The Dustless Highway

No other river in Europe is as evocative, or important, as the Danube. It has been immortalised in legends, tales, songs, paintings and films through the ages, and has played an essential role in the cultural and economic life of millions of people since the earliest human populations settled along its banks.

Originating in Germany’s Black Forest, the river cuts an unstoppable swath through – or along the border of – 10 countries and, after more than 2800km, empties into the Black Sea in Romania. It is second in length only to the Volga in Europe (although at 6400km, the Amazon dwarfs both) and, contrary to popular belief, is green-brown rather than blue (or 'blonde', as the Hungarians say). Around 2400km of its length is navigable, making it a major transport route across the continent.

Even though only 12% of the river’s length is located in the country, Hungary is vastly affected by the Danube. The entire country lies within the Danube River basin which, being so flat, is highly prone to flooding. As early as the 16th century, large dyke systems were built for flood protection, but it’s hard to stop water running where it wants to. The capital was devastated by flooding in 1775 and 1838; in 2006 the river burst its banks, threatening to fill Budapest’s metro system and putting the homes of tens of thousands of people in danger. It came close to doing so again in 2009.

Despite the potential danger, the river is beloved – so much so that it’s been designated its own day. On 29 June every year cities along the river host festivals, family events and conferences on Danube Day in honour of the mighty river.