The Danube is just a river, however what makes it special is the life around it. The people and towns that surround the Young Danube in Germany is what you travel there for. I had the opportunity to stay in many of these little known towns and learn about their life, traditions, and history along the river as well as a few things that made them each unique.
The Danube River is a popular cruising destination in Europe. However, these small towns and cities along the Danube are not reachable by cruise ship because this part or the river is too small to cruise! This also translates into the reason why these towns are more unknown and have few visitors. I felt as if I had discovered this incredible region in Bavaria few people talk about, and now you can discover it too.
These towns lie at the beginning of the river (referred to in Germany as the Young Danube), and this part of the Danube is full of fascinating facts!
In each of these towns I met and was shown around by a local. It was a chance for me to go beyond the guidebooks and really learn about life in this beautiful region of Germany. I loved my adventures along the Danube River as well as drinking lots of beer along the Danube, but I think my favorite part of the trip was to simply hang out with locals, stuff my face with pork knuckle, wash it down with beer, try on Bavarian hats and learn about the charming history of these seldom visited towns.
1. Donaueschingen – the Beginning of the Danube
This is where my journey along the Young Danube began among colorful buildings, and a royal castle. Andreas walked me around the town showing me the newly renovated Donauquelle (Danube spring). This spring is so important that it’s practically regarded as holy; it even has it’s own temple of sorts.
Follow the landscaped path to a recently renovated circular cement balustrade surrounding the Danube spring. My time in Donaueschingen was short, but Andreas and I were able to walk around the spring, church, enjoy the local beer and food, and even take a short walk along the river path before I passed out in my jetlagged haze. The after dinner schnapps might have had something to do with my sleepiness too!
What to Do in Donaueschingen
See the Spring – This Black Forest town is mainly centered around the Donauquelle on the castle grounds, so be sure to stop at the spring and stare at the water bubbling upward – it’s mesmerizing!
Visit a Castle – Walk through the magnificent halls, rooms, and gardens of the 16th century Princely Furstenberg Palace on a guided tour. The castle is still in use today and the gardens are meticulously maintained. Guided group tours are by appointment – Phone: +49 (0) 771 22 96 77-560 or stop by the tourist office for more information.
Take a River Walk – there is a lovely path that leads along the Brigach River that also takes you by the castle gardens – a great place to get lost for the afternoon!
Contemporary Art – In this old little village there’s a lovely new contemporary art museum, Museum Art.Plus. It’s located in a refurbished neoclassical building right along the Brigach River. Learn more about their exhibits here.
Where to Eat and Sleep in Donaueschingen
Stop at the local brewery and restaurant, Braustuble.
Sleep at Hotel Wyndham Garden
Ehingen, the Beer Culture City
One of the things I love about smaller towns is that they are close-knit and family oriented. Maybe that’s how I ended up at an outdoor restaurant with Rolf, his teenage son,his twenty-something niece and her boyfriend in Ehingen Germany. We shared stories of our countries, careers, travel, and sports. It was a perfect night to be sitting out on the plaza drinking beer and making new friends. After dinner we all went on a walk through the Town Square and riverside parks. While the ‘kids’ hunted for Pokemon Go, Rolf pointed out restaurants and the many breweries around town.
Known as the Beer Culture City, Ehingen is located along the Danube in Baden-Württemberg. Even without all of the beer culture it’s an adorable little city! With 43 beers and 4 breweries, there are certainly plenty of things to do there if you are a beer lover. I barely had time to visit one of the breweries in my short stop, but I get sidetracked easily!
What to Do in Ehingen
Tour a Brewery – not only do you learn all about the history of beer in the region, how beer gardens came to be, but you also tour the brewery and taste beer right out of the tank at Berg Brewery in Ehingen. Learn more about Berg Brewery Tours and Workshops
Hike for Beer – trek from one beer to the next along this one of a kind beer trail that winds along the Danube, through the center of town, and to all the breweries.
Where to Eat and Sleep in Ehingen
After your Berg Brewery tour stop in at the Brauereiwirtschaft restaurant next door for local Swabian specialties.
I stayed at the one and only BierKulturHotel. This Best Western property has cleverly designed rooms made of wood beer crates. This was one of the most unique rooms I’ve stayed in and the beer crate balcony overlooked the beer garden!
