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There are multiple ways to travel from Amsterdam to Budapest – planes, trains, buses and cars can be used to quickly get from Point A to Point B – but an Amsterdam to Budapest cruise isn’t about getting from one place to another: it’s about the journey. River cruises between the two cities feature scenic landscapes, historic riverside towns, hill-topping castles and medieval churches.
We abandoned our usual independent travel style and embarked on a Viking Grand European Tour to make the trip. Traveling by boat on an Amsterdam to Budapest Cruise allowed us to sit back, relax and savor the sights (and – yes! – the food, too).
Our scenic Amsterdam to Budapest cruise made stops in 14 cities, traversed five countries, sailed on three rivers and one canal. We could ramble on endlessly about our Grand European River Cruise, but we have whittled our incredible experience aboard an Amsterdam to Budapest cruise into a list of top 10 highlights.
Viking Grand European Tour
Viking Grand European Tour Itinerary
- Countries: The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Slovakia (no stops), Hungary
- Cities: Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Cologne, Koblenz, Miltenberg, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Passau, Melk, Krems, Vienna, Budapest
- Rivers: Rhine, Main, Danube
- Canal: Main-Danube Canal
Click here for the Viking Amsterdam to Budapest River Cruise Map.
Note: Grand river cruises in reverse – from Budapest to Amsterdam – make most of the same stops, although some cities may vary.
Highlights of our Amsterdam to Budapest Cruise
Our Top 10 experiences on our 15-day European cruise are listed in chronological order.
#1 Kinderdijk Windmills – The Netherlands
Windmills are an iconic symbol of the Netherlands – and at Kinderdijk (near Rotterdam) there are 19 preserved windmills that date to the mid-1700s. The windmills at Kinderdijk, which are still functioning, were designated a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1997. On our guided tour, we learned how the bonnet mills (windmills where only the top swivels) pump water from the lower canals to higher ground. We were also able to explore the interior of the windmill to see the inner-workings and how the small, odd-shaped space once housed a family.
*Visiting the Kinderkijk Windmills was an included excursion on our Viking River Cruise Amsterdam to Budapest.
#2 Nijmegen – The Netherlands
Nijmegen wasn’t a stop on our Viking Cruises Grand European Tour, but we made certain to be on the top deck of the ship for personal reasons when we sailed through the city…and it wasn’t just because the city is a stunning sight. In 2015, we spent nearly 3 months in Nijmegen as housesitters for the most wonderful family. We stayed in their home over the Christmas period with their sweet dog, quickly becoming good friends with the family. Since then, we have kept in touch via email.
When we told our friends that we would be sailing through Nijmegen on our Europe tour from Amsterdam, they told us to look for them on the riverside. We consulted the always-helpful crew regarding the exact time we would be passing through Nijmegen and they kept us informed throughout the day. Brilliant!
As we passed through the city, we spotted our friends under the Waalbrug Bridge. We stood on the side of the ship shouting “Halllllooooo” to our friends and they shouted back to us. It was incredible, even at a distance, to see their smiling faces and waving arms as they wished us well on our journey.
#3 Cologne Beer Tour – Germany
Kolsch is the beer of Cologne, Germany…and when in Cologne, one must drink Kolsch (and don’t even mention Dusseldorf)! We joined an entertaining pub crawl, which included a hearty pre-drinking classic German meal of pork, kraut and potato salad. With the proper base, we bar hopped to six brew houses to sample fresh Kolsch beer straight from the barrel. The production of Kolsch beer is limited to breweries located within 50km of Cologne, which must meet strict requirements to carry the name ‘Kolsch’. In the taverns, waiters – called kobes – carry a two-tiered tray of beer, replacing any empty glasses with full ones. Only when we placed a coaster over our beer did they stop leaving more. So…how many did we have? We must admit: we lost count! Prost!
*The Cologne Beer Tour was an optional excursion (additional fee) organized by our Viking Cruise Amsterdam to Budapest.
#4 Rhine River Castles – Germany
When we sailed into the Middle Rhine – or Romantic Rhine, as it is often called – it was like slipping into a fairytale of castles and vineyards (all the best fairytales include vineyards, if you ask us!). The Rhine River castle cruise is between the cities of Koblenz and Bingen, where the Rhine River meanders through a valley of vine-covered hills – their grapes already hand-harvested and leaves turning yellow during our mid-autumn tour. Mighty castles sat loftily on the hilltops, strategically built for defense, power and regulation over waterway trade.
Our day began with a visit to the well-preserved Marksburg Castle and our afternoon was spent lounging on the top deck of the boat as we cruised down the Rhine River, passing by more than 20 hillside and island castles – some more elaborate than others, some pristine, some crumbling…and a few still occupied by the current owners.
Find a list of castles on the Rhine cruise here.
*The Marksburg Castle tour was an included excursion on our Viking Grand European River Cruise.
#5 Wurzburg – Germany
Not too big, not too small, not too touristy, but with plenty of sights, Wurzburg ranks as the favorite city we visited on our scenic cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest – and we were stoked to have had a full day to explore. After touring the majestic palace – the Wurzburger Residenz, which is stark on the outside but with an incredibly artistic Baroque interior – we spent the afternoon discovering the rest of the city on our own.
We hiked through the vineyards to the impressive Marienberg Fortress, took in city views of the skyline (which is punctuated by the steeples of 42 churches) and joined the late afternoon crowds gathering on the Old Stone Bridge for a glass of Franconian wine. When it was time to cast off, we took in the last view of the fortress from our stateroom balcony and were bid farewell by two curious (hungry?) swans. Does it get more picture-perfect than that?!
*Touring the Bishops’ Residenz was an included excursion on our Viking Grand European Cruise.
