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Europe River Cruises

Experience the magic of Europe along its majestic rivers! From the Rhine to the Douro , from the Main to the Danube , we have cruises all through Europe, ranging from 1 days up to 31 days. The most popular month for these cruises is August, which has the most tour departures. Looking outside of Europe? See all river cruises .

250+ European river cruises with 1,207 reviews

Romantic Rhine (Southbound) 2024 Tour

  • River Cruise

Romantic Rhine (Southbound) 2024

The best! We were never on a river cruise and this was a wonderful first experience! the ship the staff the food the wines were excellent. everything was beyond expectations. The pre & post cruise accommodations again exellemt! A trip of a lifetime for us! Thanks Tour Raider for an excellent job, and Avalon!

Romantic Rhine (Northbound) 2024 Tour

Romantic Rhine (Northbound) 2024

Awesome! Our first trip was well beyond our expectations. It was only supposed to be one trip, but it was so great, we booked another, this time a Danube River cruise leaving from Budapest. We've only been on an Avalon cruise and have stayed with them only because we can't imagine anyone else doing it better. Thanks, Avalon, for a wonderful trip and we're looking forward to the next one this June.

Danube Serenade: Romantic Journey from Vienna to Bucharest (Turnu Magurele) , MS Fidelio Tour

Danube Serenade: Romantic Journey from Vienna to Bucharest (Turnu Magurele) , MS Fidelio

Classic Rhine cruise (Amsterdam-Basel) MS Crucevita Tour

Classic Rhine cruise (Amsterdam-Basel) MS Crucevita

Very friendly and helpful staff. Itinerary was well designed with lots of variety.

Grand Danube Cruise 2024 Tour

Grand Danube Cruise 2024

Captivating Rhine 2024 Start Amsterdam, End Basel Tour

Captivating Rhine 2024 Start Amsterdam, End Basel

The beautiful blue Danube (port-to-port cruise) Tour

The beautiful blue Danube (port-to-port cruise)

Croisie Europe Douce France Cruise and Staff were excellent (Good choice of excursions, excellent service, delicious food). The Travel Agency Tour Radar was very helpful and fast. The only negative point was that the initial indicated price on the website of Tour Radar, with a discount of 500 EUR was not applied with the Travel Agency, which made the cruise more expensive than announced.

Splendours of Europe (Start Amsterdam, End Budapest) Tour

Splendours of Europe (Start Amsterdam, End Budapest)

The program in the Emerald ship was magnificently planned and discussed. The local music during the cruise was so informative. Long live the music from the Netherlands and Germany through Austria and Slovakya to Hungary! Just for the music, dances and songs I will do the cruise again!

From the Blue Danube to the Black Sea (port-to-port cruise) (11 destinations) Tour

From the Blue Danube to the Black Sea (port-to-port cruise) (11 destinations)

Crosieurope had nice food, plenty of beer and wine, very clean boat - both inside and out. Staff were very nice and helpful, always cleaning windows, carpet, etc. The administration staff were a bit at times disorganised. Sometimes they would forget to give message in English after they delivered Message in French.

Splendours of Europe (Start Budapest, End Amsterdam) Tour

Splendours of Europe (Start Budapest, End Amsterdam)

Danube Classics Vienna 2024 (8 destinations) Tour

Danube Classics Vienna 2024 (8 destinations)

Al-Rosa did an excellent job. Food was good and lots of it, the cabin was clean and comfortable. The staff were always friendly and helpful and Sabrina did a great job of looking after everyone and made sure that we were always at the right place at the right time. The tours were great and we enjoyed our evenings in the lounge with music and quizzes by Erich. We had a great holiday!

Classical Rhine Cruise (Amsterdam - Basel) (10 destinations) Tour

Classical Rhine Cruise (Amsterdam - Basel) (10 destinations)

A good balance of excursions and relaxation and good food and wine

Danube Classics 2024 Tour

Danube Classics 2024

Castles along the Rhine (2024) (Basel to Amsterdam, 2024) Tour

Castles along the Rhine (2024) (Basel to Amsterdam, 2024)

Very nice trip. Your were OK with a few standouts like the vinegar tasting. Wish there had been more lectures and cultures talks. The one about modern German attitudes was particularly fascinating.

Romantic Rhine & Moselle - Rüdesheim > Rhine Gorge (Start Basel, End Amsterdam) Tour

Romantic Rhine & Moselle - Rüdesheim > Rhine Gorge (Start Basel, End Amsterdam)

European river cruises reviews.

It was a great cruise. The food was amazing, the crew was really helpful, and the tours and tour guides were great. The only thing to imporve on if the WiFi which only worked half the time.
The Wi-Fi didn’t work as expected and it caused quite an inconvenience. The excursion plan is not as clear either. Overall it’s still a good tour but I think my last Danube river with Avalon is better than this rhino river cruise.
Great company to cruise with. Ship carries 110 passengers. Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner each day. Plenty of stops to sightsee. The castles along the Rhine make trip a very enjoyable cruise. All staff were great.

Popular Cruise Ships

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9 best river cruises in Europe

Fran Golden

River cruising in Europe is one of those delightfully slow and easy modes of travel. You're in a small floating hotel, exploring calm inland waters, gliding past castles and vineyards and scenery that changes by the hour.

