What is the Danube Express?

The Danube Express is a privately-run hotel train which makes regular land cruises across eastern Europe, with meals, drinks and off-train excursions all included.  The train features deluxe sleeping-cars, a restaurant car & lounge car.  It's an excellent way to make these journeys in comfort, with sightseeing stops, in good company.  Watch the video.

UPDATE 2015:  Summer 2014 will be the Danube Express's last season in its current form as shown on this page.  Golden Eagle Luxury Trains have taken over operation of the Danube Express, and the train will reappear in 2015 in even better form on different routes.

 

Where does it run?  Until Autumn 2014...

1)  Budapest to Istanbul, the Transylvanian East, 4 days 3 nights with stops at Veliko Tarnovo, Brasov (for Dracula's castle), Sighisoara in Transylvania.

2)  Istanbul to Budapest, the Transylvanian West,  4 days 3 nights with stops at Veliko Tarnovo, Brasov (Dracula's castle), Sighisoara.

3)  Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague & Krakow, the Central European.

On this page...

  Sleeping accommodation  

  Restaurant car & food on board   The lounge car

  A journey on the Danube Express from Istanbul to Budapest

  Watch the video - a guide to the Danube Express

  Prices, departure dates, how to buy tickets


On board the Danube Express...

Private sleeping accommodation...

At check-in, attach the luggage labels to your bags, and you'll find them waiting for you in your private sleeper.  The sleeping-cars on the Danube Express were purpose-built for the train, with just five 2-berth compartments per sleeping-car.  By day, your room is a comfortable and spacious sitting-room.  There are power sockets for cameras, laptops or mobiles, and one of the two windows opens (as do windows in the corridor) for fresh air & reflection-free photography.  There's a small safe, and you'll find a room key so you can lock your room when you go to the restaurant.  If you feel like a beer or glass of wine before dinner, just ring for your sleeper attendant, they are glad to help and it's all included in the price...

Danube Express train exterior   Danube Express sleeper compartment in day mode

The Danube Express at Cerkezköy...

 

Above, a deluxe compartment in daytime setup...

Sleeper compartment in night mode   The Danube Express at Brasov in Romania

...After dinner, you'll return to your room to find it converted to a cosy bedroom.  No upper bunks here, all rooms have two lower beds, with a chocolate liqueur on each pillow.  The beds are very comfortable, you'll sleep well, and your sleeper attendant will wake you with a cup of tea or coffee at the time you asked for.  Breakfast is usually served in the restaurant car around 07:15-08:30.  Above right, the Danube Express at Brasov in Romania...

Danube Express destination board   En suite toilet and shower   In-room safe
Compliementary map

Each compartment has a compact shower & toilet, with soap, fresh towels, shower gel/shampoo and hair dryer...

 

...There's a small safe, mineral water, and a complimentary map of the train's route...

The restaurant car...

You won't go hungry!  3-course meals are included in the fare on the Danube Express, along with as much Hungarian red or white house wine or draught beer as you can safely handle.  Premium wines and a fruity Hungarian sparkling wine cost extra, though the house wines are excellent and the €10 for a bottle of bubbly won't break the bank.  There's no dress code on the Danube Express, just dress comfortably.  Tables aren't allocated, you can sit where you like, either at an intimate table for two or at a table for four, joining another couple as it's a friendly train. 

The Man in Seat 61 says:  "The house red is lovely, but if you like white, there are two house whites.  The Riesling is the one usually served, but insist on the Tokay.  It's superb, better than many a Sancerre..."

Restaurant car   Table for two...

The elegant restaurant car, an older vehicle beautifully appointed inside.  The Danube Express's chef is reputed to have served a Hungarian archbishop, one that almost became pope.  The archbishop's loss is our gain...

Dinner on the Danube Express   A hearty cooked breakfast   Another tasty Danube Express dinner

Dinner...

 

A cooked breakfast...

 

...and another dinner.

The lounge car...

Danube Express lounge car   Lounge car exterior

The lounge car comes complete with piano and pianist.  Welcome aboard drinks are served here on departure, and after dinner it's the social centre of the train, when everyone gets to know each other.  The staff will remain up until the last passenger turns in...



