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Cruise & Rail: The Enchanting Danube & the Castles of Transylvania

Cruise & Rail: Enchanting Danube & the Castles of Transylvania

12 Days from Passau to Budapest

Note: The itineraries presented are subject to modification due to water levels, closures because of public holidays or other uncontrollable factors. Every effort will be made to operate programs as planned, but changes may still be necessary throughout the cruise. This day-to-day schedule is subject to change. Your final day-to-day schedule will be provided onboard on the first day of your cruise.

Day 1: Passau (Embark)

Arrive at Munich Airport. If your cruise package includes a group arrival transfer or if you have purchased a private arrival transfer, you will be greeted by a Uniworld representative and transferred to the ship.

Note: For Arrival, Departure and Transfer details, please visit Uniworld.com/transfers. For Port Location details, please visit Uniworld.com/ports.

Day 2: Passau

Passau is a crossroads in more ways than one, as three rivers meet here and three nations nearly do, making for a fascinating cultural mosaic. Get to know the town and its main claim to fame—Europe’s largest pipe organ—or “Let’s Go” with an invigorating riverside hike or bike ride.

“Let's Go” bicycle ride along the Inn River

The Inn River rises in the Alps, near Innsbruck (hence the name of the famous Swiss ski resort) and flows through three nations (Switzerland, Austria and Germany) on its way to Passau, where it joins the Danube. While the Danube bike path may be Europe’s best-known route for bicyclists, the Inn River bike path, which follows the river from Innsbruck to Passau, has plenty of fans. The route through the Inn River valley outside Passau is an especially attractive stretch, with great views of the lovely countryside, picturesque villages and the sparkling clear river itself. Your guide will make sure you know the local traffic and safety rules before you and your group set out along the partly flat and paved path. You’ll be traveling on both sides of the river, crossing between Germany and Austria as you cross the Inn, and your journey will include a comfort stop before returning to the ship. All in all, it’s an idyllic way to enjoy the scenery and get some exercise at the same time.

“Let's Go” hike along the Ilz River

Put on your hiking boots, grab a windbreaker and a bottle of water, and head out with a local hiking guide and nature expert to explore the banks of the Ilz River. This small but rushing tributary of the Danube originates deep in the Bavarian Forest, near the Czech border, and is just 40 miles (65 kilometers) long. Its upper stretch is a premier whitewater rafting location, but you’ll be hiking along the lower, serene end of the river. Your starting point is Hals-Hochstein, where you’ll pick up a nature trail that follows a curve of the river and then climbs a steep hill, where you have a great view of the river and woodlands. You will cross the river repeatedly, once by way of a dam and again toward the end of your four-mile (6.5-kilometer) hike, as you loop back to the Hals. 

In the evening, a special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you.

Day 3: Linz (Salzburg)

Mozart’s birthplace of Salzburg is nestled in a glorious alpine setting that sparkles like a winter wonderland. Linz may be best known for its famous Linzer torte, but it’s also a hotbed for the arts. See the sights with a local expert and visit a family at their farm in the countryside. Austria’s third-largest city, Linz boasts a long history of trading and textile manufacturing, but these days it is perhaps best known for its electronic arts and annual festival.

Linz town and country: Linzertorte and cider farm visit

Get to know Linz on foot with a local expert who will take you by all the major sites in town, from Mozart’s apartment to the old Jesuit Cathedral. You’ll stop for a bite at Konditorei Jindrak, home of the Original Linzer Torte. Enjoy a cup of coffee alongside this thin, buttery pastry made with ground nuts, filled with fruit preserves and topped with a lattice crust.

Next, the group will split in two, each half heading out to a countryside cider farm. There, you’ll be treated to a lunch of local specialties and house-made cider—an excellent way to immerse yourself in rural Austrian life and scenery, while also supporting local farmers. Both farms are entirely organic and give special care to the quality of the ingredients they produce, from the careful cultivation of their bountiful orchards to the livestock they keep in large grazing pastures. This type of farming produces less waste and—as you’ll see during your lunch there—better food.

This MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience supports Global Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

Day 4: Melk, Dürnstein

This morning, visit the 900-year-old Melk Abbey and its extraordinary baroque-style library. 

