Even though the Danube River is over twice the length of the Rhine, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the river for you! The Danube begins in the Black Forest mountains of Germany and makes its way to the Black Sea, passing through much of Central Europe like Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria. The Rhine flows from Switzerland to the Netherlands, so river cruises sail through these two countries plus Germany.
There are some key differences between the two, so we hope that this guide to the Danube or the Rhine is helpful for you when planning a river cruise.
There’s no doubt about it – river cruising affords some of the best views, some of which you may not see if not from the river.
For the history buffs and/or castle-lovers, the Rhine is for you. Avalon purposely sails during the day through the famous Rhine Gorge (also known as the Upper Middle Rhine Valley) so you can drink in the 40+ castles and fortresses dotted all over the hills. You won’t find another place on the globe with such a high concentration of castles, so it comes as no surprise that this 65-kilometre stretch has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Danube River features more greenery than the Rhine. Austria’s wine region, the Wachau Valley, is so picturesque with rolling hills covered in vineyards as far as the eye can see. At its foothills there is a flat path which is perfect to cycle along, if you’re that way inclined. We should also mention sailing through the jaw-dropping Iron Gates that form part of the boundary between Serbia and Romania. This is also another built-in daytime sailing with Avalon.
The food and wine
There are some similarities with food and wine across European countries, but also some unique local specialties too.
The countries that the Danube runs through feature lots of hearty, comfort food like goulash (Hungary), schnitzel and Viennese pastries (Austria). As mentioned earlier, the Wachau Valley produces some delicious varietals of wine. Its most famous is Grüner Veltliner, a dry white wine made from the grape variety of the same name.
The Rhine passes through a lot of Germany so you can expect to eat lots of pork and different types of sausages, followed by a slice of Black Forest chocolate cake for dessert and a glass of crisp riesling. Perfection!
…or lack thereof! There is no such thing as the traffic you find on land when sailing down a river.
The Rhine passes through lots of industrial areas so tends to be busier with local barges and ships; whereas the Danube is quieter, greener and more rural.
The cities, towns and villages that are visited on your river cruise have a big influence on your final decision.
Both the Rhine and Danube have major cities along them. Along the Danube, you can have the opportunity to visit four capital cities – Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and Belgrade – and drink in each of these grand cities’ incredible histories.
If you’ve already explored some of Central Europe, you’ll find more modern cities like Amsterdam – with its quirky vibe and narrow houses – and Strasbourg – a student city combined with historic areas of French and German influence – on the Rhine. If you love a charming small town or village, the Rhine also has plenty of these.
The Christmas markets
Europe does Christmas extraordinarily well. You can find Christmas markets everywhere however we think some of the best (and largest) are found along the Danube. In particular, Vienna and Nuremberg. Avalon’s festive time cruises sail mostly on the Danube to take our guests straight to the heart of these destinations during such a magical time of year.