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Discover the Danube’s hidden gems with Tauck’s Blue Danube Cruise

Tauck’s ‘The Blue Danube’ river cruise on MS Joy visits Europe’s greatest attractions and hidden gems in the cities of Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg and Prague on the Blue Danube Cruise, writes Caroline Smith.

On board Tauck’s aptly christened MS Joy, I spend 11 nights wending my way up the Danube River through four central European countries and back. Travelling through centuries of complex history, fascinating architecture, rich musical legacies and priceless classical art. From Budapest to Bratislava and Vienna, the Wachau Valley to Salzburg, Regensburg to Prague, the Blue Danube Cruise discovers ancient marvels and the latest attractions, the iconic to the unexpected and the serendipitous.

Tauck’s 12-day westbound ‘The Blue Danube’ river cruise begins in Budapest and includes cities of Bratislava, Vienna, Salzburg, Regensburg and more, ending with an optional two days in Prague. The season runs from April to October. Tauck has released its 2024 European River Cruising catalogue with six new cruises.

MS Joy in Budapest on Tauck Danube River cruise
MS Joy in Budapest © Dr Lantos Bela

MS Joy

One of Tauck’s exclusive fleet of well-appointed river cruise boats, MS Joy boasts a handpicked crew of 39 to cosset and inform the ships 130 passengers. Cabins are surprisingly spacious and comfortable beds face the floor-to-ceiling windows.

About a third of the cabins are suites occupying the entire Diamond Deck, ensuring fewer passengers than similar ships. With the spacious Panorama lounge and piano bar above the main restaurant and Arthur’s, a 24-hour casual dining and coffee shop at the stern, there is always a private space to relax or an opportunity to share time (and world-class dining) with new friends. A gym, spa, salon and a sun deck with an open-air jacuzzi and a putting green complete the ship’s amenities: a luxe hotel with the added benefit of daily changing and breathtaking views.

Category 7 Tauck Suite on MS Joy
Category 7 Tauck Suite on MS Joy
Category 7 Tauck Bathroom on MS Joy
Category 7 Tauck Bathroom on MS Joy

Daily excursions on the Danube River

Opting for an active, immersive choice of daily excursions as we did, may not be for everyone, but the joy of a Tauck cruise is that it is fully adaptable to your interests and energy levels. This is key to a satisfying holiday to create those treasured personal memories. For me it was the many energetic city bike tours on offer, the highlight being an e-bike adventure along the Danube’s celebrated bike path from charming Engelhartszell, Austria to Passau, Germany, through breathtaking autumn scenery.

The bike or walking tours take us to UNESCO Heritage-listed castles, churches and cathedrals, palaces, and medieval Old Towns. We also visit richly varied museums and even a restored WW11 bunker once visited by Adolf Hitler – filling our days and our hearts and minds with awe and inspiration.

Free time is plentiful, and we treasured ours, taking the time to shop for prized Herend ceramics in Budapest and fulfilling our lifelong dream to visit the famed Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Bike riding along the Danube River with Tauck
Bike riding along the Danube

Life on board

Similarly, the onboard options for education and entertainment are extensive and varied. There are fascinating expert lectures on history and our destinations, lavish chef’s dinners, a Halloween extravaganza and morning yoga. Add to that the fact that you have unlimited beverages, a superb and varied menu offering local specialties and traditional gourmet delicacies, and there is much incentive to relax and stay onboard.

Starting at Budapest

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is a cultural hub seeping with historical significance and gorgeous architecture. With imposing castles, unique museums and divine cuisine, there are plenty of things to do in Budapest.