Later, you will head to Dürnstein, one of our favorite towns along the Danube, a lovely place to wander cobblestone lanes, browse quaint shops and maybe hike up to a ruined castle (with an intriguing tale all its own). You can also opt for a tasting or learn all about the world’s costliest spice from the Wachau Valley’s only saffron grower. You have two ports of call in the incredibly scenic valley, Dürnstein and Melk, and an assortment of delightful ways to explore this lovely region.

Melk Abbey with library visit

The Babenbergs, a great medieval ducal family that controlled a wide swath of Austria before yielding to the Habsburgs, were the first to erect a castle on the hill above Melk, which they subsequently gave to Benedictine monks. These monks, some 900 years ago, turned it into a fortified abbey—and the greatest center of learning in Central Europe. Their library was celebrated far and wide (and still is; Umberto Eco paid tribute to it in his best-selling novel The Name of the Rose). Medieval monks there created more than 1,200 manuscripts, sometimes spending an entire lifetime hand-lettering a single volume. Today the library contains some 100,000 volumes, among them more than 80,000 works printed before 1800. This beautiful complex, completely redone in the early 18th century, is a wonderful example of baroque art and architecture, and the views from its terrace are spectacular. As you walk through the abbey’s Marble Hall with your guide, look up at the ceiling fresco painted by Paul Troger: Those classical gods and goddesses represent Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, allegorically bringing his people from dark to light and demonstrating the link he claimed to the original Roman Empire.

After your tour of the abbey, you’ll have time to explore Melk on your own, or you can take the motorcoach back to the ship.

Dürnstein wine estate visit with tasting

There’s no better way to conclude your visit to the Wachau Valley than with a special tasting of organic wines at Nikolaihof, perhaps the oldest winery in Austria. The location itself is fascinating: One may encounter remnants of the first buildings on the site—an ancient Roman fort—and taste wines in a deconsecrated 15th-century chapel. Owned by the Saahs family, Nikolaihof produces some of the world’s best Riesling and Veltliner varietals; in fact, the 1995 Riesling Vinothek, bottled in 2012, actually scored 100 points in The Wine Advocate, the first Austrian wine ever to rank that highly. It is also one of the first wineries in the world to produce biodynamically certified wines. No herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides, or synthetic sprays are used in the vineyards. The grapes are harvested by hand, fermented without artificial yeast and stored in Austrian oak casks for up to 20 years.

After your visit, discover Dürnstein on a stroll through town before returning to the ship. Considering its diminutive size, the village of Dürnstein offers much to explore. The famous blue baroque tower of the abbey church is doubtless its best-known landmark, but the ruined castle above the town provides its most romantic tale. There Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned until he was found by his faithful bard, Blondel, and ransom could be raised—or so the legend goes. Walk along the town’s narrow streets, past 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century houses; it’s an up-close look at over 300 years of architecture.

This MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience supports Global Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

Dürnstein village and saffron workshop

Educate your taste buds with flavorful delicacies as you taste red-wine-and-saffron chocolate and saffron-seasoned jams, vinegars and honey. Crusaders planted the first saffron crocuses in the Wachau Valley at the end of the 12th century, making saffron a valued crop for 700 years—but it disappeared from the terraced hillsides early in the 20th century. It wasn’t until 2007 that an ecologist found mention of it in an 18th-century document at Melk Abbey’s celebrated library. Bernard Kaar, who spent years researching the history of saffron and still more years cultivating the world’s only biodynamically certified saffron, is one of the Wachau’s most important producers. Meet Bernard and his wife, Alexandra, for a fascinating introduction to saffron—the plant, the spice, its cultural significance and their farm’s uniquely sustainable methods of producing it.

Later walk along the town’s narrow streets, past 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century houses; it’s an up-close look at over 300 years of architecture. Considering its diminutive size, the village of Dürnstein offers much to explore. The famous blue baroque tower of the abbey church is doubtless its best-known landmark, but the ruined castle above the town provides its most romantic tale. There Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned until he was found by his faithful bard, Blondel, and ransom could be raised—or so the legend goes.

This MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience supports Global Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

Day 5: Vienna

Vienna is a cultural treasure trove revered for its art and music (and sinfully rich pastries). Experience the “City of Waltzes” with your choice of tours, as well as an expertly led tour of an extraordinary collection of art at the renowned Vienna Art History Museum.

