Rising from the depths of the Black Forest and emptying into the Black Sea, the Danube is the queen of rivers; cloaked in myth and legend, it cuts through the heart and soul of Europe. The name Dānuvius, borrowed from the Celts, means swift or rapid, but along the Danube, there is no hurry. Boats go with the flow and a river journey is a relaxed affair with plenty of time to drink in the history.
Whether you choose a one-hour, one-week, or the complete Danube experience, cruising Europe’s historical waterway is a never-to-be-forgotten experience. On the map, the sheer length of the Danube is daunting at best; of the river's 2,848-km (1,770-mile) length, more than 2,400 km (1,500 miles) is navigable and the river flows through some of Europe’s most important cities. You can head to major boating hubs, like Passau, Vienna, and Budapest or through historical stretches from Ulm to Regensburg.
The most interesting time to cruise the Danube is during the summer when the river is abustle with passenger and commercial traffic. When the leaves start to change the river is awash in a sea of color, making autumn the most picturesque time to cruise. Several companies offer Christmas market tours from Nürnberg to Regensburg, Passau, and Vienna. Spring is the least optimal time to go as the river often floods. You can board cruises from Passau, Regensburg, and Nürnberg among others.
Amadeus Cruises. This cruise line offers half a dozen cruises through Franconia and the German Danube, including a Christmastime cruise, which stops at the fascinating Christmas markets between Nürnberg and Budapest. The reverse direction is also available. 888/829–1394 ; www.amadeuscruises.com.
Blue Water Holidays. This British cruise line offers nine cruises starting on the Rhine, some from Basel in Switzerland, which follow the Main–Danube Canal to the Danube, and four cruises from Nürnberg or Passau to Vienna or Budapest. 01756/706–500; www.cruisingholidays.co.uk.
Viking River Cruises. The Grand European Tour cruises from Amsterdam to Budapest. The two-week Eastern European Odyssey starts in Nürnberg and ends at Bucharest. The reverse direction is also available on both cruises. 800/304–9616; www.vikingrivercruises.com.