Spanning central and eastern Europe, the Danube is Europe’s second-longest river at 1,770 miles flowing through or bordering the countries of Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea.
The Danube flows along the heritage route of Emperors and Kings and some of Europe’s most magnificent cities like, Nuremberg, Regensburg and Passau in Germany, plus four capital cities; Vienna in Austria, Bratislava in Slovakia, Budapest in Hungary and Belgrade in Serbia, making it a popular river for cruising itineraries.
Each country along the Danube has a different culture and different stories related to the river and yet something they all have in common are beautiful cathedrals dating back hundreds of years.
While visiting Europe coincidentally 3 of the most amazing cathedrals are all named St. Stephen’s. But this is where the similarity ends because each offers a very different and unique experience that makes them all worth visiting.
Dom St. Stephen, Passau - Germany
Located where the German border meets the Austrian border is the city of Passau in the lower Bavaria region of Germany.
Within the larger city of Passau is the old town which is popular with visitors for its gothic and baroque architecture.
In the old town is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, built in 1688, today a Catholic church (the diocese of Passau) was created in the baroque style. She is home to the largest cathedral organ in Europe boasting 5 separate organ sections that plays still today from one console.
A gilded pulpit and ten side altars painted by important German artists of the 17th and 18th century.Not to be missed are the church bells of the north and south towers, the dome frescos that run the central nave and the choir and of course the daily organ concert at noon. Note: get there early as tickets tend to sell out during busy tourism periods.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna - Austria
In eastern Austria along the Danube is Austria’s capital city Vienna. One of the most beautiful cities in Europe with many Imperial palaces from influences of a long history of royalty, and the music of some of her famous local residents including Mozart and Beethoven.
Also dedicated to the same bishop as in Passau, St. Stephen, within the central part of historic Vienna is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, commonly known as Stephansdom. Originally built in 1187, the Romanesque and Gothic cathedral that can be seen today from the square outside the front of the cathedral (Stephansplatz) is considered to be the most important religious building and most recognizable symbol in Vienna having stood through many historical events and survived World War II.
From the moment you enter the giant doors at the front of the cathedral, the 18 beautiful alters along the nave and high altar at the opposite end draws you in to view the artistry of the chapels within the north and south towers and to explore the crypt and catacombs on the basement level.
Worth noting, this was the parish of Amadeus Mozart who was an adjunct music director for the church, he was married in the church, baptized his children here and his funeral was held here in the Chapel of the Cross. Mozart is buried at nearby St. Marx cemetery.
St. Stephen Basilica, Budapest – Hungary
Budapest the capital of Hungary, is separated into the old and new by the Danube river and the modern Chain Bridge that connects the historic and hilly Buda with the flat Pest. In the Pest district is landmark cathedral Szent Istvan Bazilika (St. Stephen’s Basilica).
One of the most beautiful churches in the country is a Roman Catholic cathedral built in 1851. Designed in a Neoclassic style, she is most identified by her Neo-Renaissance dome and is also one of the most visited sites in Hungary for her beauty.
Named after the first King of Hungary, St. Stephen I, whose right hand is kept in a reliquary of the church, you can best see the greek cross layout of the basilica from the large square outside of her main entrance.
The beauty of her architecture and artistry within the building, you will want to explore the interior of the church, climb the 364 stairs to the top of the dome (an elevator is available) and stop at the top to overlook the views of the city.
Tip: St. Stephen’s is one of the most photographed buildings in the world, when we visited, we stopped by as the sun was setting, the reflections of the sun onto the buildings created a breathtaking vision.
Beyond the amazingly beautiful cathedrals, there are many reasons to visit each of these beautiful central European cities. To explore these and a few other towns and villages along the way, a river cruise is recommended for the most enjoyment with the least travel time.