A whirlwind cruise along the Danube

The Danube River is the second longest European river, flowing nearly 1,800 miles from Germany’s Black Forest to the Black Sea in Romania. Dotted along its banks are charming towns, cities and sights – and these three are essential visits for a short trip.

Bold and beautiful Budapest

‘A city of two sides’ is a cliché said of many locations across the world, but it’s literally true of Budapest, which brings the towns of Buda and Pest together across the Danube. Hungary’s long history is set in stone in Castle Hill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with grand buildings, statues and monuments. It’s an area that houses both the Royal Palace and the Old Town, and can be reached by walking the Szechenyi Chain Bridge then travelling up the hill by funicular railway.

You’ll find houses dating back to the 14th century and more recently constructed Baroque buildings, along with remarkable Gothic flourishes. Wander the cobbled streets lined with houses so old they carry plaques. Enjoy the stunning view from Fishermen’s Bastion, and explore the awe-inspiring Matthias Church, which dates back over 700 years. With a roof covered in local ceramic tiles of eye-catching colour, Matthias Church has been the venue of many royal weddings and coronations.

Brilliant Bratislava

Bratislava Castle

Bratislava in Slovakia is the ideal next destination on your three-stop trip. The city sits next to the Danube near the borders of Hungary and Austria, and is a fascinating mix of new and old, green and urban – surrounded by glowing vineyards and imposing mountains. Its capital status dates from Slovakian independence in 1993, which led to a slew of new buildings.

Make the most of your time here by going straight to the city’s heart – Hlavne Namestie, the main square. Start at the 16th century fountain, then check out the old Town Hall – originally a 14th-century meeting place that today houses the City Museum. In the adjacent Primate’s Square, you’ll find the Primate’s Palace with its statue of St. George slaying a dragon. It’s well-known and well-loved for its white and pink exterior, and Hall of Mirrors.

The sound of Vienna

Johann Strauss statue in Vienna

Few cities in the world can boast a musical pedigree like Vienna. Austria’s capital gave the world Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert – the latter the only one actually born there. For a marvellous musical day, head for the Schubert Museum followed by the Beethoven Pasqualati House – where the composer wrote his Symphony Nos 4, 5 and 7. Mozart House is where he composed The Marriage of Figaro and performed with Haydn.

The impressive House of Music museum pays homage to Schubert, Beethoven and Haydn, plus others who once lived in Vienna, including Strauss and Mahler. Vienna’s musical heritage continues over in the Stadtpark, the city’s gorgeous park that’s rich with remarkable sculptures – including an extraordinary bronze statue of Johann Strauss, who composed The Blue Danube. Their legacy lives and breathes today at the Musikverein, home to the Vienna Philharmonic, where you should finish your Danube tour in epic fashion.

Driving the Danube with car hire in Vienna is one of Europe’s most scenic road trips. Take in the unique culture of these grand old cities as you hug the coast in your hire car.