Daily escorted walking tours and other excursions provided by the river line take you to key UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other city and village attractions you've come to see. Or you can choose to explore on your own, which is easy since your ship often will dock right in town.

Lazy afternoons on the ship afford the time to sit in a lounge chair and watch the world go by — kids swimming from the riverbanks, farmers tending their crops, river birds flapping their wings — as you glide to your next destination.

Which European river should you explore? The choices are broader than you might expect.

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The main rivers in Europe are the Danube and the Rhine and their tributaries. They are, by far, the most popular, doable either on one-week segments or longer itineraries that combine areas and sometimes combine rivers. Even if your cruise is only a week, don't underestimate the allure of relaxing for seven days on a river in France or on the dreamy Douro in Portugal.

Here are the best river cruises in Europe.

Upper Danube

river cruise routes in europe

When it comes to Europe river cruises, a perfect seven-night starter sailing is the Upper Danube, which takes you through centuries of history as you explore Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

Ships visit such cultural hubs as Vienna, with its opera and art museums and elaborate royal palaces, and Budapest, Hungary, with its magnificent architecture and modern vibe. If your ship passes the Hungarian Parliament building at night, you're in for a treat; magnificently lit, it's one of the most photographed sights on the river.

Along the route, between Melk and Krems in Austria, you cruise through the Wachau Valley, a key wine-growing region producing rieslings and gruner veltliners, with sipping opportunities available. It's also a great place to bike, which is why it's nice to sail with lines, such as AmaWaterways , that carry bikes on board for passengers to use.

You might also have the option of a side trip to Salzburg, Austria, the birthplace of Mozart — and also where several scenes for the movie "Sound of Music" were filmed. A surprise for many is Old Town Bratislava, Slovakia, which might not have been on your must-do list but which charms with its beer culture and castles.

Related: Booking your first river cruise? Here's what you need to know.

Lower Danube

river cruise routes in europe

For a deep dive into Eastern Europe's past and present, the fascinating Lower Danube route between Budapest and Bucharest, Romania, explores history from the medieval times and Victorian era of Dracula to the rise of communism and the Bosnian War.

The seven-night river cruise takes you through Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. The most beautiful stretch of the river is a 62-mile passage through a gorge between the Balkan and Carpathian Mountains. It's also one of the deepest stretches of river in the world.

Other sights accessed on shore excursions via bus include Bulgaria's Belogradchik Rocks, which are naturally carved towering red rock pinnacles that appear to take forms such as "Madonna with child," and Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria's stunning medieval capital.

river cruise routes in europe

When it comes to top cruising rivers in Europe, the Rhine wins for natural beauty and fairytale landscapes. A cruise on the river between Amsterdam in The Netherlands, and Basel, Switzerland — a typical one-week route — takes you past expanses of slope-side vineyards, forests and mountains, historic cities and medieval half-timbered villages.

That's even before you get to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This 40-mile stretch of river, between Rudesheim and Koblenz, Germany, has castles galore — you might imagine Rapunzel letting down her hair — and Lorelei Rock, the legendary cliff said to distract sailors with the mesmerizing song of a maiden.

The French city of Strasbourg, with its famous Gothic cathedral and robust Alsatian culinary scene, is often a favorite stop on Rhine itineraries, with other highlights including Heidelberg, Germany, and its imposing castle.

Related: Christmas market river cruises: What to expect on a holiday sailing

river cruise routes in europe

Sure, you can catch sight of the Eiffel Tower when boarding a river ship in Paris, but you can do that while staying in a hotel, too. The real attractions of a Seine River cruise are sailing on the river outside the city toward the English Channel and a visit to the beaches in Normandy for a perspective on World War II.

Your visit there and to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, as well as other memorials and monuments to the fallen, is a poignant experience (one that requires a two-hour bus ride from your ship, however). Avalon Waterways brings a World War II expert on board to add insight on select sailings.

Other treasures exist along the Seine, not the least of which is Giverny, the home and gardens of impressionist artist Claude Monet. If you are a fan of his art, much of the property might seem familiar.

In historic Rouen, where Joan of Arc was martyred in the Middle Ages, stop by the Rouen Cathedral (another subject of Monet) before losing yourself on cobblestone streets with wonderful cafes.

Related: River cruise packing list: What to pack when traveling by riverboat

river cruise routes in europe

Bordeaux river cruises are different from other water routes because you explore two short waterways — the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers — and the Gironde Estuary in Southwest France.

You'll spend more time ashore than floating down the river on this itinerary, with your ship docked for two nights in the city of Bordeaux, a mini-Paris with grand 18th-century buildings. Who cares when you are in the epicenter of French culture, in one of the most celebrated wine regions in the world?

Bordeaux serves up the opportunity to sip Medoc, Margaux, Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Sauternes wines as you expand your wine education. You'll visit vineyards and gorgeous chateaus. Your cruise line might even host a dinner at a wine estate one evening. If you plan your cruise for September or October, you'll be able to admire the grape harvest.

Related: The 5 best cruise lines for solo travelers

Rhone and Saone

river cruise routes in europe

Another must for wine-lovers is exploring the interior of France, sipping Cotes du Rhone in such famous winemaking regions as Hermitage and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in Provence and Beaune in Burgundy.

