Eight architectural wonders worth seeing on a Danube river cruise

The magnificent man-made delights of the Danube prove there’s more to river-cruise excursions shore-side than scenic terrain and natural wonders. 

Here’s our pick of the river’s eight most impressive architectural sights:

Budapest

1. Parliament Building

Inspired by Britain’s Houses of Parliament, this elegant structure is the world’s third largest parliament building, and could be the highlight of a Danube cruise if your ship sets sail after dark as, like the city’s other landmarks, it will be illuminated.

Its design was the winning entry in a competition held in the 1880s. Enormous colonnades, stained glass windows and elaborate chandeliers ensure an equal amount of interior pomp.

2. The Fisherman’s Bastion

Another highlight in Hungary’s capital is the Fisherman’s Bastion. This stone structure, with its fairytale towers, was built between 1895 and 1902. It stands high above the river on the bank opposite the Parliament Building and is absolutely the place to be for panoramic views of the city. Just be sure to take a camera.

Dazzling at night: the Hungarian Parliament

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3. Saint Matthias Church

This stunning 700-year-old building stands close to the Fisherman’s Bastion and its unexpectedly colourful interior is well worth a closer look. If you are lucky enough to be there at the right time of the year, you may even catch a carol service.                                                                                                              

Before becoming a Roman Catholic Church, Saint Matthias was a mosque. It has been the setting for a number of royal weddings and funerals throughout the years, as well as a handful of coronations. Explore inside and you’ll find a replica of Hungary’s Holy Crown.

Vienna

4. The Schönbrunn Palace

Almost every historic building in Vienna – including the neo-Gothic City Hall, opulent State Opera, imposing Hofburg Palace, ground-breaking Secession Building and art nouveau Karlsplatz station – is architecturally noteworthy.

Outside Saint Matthias Church you’ll find a statue of King Saint Stephen

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Perhaps the most magnificent, with Unesco World Heritage site status for its illustration of human creative genius, is the Baroque Schönbrunn Palace. Completed in 1700 and later extended to house 2,000 rooms, the palace became Empress Maria Theresa’s family home and was painted her favourite shade of yellow.                                                           

The French-style formal gardens, crowned by an elaborate Gloriette, form part of the palace ensemble while the outbuildings include one that houses the Imperial Coach Collection.

5. St Stephen’s Cathedral

This, the most important Gothic building in all of Austria, was built in mainly Romanesque style in the mid-1300s on the site of two earlier churches. Tours of the catacombs are available and the cathedral’s most notable features include a steep roof covered with 230,000 multi-coloured tiles and a latticework spire. Inside, at least 18 high altars and three naves are all, unusually, of equal height.                                                                                     

The grandeur of Schönbrunn Palace continues inside with The Great Gallery’s Rococo decoration

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The largest of St Stephen’s 23 bells, although named for St Mary, is popularly known as ‘Pummerin’ (boomer). It weighs 44,380 pounds, which makes it the country’s largest bell and the second heaviest in Europe after ‘Peter’ in Cologne Cathedral, which weighs 51,800 pounds.

The Wachau Valley

6. Melk Abbey

Unquestionably one of the Danube’s highlights, this enormous abbey was founded in 1089 and is considered one of the grandest Benedictine abbeys in Europe. It has the look, feel and breath-taking magnificence of a Baroque palace. It once belonged to the Austrian Margrave (military governor) Leopold II, before he gave it to the monks.

Now operating as a school, the abbey dominates the small, attractive market town of Melk. After touring the extensive grounds, wander down the footpath towards the town’s main street and enjoy a drink at one of the outdoor tables as you soak up the atmosphere.

The courtyard of Melk’s Benedictine Abbey

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Passau

7. St Stephen’s Cathedral

Work on this building, which is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful examples of Baroque architecture, began in 1407. Like many buildings in the city it was rebuilt after being seriously damaged by a devastating fire in 1662.

Not only is it magnificently ornate, it also has one of the largest pipe organs in the world, with 17,974 pipes. While many of the town’s streets and squares are lined with attractive buildings, this one is truly a sight worth seeing – and going inside is a must.

Regensburg

8. The Salt Warehouse

This medieval gem is the oldest German city on the Danube, with its 16-arch stone bridge which dates back to the mid-12th-Century. The former salt warehouse that can found on the riversise is also of significant architectural importance.  

Dating from 1620 and now used for community events, this building is well worth exploring internally in order to fully appreciate its remarkable underlying structure.

Need to know

To avoid disappointment, check that your chosen Danube cruise stops at these ports before booking.  

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