The magnificent Danube river covers a long stretch between Budapest to Vienna. Several bike companies offer 6 or 7-day biking holidays on this popular section.
But what if you want to walk instead?
I couldn’t find any walking routes, so I decided to create my own path, looking to the bike companies’ itineraries for inspiration. Although many cyclists travel from Vienna to Hungary, I chose to reverse the route for several pragmatic reasons.
Firstly, in terms of getting back to the U.S., tickets are much cheaper departing from Vienna. Secondly, Hungary and Slovakia are MUCH cheaper than their Austrian neighbor. Generally speaking, when on a budget, it’s best to start at the inexpensive country first, and end at the more expensive country. (Psychologically, your brain becomes accustomed to lodging and meals costing a certain amount, and you are much more likely to look for value and stay within budget by the time you reach the big city. Start at the expensive country first, and your brain is conditioned to accept higher expenses as you continue.)
The reality is you can get good quality for a fraction of the cost.
I started my walk from Budapest in mid-October. The advantage to beginning in the autumn was that I got the benefit of (generally) fine weather, gorgeous autumn foliage, and low crowds.
The primary bike path from Budapest to Vienna is the EuroVelo 6. Although there are times the route is shared with cars, near the bigger cities there’s a generous parallel path designated for cyclists and walkers. I often hopped on that. Other times, I’d walk on established walking paths through woods and fields, making certain to be respectful of the farmers’ crops. Bottom line: walking affords greater opportunity to freestyle!
I covered around 306 kilometers (189 miles) in 14 days, which included a rest day in Bratislava. Average daily mileage: 14.5 miles.
My online research shows most biking companies price a 7-day single-person bike tour starting at $1400. Although the price includes luggage transfers along the route, it does not include bike rentals or food.
KDuring my do-it-yourself 14-day walk, I averaged €50 a night for lodging, with the exception of Vienna, where the nightly average shot up to €80. I purchased many of my meals (meats, bread, cheese, fruit juice, wine) at a local ABC or SPAR supermarket. Occasionally, I splurged on a dine-in meal.
Thus, my daily average for food ranged between €18-€35 ($19.33-$37.58).
Total expenses from Budapest to Vienna: $1233.
Day 1: Budapest to Szentendre
Distance: 23 kilometers (14.2 miles)
Since I have always wanted to see Budapest, I spent three days in the city before kicking off the walk. There is a lot to see and savor in this beautiful capital.
The original plan was to spend as much time as possible walking alongside the Danube river. However, I was astounded to discover how quickly the riverside paths disappeared after departing the city. Even though many walking trails came within 20 meters of the river, dense trees prevented getting a clear look at it.
However, the countryside en route to Szentendre is truly is beautiful.
Szentendre is famous for being an artist getaway, and is a popular day-trip from Budapest. It has a beautiful, quaint town center and lots of bespoke art shops that sell handmade Hungarian crafts. From Szentendre, there were lovely views of the Szentendrei-Dunaág river.
Day 2: Szentendre to Visegrád
Distance: 23 kilometers (14.2 miles)
The faster route would have been to cut inland for a 17 kilometer day. I chose to walk closer to the river, which added 6 kilometers and about an hour to the trip. The walking trails traversed woods and meadows. Occasionally, I’d have to hop on Route 11, but the vehicular traffic was light, and drivers were very courteous.
Visegrád is known for its impressive Citadel. It is even more famous for the panoramic views at the top, which show the famous Danube Bend. To capture the stunning and dramatic curve of the river, you have to climb to the Citadel. Unfortunately, after a 14 mile walk + a two mile detour for grocery shopping, I was too lazy to do this.
Day 3: Visegrád to Esztergom
Distance: 24 kilometers (14.9 miles)
The Danube River shares a border with both Hungary and Slovakia. I spent the day alternating between the walking paths and Route 11.
Esztergom is one of the oldest towns of Hungary. Between the 10th to the 13th century, Esztergom was the capital of medieval Hungary. It is also home to the country’s largest basilica. The impressively sized basilica was undergoing extensive renovation when I went, but was absolutely worth the trip.
Day 4: Esztergom to Nyergesújfalu
Distance: 18 kilometers (11.2 miles)
Nyergesújfalu is a small town that lies on what was once an ancient Roman military trade route.
I used a mix of the 10, 117, and 11 roads for an easy walk.
Day 5: Nyergesújfalu to Komárom
Distance: 34 kilometers (21.5 miles)
Full disclosure: I REALLY didn’t want a 20+ mile day! However, there was no lodging availability in the small towns in between. Therefore, I gritted my teeth, packed extra food and water, and toughed it out.
Komárom is known for its Monostori Fortress and for its unique geographic position: directly across the bridge is its Slovakian twin, Komárno.
Day 6: Komárom to Gönyű
Distance: 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) + 5 kilometer (3 mile) detour to Slovakia
On a whim, I chose to start the day with a detour to Komárno, Slovakia. It really was as simple as crossing the bridge over the Danube River. Once there, I spent an hour exploring. I visited their Courtyard of Europe and admired its quaint, fairytale-like design, before crossing back into Hungary.
From there, I followed Route 1 into Gönyű, which is primarily known for its gas power plant. I had a very hearty traditional Hungarian dish by the Danube River.
Day 7: Gönyű to Győr
Distance: 16 kilometers (9.9 miles)
I took Route 1, which turned away from the Danube River and cut sharply inland. Although some might consider the path alongside farmland and corn fields monotonous, I really appreciated the quiet.
The beautiful city of Győr is a gem of a find. The sixth-largest city in Hungary is a wonderful place to stroll, and offers several lodging and restaurants options. I took the time to visit the Benedictine Church, Ark of the Covenant Statue, and Town Hall.