Rhone and Saone River cruises typically sail between Lyon and Arles or Avignon, and they're top-loaded with such non-wine attractions as the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard and the Roman Arles Amphitheater, as well as the massive Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) in Avignon. You'll also be able to take in the lavender fields, haystacks and other scenes that inspired painters like Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh.

river cruise routes in europe

For a lazy, dreamy, wonderful river cruise experience, nothing quite beats exploring the wine regions of Portugal on the Douro, one of the major rivers through the Iberian Peninsula. The home base for these river cruises is Porto, Portugal, with its historic city center, spectacular bridges and port houses.

On one-week cruises, you'll follow the river 130 miles past green hillside vineyards in the Douro River Valley, a UNESCO-recognized destination, before turning around at the Spanish border. The river cruises typically include a visit to the university town of Salamanca in northern Spain. Viticulture is very much the lesson en route, as you learn about port production on the "River of Gold."

Related: 5 cruise lines to try if you just can't stand being around kids on vacation

river cruise routes in europe

Due to fluctuating water levels and narrow passages, the Elbe is a challenging river that runs 680 miles between the Czech Republic and Germany. Historically, it formed part of the border between East Germany and West Germany.

River cruising here is a rare experience. Viking River Cruises is one of the few lines that visits (another is the French line CroisiEurope), offering 10-day itineraries that combine hotel stays in the cities of Berlin and Prague with a stretch of river between Prague and Wittenburg, Germany.

The cruises are on ships built specifically for the Elbe route. They stop in places such as resurgent Dresden, heavily bombed during World War II but expertly rebuilt; the Saxon Switzerland region of Germany with its striking sandstone rock formations; and the spa town of Bad Schandau.

river cruise routes in europe

The Po River in northern Italy is tidal, making it another challenging waterway. However, it affords the opportunity to combine a visit to Venice with a river cruise. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises does the Po in high style with its 126-passenger S.S. La Venizia, completely decked out with a sense of place, from Fortuny fabrics and Murano glass to its gilded accents.

The one-week route doesn't take you far but does include the walled city of Padua, the charming fishing village of Chioggia, and the culinary mecca of Bologna.

For those looking for a longer experience, Uniworld cleverly combines a Po cruise with luxury rail journeys to places like Istanbul, Switzerland and beyond.

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river cruise routes in europe

River Cruise Itineraries in Europe: A Guide to the Best Routes and Destinations

by Judith Eve | Jan 20, 2024 | Cruise Planning & Cruiser Lifestyle

river cruise routes in europe

River cruises in Europe are becoming increasingly popular among travelers who want to explore the continent's waterways while enjoying the comforts of a luxurious cruise ship. With a variety of itineraries to choose from, travelers can experience the rich history, culture, and natural beauty of Europe in a unique and relaxing way.

river cruise routes in europe

Europe is home to some of the world's most iconic rivers, including the Danube, Rhine, Seine, and Douro, just to name a few. Each river has its own distinct character, with breathtaking scenery, charming towns and cities, and fascinating cultural attractions along the way. River cruise itineraries in Europe vary in length, but most are between seven and 14 days, allowing travelers to experience multiple destinations in one trip.

Whether you're interested in exploring the historic castles and vineyards of the Rhine, cruising through the heart of Paris on the Seine, or discovering the rich cultural heritage of the Danube, there's a river cruise itinerary in Europe that's perfect for you. With comfortable accommodations, delicious cuisine, and a range of onboard activities, river cruises offer a unique and unforgettable way to explore the beauty and diversity of Europe.

The Allure of European River Cruises

river cruise routes in europe

What Makes River Cruising Unique

European river cruises offer a unique way to explore Europe's rivers and landscapes. Unlike ocean cruises, river cruises provide an intimate and immersive experience, allowing passengers to explore small villages and towns that are not accessible by larger ships.

River cruising also offers a more relaxed pace of travel, with fewer passengers and a more personalized experience. Passengers can enjoy the scenic views from the comfort of their cabins or the ship's common areas, which often include a sun deck, lounge, and dining room.

Another unique aspect of river cruising is the ability to dock in the heart of cities and towns, allowing passengers to easily explore the local culture and attractions. This is a stark contrast to ocean cruises, which often require a lengthy bus or taxi ride to reach the city center.

Benefits of a River Cruise Over Ocean Cruises

In addition to the unique experience, river cruising offers several benefits over ocean cruises. One of the biggest advantages is the ability to explore multiple destinations without the hassle of packing and unpacking. Unlike ocean cruises, which often require passengers to spend a day or two at sea between ports, river cruises offer daily excursions to new destinations.

River cruises also offer a more inclusive experience, with many amenities and excursions included in the price of the cruise. This can include guided tours, meals, and entertainment. This is in contrast to ocean cruises, which often require passengers to pay extra for these amenities.

Finally, river cruising offers a more environmentally friendly way to travel. River cruises use less fuel and produce fewer emissions than ocean cruises, making them a more sustainable option for travelers who are conscious of their carbon footprint.

Overall, European river cruises offer a unique and enjoyable way to explore Europe's rivers and landscapes. With a more personalized experience, inclusive amenities, and a more sustainable approach to travel, river cruising is a great alternative to traditional ocean cruises.