Blaubeuren, the Birthplace of Art
Even though Blaubeuren isn’t along the Danube River now, it used to be historically. The ancient Danube used to run through the area 150,000 years ago carving out the Donau River Valley until the river changed course. I met Gerda in the museum where she was beaming with pride as she told me all about the history of Blauburen and how it’s the birthplace of art. I’m not normally into ancient art, however Gerda’s excitement about the subject was infectious! The area is known as an ancient artistic community where first man started to create sculptures and musical instruments 40,000 years ago.
Gerda then walked me around the little medieval town and pointed out the old timber house architecture from the early 1400’s. “You wouldn’t want to wander home drunk if you lived here,” she said as we passed the old tannery part of town that had a little canal running along the houses. The particular house she was referring to had a narrow walkway crossing over the canal without railings and to the front door of the old house!
Blaubeuren was full of colorful surprises and stories from the old monastery and its bad timing (completed right before the reformation), to the mythological story of the Beautiful Lau who lives at the bottom of the Blue Pool. But the crown jewel of the town was the Blue Pool. I must admit I didn’t expect it to be that vivid blue, it was breathtaking. I loved spending my morning with Gerda in this little town of ancient art, nature, and architecture!
What to Do in Blaubeuren
Feeling Blue – visit the Blue Pool (Blautopf ) and look for the Beautiful Lau statue at its perimeter. It’s a stunning funnel shaped pool of karstic spring water (69 feet deep) spilling over a little waterfall and then flowing out through town to form the Blue River. Be sure to follow the trail along the river and enjoy a nature hike outside of town to the many surrounding caves.
Ice Age Art – Visit the Museum of Prehistory to learn all about ice age art, music, clans, and masks. View the Venus from Hohle Fels, the oldest figurine of a woman nude by human kind.
Medieval Architecture – Take a walking tour around the old town and canals. Gerda will be happy to show you around!
Gothic Faith – Even though it’s now a private school, you can still visit the 15th century gothic monastery – a highlight of the town. Be sure to check out the cloisters as well as the monk’s choir and the stunning intact alter piece that was miraculously saved from destruction during the reformation.
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I found myself peddling along the Danube in Ulm wondering – do I think I could learn German – how hard could it be? Ulm was a town that grabbed me immediately and begged me to stay. The old Fisherman’s Quarter filled with narrow, crooked, cobblestone streets and canals was not fun to drive though, but once I found parking, it sure was beautiful to walk through. It’s an area that’s meant to be explored at a wandering pace.
However I found myself doing anything but slowly wandering that afternoon I arrived in Ulm! I found my way to the famous Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world. It was a beautifully clear blue-sky day so I decided to take the 768-stair journey to the top of the steeple and view the city from above. It was a long journey up, but full of spectacular views. From there I spotted the Danube River from above winding through Ulm near the old city wall.
After the descent I rushed over to the riverside, rented a bike and pedaled my way through the parks along the Danube observing families and friends enjoy the perfect summer day. And it really was the perfect day – which is why I was left daydreaming about moving to Ulm!
What to Do in Ulm
Wander the Canals – Head to the Fisherman’s Quarter where the River Blau flows into the Danube. Here you’ll find the old fisherman and tanner’s neighborhoods, probably quite a smelly place back in the day. It’s now ben transformed into an upscale neighborhood packaged in old school architecture. Get up early in the morning to walk the empty cobblestone streets and don’t forget your camera.
Climb to the Heavens – Don’t miss the climb up Ulm Minster, the tallest church steeple in the world at 530 feet. If you are claustrophobic this might prove challenging, as the spiral stairs are narrow and in the last section you have to squeeze by people going both ways on the stairs. But standing next to gargoyles high above the city is totally worth it.
You can see what it’s like to climb in real time as I videoed my entire adventure to the top!
Get the Ulm Minster hours and costs here
Bike and Park – Rent a bike and head to Friedrichsau Park – the largest green area in Ulm and Neu-Ulm. Follow the popular local path along the river and stop at the many green lawns along the way to watch life on the river float by, or follow trails deeper into the park to visit beer gardens and restaurants!
Where to Stay in Ulm
Stay at a record breaking hotel – Schiefes Haus – the Guinness Book of Record’s most crooked hotel in the world. Situated at and over the river “Blau”, lies this leaning house turned hotel. The small, timber framed house built in the 14th century, was extended and converted over the years until it reached its present size. I slept there one night stumbling around my sloped room – a truly unique place to stay along the Danube!
