The Danube is the soul of Budapest and the landmark of the city. This river separates the capital of Hungary in two: Buda and Pest, and the most emblematic buildings are distributed on its banks making each bridge a viewpoint.
1. The best Danube cruises
In the city there are different cruises along the Danube River during the day or at night. The price depends on the extras included, as there are cruises that include a show, dinner, etc. I'll tell you about the best ones so you can choose yours:
2. 70-minute boat trip on the Danube River
For less than 15 euros you already have the opportunity to take a cruise on the Danube on board the Duna Bella boat for more than an hour during which you will have plenty of time to take pictures of the panoramic views you will see from the boat, to enjoy the experience itself and to learn interesting facts and stories about the different monuments and places of interest of Budapest that you will see during the tour.
During this tour you will be entitled to enjoy a lemonade on board, free WIFI connection and you will be able to choose another drink (glass of champagne, wine, beer, soda or mineral water). There are various timetables available (I recommend you choose the sunset time to see the city illuminated from the Danube) and the tour is available in both winter and summer as the boat has a deck that is retracted in good weather.
The departure point is Budapest's central pier; you will be given directions via email when you make your booking. The boat has audio commentary in 30 languages which you can access individually with helmets to learn more about some of the points of the tour such as:
The Hungarian Parliament
Budapest's largest monument with a spectacular illumination and a total of 691 rooms. If you're impressed from the boat, be sure to take the time during your visit to see the interior where you'll find statues of kings, frescoed rooms with gold leaf, the Hungarian crown presiding over the foyer, a 96-metre dome and a spectacular Congress Hall.
Also known as the Royal Palace. It was formerly the residence of the kings of Hungary, but today it houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum as well as a huge library. It is worth seeing it illuminated at night as well as going up there to contemplate the views of the city.
It is one of the most modern bridges in the city and is dedicated to the famous Empress Sissi, Queen of Hungary. The woman who became a legend managed to win the hearts of the Hungarian people and always held a special place in Budapest, which she considered her second homeland.
The Chain Bridge
One of the most famous bridges in the city both for its illumination at night and for its views during the day. It is the oldest bridge in the city and for a long time nobles and commoners had to pay a toll to cross it. Nowadays, of course, the crossing is free and can be done on foot.
It is a small island in the middle of the Danube River with beautiful parks, a Japanese garden, medieval ruins and a musical fountain. The boat has a stop there so you can get off, walk around the island for an hour and a half and get back on the next Duna Bella boat after that time to complete the tour.
3. Boat trip on the Danube including dinner and regional dance show
If you are interested in seeing a Hungarian dance show during your visit to Budapest, this package includes a regional show and a dinner cruise on the Danube. This is a cost-saving option if you intend to enjoy both experiences. The experience includes transfer to and from the hotel, as well as transfers between the different points of the tour.
The first stop is the Danube Palace or the House of Hungarian Heritage where the Hungarian music and dance show is performed by one of two folklore groups (depending on the season): Danube Folk Ensemble or Rajkó Folk Ensemble and Orchestra. Both groups consist of 30 artists and during their choreographies you can admire not only the music and dance of this region, but also its regional costumes.
The cruise tour
- Buda Castle: former residence of the kings of Hungary.
- Chain Bridge: the most emblematic bridge of the city.
- Gellert Baths: one of the main spas in Budapest. If the outside attracts your attention, the inside is even better and one of the essential places to visit during your trip.
- Mount Gellert: a 235-metre-high hill from which you can admire beautiful views of the Danube River. Don't forget to climb it at some point during your visit to Budapest to contrast the view that this cruise will offer you.
- Varhegy: another hill on the Buda side of the river with spectacular medieval scenery. Also worth a visit both for its views and for its surroundings full of cobbled streets and historical monuments.
- Clark Adam ter: the roundabout where Budapest's city centre is located, built by the same engineer who designed the Chain Bridge.
Halfway through the cruise you can also enjoy a dinner consisting of three hot dishes and a choice of two drinks: wine, beer or juice. The dishes you will taste on this cruise are typical Hungarian dishes. You will be able to choose between some of them:
- Spiced cottage cheese cream
- Traditional crackling cream
- Goulash soups
- Vegetable cream soup
- Stuffed mini-cabbage
- Traditional chicken thighs
- Roast chicken breast with cheese and basil sauce
- Spiced seine ribs with thyme and mustard sauce
- Grilled seafish with Chardonnay sansa
- Grilled polenta with feta cheese
- Homemade spinach fritters with mustard and mushroom sauce
- Fresh seasonal salads
- Homemade strudel
- Assorted desserts
4. Boat trip on the Danube with dinner included
This option is available from 18 euros per person and has the added attraction of being able to enjoy a tour of the Danube and a dinner with live music for about two hours. It is ideal if you want to spend a pleasant time without being obsessed with taking pictures of the monuments, otherwise you will miss out on the experience of dinner and live music.