Popular River Cruise Destinations in Europe

river cruise routes in europe

Europe is home to some of the most picturesque rivers in the world, and a river cruise is an excellent way to explore the continent's rich history and culture. Here are some of the most popular river cruise destinations in Europe:

The Romantic Rhine River

The Rhine River is one of the most popular river cruise destinations in Europe, and for a good reason. The river flows through six countries, including Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, and France, and offers breathtaking views of the Rhine Valley. Visitors can explore the charming town of Rudesheim, visit the stunning Lorelei Rock, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Black Forest.

The Enchanting Danube

The Danube River is another popular river cruise destination in Europe. The river flows through ten countries, including Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Italy, and offers a glimpse into the continent's rich history and culture. Visitors can explore the charming town of Durnstein, visit the stunning Melk Abbey, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Wachau Valley.

The Scenic Douro of Portugal

The Douro River is one of the most scenic river cruise destinations in Europe. The river flows through Portugal and offers breathtaking views of the Douro Valley. Visitors can explore the charming town of Porto, visit the stunning Mateus Palace, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Douro Valley.

France's Picturesque Seine and Rhone

France's Seine and Rhone rivers are some of the most picturesque river cruise destinations in Europe. The Seine River flows through Paris and offers a glimpse into the city's rich history and culture. Visitors can explore the charming town of Rouen, visit the stunning Palace of Versailles, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Normandy countryside. The Rhone River flows through the heart of Provence and offers breathtaking views of the region's vineyards, lavender fields, and medieval towns.

The Historic Elbe and Moselle

The Elbe and Moselle rivers are popular river cruise destinations in Germany. The Elbe River flows through Dresden and offers a glimpse into the city's rich history and culture. Visitors can explore the charming town of Meissen, visit the stunning Wittenberg Castle, and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Saxon Switzerland National Park. The Moselle River flows through the heart of the Moselle Valley and offers breathtaking views of the region's vineyards, medieval towns, and castles.

Whether you're looking to explore the charming towns of Europe or enjoy the beautiful scenery of its rivers, a river cruise is an excellent way to experience the continent's rich history and culture.

Key Cities and Attractions

river cruise routes in europe

Europe is a continent of immense beauty, and there's no better way to explore its stunning cities and attractions than on a river cruise. From Vienna's imperial charm to the UNESCO sites of Porto, there's something for everyone on a European river cruise. In this section, we'll take a look at some of the key cities and attractions that you can expect to visit on your river cruise.

Vienna's Imperial Charm

Vienna is one of Europe's most beautiful cities and is known for its imperial charm, stunning architecture, and rich cultural heritage. A visit to the city wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Hofburg Palace, the former imperial palace of the Habsburg dynasty. Other must-visit attractions include the stunning St. Stephen's Cathedral, the Vienna State Opera, and the Belvedere Palace.

Budapest: The Pearl of the Danube

Budapest is often referred to as the "Pearl of the Danube," and for good reason. This stunning city is a vibrant mix of old and new, with a rich history and a vibrant cultural scene. The city is home to a number of must-visit attractions, including the Fisherman's Bastion, the Hungarian Parliament Building, and the Buda Castle.

The Architectural Wonders of Cologne

Cologne is a city with a rich history and is known for its stunning architecture. The city's most famous landmark is the Cologne Cathedral, a stunning Gothic cathedral that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other must-visit attractions include the Romanesque Church of St. Martin, the Hohenzollern Bridge, and the Museum Ludwig.

Strasbourg: A Blend of Cultures

Strasbourg is a city that is known for its unique blend of French and German cultures. The city is home to a number of stunning attractions, including the stunning Strasbourg Cathedral, the Petite France district, and the Palais Rohan. Visitors can also take a boat tour of the city's canals and enjoy the stunning architecture and beautiful scenery.

The UNESCO Sites of Porto

Porto is a city that is known for its stunning architecture, rich history, and delicious port wine. The city is home to a number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the historic center of Porto, the Douro Valley, and the Guimarães Castle. Other must-visit attractions include the Porto Cathedral, the Ribeira district, and the Casa da Música.

A European river cruise is an incredible way to explore the continent's stunning cities and attractions. Whether you're interested in history, culture, or simply enjoying the beautiful scenery, there's something for everyone on a European river cruise.

Seasonal Considerations for River Cruising

river cruise routes in europe

River cruising in Europe offers a unique way to experience the continent's diverse culture and natural beauty. However, the best time to go on a river cruise in Europe depends on several factors, including the season. In this section, we will explore the seasonal considerations for river cruising in Europe.

Spring Blossoms and Fall Foliage

Spring is one of the best times to go on a river cruise in Europe, especially for those who love flowers and gardens. The season is characterized by blooming flowers and trees, which makes the landscapes breathtakingly beautiful. The Rhine and Danube rivers are popular destinations during this season, and travelers can enjoy the famous Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands, which are filled with tulips and other flowers.

Fall is another excellent season for river cruising in Europe. The foliage turns into a beautiful array of colors, making the scenery even more stunning. The Rhine and Moselle rivers are particularly popular during this season, and travelers can enjoy the famous wine regions of Germany and France.

Summer Explorations

Summer is the peak season for river cruising in Europe. The weather is warm and sunny, and the days are long, which allows travelers to explore more destinations. The season is perfect for families with children who are on summer vacation. The Danube and Rhine rivers are popular destinations during this season, and travelers can enjoy the scenic beauty of the Wachau Valley and the castles of the Rhine.

