Viking River Cruise: Grand European Tour

A Storybook Summer: Our First Viking River Cruise Adventure
A Travelogue by Jennifer Campbell

Have you ever wanted to pinch yourself to see if you were having a dream? That is exactly how I felt when I arrived in Budapest, Hungary. While I had been to Europe on three previous occasions, this trip was vastly different. After forty ocean cruises, my Dad and I were embarking on our first Viking River Cruise adventure. Although it wasn’t a dream, the storybook landscapes did resemble a fairy tale! From Hungary to Austria and Germany to the Netherlands, we listened to magnificent philharmonic orchestras, explored the inside of castles and windmills, and tasted delightful delicacies. If you want to feel like royalty, take the Grand European Tour with Viking River Cruises. They treat passengers like Kings and Queens!


The moment we arrived in Budapest, we were given red carpet treatment. Greeted by the Viking representative at the airport, we were escorted to the shuttle which transported us to our five-star hotel situated along the Danube River. The pre-cruise extension package we purchased with Viking not only provided a home base at the Intercontinental Hotel in Budapest, but also a daily
breakfast buffet at the hotel. This buffet had everything from an omelette station and an assortment of Hungarian specialties to fresh-baked pastries and an Asian section. Needless to say, breakfast was always a feast for the senses! The Intercontinental is within walking distance of many prominent sites, including the Chain Bridge, Buda Castle, and Shoes on the Danube. Albeit a solemn experience, a visit to the Shoes on the Danube is a chilling reminder of the inexplicable horrors of World War II. These sixty pairs of iron shoes are a memorial to honor the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen.

After paying our respects, we strolled along the Danube to visit the Parliament Building. Located in Lajos Kossuth Square, this iconic building is one of Europe’s oldest legislative buildings and proudly stands as Budapest’s tallest structure. The only question is whether or not this massive structure is more beautiful in the daylight or at night when it is lit up like a Christmas tree!

On our first evening in Budapest, we stumbled upon a free concert featuring the Young Artist Chamber Orchestra from Utah. What a treat to hear these young musicians play from their hearts at St. Michael’s Church. The acoustics were impeccable! Following the concert, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Europa Café. Just thinking about the spicy goulash soup, fresh baked bread, perfectly seasoned chicken paprika with potatoes and sweet assortment of Hungarian cakes and ice cream makes my mouth water! It is so delicious that you will definitely make plans to return!
I knew from the moment I laid my head on the pillow on our first night in Budapest that this trip would be legendary. For in one single day, we had flown across the Atlantic Ocean and walked 6.5 miles through the stately streets of Budapest. Even as an avid traveler, I have yet to master the art of sleeping on the plane, so it was certainly time to turn in for the night following 37 hours of exploration!


Imagine waking up in Budapest and enjoying breakfast while looking up at the noble Buda Castle. Shortly after another delectable breakfast at the hotel, we were cruising down the tracks of the Budapest metro, the best way to get around the city. Our first stop was Buda Hill. After marveling at the Castle from the hotel, we wanted to explore this splendid hilltop, from the colorful mosaic adorning the roof of Mathias Church to the breathtaking view from Fisherman’s Bastion. It was the perfect vantage point from which to capture photographs of the Viking longships, our hotel, and the Parliament Building.

As we descended the hill, the funicular took us within a short distance of the famous Chain Bridge, so a leisurely walk across the Danube was a must! When considering what to have for dinner on our second evening in Hungary, there was little discussion, as the Europa Café was the only logical choice! The Hungarian cuisine was the perfect way to end an active day filled with amazing adventures!


Alas, it was time to check out of the Intercontinental Hotel. Of course, there were no tears shed, for checking out simply meant checking in to the pristine Viking Ingvi longship! Not wanting to waste any time in this capital city, we hopped on a tram and went to the Grand Market Hall, also known as Central Market Hall. Boasting produce, fresh meats, spices, souvenirs, and more, this marketplace is one of the oldest and largest indoor markets in Budapest.

Later that morning, we returned to the Ingvi to don our swimwear for our visit to Széchenyi Thermal Baths, the largest medicinal baths in Europe. What a refreshing way to cool off on a sweltering summer afternoon! With fifteen pools to choose from, both indoors and outdoors, it is the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate. We chose to spend our time one of the main outdoor pools and even took a few spins in the whirlpool, a merry-go-around type feature that will definitely put a smile on your face! One of the most touching moments occurred where the locals were watching the soccer championship on a large screen in one corner of complex. The national anthem was being sung before the game began. Chills went up and down my spine as I watched the locals stand up and cheer in honor of their country. I must admit, I cheered right along with them in support of this European country that now holds a special place in my heart.