A journey on the Danube Express...

The Transylvanian West...

The Danube Express train make three regular cruises:  The Transylvanian Wesr from Istanbul to Budapest, the Transylvanian East from Budapest to Istanbul, and the Central European on a circuit combining Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, Prague & Krakow all in one trip.  Here, we'll take a ride on the Transylvanian West, although the stops are identical to the Transylvanian East.  It's a great itinerary, combining all the places you'd want to stop on an epic train ride from Budapest, across Transylvanian and Bulgaria to Istanbul at the edge of Europe.  Why not add regular scheduled train ravel between London and Budapest as shown here and complete an epic overland journey from the UK to Istanbul by train?  You can also combined the Transylvanian West with the Central European, with 3 days in Budapest in between, to make another epic trip.

Day 1, afternoon:  Departure from Istanbul...

Istanbul Sirkeci station, Orient Express restaurant & bar   Station master's VIP waiting room at Istanbul Sirkeci

Before departure, enjoy a cold beer at the Orient Express restaurant inside Istanbul's historic Sirkeci station...

 

Passengers check in and assemble in the Station Master's VIP waiting room at Sirkeci station...

Transfer bus at Istanbul Sirkeci   Joining the Danube Express at Cerkezkoy

Istanbul Sirkeci is closed to mainline trains for the duration of the Marmaray Tunnel project, and on this occasion, a transfer coach took passengers to join the Danube Express at Cerkezköy, 115km from Istanbul.  Cerkezköy is where the Orient Express was notoriously snowed in for several days in 5m high snowdrifts in 1929, the incident which gave Agatha Christie the idea for her 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express.  Cerkezköy station hasn't changed much, compare the building in the photo above right with that in this 1929 photograph!  Dinner is served an hour or so after departure, and passengers start getting to know each other.

Day 2, morning:  Kazanlak & Shipka...

Russian church at Shipka, Bulgaria   Thracian tomb, Shipka

When you wake, you find the train at Kazanlak station, and after breakfast a coach takes passengers to visit the pretty Russian church at Shipka on the edge of the hills, built to commemorate the battle at Shipka in 1878 where the Russians helped the Bulgarians free themselves from the shackles of the Turkish Ottoman empire.  Afterwards, you visit the underground tomb of a 5th century BC king, Seuthes III.

The Danube Express at Kazanlak, Bulgaria   Scenery in the Shipka pass

Like something Gerry Anderson created for Thunderbirds, an elderly Bulgarian locomotive waits at Kazanlak with the Danube Express...

 

After visiting Kazanlak and Shipka, lunch is served in the restaurant car as the Danube Express slowly ascends the beautiful green Shipka Pass...

Day 2, afternoon:  Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria's ancient capital...

Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria's ancient capital   Church frescoes, Veliko Tarnovo   Veliko Tarnovo town, Bulgaria

After lunch, the train arrives at Veliko Tarnovo's pretty station, with a tour coach waiting outside.  Danube Express passengers are taken right around the Royal Hill (above left), then visit a picturesque church with 12th century frescos (above centre) and spend some free time in Veliko Tarnovo town (above right).  Returning to the train, it leaves Veliko Tarnovo an hour before dinner...

Day 3, morning:  Brasov & Dracula's castle.  No vampires, but a British princess...

Castle Bran, near Brasov, Romania   Inside Castle Bran, the courtyard   The royal bedroom in Castle Bran

You wake to find the train at Predeal station in Transylvania (Romania), with snow-capped Alpine crags close behind the futuristic station building.  Shortly after 8am, the brakes hiss off and the train descends from the Carpathian mountains to the Transylvanian city of Brasov, arriving around 08:40.  A coach is waiting to take passengers to nearby Bran for a guided tour of Bran Castle.  Billed as Dracula's castle, the connection with Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Dracul, the model for Bram Stoker's Dracula) is tenuous at best.  True, it's a defensive castle thought to be built Vlad the Impaler but it's not clear if he spent much time there.  The surprise is the British connection.  A British princess, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, married the King of Romania and made the castle her villa, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_of_Romania.  Much of the rustic interior design is hers, rather than that of any Transylvanian vampire.  For information on the castle, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bran_Castle.

