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Travel review: Discovering the Danube by cruise

by Louise Gaudern
Travel review: Discovering the Danube by cruise
The ship passing the historic Austrian village Weissenkirchen in the Wachau Valley

A cruise on one of Europe’s longest rivers reveals some lesser-known beauty spots, says Louise Gaudern.

The modern suite on the Capella
The modern suite on the Capella

Despite previously living a stone's throw away from the Danube river in Bavaria for 10 years, I never took a trip along it. Ironic then, that it's now that I've moved back to the UK that the river beckoned me. And so here I am in Budapest, about to set sail on its glassy surface for the first time on a nine-day, mother-daughter cruise towards Nuremberg. This famous body of water – the second-longest river in Europe – winds through several countries, and we’ll get to explore some of this region’s beauty spots along the way.

As we pull up alongside the sleek, shining Travelmarvel Capella ship, docked beneath Budapest's Liberty Bridge, I can tell this trip is going to dispel any preconceptions I might have had about river cruising. Stepping inside the vessel's 'True North Lounge', we're met with more windows than walls, which provide panoramic views that celebrate the river surrounds. Its modern, airy design and softly lit central bar make it feel akin to a trendy boutique hotel lobby – except this one floats on water.

We’re pleased to see the contemporary aesthetic carries through into the sleeping quarters. The standout feature is the floor-to-ceiling window that conveniently drops at the touch of a button to create a Juliet balcony that looks directly out onto the water. This, coupled with the light, neutral décor and smart space-saving fittings, make the suite feel surprisingly roomy. As we’re settling in, there’s a knock at the door and a singsong voice calls out: ‘Surprise and delight!’ It’s the chief of staff, holding out a chilled bottle of rosé wine. And with that, our first day aboard gets off to the perfect start, culminating in a night-time sail beneath the stars, through the glowing gold of the Budapest skyline.

Breathtaking views view from the great Austrian Wachau Valley
Breathtaking views view from the great Austrian Wachau Valley

Every day offers another once-in-a-lifetime location to explore, with the flexibility either to join a tour or go off solo. Alongside celebrated cities such as Budapest, Vienna and Salzburg, the itinerary is peppered with lesser-known gems that become highlights of our trip: like the Benedictine monastery Melk Abbey in Austria that dates back to 1089, the chocolate-box town of Dürnstein with its 16th-century houses, and pretty Passau in Germany, where three rivers meet. Sailing days are special, too. Relaxing on loungers atop the expansive sun deck (or in the whirlpool tub), passing by vineyards, abbeys, castles and Unesco valleys, are truly ‘pinch-me-is-it-real?’ moments. 

The cuisine aboard is standout. All meals are included, with the option for lighter lunches in the lounge or pub grub in McGeary’s Bar. River cruise enthusiasts know that even some of the nicest ships on the waterways are let down by airline-like food. Not so here – Capella’s offering is for the epicurious. What’s more, Travelmarvel makes an effort to support the areas it cruises through by stocking up on produce from local suppliers along the way.

We are treated to a first-rate dining experience in the Constellations Restaurant, enhanced further by the attentive staff, like our server Koko. Each night we enjoy high-quality, four-course meals that often celebrate the local cuisine of where we’re docked: sweet yet zingy beetroot and horseradish soup in Budapest, melt-in-your mouth schnitzel in Vienna and delicately layered Prinzregentorte (an eight-layered sponge) in Bavaria. Starters and sauces are where the chef excels: buttery slivers of beef carpaccio dressed in creamy lemon hollandaise, and rich, velvety gravies (that Mum is still talking about) poured over slow-cooked fillets of beef. The ship’s dining experience will particularly appeal to social butterflies, as with no set table, you meet and mingle with new people every mealtime. Docking in Nuremberg, we don’t feel ready to disembark – envious of our fellow cruisers who have the pleasure of waltzing down the Danube for another week towards Amsterdam. That night, back in my bed on dry land, I’m almost certain I can hear the lapping waves against the ship’s sides as we steer towards our next destination. I immediately go to the Travelmarvel website to book the next leg: ‘Mum, how about Nuremberg to Amsterdam in 2024?’

Best bits:


This is a lesser-known fairytale town in the South Bohemia region of the Czech Republic. Unesco protected, it survived the second world war relatively unscathed, so its wonderful array of gothic, Renaissance and baroque architecture is intact.


Each stretch of the Danube has charm, but the Wachau Valley in Austria is picture- perfect. There are pretty towns dotted along it, and the region is world famous for its white wines.


Travelmarvel has found the sweet spot for entertainment. There are low-key affairs like morning stretching, quiz nights and afternoon tea. Or upbeat occasions like an ice-cream deck party, and evenings with local Bavarian folk bands.

How to book

Join Travelmarvel's nine-day 'Delightful Danube' cruise from Budapest to Nuremburg 2024, starting from £1,995 per person, based on two sharing a double category B+ room, including return scheduled flights from the UK. For more information, visit

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