The Danube is the second-longest river in Europe and flows from Germany all the way to the Black Sea. It is about 2,850 km long and its basin makes up around 20% of European Union territory. The only European river that’s longer is the Volga, which passes through central Russia and also empties into the Black Sea.
There are many cities on the Danube. It passes through ten different countries, which is more than any other river on Earth. Of these ten countries, the Danube flows through four capital cities: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade.
There are five more capital cities that are not located directly on the Danube but in its basin: Bucharest, Sofia, Zagreb, Ljubljana and Sarajevo.
The major cities can be seen in the Danube River map below.
Map of Danube River
Where is the Danube River located on a map?
The Danube starts in the mountains of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany before making its way southeast across ten different countries, at times tracing the borders between nations.
There are 115 million people that live in its basin, and it has been an important geographical feature for people in the region for thousands of years as a trade route, for drinking water, and as a source of hydropower.
With the construction of the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal in 1992, the North Sea is now connected to the Black Sea via the Danube, which allows for increased trade and transport between Danube cities. Germany transports more goods on this waterway than any other nation.
While fishing along the Danube was a vital industry in the Middle Ages, the practice has since seen a major decline. This is in part due to damage to natural resources caused by pollution, dam construction, and other alterations to the river. Some fishing still happens on the river, particularly in the Danube Delta, but it is no longer a major industry.
The regional tourism industry benefits greatly from the Danube River. There are a variety of natural sights and landmarks that attract millions of tourists, such as:
- the Upper Danube Nature Park in Germany
- the Wachau Valley in Austria
- Iron Gate in Serbia and Romania
- the Danube Delta in Romania
There’s also a highly developed infrastructure for many recreational activities like hiking, biking, and boating.
1. Austria – Vienna
The first capital city the Danube passes through on its journey eastward is Austria’s Vienna.
This is the largest and most populous city of Austria, containing roughly a third of the country’s population. Vienna is notable for its historical role as a center for classical music and the arts, its architecture, and as a center for various organizations related to international relations. Vienna has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
The city has also played an important role in European history and is thought to have been inhabited since 500 BCE. The site of present-day Vienna was settled by the Roman Empire before it was taken over by the Babenberg Dynasty in the tenth century. It then fell under the control of the Habsburg Monarchy for more than 600 years. The Habsburgs had a major influence on much of Europe until the dissolution of Austria-Hungary in 1918.
A notable feature of the Danube as it passes through Vienna is Donauinsel, a long artificial island in the middle of the river. The island was originally created with the aim of improving the city’s flood protection system, but it also serves as a large recreational area. On summer days with nice weather, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy the island’s beaches, parks, restaurants, and bars. It’s also the site of the annual Donauinselfest, the world’s largest open-air music festival. It’s normal for upwards of 2.5 million people to attend this festival over three days in late June.
In part because of recreational areas like Donauinsel, the capital of Austria also frequently ranks very highly in lists that rate countries by quality of life, livability, prosperity, and innovation. It is one of the wealthiest regions in Europe, with a GDP per capita that regularly ranks as one of the top ten in Europe.
The Danube Cycle Path was one of the first river cycle paths, and it runs through the city of Vienna. The path is about 1,200 km in length and runs from Germany to the Hungarian capital of Budapest, passing through Vienna and Bratislava on the way. It is ideal for all levels of cyclists as it is mostly flat and well marked. From Vienna it is possible to cycle to another national capital, Bratislava, in just one day! It’s also possible to camp along the river in places, and the path connects to other cycling and walking trails in Europe.
2. Slovakia – Bratislava
After making its way through Austria, the Danube follows the border of Slovakia for a short while before entering the country and immediately passing through its capital, Bratislava.
The capital of Slovakia is the country’s largest city and is home to around 437,000 people. 5.9% of the river is located within Slovak territory, and Bratislava is the only major Slovak city that the river passes through.
The Danube passes directly through Bratislava, and the city occupies both banks of the river. It is the only capital city to border two different states, Austria and Hungary. Vienna and Bratislava are closer to each other than any other two capitals of sovereign nations in the world.
Bratislava sees approximately 1 million tourists each year and has plenty of cultural and historical attractions. It’s also less expensive than many European cities — including nearby Vienna — which adds to its popularity among tourists. Because it is more affordable than other nearby European cities, it has become a popular place for foreign tourists to come for stag parties, something that has inspired mixed feelings in locals.