Joining the cruise at Budapest, our first day becomes a blueprint for each of the distinctive cities we visit, from Budapest to Bratislava and Vienna, the Wachau Valley to Salzburg, Regensburg to Prague. Accompanied by one of the local, expert and impressively knowledgeable Tauck directors, we bike through the city, visiting highlights of the glorious neo-renaissance Opera House, to the Heroes’ Square, along the tree-lined, high-end shopping street Andrassy Avenue, through parks and past the famous Széchenyi thermal public baths. Later, in our free time, we enjoy the spell-binding Renoir exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, and stumble across Szamos, a hidden 1930s tearoom serving the world’s best apple strudel with a custard cream I will remember forever. These, along with the dramatic Parliament Building which lights up the night as we sail west to Bratislava, remain unforgettable highlights of Budapest.

Buda Castle

Perched on Castle Hill, the expansive grounds of Buda Castle offer panoramic city views. The extraordinary Buda Castle precinct incorporating the gothic Matthias Church offers spectacular views of the city and river from the ramparts of the 19th century Fisherman’s Bastion. Explore the historical Royal Palace and enjoy the fairy-tale towers and photo opportunities.

Chain Bridge

An enduring symbol of Budapest, the Chain Bridge spans the Danube River to connect Buda and Pest. Re-opened after an upgrade in late 2023, you can stroll across this landmark bridge and take in panoramic views of the river and city skyline.

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

Immerse yourself in Budapest’s thriving thermal culture at Széchenyi. Relax in outdoor pools surrounded by stunning architecture and experience the relaxing and healing properties of the thermal waters.

Ruin Bars

Dive into Budapest’s unique nightlife by exploring its so-called ‘ruin bars’ established in the early 2000s in abandoned buildings and reimagined into spaces for unpretentious dining, drinking and dancing. Szimpla Kert is a pioneer, housed in a dilapidated building filled with eclectic decor and a vibrant atmosphere.

Hungarian Cuisine Tour

Indulge in local flavours through a guided culinary journey. Taste traditional and delicious dishes such as goulash, chimney cake and lángos in the city’s markets and eateries.

Fisherman's Bastion; Danube river front
Fisherman's Bastion; Danube river front

See the best of Prague

Nicknamed ‘The City of a Hundred Spires’, Prague is an essential visit for tourists wanting to explore arts and culture. The capital of the Czech Republic houses Romanesque cathedrals, famous landmarks and traditional delicacies.

Prague Castle

Dominating the skyline, Prague Castle is an ancient complex including cathedrals, palaces and extensive gardens. Stroll through Golden Lane for a walk back in time and a glimpse into medieval life. Here, Tauck River Cruise guests have the exclusive opportunity for a dinner extravaganza at the privately owned Lobkowicz Palace within Prague Castle. As well as a private tour of the stunning Lobkowicz Collections’ treasures.

Charles Bridge

Admire the charm of Charles Bridge which is adorned with statues and offers stunning views of Prague Castle and the Danube. Artists and musicians line the popular bridge.

Old Town Square

Witness the Astronomical Clock’s captivating show each hour in Old Town Square or climb to its ramparts for picturesque views of the surrounding architecture, including the Church of Our Lady before Týn.

John Lennon Wall

The Lennon Wall is a graffitied wall emblazoned with messages of love and peace, and is symbolic of freedom of speech and the non-violent resistance of the Czech youth.

Trdelník Delights

Savour a trdelník, a traditional Czech pastry, while wandering through the atmospheric narrow streets of historic Lesser Town.

Church of Our Lady Before Tyn in Prague
Church of Our Lady Before Tyn in Prague

Visit Vienna

Renowned as the world’s music capital, the Austrian capital is defined by its arts scene, architecture and buzzing city life.

Gala dinner at Palais Pallavicini

As one, the white-gloved waiters raise the silver cloches to reveal our main courses with a flourish. A tuxedoed opera singer reaches a thrilling crescendo that could shatter the impressive crystal chandeliers above us. Tauck’s exclusive gala dinner at Vienna’s opulent, neoclassical Palais Pallavicini is all the pomp and ceremony my inner princess could wish for.