Winter Markets and Festivities

Winter is a magical time to go on a river cruise in Europe. The season is characterized by Christmas markets and festivities, which are a unique way to experience the culture and traditions of Europe. The Rhine and Danube rivers are popular destinations during this season, and travelers can enjoy the famous Christmas markets in Germany, Austria, and Hungary.

In conclusion, the best time to go on a river cruise in Europe depends on several factors, including the season, the destinations, and the traveler's preferences. Whether travelers prefer spring blossoms, fall foliage, summer explorations, or winter markets and festivities, there is a perfect river cruise itinerary for everyone.

Cruise Lines and Ship Offerings

river cruise routes in europe

When it comes to river cruising in Europe, there are many cruise lines and ship offerings to choose from. Each cruise line has its own unique style, amenities, and itineraries. Here are some of the top cruise lines and ship offerings to consider:

Luxury and Boutique River Cruise Lines

For those seeking a more upscale and personalized experience, luxury and boutique river cruise lines like Uniworld, Tauck, and Avalon Waterways offer exceptional service, gourmet cuisine, and luxurious accommodations. Uniworld is known for its lavish decor and themed itineraries, while Tauck offers all-inclusive pricing and exclusive experiences like private tours and onboard lectures. Avalon Waterways provides spacious staterooms with panoramic windows and a focus on wellness with their Avalon Fresh program.

Family-Friendly and Active Cruise Options

Families with children or travelers looking for more active options can consider cruise lines like Viking, AmaWaterways, and CroisiEurope. Viking offers a variety of itineraries and excursions, as well as onboard activities like cooking classes and cultural performances. AmaWaterways has a dedicated Wellness Host onboard and offers bikes for shore excursions. CroisiEurope has family cabins and a variety of themed cruises, including a cycling cruise along the Danube.

When it comes to ships, each cruise line offers its own unique fleet. Viking's Longships have modern Scandinavian design, while AmaWaterways' ships have French balconies and a heated pool. Avalon Waterways' Suite Ships have two full decks of suites with wall-to-wall panoramic windows. Uniworld's ships are all uniquely decorated with opulent furnishings and original artwork.

No matter what your preferences are, there is a river cruise line and ship that will suit your needs.

Cultural Experiences and Excursions

Wine tasting and gastronomy tours.

When cruising along the rivers of Europe, travelers can indulge in delightful wine tasting experiences and gastronomy tours. The scenic river routes offer access to renowned wine-growing regions such as Burgundy and the Medoc. Passengers can savor the flavors of local wines, including the prestigious Sauternes, and immerse themselves in the rich culinary heritage of the region.

Historical and Educational Tours

Exploring the historical sites and castles along the riverbanks is a captivating part of the European river cruise experience. Passengers can delve into the rich history of the regions, with shore excursions to medieval castles and educational tours that provide insights into the cultural heritage of the areas visited.

Active Adventures and Walking Tours

For those seeking more active pursuits, European river cruises offer walking tours and active adventures. Travelers can meander through charming towns and picturesque landscapes, taking in the sights and sounds on foot. The walking tours provide an up-close exploration of the local culture and architecture, allowing passengers to engage with the destinations in a more intimate and immersive way.

Planning Your River Cruise Itinerary

When planning a river cruise itinerary in Europe, there are several factors to consider. From the itinerary itself to what to pack and how to navigate onboard amenities, here are some tips to help make the most of your river cruise experience.

Choosing the Right River Cruise Itinerary

One of the first things to consider when planning a river cruise itinerary is the destination. Europe offers a wide range of river cruise itineraries, from the Rhine to the Danube, each with its own unique attractions and sights to see. Some itineraries focus on historic cities, while others highlight natural wonders such as the tulip fields of the Netherlands or the castles of the Rhine. It's important to choose an itinerary that matches your interests and travel style.

Another consideration is the time of year. River cruises in Europe typically run from March through December, with peak season in the summer months. Spring and fall can be a great time to take a river cruise, with fewer crowds and milder weather.

What to Pack for a River Cruise

When packing for a river cruise, it's important to keep in mind the dress code and climate. Most river cruises have a casual dress code, with comfortable clothing suitable for daytime excursions and more formal attire for evening dinners. It's also important to pack for the weather, with layers and rain gear as needed.

Other items to consider packing include comfortable walking shoes, a camera, and any necessary medications. Some river cruises offer laundry facilities onboard, so it's possible to pack light and do laundry as needed.

Navigating Onboard Amenities

River cruises offer a range of onboard amenities, from dining options to entertainment and activities. It's important to familiarize yourself with the ship's layout and schedule of events, so you don't miss out on any activities or meals.

Most river cruises offer a range of dining options, from buffet-style breakfasts to multi-course dinners. Some ships also have a lounge area for drinks and socializing, as well as onboard entertainment such as live music or lectures.

Overall, planning a river cruise itinerary in Europe requires careful consideration of destination, time of year, and onboard amenities. By choosing the right itinerary and packing appropriately, travelers can enjoy a comfortable and enjoyable river cruise experience.

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Cruising

Sustainable and eco-friendly cruising is becoming increasingly popular among travelers who are conscious of their environmental impact. European river cruises are no exception, with many cruise lines taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, minimize waste, and preserve the natural beauty of the regions they visit.