Before the sun went down, we enjoyed our first Viking River Cruise dinner experience. It was simply incredible. I chose the Hungarian Farmer’s Plate for my first course, the Hungarian Goulash for my second course, and Hungarian layer cake for my dessert. The perfect meal to eat while in Hungary (or in any other part of the globe – it was amazing). Following our marvelous meal, the Captain took the entire longship for a sightseeing cruise to see the lights of the city. Budapest is so beautiful at night, with all of the buildings lit up! What an incredible sight to see!


On Sunday, my Dad and I had the privilege of singing at the International Church of Budapest. What a joy to spend Father’s Day, an American holiday, alongside my Dad as we shared our stories and sang original songs for the congregation. We hope to return one day, for the people were so humble and kind. Visiting with them and hearing many of their stories was so heart-warming. It was undoubtedly one of the most special moments of our entire summer. Our last day in Budapest, we enjoyed a delightful lunch along the Danube at Jerney Italian Bistro, where we savored a traditional
pizza margherita. Although it was sad to board the ship and leave this enchanting city, we quickly became accustomed to life on the Ingvi. The ship became a family in virtually no time at all. The majority of crew members knew our names by the second day of the cruise.

The Viking Ingvi Crew provided excellent service. From Csaba, the Bar Chef, to Krisztina, the Hotel Manager, and of course, Rob, the Program Director, Tamara, the Concierge, Vivijen, the Receptionist, Daniel, the Musician, Judit, Bar Waitress, and Bojana, the Maître D', all of the crew on board worked hard to ensure that our river cruise was nothing short of exceptional. Many others contributed to an phenomenal cruise as well. Their meticulous service is very much appreciated. Many of the crew members became friends over the course of our two-week sailing.

The Captain held a welcome aboard party that evening as a prelude to dinner. My menu selections included the potato crusted mascarpone cheese with a truffle sabayon sauce for my first course, Chateaubriand with buttered vegetables, potatoes, and a béarnaise sauce for my entrée, and a strawberry sponge cake for dessert. It was the perfect way to end another perfect day.


As a little girl, I dreamed of going to Austria, home of The Sound of Music. Now, as a young woman, my wish was fulfilled. We spent three days in this beautiful country, beginning with a scenic sail through scenery that made me want to sing out, “The hills are alive…” Well, you get the picture. The first part of the day found us dining on delicious meals, watching an apple strudel demonstration, and viewing remarkable scenery.

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: Caesar salad, parma ham and assorted melons with a grapefruit vinaigrette, honey barbecued fillet of salmon, grilled leeks, and polenta spring rolls, and warm apple hazelnut crumble à la mode.

Following a wonderful meal and a delightful “day at river,” we sprung for the Mozart and Strauss Concert that evening. Sitting on the front row of Schubert Hall, I was captivated by the excellent musicianship and talent that exuded from the platform as the Vienna Residence Orchestra performed. To welcome us back on the ship, the chef prepared Goulash soup and fresh baked bread as a late night snack, which was the perfect way to conclude a delightful evening.


Vienna, Austria is a city that needs no introduction. The moment we stepped off the ship, we ventured directly to the U-Bahn, navigating our way to the Schönbrunn Palace, a former imperial summer residence boasting 1,441 rooms. After touring 40 of these luxurious rooms, it was time to return to the city center where we explored many miles of historic sites.

Soon we found our way to the Zum Schwarzen Kameel (The Black Camel). The Viennese schnitzel and potato salad, as well as the spaghetti Bolognese topped with micro greens, were culinary perfection. Of course, the Viennese cuisine served here should be renowned! This iconic restaurant has roots dating back to a delicatessen frequented by Ludwig van Beethoven himself!

What better way to end the evening than with a concert featuring the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra? Sitting inside the Great Hall of the Wiener Konzerthaus, I felt as if I was royalty. How amazing it was to sit in box number one, row one, seats one and two! The best seats in the house complete with a view of the piano keys. The Vienna Symphonic Orchestra (Wiener Symphoniker) performed under the direction of conductor Robert Trevino. They played works by Peter Iljitsch Tschaikowsky, Franz Liszt, and Antonín Dvořák. From the first note until the last, it was an amazing evening of expert musical talent. Hearing this brilliant assembly of musicians perform was a dream come true!

Just as I was soaring on cloud nine, the evening went to even greater heights. Atop the Wiener Riesenrad, or Riesenrad, a 212-foot tall Ferris wheel in Vienna, the view was spectacular! Riding one of the world's oldest operating Ferris wheels was the ideal way to end an absolutely dazzling day.


Founded in 1089, Melk Abbey towers over the medieval town of Melk, Austria. This Benedictine abbey sits high upon a hill, offering a mesmerizing view of the Danube River as well as the surrounding hills, villages, and vineyards. Coupled with a meandering walk down the hill, through the old town, across the bridge, and through the woods, it definitely feels like you have stepped right into the pages of a storied fable!