“Morning with the Masters” at the Vienna Art History Museum

The Habsburgs assembled an astonishing collection of artistic treasures over the centuries, which formed the basis for the works now on display at the Vienna Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches). The doors open early especially for you as you join an art historian for a tour of some of the masterpieces gathered here: View a unique group of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Vermeer’s Allegory of Painting, Raphael’s Madonna in the Meadow, and portraits by Rembrandt, Velazquez, Rubens, Titian, Tintoretto and Van Eyck, among others, in the Picture Gallery. Then move onto the Kunstkammer galleries, where you can see Benvenuto Cellini’s legendary salt cellar (the only gold sculpture he created that has survived to the present day) and hear its remarkable story. Your tour ends in the magnificent Cupola Hall, perhaps the architectural highlight of the splendid building.

Private Mozart and Strauss concert

Vienna is linked inextricably with music, as so many great composers lived and worked here: Beethoven, Mozart, Strauss, Schubert, Mahler, Brahms—the list is as long as it is glorious. Enjoy an evening of chamber music performed by some of Vienna’s world-class professionals in a historic and intimate concert venue.

Vienna - Imperial City highlights

Ring Street, the great horseshoe-shaped boulevard lined with many of the city’s major landmarks—Parliament, City Hall, the Vienna State Opera, glorious palaces and museums—is a mere 150 years old, practically an infant for a city of Vienna’s age. It replaced the walls and fortifications that had protected the city for centuries. Its construction was a testament to confidence, forward-thinking and grand urban planning, and it resulted in a 50-year building spree. You’ll pass most of these opulent landmarks on your way to the older section of the city, the area the walls once enclosed.

Later, you’ll walk along Kärntner Street, the celebrated pedestrian boulevard that links the State Opera with St. Stephen’s Cathedral, past the elegant shops on the Graben and the Kohlmarkt. The neighborhood offers a lively combination of historic architecture, street performances, shoppers’ delights and true Viennese atmosphere. 

Vienna's music and composers

Take a walk through Vienna’s musical history, starting with the present-day artists keeping the legacy alive. We’ll first visit the House of Music (Haus der Musik), where you’ll learn about the future of computer music and observe great composers at work. From there, we’ll walk through town towards St. Stephen’s Cathedral, passing the musical theatre. Enter the cathedral to see its musical architecture and a recently discovered altar painting by Albrecht Dürer. Next, we’ll walk to the only surviving residence of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We’ll stroll around the large Mozarthaus apartment, where he created some of his most famous compositions.

You have leisure time after your tour to explore Vienna on your own. You might wish to visit the Albertina Museum, which houses one million old-master prints and an impressive collection of works by 19th- and 20th-century painters, ranging from Renoir to Rothko.

If you’d like to get a little exercise and see a completely different side of Vienna, borrow a bike from the ship and explore Danube Island and Prater Park. (For a wonderful view of the region, ride the Ferris wheel in Prater Park.)

Day 6: Vienna, Bratislava

Your ship sets sail from Vienna and heads for Bratislava today. You may relax onboard all day, perhaps enjoying a drink on the Sun Deck and taking in the scenery as the ship wends its way along the Austrian Danube toward Bratislava. Although it’s not a large city, Bratislava has played a leading role in the politics and culture of the region for many centuries, and it is well worth a visit.

Bratislava - small but precious walking tour

Walk through the loveliest part of Bratislava with your local guide. Starting on the Danube promenade, you’ll cross the former Coronation Square, pass the Slovak National Theater and St. Martin’s Cathedral. This Gothic church was built into the medieval city’s fortifications, and 19 Habsburg rulers were crowned inside it, including Empress Maria Theresa. That’s because Bratislava, then known as Pressburg, became the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary after the Ottomans conquered Budapest in 1536, a status it retained until the middle of the 19th-century.

Close to the cathedral you’ll find Michael’s Gate, the last remaining portal of the medieval wall—and your entryway into Bratislava’s Old Town, which blends Gothic, baroque and art deco structures with some less graceful reminders of the Communist era. The stately 18th-century Primatial Palace, in the center of Old Town, was the site where the Pressburg peace treaty was signed in 1805, in which Austria ceded a great deal of territory to Napoleon. Another 18th-century palace, Grassalkovich, is now the president of Slovakia’s official residence.

Take some time after the tour to browse through the attractive shops in the lovely art deco buildings that line the squares; you can find a wide selection of traditional folk items at the ÚĽUV (Slovak Folk Culture) shop. And you’ll definitely want to sample some of the local delicacies.