One way that river cruise lines are promoting sustainable and eco-friendly cruising is by implementing energy-efficient technologies on their ships. For example, some ships use hybrid engines that combine traditional diesel engines with electric motors, reducing fuel consumption and emissions. Others use solar panels to generate electricity and heat water.

In addition to using energy-efficient technologies, many cruise lines are taking steps to reduce waste and promote recycling. Some ships have eliminated single-use plastics, such as straws and water bottles, and offer guests reusable alternatives. Others have implemented composting programs to reduce food waste, and some even donate leftover food to local charities.

Guests can also participate in eco-friendly activities while on board, such as nature walks and wildlife spotting tours. These activities allow guests to experience the natural beauty of the regions they visit while promoting conservation and environmental awareness.

Overall, sustainable and eco-friendly cruising is a great way for travelers to explore Europe's stunning waterways while minimizing their environmental impact. By choosing a cruise line that prioritizes sustainability, guests can enjoy a friendly and responsible travel experience that supports the preservation of Europe's natural beauty for generations to come.

River Cruise Tips and Tricks

River cruising is a unique way to explore the beauty and charm of Europe. Here are some tips and tricks to make the most of your river cruise experience.

Best Time to Book a River Cruise

Booking a river cruise can be overwhelming, especially if you're not sure when to book. According to TourRadar , the best time to book a river cruise is during the off-season, which is typically November through March. This is when you can get the best deals and avoid the crowds. If you're looking to travel during peak season, which is typically June through August, it's best to book your cruise at least six months in advance.

Maximizing Your Time in Port

One of the best things about river cruising is that you get to explore multiple destinations in a short amount of time. To make the most of your time in port, it's important to plan ahead. Cruise Critic recommends researching each destination and creating a list of must-see attractions. It's also a good idea to book shore excursions in advance to avoid missing out on popular activities.

Understanding River Cruise Pricing

Understanding river cruise pricing can be confusing, but it's important to know what you're paying for. According to Cruise Critic , river cruise pricing typically includes accommodations, meals, and most onboard activities. However, additional costs may include shore excursions, drinks, and gratuities. To get the best deal, it's important to compare prices and look for promotions and discounts. It's also a good idea to book early to lock in the best price.

By following these tips and tricks, you can make the most of your river cruise experience and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Europe is home to some of the most beautiful and historic rivers in the world, and a river cruise is a great way to explore them. With so many different itineraries to choose from, there is sure to be a cruise that suits your interests and budget.

Whether you're looking to explore the cultural hubs of Vienna and Budapest on the Upper Danube, take in the stunning scenery of the Rhine Gorge, or visit charming towns like Strasbourg and Colmar on the Rhine, there is something for everyone.

One of the great things about river cruising is that you can unpack once and see multiple destinations, all while enjoying the comfort and convenience of your floating hotel. Plus, with so many included excursions and onboard amenities, you can relax and enjoy your vacation without worrying about the details.

So why not consider a river cruise for your next European adventure? With so many options to choose from, you're sure to have a trip of a lifetime.

river cruise routes in europe

Judith Eve, loves to write riveting articles on crusingtonpost.com. She hails from the sun-kissed regions of South Florida, residing within a stone’s throw of the bustling Fort Lauderdale and Miami cruise ports. As a native Floridian, Judith’s love for the ocean and cruising extends as far back as her memory can recall.

Her lifelong passion for travel has taken her to countless destinations around the globe, but cruising, undeniably, holds a special place in her heart. Judith has embraced the elegance of luxury liners, relished the intimacy of boutique ships, and marveled at the innovation found on the newest megaships. This varied experience makes her a well-rounded and knowledgeable commentator on everything cruise-related.

Balancing her writing career and family life with effortless grace, Judith is happily married, mother to two wonderful children, and a doting grandmother to three grandkids. Much like Judith, her family shares her enthusiasm for the sea, often accompanying her on cruise adventures and enriching her articles with their unique perspectives.

Her work for crusingtonpost.com provides readers with insightful, engaging narratives of her travels, from vivid descriptions of the picturesque locales she visits to in-depth reviews of the cruise lines she travels with. Her writing is not only an exploration of travel and cruising; it is a testament to her zest for life, her commitment to family, and her love for the ocean.

Endearing herself to readers with her warm, personable writing style, Judith has become a trusted voice in the cruising community. She is the go-to source for tips, advice, and comprehensive information on cruising. As a tireless explorer and devoted family woman, Judith Eve embodies the essence of the adventurous spirit, inspiring readers to set sail and create their own sea stories.

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15 of the Best European River Cruises

Explore France, Germany, and more on these European river cruises.

river cruise routes in europe

Much of the appeal of European river cruises, especially as we emerge from the pandemic with pent-up travel demand, is the small size of the ships, casual atmosphere, and accessibility. Unlike oceangoing ships that carry as many as 5,000 passengers, most river cruise ships accommodate around 150 guests, for a more intimate experience. Balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, and open-air viewing are features of most river cruise ships, and some offer pools, spas, fitness areas, and jogging tracks.

Guests are kept busy (if they wish to be) with daily shore excursions, and most cruises offer several options depending on interests and activity levels. Bikes and walking tours are available in most ports, or guests can choose a leisurely day in a comfortable lounge enjoying the passing scenery.