Day 8: Győr to Mosonmagyaróvár
Distance: 43 kilometers (26.8 miles)
The long walk Mosonmagyaróvár, a city that dates back to the 1st century, was due to necessity. There was no available lodging at my price point in the towns in between.
The path itself was very easy and involved minimal use of Google Maps. The bigger issue was the steady rain. However, the fact that the weather was on the nastier side only emphasized the kindness of the locals. A Hungarian woman stopped her car, asked if I was okay, and whether she could give me a ride. I chose to finish walking, but thought it so nice that she’d offered.
Day 9: Mosonmagyaróvár to Rajka
Distance: 17 kilometers (10.6 miles)
Rajka is a small village that was first established in the 13th century, and which is located within a few kilometers of the Slovakian border. After the long walk the day before, the relatively short walk felt terrific.
Day 10-11: Rajka to Bratislava (Slovakia)
Distance: 20 kilometers (12.4 miles)
It was very easy to cross the border into Slovakia. Although their officials looked surprised to see me on foot, they grinned and merely directed me to continue walking. There were a few miles on some fabulous bike paths before entering the city.
I chose to spend my first and only rest day since departing Budapest in Slovakia’s capital. I had a fantastic time exploring such tourist attractions as Bratislava Castle, the Blue Church, the Presidential Palace, and St. Martin’s Cathedral.
And I treated myself to Bryndzové halušky, a traditional dish made of dumplings, sheep cheese, and bacon. Delicious!
Day 12: Bratislava (Slovakia) to Petronell-Carnuntum (Austria)
Distance: 23 kilometers (14.3 miles)
The bike route from Bratislava happens to traverse an open-air museum of Slovakian World War II bunkers.
I didn’t need to show a passport as I crossed into Austria. At first, I wondered uneasily why so many shops were closed.
It did not take me long to realize I had made a rookie mistake by failing to check Austria’s holiday calendar before entering the country. It turns out, it was Austrian National Day.
Petronell-Carnuntum is home to Roman ruins. I passed the amphitheater that the Romans built over 2000 years ago.
Day 13: Petronell-Carnuntum to Fischamend Dorf
Distance: 20 kilometers (12.4 miles)
It poured heavily the entire day, and the temperature dropped to the low 50s. Because of the heavy rain, I nixed the original plan to visit the outdoor Roman ruins, and instead started walking.
This section is not built with walkers in mind. For the most part, there was ample room to walk on the grass parallel to the roads. However, for safety there were times I needed to hop on smaller country roads.
Fischamend Dorf is located near the Vienna International airport, just outside the city.
Day 14: Fischamend Dorf to Vienna
Distance: 20 kilometers (12.4 miles)
The final stretch to Vienna passes close to the airport, but on a back road. The remainder of the walk consisted of mostly city navigation. Since it was on the way to the hotel, I made an impromptu decision to stop by the Vienna Central Cemetery and visit the grave markers for Beethoven, Strauss, Mozart, and Brahms. The beautiful, enormous, and very well-cared for cemetery is a gorgeous place to visit.
And with that, I arrived in Vienna! I treated myself to Viennese coffee culture. Apple strudel with coffee? It’s pure happiness.
Best Practices and Tips
There were a few surprises. I had innocently thought the route would hug the Danube shoreline the vast majority of the trip. NO! Your best odds of seeing the Danube are at the major cities. Surprisingly, most of my time was not by the river, but through the countryside. There are still lots of opportunities for lovely, quiet moments on the river. It just requires more effort and longer distances.
As a solo female, I felt very safe in each of the three countries. I’ve got to give a massive shout-out to the Hungarian drivers and their driving schools! The cars on the road were very considerate.
My phone had connectivity 98% of the time. This was essential because I navigated primarily off of Google Maps. I also had no problem finding places with Wi-Fi.
Expect to carry two currencies during the trip. Hungary uses the HUF Forint; whereas Austria and Slovakia both use the Euro. Hungary will often accept the Euro as a payment in hotels and restaurants, but they’ll either give you the change in Forint, or charge a mark-up fee.
One of my biggest concerns before starting involved language barriers. I was humbled by how many people spoke English. Communication was never a problem because of THEM. I still tried to say a few words in the native language.
Make certain you have your passport with you! Although I didn’t need it when crossing borders, every single lodging required my passport to check in.
Ensure you account for Sundays and national holidays! Outside of prime tourist areas, most shops and restaurants are CLOSED.
Outside of the cities, don’t expect to find bathroom facilities. Fortunately, there are plenty of woods…pack moist towelettes and hand sanitizer.
The Case For Walking From Budapest to Vienna (Instead of Vienna to Budapest)
This segment near the Danube is very beautiful. I am 100% convinced that, when choosing a starting point, the majority of walkers should walk from Budapest to Vienna.
Vienna is a very stimulating city. I read many criticisms from cyclists who felt “bored” during the long stretches through Hungarian countryside.
The bigger issue is infrastructure. Many cyclists online complained that the route is not as well marked in Hungary, and that the path is not as well maintained. I think many posts may be outdated, because based on what I experienced, Hungary is going to great lengths to put down fresh, protected trails.
What I do agree with is that it is harder to find markets, restaurants, and lodging in Hungary than it is in Austria. I think language may also be an important factor when it comes to comfort level: far more people speak German than they do Slovakian or Hungarian.
Hence, get the “hard” part completed first, and you’ll find things an absolute breeze by the time you get to Austria!
Have a Question or Comment? I’d Love to Hear From You!
Here’s wishing you a safe and very happy adventure!