Budapest to Bucharest: Cruise 5 Countries in 9 Days

A massive tiered building rising above the flat town below it.

Many Danube river cruises end at Budapest, after having traveled through southern Germany and Austria. The Enchantment of Eastern Europe cruise from Emerald Waterways, however, begins in the Hungarian capital and continues south, past some of the amazing highlights of five countries—Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania—before ending in the fascinating city of Bucharest.

Along the way, Emerald Waterways provides exciting ways to experience the best of each country, from bike rides and hikes with EmeraldACTIVE to the cultural deep dives of EmeraldPLUS. One day you may be exploring architectural highlights in Belgrade and the next sampling the best of Bulgaria’s wines. At the end of every day, you’ll return to your ship, where you can relax in your spacious suite or venture out to one of the lounges and share your discoveries with fellow guests.



Lunch with Locals

Join a Croatian family for a lunch of local dishes in their home as part of the EmeraldPLUS program.
Emerald Waterways


Emerald Waterways

Launched in 2013, Emerald Waterways has quickly been lauded by both travel professionals (receiving multiple awards from Cruise Critic and Travel Weekly) and satisfied guests. With river cruises in Europe, Asia, and on the Nile, as well as ocean cruises on the Adriatic, Emerald Waterways showcases a new model of cruising. The innovatively designed ships offer an inviting intimacy and flawless service, while EmeraldPLUS excursions provide opportunities to experience the best of local cultures and cuisines.
An aerial view of the Hungarian Parliament over a bridge at sunset.

DAY 1Arrive Budapest

When you land this morning in Budapest, you’ll be met by a representative from Emerald Waterways and transferred to your ship. You have the rest of the day free to explore some of the sites of Hungary’s capital. Perhaps you’ll head up the hill to Buda Castle and explore the warren of streets in the oldest part of the city. Or you may want to stroll through the newer half of the city, Pest, where broad, tree-lined boulevards are reminiscent of Haussmann’s Paris. Pest is also where you’ll find the Jewish Quarter, home of one of the city’s most famous landmarks, the glittering Dohany Street Synagogue. If you want to pick up some gifts for friends back home, the city’s Central Market is a cast-iron gem with stalls selling paprika—sweet, hot, or smoked.

This evening, as you enjoy dinner and meet your fellow guests, you’ll travel along the Budapest portion of the Danube. It’s one of the most stunning perspectives on the city, with its many bridges and perhaps the world’s most photogenic parliament building illuminated at night.
A man in Blue stands atop a pair of horses, holding the reins to another pair in his hands.

DAY 2Kalocsa

If you didn’t stock up on paprika on your first day in Hungary, you’ll have another chance today. This morning you’ll depart from Budapest and travel downstream to Kalocsa, famous as a center of paprika production. Kalocsa is one of Hungary’s oldest towns, having been founded perhaps as early as 1000 C.E. While that date is disputed, the archbishopric that has its seat in Kalocsa was definitely founded in 1135. And the archbishop’s Baroque palace, built in the 1760s, is one of the city’s most famous sights.

In the afternoon you’ll go on an equine excursion and visit a horse farm. Horses have long been central to life on Hungary’s great plain, or puszta, and here you’ll see the majestic animals and a display of Hungarian horsemanship. The Hussars were so renowned for their skills that the regiments of these feared Magyar cavalry were incorporated not only into the Hapsburg armies but Prussia’s as well. The horsemanship tradition lives on to this day.

In the evening you’ll return to your ship for a gala dinner hosted by your ship’s captain.
A town square with a large pillar at the center

DAY 3Osijek

You’ll arrive in the second country on your itinerary, Croatia, this morning. Osijek is one of the most important cities in Croatia, located on the Drava river near where it meets the Danube. While it was the scene of much fighting during Croatia’s War on Independence in the 1990s, its historic landmarks have largely been restored. Worshippers again gather in the co-cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, and visitors have returned to admire the Baroque wonders of the Tvrda quarter.

Part of what makes an Emerald Waterways cruise unique, however, is that the itineraries include more than historic sites and tourist attractions. The line also provides opportunities to make personal connections to the people who live in the destinations you visit through its EmeraldPLUS excursions. In Osijek, you can choose from enjoying a lunch of local dishes prepared by a Croatian family in their home or meeting with students to learn about their dreams for the future.
People sit along a wall overlooking a large river. A city is seen in the distance.

DAY 4Belgrade

You’ll arrive this morning in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and one of Eastern Europe’s oldest cities, having first been established in 279 B.C.E. by the Celts. Over the centuries, it would be ruled by Rome, the Byzantine Empire, and passed back and forth between the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires multiple times. After Yugoslavia was founded, it was the country’s capital until that nation was dissolved in 2006.