Donauworth, Rising from the Rubble
I looked out over the main street of Donauworth at the colorful, pristine buildings and simultaneously stared in horror at the headlines in front of me. Irene had handed me a Donauworth newspaper from the day after a bombing raid leveled the town in World War II. Like many towns in Germay, Donauworth has spunk – it rose from rubble of war. But centuries before the war it was originally known as a major trade port along the river thanks to its bridge at the junction of the Danube and Wörnitz rivers.
Not only did I walk around the town with Irene dressed in her dirndl, but I also picnicked with her on the banks of the Danube. Complete with blanket, beer steins, pretzels, and fresh ham loaf from the deli, we had a truly local experience – a highlight of my time on the Danube. It’s funny how often the simplest things can be the best when you are traveling. That evening on the advice of Irene I went hiking up the hill to get some great sunset shots over the town, and I found a special patio where I could sit and take it all in; I liked this simple town.
What to do in Donauworth
Young Danube in Stone – visit the statue at the confluence of the Danube and Wörnitz Rivers!
Main Street – Go to the steps at city hall to get a great view of the main street through town, a town that had been leveled from the war. This street is actually a part of the famed Romantic Road in Germany! I suggest you stop by the tourist office and pick up the great self-guided walking brochure through the city.
See a Doll House – Donauwurth is home of Kathe Kruse Doll Museum displaying over 150 dolls made by the artist throughout her lifetime. Learn about the history of the first lifelike dolls ever made.
Where to Eat and Sleep in Daonauworth
Hike the trail up the hill to the Park Hotel to catch a beautiful sunset dinner on the patio – and a glass of wine!
I stayed at Hotel Goldener Greifen a cute and accommodating small hotel bordering the park.
Regensburg, Where the Cruises Begin
“Do you like hats?” Elisabeth asked
“Yes, I love hats! In fact I saw a store earlier when we were walking around and I had my eye on it to go back, “ I responded.
“We have 30 minutes,” Elisabeth said as she looked at her watch, Let’s go try some on!”
Not only was the town of Regensburg the best-preserved medieval town in Germany and a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it is also home to Hutkönig, Bavarian hat maker for the stars!
Earlier that morning, Elisabeth led me through Regensburg, past the crumbling medieval walls and Roman ruins to the Gothic style St. Peter’s Cathedral. We also descended down under the city into an area with ancient homes that had been unearthed and restored recently. We went through courtyards, up towers, and down shopping streets learning about the history and architecture of this amazing town. And we tried on hats.
I like architecture, but I really like sausage, so after walking around all day we finally stopped for lunch at the old Sausage Kitchen on the banks of the Danube. While most tourists sat outside, Elisabeth took me inside the original tiny building where just a few locals sat and ate their sausages with sweet mustard. Strangely among all of this history and architecture, my favorite places in Regensburg were the hat shop and the sausage kitchen; sometimes I think my history and culture gene is broken!
What to do in Regensburg
Bridge Walk – walk across the historic stone bridge (it was under construction when I was there) for beautiful views of the historic town and be sure to stop on the other side at the Spital Beer Garden and have a cold one along the river!
The Mad Hatter – stop in at Hutkönig Shop right across the way from the cathedral and try on a few of the gorgeous traditional and fashionable hats!
Walking Tour – You really need to take this town on by foot and with an expert to understand it’s unique place in history. Take a historic town walking tour with Elisabeth or another great guide by contacting the tourism office.
Sausage by the Danube – definitely stop at the oldest sausage kitchen in the world and have their signature 6 sausages with sweet mustard. Sit inside as it’s a great place to meet locals!
Try a Classic – Regensburg is also home to the most loved sweet mustard in Bavaria. Stop in at the Handlmair Mustard Shop in the historic city and take some gifts back home!
Where to Sleep in Regensburg
Ostello Altstadthotel – a boutique hotel fit into an old historic building. No two rooms are alike!
And this is where I bid the Young Danube goodbye and let the cruise ships take over from this point. Sure, there are lots of great towns further downriver, however these small charming Young Danube towns had a very special place in my heart. They were seldom visited by foreign tourists and that’s just how I like my travel.
When I travel, I find the cheapest rental car rates at RentalCars.com. Check out their prices for a German road trip!
I was a guest of Germany Tourism while traveling along the Danube, however all opinions expressed here are my own.
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