- Enjoy the insights of a National Geographic Expert as you sail the lower Danube River, encountering timeless traditions and exploring towns and landscapes steeped in history.
- Cruise through the Iron Gate—one of Europe’s largest and most dramatic gorges—and capture its towering cliffs and canyons alongside a National Geographic photographer.
- Venture by boat to Croatia’s Kopački Rit Nature Park, one of the largest wetlands in Europe and home to a rich variety of birds species and aquatic plants.
- Explore mystical Cape Kaliakra on the Black Sea, and gain insights into the history and present-day struggles of Serbia’s Roma people in Belgrade.
From medieval Croatian towns to regal Romanian palaces, marvel at the treasures of Eastern Europe on a cruise along the lower Danube River. Aboard the Scenic Opal, sail from the spires of Budapest to the streets of Bucharest, exploring five countries shaped over the centuries by Roman, Ottoman, Habsburg, and Communist-era powers. Glide past lush landscapes and dramatic cliffs, savor local flavors and traditions, and experience an array of cultural treasures once obscured by the Iron Curtain.
As we sail this storied waterway, enjoy the freedom and flexibility to tailor the itinerary to your interests, choosing from a variety of available excursions at each port of call—and benefit from the insights provided by the National Geographic Expert and National Geographic photographer who accompany us on the journey.
Arrive in Budapest, Hungary’s splendid capital, where you are welcomed aboard our luxury riverboat. Settle into your spacious suite and gather with fellow travelers for a welcome dinner onboard.
Scenic Opal for the entire voyage
Our first port of call is Kalocsa in southern Hungary, which boasts a colorful history dating back to the Ottoman Empire. The town is known for its production of paprika, or “red gold”—an essential ingredient in Hungarian cuisine. Travel to a nearby ranch to experience a Hungarian horse show—an equestrian tradition that originated hundreds of years ago when the semi-nomadic Magyar tribe settled in what is now Hungary. Witness blue-attired csikós, or Hungarian cowboys, as they race, parade, and perform spectacular displays of horsemanship.
Venture to Osijek, the largest city in Croatia’s Slavonia region. Though Osijek was bombarded in the early 1990’s during the Croatian War for Independence, its historic center escaped major damage, and the entire city has undergone major restorations. Explore the cobblestoned streets of Tvrđa, a walled complex of medieval and baroque buildings. Alternatively, enjoy an expeditionary boat ride through the Kopacki Rit Nature Park, one of the largest and most intact wetlands in Europe, located at the confluence of the Danube and Drava Rivers. Or opt to take a scenic bike ride through the Croatian countryside. In the afternoon, we’re invited to the home of a local family for a traditional home-cooked meal and a glimpse at everyday life in Croatia.
Arrive in one of Europe’s oldest capitals, Belgrade, where modern skyscrapers intermingle with Ottoman relics, Habsburg palaces, and vestiges of Communist-era Yugoslavia. Choose from a variety of options: join a city tour that focuses on contemporary Belgrade or its Communist past; gain first-hand insights into the challenges facing local Roma peoples at a local community center; join local students on a walk to learn about growing up in today’s Serbia; or drive to the charming town of Sremski Karlovc, known for its baroque architecture and wineries. Later, enjoy an a cappella choir performance in the crypt of the Church of Saint Sava—one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world.
Relax onboard as we enjoy a full day of cruising through the spectacular Iron Gate gorge, one of Europe’s most dramatic natural wonders. Carved over the millennia by the Danube, this narrow gorge separates the Carpathian and Balkan mountains and forms part of the border between Serbia and Romania. Head to the ship’s sundeck (weather permitting) and practice landscape photography alongside our National Geographic photographer, capturing images of limestone cliffs and forested slopes. Cap off the day with cocktails on board, surrounded by stunning views.
Sail east along the Danube River to Rousse, Bulgaria, often referred to as Little Vienna. Enjoy a tour of this elegant city with its colorful belle epoque architecture, charming fountains, and tree-lined squares and parks. Alternatively, discover the former imperial capital of Veliko Tarnovo—one of Bulgaria’s most picturesque towns—and the historic village of Arbanasi, which harbors a wealth of fascinating churches, monasteries, and homes to explore.
Arrive on Bulgaria’s northeastern shores in Silistra, a historic port city that was previously known as Drastar in the Middle Ages, and Durostorum during ancient Roman times. Enjoy a hiking excursion at the hilltop Medzhit Tabiya fortress, which was built by the Ottomans in 1853 and served as a strategic stronghold during the Crimean and Russo-Turkish Wars. Or take an excursion to Cape Kaliakra on the Black Sea, steeped in history and a hub for sustainable aquaculture. Here, walk along beautiful beaches and dip your toes in the sea. Alternatively, visit a local village and primary school to learn about daily life in Bulgaria from students and teachers.
After a final breakfast onboard our ship, disembark in Giurgiu, Romania. Travel overland to Bucharest, the country’s dynamic capital, and check in to our centrally located hotel. Get acquainted with Bucharest on a tour that includes the Spring Palace, the residence of former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. Or learn about rural Romanian culture at the open-air National Village Museum, which features traditional houses, churches, and windmills. Gather for a farewell dinner, and transfer to the airport the following morning.
- Transylvania Extension
Continue your exploration of Eastern Europe on a four-day foray into Transylvania. This fabled Romanian region, bound by the Carpathian Mountains to the east and south, boasts stunning scenery, fairy-tale towns, and towering castles steeped in legend. Discover the legacy of the Transylvanian Saxons in Sibiu and Sighișoara, enjoy Romanian food and folklore, and delve into the history of the infamous Vlad III Dracula—the purported inspiration for Bram Stoker’s vampire count.
On our way to Brasov, stop to visit Peleș Castle. Set in the picturesque Carpathian Mountains, this neo-Renaissance palace was built in the 19th century and served as the summer residence of the Romanian royal family; it was also the first castle in Europe with electricity. Browse the elaborately decorated rooms and learn about the castle’s former inhabitants. In Brasov, enjoy a walking tour of the storied old town, known for its medieval walls and pastel-hued houses, and delight in a traditional Romanian dinner tonight, accompanied by a folkloric performance.
Venture to fabled Bran Castle, which has long been associated with the fictional Count Dracula due to its similarities with the description of the Count’s castle in Bram Stoker’s book. Tour this fascinating 13th-century fortress, perched at the summit of a steep, wooded hill, and then continue to Sighisoara.
Sighișoara, one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. Sighișoara is also the birthplace of Vlad III Dracula, a 15th-century ruler of modern-day Romania who is said to have inspired Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula. Set out on a tour of the atmospheric old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Or, choose to hike up to the Church on the Hill, a Gothic-style church located at the highest point of the city, and enjoy panoramic views of Sighișoara’s red-roofed buildings and forested hills. Later, travel to Sibiu in the lush Transylvanian countryside. This ancient Roman city was refounded in the 12th century by the Saxons, a Germanic people who settled in Transylvania, and grew to become one of Eastern Europe’s most important trading centers. Explore Sibiu’s charming medieval center, exploring winding paths and lively, café-lined squares and looking out for the curious “houses with eyes.” Later, check in to your hotel.
After a relaxing morning, travel through the lush Transylvanian countryside back to Bucharest and check into your hotel.
Following breakfast, transfer to the Bucharest airport to connect to your flight home.