The Danube Gorge (Cazanele Dunarii in Romanian) represent one amazing sight in Romania. This is the place to admire and the Great and Small Danube Gorge as it makes its way between Romania and Serbia.
This can be a weekend getaway from Bucharest or a 3-day trip to make it more relaxed. The roads are not the greatest, and if it’s a national holiday, it will be crowded.
As a Romanian, I’ve never thought of visiting this place before. Probably due to the poor infrastructure and not a lot of advertisement. Practically I found out about this place a few years ago, when my parents were there and they showed me pictures. In my mind, I thought this is that kind of place I will visit when I’ll be their age. I was so wrong.
It’s that kind of a forgotten place, where nature still wins over the hassle of mankind to exploit it. It’s a simple and fascinating place, where most tourists are Romanians because it’s basically no information for foreigners. Almost no piece of information is in English.
I got myself in a group of friends of friends and went there for a weekend and I am so grateful I got myself into this trip.
Funny thing: In Romanian, The Danube Gorge is called Cazanele Dunarii which means the boilers of Danube. Probably it was named considering the greatness of the place.
Where are the Great and Small Danube Gorge?
This heavenly piece of nature reveals itself in the south-eastern part of Romania, where the Danube runs its course between Romania and Serbia. My phone couldn’t decide if to stick to Romanian phone service network or the Serbian ones.
The internet is not at its best, and there were areas with no service. Considering the internet service in Romania (which is amazing), that’s how you tell when you get to a really great place – no service.
The nearest town is Orșova, which is a poor, underdeveloped place with great landscapes. Breathtaking place. And no good places to eat. We had lunch in a restaurant with a beautiful view, right on the shore of the Danube. But the food and the service were awful. Wouldn’t recommend it.
How to get to the Great and Small Danube Gorge
I recommend driving there, as the infrastructure is terrible. (And probably its the only way to go – by car)
You need to get to Orșova. On the way there, you will pass Drobeta-Turnu Severin city, and the Iron Gates, which connect Romania and Serbia, over the Danube. Stop and visit Orșova.
Then drive further to Eșelnița, through the village and stop when you reach Decebal’s statue. There will be a sign saying you are entering the Iron Gates Natural Park (Parcul Natural Porțile de Fier). You will see many cars parked along the road. And many boats offering tours.
Since you made it to this part of Romania, you can also follow this 4-day road trip in Romania itinerary.
From where can you take a boat tour on the Danube
There are some boat tours from Orșova, which you can take to visit the Danube Gorge. It takes around 1h 30′ and it costs 50 lei (June 2017). Tours start often so don’t be stressed about the timetable.
If you are driving there, go to Eșelnița. There will be many boats waiting to take you on a Danube tour, right across from the Decebal rock sculpture.
Where to eat. Or better yet, where not to eat
We stopped to eat in Orșova. Be advised about the restaurants. Even if a place is full, this doesn’t mean the food is good. See if people already sitting are happy with their food. As we were paying the bill, almost everyone leaving the restaurant was complaining out loud about the place.
There was also a restaurant on an island, you can see as you walk along the river. I have no idea about that one, but the location is incredible.
As a vegan, it was uncomfortable. The typically Romanian dishes are served in most restaurants, and almost everything is based on animal products. So it was a long weekend of eating potatoes (because Romanians eat a lot of potatoes – fried, boiled, baked) and side salads. My friends were making fun of me, asking each time what kind of potatoes I was having.
What I could eat was the Kürtős kalács, a Hungarian vegan sweet. It’s more popular in Transylvania, but it can be found in touristic countryside places. I love it! They were selling this right next to Decebal’s statue. They also had mici (grilled rolls of minced meat, typically Romanian dish, which I don’t eat .. anymore)
What to visit on your way to the Great and Small Danube Gorge
You have to stop in Orșova and admire the valley. Take a walk along the Danube.
After visiting Orsova, next you need to drive up a hill and visit Saint Ana Monastery (Mânastirea Sfânta Ana). It’s a lovely monastery for nuns, with a colourful garden and a fantastic view over the Danube. I am not religious, but it’s worth a visit since you are already there.
The boat tour on the Danube
We joined a boat tour on the Danube from Decebal’s rock sculpture site (the address is DN57, Dubova, Mehedinți, România and it’s open daily 9-21). Officially the tour takes 1h, but with the optional stops it took about 1h 30′. So worth it.
It was 30 lei (June 2017) per person and there were 12 people in the boat.
The tour includes:
- Decebalus rock sculpture – the biggest rock sculpture in Europe. The carved face of Decebalus has a height of 55 m and a width of 25 m. The guide (the boat driver) told us it’s 6 m shorter than the Statue of Liberty. Under Decebal’s face, it’s written in Latin “Decebal Rex – Dragan Fecit” (Decebal king – made by Dragan). Dragan is the one who paid for it to be carved. The sculpture dates from 2004 and it took 10 years to be finished, by 12 sculptors. The sculpture is facing an ancient memorial plaque, Tabula Traiana, which is on the opposite shore, the Serbian shore.
- Ponicova Cave – which is a flooded cave, and you can only see the entrance of it, from the boat. The boat gets close to the entrance, and I had enough time to take a good photo.
- Veterani Cave – this is open for tourists and it can be reached only by boat. The boat drops you off there and it’s 6 lei to get inside. A ranger from the Natural Park will be your guide. A lot of history and legends are related to that cave. It’s not a lot to visit, but the inside is impressive. And it has bats. And it’s dark inside. My phone couldn’t cope with that.
- The Small Gorges (Cazanele Mici) – the place where the Danube reaches its most narrow width of 150 m. It has a total length of 3,6km.
- The Great Gorges (Cazanele Mari) – actually it takes you to see where the Great Gorges begin. the Great Gorges have a total length of 3,8 km and the width of the Danube is between 180- 250 m.
- Tabula Traiana – the Roman plaque is carved in rock on the Serbian shore. The 2000 years old monument was built by the Roman emperor, Traian, to commemorate the defeat of Decebal in the year 105. It has a width of 4m and a height of 2 m. It costs 10 lei extra to see this place.
The Great and Small Danube Gorge
The grandiose Danube at its best is right here. Having a length of almost 9 km, the Danube is narrowed by rocky stone walls, making the navigation a real adventure. The boat driver had a little fun and stepped on the gas. Only then I finally understood why I needed a life vest.
Nature at it’s greatest… (no words can even begin to describe it)
Go and see for yourself! Explore the Great and Small Danube Gorge and the Danube Valley.
If you are into hiking, there are marked paths from Dubova (the closest village to the boat place tours) from where to start. Ask the locals. They are more than friendly. Imagine the entire scene seen from above. My friends wouldn’t do that, so I left a bit sad. Next time!
Don’t miss this miracle of nature if you get nearby. It’s truly magnificent.
Looking to discover more in Romania? Check out this heritage trip itinerary in Romania.