Is the Blue Danube Really Blue? 15 Ways to Enjoy Europe’s Beautiful Waterway!

Is the Blue Danube really blue?

River cruisers and shore observers alike have their opinions as to whether the name of the Blue Danube Strauss waltz is always accurate. But there’s no doubt that this beautiful European waterway is a magnet for inspiration and enjoyment. We’ve compiled fun facts and interesting ways to take in the scenery, culture, and history surrounding the beautiful blue Danube River that we hope will add enjoyment to your experience.

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blue danube

Map of the Danube River (Photo: Wikipedia)

Where is the Blue Danube River?

The Danube River is Central and Eastern Europe’s longest river. It begins in Germany at the confluence of two rivers in the Black Forest. From there, the Danube flows through ten countries before finally reaching the Black Sea. Its drainage basin extends to nine more countries and its tributaries are major rivers in their own right.

One of the reasons for the Danube’s fame is that it flows through so many cities and towns, including four major European capitals: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade. In Roman times, this river was the empire’s frontier. As a navigable waterway, it has long been an important transportation route. Nowadays, it is a magnet for recreation and enjoyment.

What is the Blue Danube song?

The Blue Danube, the lovely and legendary Strauss waltz which we now associate with loving tribute to the iconic waterway, was composed in 1866. The piece wasn’t an immediate success, falling prey to an unfortunate set of satirical choral lyrics which ridiculed Austria’s loss to Prussia in the Seven Weeks War. That version of the song went on to bemoan the ensuing economic fallout, and generally mirrored the Viennese public’s general malaise.

However, the next year, when the orchestral version was presented in Paris at the World Exhibition, The Blue Danube created an immediate sensation. Strauss’ publisher was forced to make 100 new copper printing plates to satisfy the demand for the waltz’s piano score; over a million copies were ordered. The Blue Danube waltz made its American debut in Boston for the 1872 Peace Exhibition, played by an orchestra composed of 2000 musicians for an audience of 20,000. What a performance that must have been! Still, you have to wonder after reading the story behind the waltz did Strauss inappropriately wax poetic?

Why is the Danube blue?

Actually, the Danube was quite murky as we viewed it in Vienna. In winter, blocks of ice containing glacial debris are carried downstream, picking up sediment. The sediment is released as the ice melts just in time to reach the lowlands outside the city. The sediment settles to the bottom of the river and is stirred up by the constant turbulent motion. It is because of this that in this area it is a far cry from blue indeed.

The Blue Danube in Vienna

Here are some views we nabbed from the Donauturm (Danube Tower), Vienna’s version of a space needle. We had great fun in the revolving restaurant, which offers unsurpassed views of the city and river.

In other locations, the river takes on a life of its own. The Danube can be a fast and turbulent river upstream, with less sediment. It moves a bit slower as it meanders along the banks of Vienna, becoming more murky.

button fun things to do in vienna

From Vienna: 1-Hour Boat Tour on the Danube Canal This quick tour will get you oriented to Vienna as you travel through the historical and modern parts of the city on the “Little Danube Canal.” This was actually the main arm of the Danube in medieval times.

From Vienna: Wachau Valley Day Tour with Wine Tasting This tour takes you by bus and boat through the scenic Wachau and Danube river valleys for a taste of imperial history and culture. See the Durnstein Castle ruins where Richard the Lionhearted was held captive, and travel by boat to the ancient city of Krems in the wine region. Visit the world-famous baroque Benedictine Abbey of Melk, with lunch at the Abbey Restaurant in season.

Vienna to Bratislava Tour by Bus and Boat Enjoy a day trip to the Old Town of Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia for shopping and strolling. Cruise back to Vienna along the Danube in a high speed, air-conditioned catamaran through the landscapes of the Danube-Auen National Park.

The Blue Danube in Budapest

Further east, it changed again for us, where winter in Budapest brought forth the most vivid shade of blue imaginable.

From Budapest: Danube Cruise with Hungarian Dinner and Live MusicEnjoy a delicious welcome drink and buffet dinner with live Hungarian music as you sail under the famous bridges, past the illuminated Parliament building and Buda Castle.

What is the Danube Bend?

is the blue danube blue

By Myself (picture taken by Philipp Weigell) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Near Visegrád and the Hungarian-Slovakian border, the 1700 mile long Danube River takes a u-shaped looping curve between two mountain ranges – the Transdanubian and the Hungarian. This picturesque region is forested and famous for its natural limestone caves, prolific wine-making, art and history, all of which makes it a popular destination for day trips from Budapest.

