You might think a Viking River Cruise is the preserve of the comfortably retired. Maybe you’re settling into your own retirement and think it’s finally your turn to go. Maybe you never had the time; maybe now you have the time but have found a million other things you always wanted to do.

With four children aged eight and under, I have as much joy at finding time as the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. When I was presented with an opportunity to travel for seven nights and eight days on Viking’s Danube Waltz cruise deep into the heart of old Europe, I was practically clawing my way down into this particular rabbit hole.

On the first night onboard I was invited by an American couple to join a table of strangers for a delightful three-course dinner and enjoyed getting acquainted over a delicious meal – every single item I tried during the trip was delightful, from maple-syrup-infused banana pancakes to perfectly poached halibut with creamy rice, crème brulee and sticky toffee pudding and ice cream. I was slightly taken aback, however, when one of the guests at my table asked, “What brings you here with all the oldies?”

Budapest lit up at night Budapest lit up at night (Image: Kenny Ward)

It got a laugh from the others, mercifully, but in truth this was a world far away from a retiring, lazy jaunt down the river; this was a vibrant, fulfilling, life-affirming odyssey.

Viking know their clientele, and the daily shore excursions exhibited that in full. Included in the fare, these tours offer a perfect blend of quenching the thirst for exploration, for an immersive experience, for dunking in and out of the very local cultures at the various stops along the way. The guided tours of Passau, Linz, Krems, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest are provided in English by local tour guides who have had to pass a high bar with their local tourist boards to provide their services, and they leave no passenger behind.

The Passau Walking Tour, for example, was presented by an amiable local law student named Francis. He led us through the labyrinthine cobbled streets of one of Bavaria’s oldest townships. Known as the “City of Three Rivers”, it rests in the confluence of the Inn, Ilz and Danube Rivers. Walls in the lower streets resemble the back of children’s bedroom doors with lines showing the various heights of flood water at times through history.

Every evening a “Viking Daily” brochure appears in your stateroom providing comprehensive context for the current stage of the voyage. From veritable breakfast options – the tour’s indefatigable program director Benne challenged passengers to enjoy all three of a morning – to the shore excursions, lunch, evening entertainment onboard, through to dinner and sailing times are all laid out clearly with snippets of local customs, phrases, historical facts. The efficiency of the services extends to the facilities. Benne joked that if you visit the bathroom during the night, your bed will have been made for you when you return. She wasn’t far off. The hotel-feel onboard provides a five-star backdrop to the absorbing sailing experience.

Enjoy a meal in BudapestEnjoy a meal in Budapest (Image: Viking)

Away from the river, I joined the optional tour from Linz in Austria to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. In keeping with this seamless efficiency, this excursion, about an hour and a half’s drive from Linz over the Austrian-Czech border, was taken on a comfortable, air-conditioned coach with plenty of space to spread out. Cars and trucks charge down the motorway bearing a broad range of registration plates: A, CZ, D, H. Passing an RO-plate HGV you catch a glimpse of a fat fist holding a thick cigarette at the wheel and you get a sense of being in the middle of a continent moving in every direction all around you. It’s a sense we tend to miss on an increasingly isolated island.

As well as the shore excursions, there is the inherent enjoyment of the vessel itself. Waking in the night, so smooth was the sailing it was virtually impossible to tell if you were moving or not. Peeling back the blackout curtains on the French balcony beside my comfortable double bed, I was met with black countryside, the twinkling of little townships carved into the banks of the river, busier cities, old baroque churches.

There was a chance to experience scenic morning sailing through Austria’s Wachau Valley from Linz to Krems. After breakfast, I enjoyed my second and third morning coffees lying on the end of my bed, curtains drawn, with the French balcony door slid fully open, the stunning green valley breezing past. The cacophonic birdsong, lapping of the water against the boat’s hull, the sun soaking the thick ocean of leaves, the intermittent plumes of smoke signifying human presence along the banks – this was a blissful intermission between busier ports of call.

The controlled build-up into Budapest under sapphire-tinted skies transformed this relaxed dynamic into a fortissimo barrage. Witnessing the golden-uplit Budapest cityscape glowing on the horizon is a breathtaking assault on the senses. We had tangentially kissed Bavarian old towns, dipped into the edge of the great Sumava Forest in Bohemia, mauraded through Moravia, visited the meandering metropolises of Vienna and Bratislava, snatching at the sights like thieves in the night. From taxi to aeroplane, coach to boat to city – screeching tram to low, grumbling metro – underground, overground, hill, mountain, valley, water and air: every note had been struck on every scale. Our arrival in Budapest was like every one of them playing at the same time.

On the upper deck, every passenger converged in the balmy late-May evening to watch the grand Parliament building on the Pest side appear like a harvest moon. On the other side the Buda Castle called out from its perch on the hill. With all the anticipation built from gathering the little gems along the way down the Danube, you could instantly see why the city is known as the “Pearl of the Danube”.


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But as the Ingvi passed under the many bridges connecting the old, mountainous Buda side of the city with the vibrant Pest, there was a din. Couples embraced, families celebrating significant milestones clustered together clutching glasses of Champagne, schnapps, even Hungarian palinka. There were tears, cheers – people had travelled half the length of the globe to see this, it was the realisation of a dream.

It was touching to see how invigorating the experience was to every one of the 180 or so souls onboard. It was illuminating, too, to see that this was not a cohort of oldies indulging some final fantasy. This was an overture to the old world of Central Europe. The magical crescendo into Budapest may have marked its triumphant end, but the symphony was still waiting to be heard. Each port of call provided a portal, a porthole, a looking glass through which to snatch a glimpse, a taste, but with the promise you could return to any of these cities and work outwards from the river.

In that sense, it was a trip for the oldies: old cities, monuments, customs, traditions, where the constancy of one great old river has marked millennia of human civilisation which has spread out to the world. Many of the passengers onboard had roots here: emigree families who fled the Nazis in the first half of the century, the Soviets in the second. Each was reconnecting with a place their ancestors called home.

Everyone onboard the Viking Ingvi went off in our different directions. I’ve been filling my young kids’ heads with the adventures I experienced. Time, age, old, new: it all trickles three-step in one direction on Viking’s Danube Waltz. Whatever stage of life you’re in, it’s worth peering through this particular looking glass.

Travel facts:

  • Itinerary includes stops in: Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Krems, Linz, Passau.
  • Six guided tours included.
  • Length of itinerary: 8 days / 7 nights.
  • Includes: Return flights from select UK airports, 7 nights on board in a Standard stateroom, in destination transfers, all on-board meals including wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner (plus no corkage fee), included excursions, Wi-Fi (connection speed may vary), gratuities.
  • Prices start from £1,845 per person for a 18-25 March 2025 sailing, based on current availability. Please note this price is reflective of our current offer – save £1000 per person on 2025 and 2026 European river voyages if booked by 30 June 2024.
  • To make a booking please call 0800 319 66 60 or visit