#6 Passau – Germany
At the confluence of three rivers – the Inn, the Danube and the Ilz Rivers – is the picturesque town of Passau, Germany. The center of the city is squeezed onto a narrow peninsula – on which the highest point is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The dominating white church is topped with (now green) copper onion domes that can be seen from afar. The interior is extravagantly decorated (in the Baroque style, of course), yet it is the organ that steals the show. With 17,974 pipes, 233 stops and four carillons, it is the fifth largest organ in the world.
After a tour of the town and church, we set off on our own to stretch our legs and seek out vantage points around the city. On both sides of the peninsula – across the rivers Danube to the north and Inn to the south – hills rise above the historic old town. We crossed the Danube and hikied the trail leading to the prominent 13th century fortress, Veste Oberhaus, which overlooks the meeting point of the three rivers and the pretty city below. Across the Inn River, we wound our way through the neighborhood to the staircase leading to the humble pilgrimage church, Paulinerkloster Mariahilf. Still keen to see more of the town, we crossed the Innsteg pedestrian bridge and strolled the riverside promenade around the tip of the peninsula back to our awaiting Viking longship.
*Passau city tour – with church interior – was an included excursion on our Grand European Viking Cruise.
#7 Melk Abbey – Austria
The grandiose and commanding Melk Abbey sits on a rocky cliff above the Danube River and the town of Melk. Since the 11th century, the palace-turned-abbey has been continuously run by Benedictine Monks. The Imperial Rooms – just a few of the nearly 500 rooms in the abbey – have been transformed into a modern museum filled with artifacts and state-of-the-art displays. Our tour of Melk Abbey also allowed us to step inside the decorative Marble Hall, the incredible library with 80,000 leather-bound books lining the shelves and the over-the-top Baroque church.
*The Melk Abbey Tour was an included excursion on our Viking River Grand European Tour.
#8 Wachau Valley – Austria
The Wachau Valley – from Melk to Krems – bears similar landscapes to the Romantic Rhine. We sailed through the valley under a blanket of gray clouds that seemed to match the dilapidated castles and sleepy towns nestled along the riverside. The mystical passage, splashed with hues of orange and yellow from autumn leaves, was almost surreal. We were charmed by the fanciful scenes: soaring steeples rising from a cluster of dwellings and backdropped by golden vineyards.
#9 Taste of Austria dinner – Austria
When the crew entered the lounge for our daily pre-dinner chat wearing lederhosen and dirndl, we knew it was going to be a festive evening. Then the entertainment arrived – a man with an accordion and his son with a guitar. And, then, the feast began.
The meals on our Viking Grand European cruise, especially the dinners, were an extravagant affair (more on the food in a minute!), but none compared to the boisterous celebration at the Taste of Austria Dinner. The elegant dining room was transformed into an Austrian tavern. Tables covered in red-checkered tablecloths were laden with soft pretzels, local meats and cheeses.
Rather than being served, we rounded the buffet counter that was piled high with grilled and slow-cooked meat: Kasekrainer – an Austrian sausage stuffed with cheese, Wiener Schnitzel and roasted pork knuckle were among our top choices. Spaetzle – Austrian’s decadent version of mac and cheese – was another savory item on the buffet that we couldn’t resist trying. Instead of wine, the wait staff delivered glasses of beer to the tables, just like the kobe in Cologne. And, we ended the meal Austrian-style: with a shot of Schnapps.
#10 Sailing into Budapest – Hungary
On our second to last night on the boat – during our cruise from Vienna to Budapest – I woke before sunrise. I stepped out onto the balcony to find the boat shrouded in thick, swirling fog. As first light shone on the horizon, the fog hovered just above the water and burrowed in villages. Shortly after sunrise, the air still thick with moisture, we approached Budapest. Even though it wasn’t clear, I climbed to the top deck for 360-degree views of the city. As we sailed under the Margaret Bridge into the heart of Budapest, the remaining mist was quickly evaporating; it was as if the city was being unveiled just for our arrival.
BONUS: Life On Board!
As first-time river cruisers and incredibly independent travelers, one of our biggest curiosities before our cruise was what life on board would be like. As it turns out, spending time aboard was a highlight of our Amsterdam to Budapest cruise. It wasn’t one specific element that made time on-board so stellar, but the experience in its entirety – from the room to the food to fellow passengers to the outstanding crew.
Our Veranda Stateroom, while not spacious, was well-designed to best utilize the space we had – as was the ship itself. We sailed on the Viking Magni longship, a ship built with specifications intended to sail European rivers. The ship can carry up to 190 passengers (plus 50 crew members), but with ample community and outdoor space – the entire upper deck and bow of the ship – it never felt crowded on board, not even during meals.
And speaking of meals, dining on the ship was spectacular. My favorite three-course dinner: truffle scented chicken cassoulet, herb Provençale rack of lamb and a chocolate brownie drizzled with white chocolate sauce accompanied by creamy pistachio ice cream. From presentation to portion-size to palate, we were impressed.
In addition to the decadent chef-prepared meals (available for breakfast, lunch and dinner!) – we had plenty of dining choices, which is one of the things we liked best about our Viking Amsterdam to Budapest cruise. We could choose where to eat our meals: the dining room, lounge or terrace. Furthermore, we had a choice of which table and with whom we wanted to dine, allowing us the opportunity to mix and mingle with fellow passengers.
It was the passengers – and especially the crew – that truly made our experience memorable. We were amazed at how complete strangers all boarded a ship and by the end of the 15-day river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest, good friends disembarked.
Our Viking River Cruises Grand European Tour was sponsored; but be assured, our opinions are genuine.
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