From Budapest: Danube Bend Full Day Private Tour – Travel the Danube Bend by air-conditioned mini-bus with personal guide to Esztergom, which was the Hungarian capital from the 10th through the 13th centuries, visiting the cathedral, which is the largest church in Hungary. Continue to Visegrád to visit the citadel and palace ruins, as well as a scenic overlook upon the Bend. After a 3-course lunch, you’ll be taken to Szentendre, a medieval town with contemporary art galleries, shops and boutiques. May-September optional return to Budapest by boat cruise on the Danube.

Why is the Danube important in Belgrade?

In Belgrade, we stood on the cliffs of the medieval Belgrade Fortress Kalemegdan, overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers. We hadn’t realized how strategically important this point has been throughout the city’s more than 1000 years of history. The city has been the battle site in more than 115 wars beginning from pre-Roman times. It has been destroyed and rebuilt more than 40 times. The swampy marshland islands here even played a role in defeating Nazi positions during WWII.

Nowadays, the river travels along the historic Old City and sparkling New Belgrade, constructed since after WWII.

From Belgrade: Full Day Historical Danube Tour Travel through the centuries as witnessed from the Blue Danube, from Belgrade to the medieval Golubac Fortress. Visit an archeological site from teh 6th century BC and take in the majestic views of the Djerdap gorge. Includes hotel pickup and dropoff, lunch and air conditioned transportation.

blue danube

From the Belgrade Fortress cliffs

Why visit the Danube Delta?

The Danube Delta is the largest river delta located within the European Union in both Romania and Ukraine. This well-preserved UNESCO site is rich in wildlife with over 300 types of migratory birds and more than 45 different fish species located in its 1600 square mile area. This is an important eco-destination for nature lovers, bird watchers, and travelers who value sustainable tourism. This is Europe’s largest unspoiled natural wetland area, and accommodations are (almost shockingly) inexpensive throughout the region.

From Bucharest: Danube Delta 2-Day Tour Visit Tulcea, the ancient port city founded the 7th century BC and rebuilt by the Romans, and enjoy a boat trip with a naturalist for bird watching and/or fishing. You’ll spend one night at a hotel or guest house at the Danube Delta.

2-Day Danube Delta Wonders Small Group Tour On this tour, you’ll explore the Old Town of Constanta with a history going back six centuries BC., the Mamaia Sea Resort (the Romanian Ibiza), and the Delta Biosphere Reserve with a traditional fisherman’s lunch. Accommodations are in a 3-star hotel in the delta region. Includes English speaking guide and modern car transport.

danube delta birds

From Bucharest: 2-Day Danube Delta Wonders Tour Visit one of the largest wildlife habitats in Europe on a 3-hour boat trip from the Murighiol village with bed and breakfast accommodations for the night, continue in the Dobrogea region to the ancient city of Constanta. Includes private pick-up and drop-off at your hotel in Bucharest, air conditioned transport, English/German speaking guide.

So as it turns out, artistry really does mimic life in certain parts of the Danube. We’ll be back in Europe someday to hopefully follow the Danube further east to the Black Sea. One of the best ways to discover the river’s color and so much more is by boat. There are a great many Danube River cruises lasting just a few hours or a full day. The next time you visit Central Europe, see if you, too, can attest whether the blue Danube is really blue!

Pinnable Image:

Beautiful Blue Danube

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Andrea Gerak

Monday 7th of March 2016

This is a very interesting post! I have lived in Vienna for some time and for much longer in Budapest, and seen many colors, including striking blue.

Betsy Wuebker

Tuesday 8th of March 2016

Hi Andrea - Thank you so much. We love Budapest. :)

Conference. Learning Pathways to social cohesion. Vienna, Austria | Youth In Advancement 18+

Wednesday 8th of October 2014

[…] Is the Blue Danube Really Blue? ( […]

Catherine | Fit Armadillo

Sunday 28th of September 2014

What wonderful photos you have! I had no idea that the Danube passed through 10 countries. What a fun goal to see it in each one :) Thanks for sharing!

A Cook Not Mad (Nat)

Thursday 25th of September 2014

Blue or grey, it's still beautiful :)

Betsy Wuebker

Thursday 25th of September 2014

Bula Nat - I agree. :)


Thursday 25th of September 2014

Those are some beautiful photos of Vienna and the Danube whether the water looks blue or gray. I know the water behind my house looks really ugly when the sky is overcast and much prettier in the sunlight.

Betsy Wuebker

Thursday 25th of September 2014

Bula Michelle - Thank you! Yes, agreed, the sunny skies make all the difference.