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: red pepper and spinach hummus with pita bread, Munster cheese plate with apple chili chutney, Zwiebelrostbraten & crisp onions with mashed potatoes, onion sauce, and pickled cucumbers, and milk chocolate mousse with strawberry salad.


Break out your lederhosen and dirndls! The first stop in Bavaria is Passau, Germany, home of the world’s largest cathedral pipe organ, boasting more than 17,000 pipes! Thanks to Viking, we were able to attend a concert to hear this monstrous musical instrument being played. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, sharing a detailed history of the “Three Rivers City,” named for the three rivers that converge in Passau: the Danube, Inn, and Ilz Rivers.

Since the recipe originated in Passau, you will definitely want to stop in a local bakery for some lebkuchen, a traditional German baked Christmas treat resembling gingerbread. Or you could try a slice of this delicious Forest Berry Cake from Hoft Bakery. The layers of pastry, spongy cake, and gelatin filled with fresh berries, along with the thinly sliced almonds, made this the perfect way to satisfy my sweet tooth!

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: blue cheese
stuffed meatballs and micro herbs with a porcini dust reduction, osso buco with shallot confit, porcini risotto, and a lemon herb gremolata prime rib eye steak with a herb chimichurri, steak fries, and a vegetable medley, and apple cake, a regional specialty.


Home of the oldest bratwurst grill, Regensburg, Germany is a colorful town featuring a 12th century stone bridge that is 310 meters long with with 16 arches. The city center has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, considering the well-preserved medieval structures, such as the Gothic Regensburg Cathedral.

Following a very enjoyable tour with a local guide, we savored an appetizing lunch at a picnic table beside the Danube River, near the Old Stone Bridge, at the Wurstkuchl. Aptly named the Regensburg Sausage Kitchen, this restaurant has been in business over 500 years and serves 6,000 sausages per day. You’ll definitely want to order your own plate of signature sausages, layered on a bed of caramelized sauerkraut, for you truly cannot eat just one!

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: tomato & buffalo mozzarella with balsamic reduction (one of the best I have ever had), basil pesto, and tomato coulis, poached asparagus with prosciutto, ricotta panna cotta, quail egg, and balsamic reduction, braised beef brisket and barbecued meat empanada with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, and jus, prime rib eye steak with a herb chimichurri, vegetable medley and steak fries, and créme schnitte cake, a regional specialty.


While Viking provides an excellent complimentary excursion in most ports, we chose to take the World War II tour in Nuremberg, Germany. As a Language Arts teacher, I am required to teach the Holocaust. Teaching this difficult subject becomes a little easier when I can share personal experiences with my students, such as touring Congress Hall and Courtroom 600, where the Nuremberg Trials were held. While this tour was quite the somber experience, our lovely tour guide has now become a dear friend.

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: Munster cheese plate with apple chili chutney, poached Norwegian salmon atop a bed of Caesar salad, barbecued chicken breast, mashed potatoes, and vegetable medley, and black forest cake à la mode.


Where do you go from Nuremberg? To Venice, of course! Bamberg, Germany is home to Little Venice, a former fisherman’s district constructed of half-timbered houses. Of course, the landmark destination in this Bavarian town would be a tie between the Bishop’s Palace and ornate rose garden or the Town Hall building situated right in the middle of the river Regnitz. According to legend, the Bishop would not grant land to the citizens, so they built an artificial island on which to construct this colorful town hall. Be sure to ask your tour guide about the “legacy” the artist left behind on the painted mural!

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: chilled roast beef with mixed pickles, potato rösti, and rémoulade sauce, veal tenderloin with parmesan jus, mushrooms, green peas, and citrus potato gratin, bienenstitch cake, a regional specialty, and stracciatella ice cream.


The Viking walking tour of Würzburg, Germany featured a visit to the Würzburg Residence, a palace built in 1720. Since it was heavily damaged during World War II, restoration has been an on-going process since 1945. In 1981, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the most beautiful aspects of the palace is its enormous fresco in the formal reception room, which features scenes from four continents. The palace gardens are very ornate as well.

Later we stumbled upon the best soft pretzels we tasted on the entire trip at the Ditsch Pretzel Bakery. If you’re looking for authentic Franconian and Bavarian food, look no further than the Würzburger Ratskeller, a beautifully decorated restaurant serving delicious food that will tantalize your taste buds! The apple strudel was some of the best we have ever eaten! Having lunch in the courtyard was such a delightful experience!

