Arrive at the Bucharest airport and transfer to the superior first-class Radisson Blu Hotel Bucharest (or similar) in the heart of the city for a 1-night stay.* Spend the rest of the day relaxing, or do some exploring on your own.
After breakfast, check out of your hotel and take a morning tour of the city. See the city’s wide boulevards, the Romanian Athenaeum, the Arch of Triumph and the Palace of Parliament. Visit the outdoor Muzeul Satului, otherwise known as the Village Museum, where authentic dwellings from all regions of the country have been relocated and reassembled, including rural cottages, farmhouses and water mills. During lunch at a local restaurant, enjoy a lively folkloric performance that recalls the simple pleasures of rural life. You then proceed to Giurgiu to board your ship and enjoy a welcome dinner. (B, L, D)
After breakfast, disembark at Russe for a full-day excursion to Bulgaria’s former capital, Veliko Tarnovo. There you will see Tsaravets Hill and the ruins of the royal castle. During free time, shop for local crafts along Samovodska Charshia. Continue your venture to Arbanasi for lunch in a local restaurant and a guided tour of the Nativity Church with its intricate floor-to-ceiling murals and icons. Return to your ship for dinner. (B, L, D)
Arrive in the picturesque Bulgarian port of Vidin, and take an excursion to see Belogradchik Fortress, built right into the striking Belogradchik Rocks. See the fortress’s amazing construction, begun in Roman times and greatly extended by Bulgarian tsars and the Ottomans, and enjoy breathtaking views. Enjoy lunch aboard your ship; then you have free time to explore Vidin’s city center, Orthodox churches and the ruins of the city’s once-grand synagogue. We depart during dinner. (B, L, D)
Today, sail through one of Europe’s most dramatic natural wonders, the picturesque stretch famously known as the Iron Gate. As you cruise through these spectacular narrow gorges that slice through the Carpathian Mountains to the north and the Balkan Mountains to the south, marvel at the towering white limestone cliffs draped with forest. Be on the lookout for ancient remains as you gaze upon the dramatic walls. On the Bulgarian side, Trajan’s Tablet was laid to mark the construction of a Roman military road; on the Romanian side, marvel at the enormous rock sculpture of Dacian King Decebalus.
Wake up in Belgrade, capital of Serbia. Take a guided walk through the grounds of Kalemegdan Fortress, now a stately park; also see the Orthodox cathedral and stop at the Square of the Republic. Enjoy lunch aboard your ship before you have free time to explore Belgrade’s gracious architecture or visit one of its many museums, like the Nikola Tesla Museum. Dine aboard your ship or experience some of Belgrade’s nightlife. We depart very late this evening. (B, L, D)
Cruise along the Danube, arriving at Vukovar around noon. Disembark for an afternoon excursion to the charming Croatian city of Osijek. Inhabited since Neolithic times, this area has had several heydays under the Romans, the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs; now Vukovar is revered for its baroque buildings, parks and monuments. Return aboard for dinner. (B, L, D)
Sail into Hungary this morning, arriving in Kalocsa after lunch. Take a guided city tour followed by a short organ concert at St. Joseph Church. Then, you are treated to a performance of traditional Puszta horsemanship. Return to the ship and enjoy a festive final dinner aboard as we depart for Budapest. (B, L, D)
Disembark after breakfast and take a tour of Budapest. Begin in Pest, where you see the National Opera House and visit historic Heroes’ Square. Cross the Chain Bridge to Buda, where you walk along Castle Hill to Fishermen’s Bastion and Matthias Church. Check in to the deluxe Budapest Hilton (or similar) for a 2-night stay, then take the rest of the day to sightsee on your own. Explore a museum, do some shopping or relax in one of the Art Nouveau spas. (B)
Take a full day to explore Budapest on your own. Ride the city’s innovative, efficient metro; walk through the City Park or along the Pest embankment for views of the Buda Castle District; explore the Buda Castle Labyrinth; visit the Jewish Quarter and tour the beautifully restored Dohány Street Synagogue. (B)
After breakfast, check out of your hotel and proceed to the airport for your return flight.* Or extend your journey with 2 additional nights in bustling Budapest or 3 nights in Prague, the Czech Republic’s gracious capital. (B)