One of the main attractions in this city is the Bratislava Castle, which is located in the center of the city and overlooks the Danube, Austria, and Hungary when the weather is clear enough. The site of the castle has been inhabited for thousands of years and has continually played an important part in European history due to its strategic location at the center of Europe and at the crossing of various trade routes.
Other draws for tourists are the city’s cuisine, shopping centers, nearby parks and forests, and easy access from other countries. In the city and on the bank of the Danube is Janko Kráľ Park, which is one of the oldest public parks in Europe. Bratislava has a reputation as a tourist destination city with many green spaces.
The city is now also known for its business startup scene, for hosting several tech companies, and its charming terraces in the historical center. It’s a modern city with something for just about everyone. The weather gets quite cold during the months from December to February and is warm from June to August.
3. Hungary – Budapest
After tracing the border between Slovakia and Hungary, the Danube River eventually heads south and passes through Budapest, the capital of Hungary. 11.6% of the Danube River lies within the borders of Hungary before exiting to the south.
Budapest is a historical city that is also very popular among tourists, receiving about 12 million visitors each year. Its population is estimated to be around 1.7 million people, making it the ninth-largest city in the European Union, and the population is growing more quickly than many other European cities. The city to the east of the Danube is known as Buda, which is hillier than flat Pest, located on the west side of the river. The capital’s name comes from the combination of these two places.
The site of the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, and examples of classical architecture, central Budapest is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is also famous for its geothermal springs, such as those at the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath. This is the largest medicinal bath in Europe and has been in operation for over 100 years, and uses water supplied from two thermal springs.
The architecture in Budapest is one of the most distinguishing features of the city, as it represents an entire spectrum of styles from ancient Roman buildings to modern constructions like the Palace of Arts. There is a similarity between the building styles in Budapest, Bratislava, and Vienna because of the influence of the Habsburg Monarchy.
Culturally, Budapest has a lot to offer. There are 223 museums in the city, many of them with famously beautiful designs. The city also boasts many libraries, operas, and theaters. Among these is the National Széchenyi Library, which is home to some artifacts that were in use before book printing technology became widely used.
Music and arts festivals are two more pieces of culture in Budapest that make the city stand out. Like the Donauinsel, the Sziget Festival is a large music and culture festival that takes place on an island in the middle of the Danube. It’s one of the largest of its kind in Europe, lasting a week and attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world. Other festivals in the city focus on contemporary arts, gastronomy, LGBT pride, and folk dance.
4. Serbia – Belgrade
After Budapest, the Danube travels quite a distance before it reaches another capital city. It flows south and follows the border of Croatia and Serbia before turning east and eventually passing Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.
Although the Danube has yet to reach Romania, this is the last capital city that the river passes through on its way to the Black Sea. 10.2% of the Danube is in Serbia.
Belgrade is different from the previous capital cities on this list because it exists at the confluence of two rivers: the Danube and the Sava. There are roughly 1.7 million people that live within the city limits, and it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
The city’s history can be traced back to ancient Vinča culture between 5,000 and 6,000 BCE. It has since been inhabited by Thraco-Dacians, Celts, Romans, Slavs, and many different kingdoms. Belgrade eventually became the capital of Yugoslavia in 1918 and became the capital of Serbia after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
In modern Serbia, Belgrade is the country’s main economic hub and financial center. It is significantly larger than any other Serbian city and enjoys special status because of this. One of the major industries in the city is the IT sector, with thousands of IT businesses headquartered here. The city is also negotiating for accession to the European Union.
Belgrade is also noteworthy for its culture; it was ranked as one of the most creative cities in the world by the BBC. There are a number of impressive museums in the city, many different cultural festivals, and impressive architecture, which are all attractions for the tourists that visit Belgrade.
Some of the most famous festivals in the city are the FEST Film Festival, the Belgrade International Theater Festival, and Beer Fest. These festivals attract many tourists from all over Europe and are an important part of the city’s tourism economy.
Belgrade has long been a popular place for travelers and tourists due to its location on the route between Europe and Asia. The Orient Express, an intercontinental railroad, ran through Belgrade from 1883 until 2009.
In modern times, Belgrade is known for its active nightlife scene. There are many clubs throughout the city that are open all night and cater to Serbians as well as many from neighboring countries. Some of the most famous clubs in Belgrade are located on barges along the Sava and Danube. It’s also possible to enjoy traditional Serbian music in Belgrade’s old Bohemian neighborhood in the north of the city.
There are a total of 16 islands in Belgrade on the Sava and Danube rivers, and they are used as sites for recreational activities, nature reserves, and heritage monuments. Many of the islands remain undeveloped.