a delicious dinner in our hotel.
Travel through Transylvanian history
Venture into Transylvania, the mountainous, legend-haunted region in central Romania. Once you set foot here, you’ll realize why it’s known as the last medieval landscape in Europe.
On the way, stop for lunch in Sinaia, a mountain town so beautiful, King Carol I built his family’s summer home here. You’ll see this delightful fairy-tale retreat, Peles Castle, on an included tour. The castle is described as “neo-Renaissance” but it incorporates a delightful and almost playful variety of international decorative styles, reflecting the royal family’s personal tastes. You’ll return to Bucharest in the afternoon. This evening, you'll gather together once more for a Farewell Dinner at your hotel.
Transfer to the Bucharest airport today for your return flight home, or depart to Brasov for your optional Transylvania, Romania extension.
Important Notice:The above day-by-day itinerary is preliminary and subject to change. If changes occur while on tour, you will be notified by your Cruise Director or regional expert. In addition, should there be an extreme change in water levels, Vantage will do everything possible to provide either the included excursion or an alternate excursion at Vantage’s discretion.
Please Note: Port times & itineraries are subject to change. Fluctuating water levels may affect itinerary.