The Danube is the soul of Budapest and the reference point to locate in the city. This river separates in two the capital of Hungary: Buda and Pest, and the most emblematic buildings are distributed on its banks making each bridge a viewpoint.
1. The best cruises on the Danube
In the city there are different cruises to tour the Danube River during the day or at night. The price depends on the extras included, since there are rides that include a show, dinner, etc. I tell you about the best ones so you can choose yours:
- 70 minutes cruise on the Danube with commentary on board - From $ 16
- Dinner cruise on the Danube - From $ 22
2. 70 minutes boat ride on the Danube River
For less than 15 euros you already have the opportunity to take a cruise on the Danube: aboard the Duna Bella boat for more than an hour during which you will have plenty of time to take pictures of the scenic views you will see from the boat, to enjoy the experience itself and to learn interesting facts and stories about the different monuments and sights 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 can choose another drink (glass of champagne, wine, beer, soda or mineral water). There are several times available (I advise you to select the sunset one to see the city illuminated from the Danube) and the tour is available both in winter and summer as the boat has a deck that is taken down in good weather.
The starting point is the Central Pier in Budapest; when you make your reservation you will receive an email with directions on how to get there. The boat has audio commentary in 30 languages that you can access individually with helmets to learn more about some of the points of the tour:
The Hungarian Parliament
The largest monument in Budapest with a spectacular illumination and a total of 691 rooms. If you are impressed from the boat, be sure to book a time during your visit to see the interior where you will find statues of kings, rooms adorned with frescoes and gold leaf, the crown of Hungary presiding over the lobby, a dome of 96 meters or a spectacular Congress Hall.
Also known as Royal Palace. Formerly the residence of the kings of Hungary, but today houses the Hungarian National Gallery or the Museum of History of Budapest and a huge library. It is worth seeing it at night illuminated 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 had a special place in Budapest, which she considered her second homeland.
The Chain Bridge
One of the most famous in the city both for its night lighting and 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. Today, obviously, the crossing is free and can be crossed on foot.
It is a small island located in the middle of the Danube River with beautiful parks, a Japanese garden, medieval ruins or 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 with dinner and regional dance show included.
If you are interested in seeing a Hungarian dance show during your visit to Budapest, this package incorporates a regional show and a Danube cruise with dinner included:. It is a cost saving option if you intend to enjoy both experiences. The experience includes the transfer to and from the hotel, as well as the 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 route of the cruise
- 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 the city of 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 meters high hill from where you can admire beautiful views of the Danube River. Don't forget to go up at some point during your visit to Budapest to contrast the view that this cruise will offer you.
- Varhegy**: another hill located on the Buda bank of the river with spectacular medieval scenery. Also worth a visit both for its views and for its surroundings full of cobblestone streets and historical monuments.
- Clark Adam ter**: the traffic circle at the zero kilometer point of the city of Budapest built by the same engineer who designed the Chain Bridge.
Halfway through the tour you can also enjoy a dinner consisting of three hot dishes and two drinks of your choice between wine, beer or juice. The dishes you will taste on this cruise are typical of Hungarian gastronomy. You will be able to choose from some of them like:
- Spiced cottage cheese cream
- Traditional crackling cream
- Goulash soups
- Vegetable cream
- Stuffed mini cabbage
- Traditional style chicken thighs
- Roasted chicken breast with cheese and basil sauce
- Spiced pork ribs with thyme and mustard sauce
- Grilled sea fish with Chardonnay sansa
- Grilled polenta with feta cheese
- Homemade fritters with spinach and mustard and mushroom sauce
- Fresh seasonal salads
- Homemade Strudel
- Assorted desserts
4. Boat trip on the Danube River with dinner included
This option is available from a price of 18 euros per person and has the added attraction of being able to enjoy a tour along the Danube and dinner with live music: for about two hours. It is ideal if you want to spend a pleasant time without obsessing about taking pictures of the monuments, otherwise you will miss the experience of dinner and live music.
To enjoy this cruise, an English-speaking hostess will guide you throughout the tour. You can also choose to be picked up at your hotel in Budapest and a driver will take you to the meeting point from where the ship departs. Dinner is buffet style and drinks are included for an additional cost.
- Buda Castle
- The Gellert baths
- The Chain Bridge
- The Hungarian Parliament
- The National Theater
- 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. The grilled polenta or the homemade fritters are also a good choice. If you are one of those who dare not 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 widespread activity that you will find many companies offering it. Always make sure to hire this experience with a trustworthy company and keep in mind the average prices: a cruise on the Danube is not a luxury activity and you can do it for about 20 euros on average. Of course, if you include services such as open bar or party, the price increases considerably.
Make sure the ship has scenic views and that you can enjoy them regardless of the weather. Although cruises are available at any time of the year, I do not recommend doing it in winter at night as the low temperatures could ruin the experience and not allow you to enjoy the scenery.
As a personal advice, don't get obsessed with taking pictures during the tour; you will have plenty of time during your trip to take them and if the cruise includes a guide or host you can even ask him/her about the best viewpoints in the city. The Danube cruise is all about enjoying the views and the experience of cruising the river while enjoying dinner or live music; don't take it as a tourist race.
Finally, if the cruise passes by Margarita Island located in the middle of the river and you have the possibility to get off do it without a doubt and then continue the cruise on the next boat. This island does not have great historical monuments, but it does have charming corners 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 serves to get an idea of the sights of the city and its main points of interest, but it is not a way to visit them. I mean, if you book a night cruise you are sure to be impressed by the views of the Parliament Illuminated and they will stay with you as one of the best memories of the trip, but are you really going to miss the opportunity to come back the next day to see it up close and visit its interior?
Something similar happens with the Chain Bridge; no doubt from the river you will get a unique perspective of it, but are you going to stop walking across it during your visit to Budapest just because "you have already seen it"? Rather take this tour as an appetizer of all that 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 tour any city because a place is not made up of the monuments that appear on a map, but of the narrow streets that connect them and the establishments that you find on your way to them. The true essence of the city is discovered by walking and with a guided walking tour you will also have the opportunity to learn about the legends and stories surrounding those statues and palaces you focus on with your camera.
For me, a guided tour is one of the best experiences you can have in any city; if you want to learn more about the available options you can check this other article: Day Trips and Excursions from Budapest.
Tourist bus ride
A ride on the tourist bus. From the Danube you will see all the monuments of the city located on the banks of the river, but there are others that are just as significant and are in the interior of the city. The tourist bus is an ideal way to shorten distances and get a different perspective of Budapest. There are many different options and it is worth to take them into account, that is why I have written this other guide about Hop on Hop off Bus Tours that may interest you.
Frequently asked questions
What is the Danube river famous for?
Standing as Europe's second longest river, the Danube River is famous because it is the main water source for much of Europe and Eastern Europe. Stretching from Germany to Ukraine, the river even passes through several famous cities including Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and Belgrade.
What is the best time of year to take a Danube River cruise?
Considering the locations that the Danube River passes through, it may surprise you to learn that the best time of year to take a Danube River cruise is between September to November if you're partial to warmth, and November to December if you don't mind the weather and want to experience the Christmas markets. This is because the summer months (June to August) get far too busy with summer tourists, the springtime (March to May) rains make the river partial to flooding.
What overlooks the river Danube in Budapest?
With the Danube River splitting Budapest in two, respectively Buda and Pest, it won't come as a surprise that Buda's castle overlooks the river Danube, along with the Parliament Building, Chain Bridge, Gresham Palace and St. Stephens Basilica.