Ports of plenty around every bend
In Belgrade, where the Danube and Sava rivers meet, the boat docks very close to the city, so it’s a good port for independent exploring. But you’ll need to book a tour to get up to the 1920s-built Royal Palace on one of the Serbian capital’s seven hills. Crown Prince Alexander could well be strolling the gardens; in the adjoining White Palace, look at the headrest on (former president of Yugoslavia) Tito’s chair in the private cinema for traces of his hair dye.
In Pecs, Hungary (overland from Mohacs; reboard in Kolocsa), the Early Christian Necropolis (Sopianae) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains remarkable displays of 4th-century relics. Around the heart of this walkable city look for locally made Zsolnay majolica tiles on the roofs and facades of houses and visit the Zsolnay Porcelain Museum in one of the city’s oldest buildings. The main Szechenyi Square is a delight, with a real Mediterranean holiday atmosphere in summer — children splashing in fountains, almond trees and gelato carts, cooling mists being pumped on to cafe terraces at high noon. (I am distraught, however, that the marzipan museum is closed for lunch.)
The Slovakian capital of Bratislava has the best and most accessible shopping of the Danube cities visited on River Cloud II’s Budapest-to-Vienna itineraries and can be easily explored on foot without a guide. Bratislava’s historic core is utterly charming, with cafes in cobbled squares, pop-up markets and shops selling embroidery and lace, hand-painted Christmas ornaments, porcelain jugs and dishes, wooden toys and poppyseed pastries. Best memento? Visit the Museum of Trade’s good little gift shop and purchase a bottle of fiery slivovitz infused with pear or plum.
River Cloud II passengers in Bratislava