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: truffle scented chicken cassoulet with a puff pastry crust, mushrooms, and tarragon, roasted tenderloin of beef with pommes duchesse and béarnaise sauce, surf and turf with salmon with hollandaise sauce and roasted tenderloin of beef with pommes duchesse and béarnaise sauce, brownie and white chocolate sauce, and warm white chocolate and cherry pudding with caramel ice cream.


Known for the iconic Wertheim Castle and medieval town center, Wertheim, Germany was one of the most quaint, picturesque German towns we encountered. From the leaning tower of Wertheim to the Tudor style architecture, this town has a photo opportunity on nearly every corner! A walk or ride up to Wertheim Castle is a must. The view from the top of the hill is absolutely breath-taking.

If you’re feeling a little peckish after exploring the castle grounds, stop in at Fritz Frischmuth, a family-owned bakery that has been in operation for 13 generations. Fondly known as the glass blowing capital of the world, Wertheim is home to a multi-generational family of glass blowers, one of whom came on the ship to give a demonstration. It was always exciting to have local artisans and performers join us on the ship for quality entertainment.

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: Caesar salad, provolone cheese plate with a pineapple-vanilla chutney, pepper crusted chicken breast with glazed baby carrots and chickpeas, straw potatoes, and a chipotle jus, and tiramisu.


On the way to Koblenz, Germany, we sailed past countless castles and tremendous townships. We even had the opportunity to have the perfect vantage point from which to view Loreley Rock. Known as the Gateway to the Rhine Gorge, Koblenz is a short motor coach ride to the Marksburg Castle, part of the included tour provided by Viking. I was awestruck by the spectacular hilltop vista, overlooking the town of Braubach. As we stepped across the threshold of this centuries old castle, it felt as if we had left reality and stepped into the pages of a make-believe fable.

While a trip to a medieval castle would typically be the high point of the day, the day once again soared to an even greater altitude. We experienced an exhilarating ride across the Rhine River via cable car to the top of the hill where the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress is located! Mere words cannot fully describe this experience.

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: crisp tandoori chicken & parmesan foam with tomato salad, pumpkin mousse ravioli with lamb loin and a sweet chili sauce, beef wellington napoleon style with sautéed vegetables and pommes duchesse, and crisp dark Valrhona chocolate tart with mango salad.


The fourth largest city in Germany, Cologne is home to the grand Cologne Cathedral, a massive structure which towers above the vast majority of buildings in this ancient city.

What a treat to be notified by the Viking Concierge that the Cologne Philharmonic Orchestra was holding a free concert that afternoon! It was one of the most enjoyable concerts we experienced on our Grand European Tour.

Wanting to maximize our time in the city center, we enjoyed a quick lunch at Merzenich, a delightful bakery near the Cologne Cathedral. We shared a sandwich called a Fitness Fladen, including turkey, lettuce, cucumbers, shredded carrots, boiled eggs, and a remoulade. Very unique and extremely tasty! Of course, I also did a little shopping along the way, as there are plenty of enticing shops on Schildergasse, the busiest pedestrian-only shopping street in Europe with 13,000 people passing by every hour!

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: The Viking Taste of Germany Dinner menu included roast leg of port, bratwurst, tiroler knödel, sauerkraut, knödel, Viennese schnitzel, roast chicken, grilled käsekrainer, potato salad, and much more!


Named for a Dutch folkloric story of a cat saving a child’s life, Kinderdijk translates to “children’s dike.” Located 15 kilometers east of Rotterdam, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is famous for a unique collection of 19 authentic windmills from the 18th century. While on the Viking tour, you will not only have the opportunity to walk along the picturesque dike, but you will also be invited to explore the inside of one of these historic structures and even speak to a local miller. It is an unforgettable experience that was only overshadowed by the fact that this was the final day of our river cruise.

Our Dinner Selections on Board the Viking Ingvi: surf and turf, salmon with a Hollandaise sauce and caviar, along with a prime rib eye steak and vegetables, New York style cheesecake, and bittersweet chocolate pots de crème with whipped cream and a pineapple-mint salsa on the side.


Throughout this Grand European Tour, there were moments when goose bumps covered my arms, tears filled my eyes, and my heart was overwhelmed with joy. While my diary entries were scattered, at best, I am certain I will never forget the places we explored, the remarkable experiences we shared, and the many strangers we now call friends. My first Viking River Cruise etched indelible memories in my mind and effectively tugged on my heartstrings as well. As we received our customs form on the flight home, the reality of returning to the “real world,” began to sink in. Yet I encouraged myself with this thought: all good things must come to an end, so new ones can begin. So now the only question that remains is: when will I set sail with Viking once again?

I invite you to view my full photo log of our trip at I am also happy to answer any questions you have concerning Viking River Cruises or the destinations we visited. I would love to hear your recommendations for future travel plans as well! You may e-mail me at

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