All those various peoples left behind impressive architectural riches. Among the stops on your Belgrade tour are the Kalemegdan Fortress, which encompasses some 160 acres of the historic heart of the city. With its walls built and rebuilt over the years, most recently in the 18th century, the fortress has been a witness to numerous battles over the centuries. The Church of St. Sava—the world’s largest Orthodox church, with a 230-foot-high dome—may draw its inspiration from the churches of Constantinople, but it dates from the 1930s. The House of Flowers, the final resting place of Josep Broz Tito, the Communist leader of Yugoslavia until 1980, was closed for a decade after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Today it is once again open to the public—a memorial to the Yugoslav president and the country he founded.

Depending on your interests, Emerald Waterways also offers a number of optional excursions. You can explore the city by bike, learn more about the culture at a Serbian folkloric performance featuring local dances and music, or tour the National Opera Theater—a grand building from 1869 inspired by Milan’s La Scala.
A wooden wall with an arch doorway

DAY 5Donji Milanovac

From vibrant Belgrade, you’ll travel to the small town of Donji Milanovac, on the right bank of the Danube, and into the ancient past of Serbia. Most of your day will be spent some nine miles away at Lepenski Vir, exploring treasures that date back thousands of years. While there’s some disagreement over when this settlement first arose and what the culture was like, the important Mesolithic site is one of the era’s largest and most significant, with one large settlement and some 10 satellite villages. Today, you can explore the architectural remains and the sculptures they left behind.

You’ll return to your ship and set out for Vidin, Bulgaria. Along the way, you’ll sail through the gorge known as the Iron Gates. This is where the Danube divides Serbia and Romania, as well as the Balkan foothills from the Carpathian Mountains, with sheer cliffs rising above the water below. It’s an especially dramatic stretch of the river, and the subject of poetry and song in a number of the cultures that have lived on or near the Danube over the centuries.
A catle wall nested in between cliff rocks.

DAY 6Vidin

You’ll arrive this morning in Vidin, the westernmost town of Bulgaria and originally established by the Celts. One of its most famous landmarks, which you will visit today, is the Baba Vida Fortress. The medieval castle played a key role in the town’s defense and in guarding the independence of Bulgaria. It withstood an eight-month siege by Byzantine troops, though it would fall to Ottoman forces in the 14th century.

Your day in Vidin also includes a visit to some wineries. This region of Bulgaria has been a center of wine production since the days of ancient Rome, and it’s especially known for the gamza grape (which produces full-bodied reds), though you’ll also find merlot, cabernet, and other more familiar varieties. Many of the small, family-owned farms follow time-tested agricultural and wine-making practices.

If you feel more like stretching your legs than sampling the local wines, try an EmeraldACTIVE excursion. Hike through history on a trek up to the Belogradchik Rock Fortress, first constructed by the Romans and used by both Bulgarian tsars and Ottoman forces to surveil the surrounding countryside.
People walk along a bride towards a hilltop castle surrounded by tall walls.

DAY 7Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi

From Rousse, your port for the day, you can dive deeper into the history and culture of Bulgaria on an excursion to Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanasi.

Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom—the medieval state that existed from 1185 to 1393 before being conquered by the Ottomans. It’s built on three principal hills: Tsarevets, Trapezitsa, and Sveta Gora. Tsarevets was the site of the palace of the Bulgarian emperors and the Patriarchal Cathedral. Trapezitsa was known for its many churches and monasteries. And Sveta Gora was a spiritual and literary center. The city’s importance peaked in the 14th century, when its cosmopolitan population include Armenians, Jews, and both Catholic and Orthodox communities. Its downfall followed shortly thereafter, however, and an independent Bulgaria would not reemerge for 500 years.

Nearby, Arbanasi reached its peak in the 17th and 18th centuries, when its merchants traded local copper and silverwork as well as wines and silks to customers in Europe and the Ottoman Empire. The wealth they accumulated funded the construction of lavish houses and churches that are outstanding examples of the Bulgarian National Revival style.

This evening on the ship you’ll enjoy a final farewell dinner hosted by the captain.
A large tiered building at the end of a fountain-lined roadway.

DAY 8Bucharest

This morning you’ll disembark in Giurgiu, on the Romanian side of the Danube—but you won’t have to head straight to the airport to begin the journey home. Instead, you’ll have a day and night to explore Romania’s capital, Bucharest.

Much like the Pest half of Budapest, where you began your journey, Bucharest grew dramatically in the late 19th century, when all things French were in vogue. Its wide, tree-lined boulevards and French-inspired buildings help explain its nickname, the Paris of the East. Since the fall of communism in 1989, the city has enjoyed a new wave of commercial activity and prosperity. Along with new gleaming skyscrapers, many of the city’s beloved historic buildings have been restored.
A stone arch on the other side of a street at night.

DAY 9Return Home

This morning you’ll be transferred from your hotel to the airport. In just over a week, you’ve traveled the length of most of the lower Danube and set foot in five countries. Perhaps you’ve discovered a corner of the world you want to return to and explore in greater depth. Or maybe you’ll want to travel to another of the rivers that Emerald Waterways visits—the Mekong or the Moselle, the Rhine or the Rhône. If you feel restless when you don’t have a trip scheduled, now is the time to start planning your next one.
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