Gala dinner at Palais Pallavicini with Tauck river cruises
Gala dinner at Palais Pallavicini

Schönbrunn Palace

Explore the opulent summer residence of the Habsburg dynasty, surrounded by its vast gardens and the Gloriette, offering stunning views of Vienna.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Marvel at the intricate Romanesque and Gothic architecture of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the most important religious building in Vienna. Climb to the top for a spectacular panoramic view of the city.

Belvedere Palace

Art lovers will admire the impressive art collection in Belvedere Palace, including Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’.

Vienna’s famous Spanish Riding School

Tour the stables and meet the magical creatures of the Spanish Riding School.  Visitors can attend a performance by the white Lipizzaner stallions and marvel at the horsemanship as horse and rider perform flawlessly together as one.


Delight your senses at Naschmarkt, Vienna’s oldest outdoor market with more than 120 stalls and a huge variety of fresh produce, international cuisine and unique finds. Don’t miss the cult flea market held on Saturdays.

Viennese coffee culture

Embrace the city’s famous coffee culture that dates back to the Siege of Vienna in historic coffeehouses like Café Central, where intellectuals once gathered. The traditional Viennese espresso coffee is topped with whipped cream, supposedly to keep the coffee hot for longer.

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna
The Spanish Riding School in Vienna
The Tauck river cruise goes through Weissenkirchen, Austria
Weissenkirchen, Austria

Sightseeing in Salzburg

Divided by the Salzach River, Salzburg boasts a range of lush natural landscapes, unique shopping experiences and delectable dining options.

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Perched on a hill, the fortress is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe and is an unmistakable and dramatic feature of Salzburg’s skyline. A hike to the top of the tower provides breathtaking views of the city. Explore the museums, courtyards, and enjoy a funicular ride.

Mirabell Palace and Gardens

Stroll through the beautifully formal landscaped gardens featured as one of the most important shooting locations in “The Sound of Music” movie. Admire the palace’s architecture, the Pegasus Fountain and the Grand Fountain with surrounding figures symbolising the four elements of fire, air, earth and water.


Wander through this charming shopping street, where you will discover unique boutiques and traditional Austrian craftsmanship and can dine at authentic local restaurants such as Meisl and Schadn to sample and watch chefs prepare the delicious schnitzels to order in the open kitchen. Mozart’s birthplace is located on this street and is open to visitors offering a fascinating glimpse of his early family life.

Augustiner Bräu

Experience the authentic beer garden culture (and a refreshing brew or two) at Augustiner Bräu, in Kloster Mulln, Austria’s largest and one of the world’s oldest breweries. Pick up a stone mug or stein and have it returned full and foaming. (Our tip, try a shandy – a mix of beer and lemonade, also available in your stein).

Mozartkugel Tasting

Indulge in the decadently delicious Mozartkugel, a chocolate confection named after Mozart, and learn about its fascinating history in Salzburg. Invented by Paul Furst, the iconic sweet in the blue and silver wrapper made from chocolate-covered nougat with a pistachio and marzipan core is still hand-made at the Café Konditorei Furst.

The MS Joy cruising through Salzburg
The MS Joy cruising through Salzburg

Tauck’s 12-day westbound ‘The Blue Danube’ river cruise itinerary

Day 1: Arrive Budapest and embark
Day 2: Discover the landmarks & stories of Pest
Day 3: Explore Buda
Day 4: Baroque in Bratislava
Day 5: Exploring Vienna & an Imperial Evening
Day 6: A choice in Vienna & on to Dürnstein
Day 7: Dürnstein & the Wachau Valley
Day 8: Salzburg sights or Cesky Krumlov
Day 9: Engelhartszell & cycling along the Danube
Day 10: Disembark Vilshofen for Regensburg & Prague
Day 11: The legacy of many centuries in Prague
Day 12: Journey home

Click here for the day-by-day details

This article originally appeared in volume 47 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today. Be the first to see online content by subscribing to the newsletter below.