"River cruises offer opportunities to step ashore in fairy-tale towns and fabled cities. You can immerse yourself in contemporary culture and learn something about the history of the towns along the continent's greatest rivers," according to Ralph Grizzle of River Cruise Advisor . "Sitting on the top deck of a ship under brilliant blue skies, you can gaze on fabled landscapes dotted with castles, villages, and vineyards. A flight of stairs down, and you have all the amenities of a modern hotel—restaurants, bars, fitness facilities, spas, internet access, and comfortable staterooms."

With a number of cruise companies and rivers to choose from, planning a river cruise can take some time. Consulting with a travel advisor is always a good idea, and there's plenty of information available online as well. These are the major companies offering the best European river cruises along with examples of their itineraries.

Perhaps the best known of the river cruise companies, Viking promotes their "longships," which include large suites and inviting verandas for outdoor dining. Guests enjoy Viking's destination-focused dining as well as the variety of staterooms and itineraries with a wide range of prices.

Viking's 10-day "Portugal's River of Gold '' begins in Lisbon with a walking tour through its ancient streets before heading to Porto, home of the country's traditional wine, to board the ship and begin the cruise along the Douro River. Guests can explore Baroque palaces, vineyards, and lush scenery along the way, arriving in the World Heritage city of Salamanca, Spain on day six. The itinerary includes visits to Portuguese villages in Pinhão and Régua to sample local foods and wines before returning to Porto.

AmaWaterways

Celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2022, this family-owned and operated cruise company focuses on excellent food and wine, tasteful décor, stateroom views, and innovation in their luxurious fleet. Fares include fitness classes, shore excursions, and all dining on board, including The Chef's Table specialty restaurant. New ships debut each year, and the spacious AmaMagna , launched in 2019, is nearly twice the width of traditional European cruise ships.

Wine lovers will want to experience the seven-night "Taste of Bordeaux," with visits to iconic chateaux, timeless vineyards, and delicious wine tastings while cruising the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers. Excursions include a tour of a medieval castle and tasting of Sauternes, a stop in Pauillac, gateway to the Medoc wine region, and a Saint-Emilion tour and tasting. Returning to Bordeaux, guests will explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site and capital of the wine world.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Uniworld's one-of-a-kind vessels are inspired by the locales they visit, making their luxurious ships a destination in themselves. Billed as "the world's only authentic boutique cruise line," Uniworld offers in-suite butler service, world-class cuisine, and all-inclusive rates that cover premium spirits and wines as well as gratuities.

Their eight-day "Enchanting Danube" cruise aboard the S.S. Maria Theresa begins in Budapest with a choice of touring by bicycle or walking. A stop in Vienna includes a Mozart and Strauss concert at a Viennese palace, a city tour, and a taste of local delicacies. The cruise ends in Passau with a choice of bicycling, walking, or hiking to explore the city and a special captain's farewell reception and dinner.

Avalon Waterways

Avalon features wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows with beds facing the views for ultimate enjoyment from their suites and staterooms. Large private bathrooms include full showers and L'Occitane bath amenities. Their deluxe beds and luxurious linens provide comfort in spacious, quiet quarters with ample closet space. Avalon offers "Active & Discovery" river cruises with activities for a variety of energy and fitness levels, from traditional sightseeing to action-packed experiences.

The "Active & Discovery on the Rhone" cruise begins in Lyon and heads south through the French countryside of Provence and ends in Port-Saint-Louis. On the way, Avalon Choice excursions include a culinary walk, cooking class, painting workshop, wine tastings, guided bike rides, and more, with Active, Classic, and Discovery level activities.

Started as a New England motor coach tour company, Tauck is a family-owned global travel firm offering tours and cruises to a wide range of destinations around the world. Their award-winning European river cruises are praised for their personalized service, exclusive destination experiences, luxurious cabins and suites, fine dining, and professional, caring staff.

"Impressions from the Seine: Paris to Normandy," an eight-day cruise, features stops in historic small villages and towns and a visit to the D-Day beaches of Normandy and the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. A private visit to the home and gardens of Claude Monet at Giverny and a visit to the Impressionist Museum will please art lovers. Other highlights include a guided visit to Versailles, Louis XIV's magnificent palace and gardens, the Cathedrale de Rouen, and Joan of Arc Square.

Scenic offers both ocean and river cruises, all with emphasis on its fleet of "Space-Ships" and their meticulous design and spacious quarters. Guests enjoy personalized butler service and all-inclusive cruising. Ships offer a wellness area, massage services, gym, e-bikes, and onboard entertainment. Scenic's "FreeChoice" excursions offer something for all activity levels.

The "Charming Castles & Vineyards of the Rhine & Moselle" begins with arrival in Frankfurt and transfer to Mainz for boarding. Stops include Koblenz, where guests can take a walking or e-bike tour. There's a private classical music concert and tour of Reichsburg Castle along the way, as well as optional visits to the Mercedes-Benz factory or a walking tour of Strasbourg and its magnificent cathedral.

Emerald Cruises

Emerald offers both yacht and river cruises, with a range of cruises on the rivers in Europe. Founded in 2013, Emerald now features a fleet of nine "Star-Ships," with stylish suites, first-class amenities, and room for 180 guests. Most carry bicycles, and all staterooms are equipped with hiking poles. Excursions include the EmeraldPLUS program of special experiences to connect with their destinations, and EmeraldACTIVE offers faster-paced guided tours, bike rides, hikes, and activities.