Brasov, Romania - the main square   The Black Church, Brasov, Romania.

After visiting Castle Bran, you return to Brasov for a guided walking tour.    Above left, Brasov's main city square.  It's no accident that it looks decidedly Germanic, it was once largely German and known as Kronstadt.  Above right, Brasov's Black Church.

Day 3, afternoon:  Sighisoara, Transylvania's medieval walled town...

Clocktower & Vlad the Impaler's birthplace at Sighisoara, Romania   Sighisoara:  View of citadel from clock tower gallery.

My own favourite stop!  After lunch, the stop at Sighisoara gives plenty of time for a guided walking tour and some free time as well.  Taxis take passengers up the hill to the town, where the tour includes an ascent of Sighisoara's iconic clock tower dating from 1556, and climbing the town's covered steps to the church on the citadel, visible in the photo above right taken from the gallery of the clock tower.  Oh yes, and the big yellow building in the photo above left just happens to be the birthplace of Vlad Dracul, known as Vlad the Impaler, role model for Dracula...  You walk back down the hill to the station.

Day 4, morning:  Kecskemet & the Hungarian horse show

Horse-drawn transport from train to horsemanship show   Hungarian horsemen

You wake to find the train at Kecskemet station, and after breakfast there's free time to walk out of the station and visit that historic Hungarian city.  After lunch, the Danube Express stops at a halt, little more than an open field.  There are gasps in the lounge car as the train is met by whip-cracking Hungarian horsemen.  And gasps of delight as it's clear that horse-drawn carriages are waiting to take passengers to the horsemanship show...

Day 4, afternoon:  Arrival at Budapest...

Royal waiting room, Budapest Nyugati station   Good-bye, Danube Express!

In the afternoon, the Danube Express arrives at Budapest Nyugati station, and there's a drinks reception in the Royal Waiting Room (as used by the Empress Sisi) to say goodbye, with passengers expressing many favourable comments about the Danube Express.  A lucky few were glad to be rejoining the train in a few days' time for the Central European tour to Vienna, Prague and Krakow, completing both Danube Express routes back-to-back...


Watch the video:  A journey on the Danube Express...


Prices, departure dates & how to buy tickets...

Departure dates...

How much does it cost?

How to book your ticket...

Connecting train travel London-Budapest...



Hotels in Budapest or Istanbul

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

The Pera Palas Hotel, Istanbul.   Click to book the Pera Palace...

Easily the most famous and historic hotel in Istanbul is the Pera Palas, built in 1892 by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits to accommodate the passengers arriving by train on the Orient Express from London and Paris.  It was closed for refurbishment for several years, but reopened in 2010 with its delightfully faded grandeur fully restored.   It now costs upwards from €200 a night for a double room, a wonderful & historic place to stay.  The hotel's own website is www.perapalace.com.  One of it's rooms has been kept as a museum to Turkish leader Ataturk, another room (411) was regularly used by Agatha Christie, and can actually be booked by guests.  Book the Pera Palace online...

The Man in Seat 61 says:  "Istanbul's famous Pera Palas hotel is a classic, one of my favourite hotels anywhere - admittedly much pricier after its refurbishment, but now a true 5 star hotel with helpful & friendly staff.  Personally, it's a special place for my wife and I.  It just happens to be where I told my wife she was pregnant with our first child!"

Pera Palas hotel main entrance   The Pera Palas Hotel, Istanbul

The Pera Palas hotel, main entrance...

 

The Pera Palas hotel, after its 2010 refurbishment.

Pera Palace Hotel, lobby   Pera Palas Hotel, main lounge   Pera Palace hotel lift

Pera Palace Hotel, lobby...

 

The main lounge...

 

The old lift...

Pera Palas Hotel, Istanbul:  Typical bedroom.   Agatha Christie's room 411 at the Pera Palas Hotel

Bedrooms have been elegantly refurbished.  This is a corner suite, with sitting room next door, and balcony...

 

Agatha Christie's room 411, where she wrote Murder on the Orient Express (before refurbishment)


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