"Let's Go" hike to Bratislava Castle

This brilliantly white, enormous square building takes over the skyline of Bratislava, and from its grounds you’ll find incredible views of the city below.

After your hike to the castle, you’ll stroll through the most beautiful part of Bratislava with the local guide. You will be introduced to the Capital of Slovakia, seeing sites like the Presidential Palace and the unique bridge colloquially known as UFO Bridge (you’ll understand when you see it).

Passing through the historic Old Town, we’ll see the charming House of the Good Shepherd, the pastel tower of the Old Town Hall and statues like Čumil, the sewage worker leaning out of a manhole in the street to smile at passersby.

Day 7: Budapest

Budapest is an enchanting city that presents a vibrant mix of medieval and modern.

Budapest walk with local treats

One of the best ways to get to know Budapest is through its cuisine, in no small part because many of its unique culinary treats can be found inside famous architectural sites and other must-see hotspots.

Today we’ll start off at the Jewish District where we’ll visit the Klauzál Square Market Hall, a food bazaar that has been running on the grounds of a burned-down theater since 1897. Here you’ll try specialty meats before heading to a ruin pub. We’ll grab a beer and some langos, a Hungarian fried bread snack, and take in the eclectic atmosphere. Our last stop is the Great Market Hall, the largest in the city, where you’ll enjoy some delicious strudel for a sweet end to your tour.

Budapest panoramic highlights with Opera House visit

Enjoy a panoramic drive by the neo-Renaissance buildings of Andrassy Avenue, passing Heroes' Square, the Franz Liszt Memorial House, the House of Terror, City Park and, of course, the Castle District.

You’ll get to see the old hidden villas and embassies of the Jewish district before stepping off the bus and heading on to the Opera House. The building’s architecture alone is worth a visit, its gilded ceilings and marble columns making the interior even more striking than its beautiful facade. It’s also famous for its great acoustics, which you will get to appreciate during a private concert, just for Uniworld guests.

In the evening, a special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you.

Day 8: Budapest (Disembark), Transfer to Train (Embark), Lajosmizse, Kecskemet

Transfer from the ship to Budapest Nyugati station, where you can enjoy a morning drinks reception in the impressive Royal Waiting Room before boarding the Golden Eagle Danube Express. Settle into your cabin and later enjoy lunch as the train heads to Lajosmizse for a spectacular ‘Puszta’ horse show. Afterwards there is time to explore Kecskemét, a fascinating city at the geographical center of Hungary.

Back on board, enjoy a pre-dinner drink in the Bar Lounge Car as the train continues across the Great Hungarian Plain and dine as you head towards Romania and Transylvania.

Day 9: Sibiu, Sighișoara

After breakfast onboard, your train will arrive in the 13th-century town of Sibiu, Romania, where you will spend the morning touring the area. Reboard for lunch as your train travels to Sighișoara for a guided walking tour of the town’s main highlights. A World Heritage Site and the rumored birthplace of Dracula, it is one of the best-preserved fortified medieval towns in Europe. Burgher houses and ornate churches line its cobbled streets.

Dinner is served onboard as your train departs for Brasov and its castles in the Carpathian Mountains.

Day 10: Sinaia, Brasov

Early morning will find you at Sinaia, where you’ll detrain after breakfast and travel the short distance to the stunning neo-Renaissance Peles Castle. Stop for lunch on the train before moving on to Brasov for a tour of the medieval Old Town, then head out to the Rasnov Citadel and Castle.

Late in the afternoon, you’ll visit Bran Castle, popularly known as Dracula’s Castle, due to it being the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The beautiful 14th-century building is situated amongst stunning mountain scenery. The castle will be exclusively for you and your fellow passengers in the early evening and, following a tour of the castle, there will be a Gala Dinner.

Day 11: Cluj-Napoca

Arrive in Cluj-Napoca in the early morning. An 800 year-old city that was the capital of Transylvania during its independence, Cluj-Napoca became an “unofficial capital” when Transylvania was annexed into Romania. The city is built on the banks of the Somesul river at the edge of the Apuseni Mountains.

Spend the morning touring the city before rejoining the train for lunch as you head back towards Hungary and across the Hungarian Plain to Budapest, where you’ll arrive in the Budapest Railway Museum during the farewell dinner onboard. Your final night onboard will be spent parked in the museum.

Day 12: Budapest (Disembark)

Disembark the train and transfer to Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport for your flight home.

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