It was my third cruise with Viking River Cruises and I was extremely excited to return on board. Cruising the Passage to Eastern Europe with Viking River Cruises was something I had been looking forward to this year as it had four new countries I was eager to explore.
I was sold on river cruises when I did my first one over three years ago along their Romantic Danube Itinerary. The ability to see so many places, in this case five countries, and not have to re-pack multiple times makes cruising an absolute breeze. The team at Viking River Cruises is absolutely exceptional — their organization of the cruise provides in-depth tours at each stop and itineraries that touch on the highlights that make a memorable trip.
If you’re looking to see what to expect on a Viking River Cruise, be sure to read this post. I break down the dining, the rooms, and facilities on board their river cruises. The longship boats of Viking River are essentially set up the same, the dining is good, and the staterooms are exactly what you need for the journey.
I want to share about this special itinerary that Viking offers. It’s an area of Europe that little people travel to, and the ability to experience five incredible countries along the eastern route of the Danube is a gem. I will say that after doing three different itineraries with Viking River Cruises, this one was the most educational and enlightening. It’s a journey that gives you an opportunity to step into the Balkan’s turbulent past and experience the energy of a new generation moving forward. There are days that will break your heart to hear the stories of the locals. There are days where you will be amazed by craftsmanship and a passion for a creative life. And all the same, it’s equally beautiful, enlightening and opens your perspective — the very core of travel for me.
Cruising the Passage to Eastern Europe with Viking River Cruises
With an 11 day itinerary embarking from Budapest, Hungary to Bucharest, Romania (or vice versa), it’s a combination of time on the boat along with a few hotel stays. It was the first time I had experienced a combination trip like this. I personally loved getting to stay in the heart of the city in Budapest and Bucharest.
Checkout our stops on board the Viking Embla on the Passage to Eastern Europe:
Viking River Cruises knows how incredible this city is and with two nights here they give you an opportunity to experience the city. One of the days, be sure to take the Panoramic tour to get to see the best sights in Budapest. You’ll see highlights like Buda Castle and drive through the historical neighborhoods of Pest. You’ll have some free time as well in addition, so be sure to take advantage of this time to stroll the pedestrian area, take a soak, or enjoy the Danube River.
Note: If you’re going to do an “optional excursion” I would recommend the Taste of Budapest as it offers an opportunity to visit inside the Parliament in addition to trying local foods. It’s well worth it and a highlight of the trip.
Kalocsa and Puszta Hungary:
Continuing along the Danube, you’ll make a stop in two towns to experience the countryside of Hungary. You’ll get to visit the cathedral and afterwards enjoy a horse show by the skilled Hungarian trainers at a real working farm.
Osijek and Vukovar, Croatia:
This is a little less known area of Croatia, and to be completely honest, it was not what I was expecting — in a good way. My eyes had never been opened to the turbulent history of the Balkans until this day. We spent the first part of the morning exploring the towns of Vukovar and stepping inside historic churches and walking through the town square. The real highlight was getting to visit a local’s home and meet the family. They shared their story as we sat around their dining table eating pastries they prepared, and it was hard to hold back the tears. Their passion for moving forward, their honesty, and their courage to return home after the war that flattened their city only a few decades ago was moving. Getting an opportunity to do this connected you with the people of Croatia in a way I couldn’t have imagined.
If you have one city that will pleasantly surprise you, I would imagine it will be Belgrade — at least it was the one that did for me. Hop on the Panoramic tour to get an in-depth look at the city where you’ll walk the fortress, see the new part of Belgrade, walk in a cathedral that is a work of art and still under construction, and then enjoy the downtown. This bohemian and uber hip town is a magnet for great cafes, good restaurants, and viewpoint into Eastern Europe’s trending cities.
Note: Many took the “Best of Belgrade” optional excursion and I would recommend this for those looking to do a bit more while in Belgrade.
Sailing the Iron Gate:
Spending a day on the river is one of Viking’s signature touches and they always choose the best parts. You’ll get to pass through the Iron Gates, sail through the narrow gorges, and enjoy a well-needed day of relaxation.
Note: Wake up for sunrise, the view is well worth it.
Belogradchik and Vidin, Bulgaria:
With an early start, you’ll take a drive to the incredible rocks and fortress of Belogradchik. I never knew how beautiful Bulgaria was and getting to see the incredible landscape was mesmerizing. After a small tour, you’ll head back to town and I’d recommend exploring Vidin by foot to take in the local culture and enjoy a coffee.
Veliko Tarnovo and Arbansi, Bulgaria:
One of the highlights and surprises on the trip was the hilltop town of Veliko Tarnovo — it reminded me of the Italian coastline where houses were built into the rocks. You’ll visit the Tsarevets Fortress or shop the Bohemian street where local craftsman are selling their work. It’s a charming town and right afterwards you’ll head down the road to Arbansi to enjoy a local lunch. The afternoon was spent walking the town and seeing the influence of the Turks through architecture and homes in the area.
Our last stop on the cruise was Bucharest, and I have to think they save the best for last. Known as the “little Paris of Eastern Europe,” this city is bursting at the seams with history, incredible nightlife, and plenty to do. We got to enjoy a lunch before having an afternoon to explore the historic downtown, where the streets were filled with cafes and shops.
Bucharest and Transylvania: Though I didn’t go on this portion, I had friends on board who did and said it was incredible to see more of Romania. This is a great opportunity to see this special part of Europe while with Viking.
*Bon Traveler was welcomed as a guest of Viking River Cruises. As always, all opinions are own.