To enjoy this cruise, an English-speaking hostess will guide you through the whole tour. You can also choose to be picked up from your hotel in Budapest and a driver will take you to the meeting point from where the boat departs. Dinner is buffet style and drinks are included at an additional cost.
- Buda Castle
- Gellert Baths
- The Chain Bridge
- The Hungarian Parliament
- The National Theatre
- Andrassy Avenue
- Varhegy Hill
Dinner is buffet style and includes traditional Hungarian dishes. I recommend you try the goulash soup, one of the delicacies of the Hungarian capital. Grilled polenta or homemade fritters are also a good choice. If you are one of those who don't dare to try new things, don't worry; the menu also includes more classic dishes and seasonal salads.
5. Tips for a Danube River Cruise
The Budapest river cruise is such a popular activity that you will find many companies offering it. Always make sure you book this experience with a reliable company and bear in mind the average prices: a cruise on the Danube is not a luxury activity and you can do it for around 20 euros on average. However, if it includes services such as an open bar or a party, the price increases considerably.
Make sure that the boat has panoramic views and that you can enjoy them regardless of the weather. Although cruises are available at any time of the year, I don't recommend cruising at night in winter as the cold temperatures can ruin the experience and prevent you from enjoying the scenery.
As a personal tip, don't get hung up on taking photos during the tour; you'll have plenty of time during your trip to take them and if the cruise includes a guide or host you can even ask them about the best viewpoints in the city. The Danube cruise is all about enjoying the views and the experience of cruising along the river while enjoying dinner or live music - don't treat it as a tourist rush.
Finally, if the cruise passes Margaret Island in the middle of the river and you have a chance to get off , definitely do so and then continue the cruise on the next boat. This island has no great historical monuments, but there are charming spots that will give you more than one surprise.
6. If you are interested in a cruise on the Danube, you will also be interested in
The city by night vs. by day
A boat tour is a great way to get an idea of the sights of the city and its main points of interest, but it's not a way to visit them. I mean, if you book a night cruise you're sure to be impressed by the view of the illuminated Parliament and it's sure to be one of the best memories of your trip, but are you really going to miss the chance to come back the next day to see it up close and visit the inside?
It's a similar story with the Chain Bridge; no doubt you'll get a unique perspective of it from the river, but are you going to give up walking across it during your visit to Budapest just because you've 'seen it'? Rather, take this tour as an appetizer of what the city has to offer and then visit as many of the sights as you can from a different perspective.
A guided walking tour
Walking is the best way to get around any city, as a place is not made up of the monuments that appear on a map, but of the narrow streets that link them and the establishments you come across on the way to them. The true essence of the city is discovered by walking and with a guided walking tour you will have the opportunity to learn about the legends and stories surrounding the statues and palaces you focus on with your camera.
For me, a guided walking tour is one of the best experiences you can have in any city; if you want to find out more about the options available you can check out this other article: Day Trips and Excursions from Budapest.
Sightseeing bus tour
A ride on the sightseeing bus. From the Danube you'll see all the city's monuments along the river, but there are others that are just as significant in the inner city. The sightseeing bus is a great way to shorten distances and get a different perspective of Budapest. There are many different options and it is worth considering, which is why I have written another guide to Budapest Hop on Hop off Bus Tours that may be of interest to you.
Frequently asked questions
What is the Danube River famous for?
As the second largest river in Europe, the Danube is famous for being the main source of water for much of Europe and Eastern Europe. It stretches from Germany to Ukraine and passes through cities such as Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and Belgrade.
What is the best time of the year to take a Danube river cruise?
Considering all the places the Danube River runs through, you may be surprised to know that the best time of year to enjoy a Danube cruise is between September and November if you don't mind the heat, and November to December if you want to experience the Christmas lights and markets. The reason for these dates is that in the summer months, everything is overrun with tourists and in spring rains often flood the river and this can affect your experience.
From where do you have a view of the Danube in Budapest?
As the city is divided in two, the best view of the river is from Buda Castle. You'll also get good views of the river from the Parliament, the Chain Bridge, Gresham Palace and St. Stephen's Basilica.