Grand European River Cruise Part 3 – Austria

This is the third installment of our European river cruise:

  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 1 click here
  • For Grand European River Cruise Part 2 click here
Vienna State Opera
Historic buildings here are marked with a plaque and a City of Vienna flag

We left Budapest and headed for Vienna, the capital of Austria.  During the cruise program director’s port overview, we were intrigued enough to purchase an optional tour, a classical concert in Vienna.  Steve and I are not known to be highly cultured folk, but being in Vienna we decided to broaden our horizons, if only for one night.  We were after all in the center of European classical music, where Mozart and Strauss composed many of their masterpieces.

Wiener Konzerhaus
Concert hall where the Vienna Residence Orchestra played at Wiener Konzerthaus

We were not disappointed, as we enjoyed the beautiful strains of Strauss waltzes and selections from Mozart by a small orchestra of talented musicians.  The evening was topped off by opera singers and ballet/waltz dancers accompanying some of the pieces, and some added humor.  Being cultured for a night wasn’t so bad after all!

Vienna Residence Orchestra
Vienna Residence Orchestra

I managed to record my favorite waltz of all time, the Blue Danube Waltz by Strauss.  It is my favorite for it reminded me of my high school days when I danced the waltz.

Watch and listen…it gives me goosebumps each time I replay it!

An included walking tour of the city was a must for us first-timers.  It was then that we got the sense and taste of Austria’s opulent past.  For centuries Vienna was the seat of the Hapsburg Dynasty and center of the Holy Roman Empire, but I won’t bore you with all that.  Our glimpse of the city focused primarily on buildings that still reflect 18th- and 19th-century elegance from when this place was at the forefront of the arts and sciences.

We walked around the area known as the Ringstrasse, a boulevard of grand and elegant architecture encircling the historic center of Vienna that was built in the 19th century.

Hofburg Neue Burg section, seen from Heldenplatz
Hofburg Neue Burg section, seen from Heldenplatz
Hofburg Neue Burg section, seen from Heldenplatz
Getting a history lesson
One of the many gigantic drinking fountains around Vienna.  They are proud of their water which is fed by alpine glacial meltwater
Winter Palace of the Hapsburg Dynasty
A Lippizaner horse
Lipizzaner Stallions ready for their exercise at the Spanish Riding School
Pot growing right along main street
Vienna, Austria
Shopping district at the Gaben
Vienna, Austria
Not sure who I am holding hands with, but he’s quite a hunk (of metal) 🙂
St Stephans Cathedral
Mesmerizing multicolored mosaic roof tiles on Gothic-style St. Stephens Cathedral
St Stephan's Cathedral
Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the background

A sampling of marvelous head-turning architecture:

Vienna, Austria
Modern buildings on the east side of Vienna, including “DC tower 1”, are more current distinctive landmarks for the Austrian capital

On another optional excursion we joined a tour of the sprawling summer home of the Hapsburg Dynasty, the Schönbrunn Palace.  We were forewarned this was the most visited tourist attraction in Vienna, and yes, the crowds were there!  Thankfully our group got to skip the line and moved right along.

At the back of the palace

Our guide showed us just a few of the palace’s 1,441 rooms, as we heard rich stories of its former residents.  We were free to take photos outside, but not in the 12 imperial apartments that we toured inside.

Schorbrunn Palace
Front of the sprawling Schönbrunn Palace
Lovely view of the hilltop Gloriette and the palace gardens, sort of reminded me of the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina

Melk, Austria

Our next stop was a charming city set amidst an important wine-growing region at the confluence of the Danube and Melk rivers, and at the base of the Wachau Valley.

This was a memorable stop for Steve, as some very nice people at an eyeglass store fixed his glasses for free!

Melk, Austria
A narrow busy street in Melk

The renowned Melk Abbey, rebuilt in the 18th century, was the main objective for our stop along the Danube at another UNESCO World Heritage site.  Since we’d never been to an abbey, we didn’t know what to expect.  This one is perched on a dramatic hilltop overlooking the Danube.

Originally a royal palace, this abbey was gifted to Benedictine monks in the 11th century. Since 1089 the monastic community of Melk and black-robed Benedictine monks have worked and lived in the restored abbey.  What we saw is an 18th-century Baroque considered one of the famous abbeys of Austria.  The institution currently relies on agriculture and tourist fees to support its existence.

Melk Abbey
The interior of the church is a kaleidoscope of red, orange and gold with colorful ceiling frescoes – the highlight of this tour
Melk Abbey
Incredible spriral staircase leading to the church
Melk Abbey
Abbey courtyard
Melk Abbey
Garden pavilion at Melk Abbey

 Wachau Valley, Austria

About 24 miles of the Danube as it makes its way toward Vienna is locally known as “The Wachau.”  This stretch has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding example of a riverine landscape.  Our program director complemented the passage with a commentary about the region’s history and culture.

The dining room was a great place to sit, look and listen on the chilly mornings

Our timing for this trip was good, as the fall foliage added much beauty to the terraced vineyards on the hills:

Wachau landscape.
Man-made stone terraces help facilitate cultivation – despite the steepness of the terrain – and are typical of the Wachau landscape
There was a story about this nose sticking out of the ground, but I forgot it 🙂

Schönbühel Castle sits on the Danube’s south bank between Melk and Willendorf
So many castles, churches and little villages dot the landscape here

As expected my camera was in overdrive, and now I find it challenging to choose which pictures to include in my post!

Note: In every port, guests may choose to join the included tour, purchase an optional tour or go out on their own.  The ship provides a map of each city, along with contact information and the ship’s location so folks can find their way back.


  1. Your blog and it’s wonderful pictures take us immediately back to visits there in our “other life”. Beautiful memories, thanks for letting us revisit this beautiful area.

  2. We all need at least one night of culture. Even John and I could handle this. Looks like a fun evening. Yes, you did schedule this cruise at the perfect time of year. The scenery is spectacular. What lovely architecture and vibrant colors! Beautiful photos!

  3. My son Brian spent all last winter in Vienna going to operas and museums. He found a nice apartment on AirBnB that was close to the opera house. I love all your photos and the description of the area. I can’t wait to go there.

  4. I enjoyed my tour of Vienna with you this morning while drinking my coffee. 🙂 Your photos of the architecture and landscape are gorgeous — that artistically opulent Benedictine abbey is spectacular! I’ll bet you did have trouble choosing which photos to post. You both look wonderful!

  5. We are now chomping at the bit to do a river cruise. Your photos are fabulous MonaLiza. While we were in Italy we just had one opportunity to step over the border and have lunch in Austria. It looks like a country in which to spend lots of time. Thanks for the tour!

  6. Wonderful … again. Thanks for the video, I watched it first and then replayed it while I read through the rest of the blog. It’s finishing up even as I add this comment. Love that spiral staircase.

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