Austria is a mountainous central European country whose name, Österreich, means “eastern realm.” Its capital, Vienna, lies on the Danube River, so Austria river cruise guests can easily walk right off the ship and tour the city. The Danube is 1,775 miles long and a cruise on this grand European river can take you from Germany to Hungary to the Black Sea. Within Österreich, cruise destinations can include the captivating city of Linz and the historic abbey of Melk. A cruise along the river provides the sights and sounds of Austria’s charming villages that cannot be seen from any other vantage point. A cruise on the Danube River is a wonderful way to learn more about this beautiful country. With an area of 32,378 square miles, the country consists of nine independent federal states, each with its own provincial government. Ninety-eight percent of Austria’s approximately 8 million inhabitants speak German; about 74% are Roman Catholic, 5% are Protestant and the rest belongs to other faiths.

Austrian History and Heritage

Originally settled by ancient Celtic tribes, the region later became part of the Roman Empire. After the fall of the Roman Empire the area was invaded by Bavarians, Slavs and Avars (Eurasian nomads), then Charlemagne conquered it in 788. In 976 the territory was given to the house of Babenberg; when that line died out in 1246 the Bohemians took over and from the 13th century until the early 20th century it was ruled by the Habsburg dynasty. Emperor Franz Joseph I ruled until his death in November of 1916, then World War I led to the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Between the world wars the two major Austrian political parties—the Social Democrats and the Conservatives—actually fought a civil war with one another in the early 1930s. In 1938, however, German troops occupied the country and proclaimed the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria into the Third Reich. In 1945, just before the Third Reich collapsed, the country declared its independence and set up a provisional government in Vienna, which helped it retain some independence under subsequent Allied occupation. In 1955 the Austrian government regained full independence and declared itself “permanently neutral.” It became a member of the European Union in 1995, retaining its constitutional neutrality, and remains neutral to this day.

The Austrian Landscape: Danube River and Austrian Alps

The Austrian landscape is a striking combination of the Danube River and the mountainous terrain of the Austrian Alps. Along the river lies the striking Wachau Valley, home to vineyards, apricot groves, picturesque villages and spectacular views so beautiful that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests who take a river cruise through the Wachau Valley feel that they are in a picture postcard, with constantly changing views of the bridges, castles and lovely scenery along both sides of the river.

A World of Culture

Austria’s cultural contributions are legion. It was the birthplace of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Bruckner, both Strausses, Mahler and Schoenberg, to name a few—and Beethoven spent a large part of his life in Vienna. The list of Austrian artists, sculptors, type designers and other craftsman is long and includes important 20th-century architects who emigrated to the United States, such as Richard Neutra and Rudolf Schindler. The country experienced a sort of golden age in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which produced scientists and thinkers like Doppler, Schrödinger, Wittgenstein, Gödel, Freud, Adler, Asperger—not to mention engineers like Ferdinand Porsche.

Experience Austrian Culture via the Danube River

A river cruise is a unique way to experience any European country, and a cruise on the Danube River exposes even the most seasoned travelers to Austrian culture in a completely new way. Popular cruise destinations along the Danube River include Vienna, Melk, and Linz, as well as the nearby fabled city of Salzburg. A stop in Vienna provides the opportunity to experience the refined culture of the city and the pastoral delights of the country. The famous Vienna Opera House pleases music enthusiasts, the Hofburg Theater offers culture and entertainment, and the city’s baroque palaces and other public buildings delight both architecture and history buffs. While Vienna has more cultural highlights than can be described here, other Austrian cruise destinations are not to be missed. At the top of any traveler’s list should be the city of Melk, known for its stunning 900-year-old Benedictine abbey whose baroque architecture can be appreciated from the river. Passengers on a river cruise sail right to the abbey at Melk, where they disembark for a tour of its beautiful frescoes, extensive library and graceful spiral staircase. Also along the Danube river sits Linz, a city that began as a first-century A.D. Roman castle settlement known as Lentia. From there it has grown to become an Austrian cultural center. River cruise passengers have the opportunity to walk through its charming streets and town square, and may catch views of the modern Lentos Art Museum in the evening, all lit up beside the river and reflected in the water. On some Austria itineraries, guests are able to visit Salzburg, whose charm and culture cannot be matched. As the birthplace of Mozart and the setting for the film The Sound of Music, its musical heritage spans generations. Walk through Salzburg’s Old Town area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and see Hohensalzburg Fortress overlooking the city. The above destinations are just a few of the highlights that can be experienced and explored along the Danube River. From the river, travelers will see historical castles and tour picturesque villages such as Dürnstein. An Austrian river cruise is the best way to get the full Austrian experience.