The eight-day "Sensations of Lyon & Provence" cruise begins in Lyon and heads to a quaint village and then south again towards Tournon, with its 16th-century castle. Along the way, guests can choose a hike through vineyards, canoe trip, village walking tours, or wine tasting onboard.

Adventures by Disney River Cruises

Partnering with AmaWaterways, Adventures by Disney offers cruises on the Seine, Rhine, and Danube Rivers, Disney style. Specially designed itineraries and Adventure Guides create experiences for parents, children, and teens, from active excursions to unique onboard activities. Adults-only dinners and wine tasting experiences along with teen programming, Disney movie nights, karaoke, trivia nights, and Junior Adventurer dinners provide entertainment for guests of all ages.

The eight-day Danube River Cruise starts in Budapest where excursions include a horse show at an equestrian park and a goulash-making competition for Adventurers. In Bratislava, Junior Adventurers can visit a petting zoo, and in the evening, there's family karaoke. A tour of Vienna and Schönbrunn Palace, marionette show, concert, and strudel making are options the next day. A day in Salzburg ends onboard with "The Sound of Music" film and singalong. After an Oktoberfest celebration and captain's farewell dinner, the cruise ends the next day.

CroisiEurope Cruises

Established in 1976, Croisi offers cruises on rivers, canals, and seas with a fleet of oceangoing ships, canal barges, and river cruise ships. The company's innovative approach allowed them to be pioneers on several rivers in Europe including the Gironde, Loire, Po, and Elbe, basing their ships' design on the characteristics of the waterways.

CroisiEurope's seven-day "Hamburg to Berlin: Discover the Medieval Charms of Hanseatic Cities" cruise starts with guided tours of Hamburg and Lübeck, A UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a morning cruise, the ship will ride on the Scharnebeck twin ship lift, one of the highest in Europe, with a vertical lift of 125 feet. An optional visit to the Autostadt theme park, dedicated to German auto design, and an afternoon cruise fill day four. The next day, there's a tour of Magdeburg, known for its fascinating architecture and culture. The ship arrives in Berlin for a tour and festive evening.

This German cruise company' s distinctive ships are easy to recognize by the large red lips and rose on the bow. Their fleet of 12 ships was joined by the new A-Rosa Sena , a hybrid powered ship expected to cruise the northern Rhine almost silently and emission-free. Family-friendly amenities include a kids club, heated outdoor pools, and free passage for children ages 15 and under.

The six-day "Highlights of the Rhine" cruise begins in Cologne and cruises on to Rotterdam and then Amsterdam the following day. Options include a bus tour, canal tour, pedal boats, or private auto tour, each at an additional cost. A variety of ways to explore Utrecht the next day are available. On day six, the ship returns to Cologne.

Lueftner Cruises

This Austrian family business dates back more than 40 years and offers European river cruises on its fleet of 16 AMADEUS ships. Five-star service, facilities, and cuisine are their hallmarks, and their ships feature wide panoramic windows and a spacious sun deck.

The eight-day "Saar and Moselle Fairytales" cruise boards in Cologne and cruises down the Rhine to the Moselle and its tributary, the Saar River. The ship passes the Mosel vineyards and docks in the medieval town of Cochem for a guided walking tour. The next day, guests can tour the town of Bernkastel-Kues and enjoy a wine tasting or hike to the ruins of a castle for a stunning view. After a morning tour of Saarburg, the ship cruises along the Saar River with panoramic views of its massive loop. The ship stops in Luxembourg and then continues to Koblenz, where the Rhine and Moselle Rivers meet, before returning to Cologne.

Apt River Cruises

This Australian-owned organization is the country's largest family-owned tour and cruise company , offering a variety of travel styles. Their Concerto River Ships, AmaVenita , AmaStella , and AmaReina , cruise on the Danube, Main, Rhine, and Douro Rivers with luxury accommodations and excursions. Apt charters the ships from AmaWaterways, but their itineraries and onboard programs are unique to Apt River Cruises. Apt's offerings include rail journeys, as well as small boat, yacht, and ocean cruises.

Their 15-day "Magnificent Europe" cruise begins in Amsterdam with a canal tour and cruises the Rhine, Main, and Danube Rivers before arriving in Budapest. The ship docks in Koblenz and takes a daytime cruise through the Rhine Gorge before landing in Miltenberg for a guided tour of the city. On day six, guests can choose a trip to Rothenburg or visit a family-owned farm for a home-cooked morning tea. The ship passes through the Main-Danube Canal that connects the Black Sea and the North Sea. In Vienna, there's a cocktail party and private orchestra recital or city tour before heading to Budapest for two days.

Nicko Cruises

This German company offers 30 years of experience on Europe's rivers, and has a fleet of 26 river ships in addition to the expedition ship World Voyager and oceangoing Vasco Da Gama . The company's "time to discover" philosophy focuses on intensive travel experiences, shore excursions, and varied culinary offerings.

The eight-day "Traveling on the Elbe and Havel" cruise covers Germany's north on rivers and canals aboard the Frederick Chopin . Starting in Berlin, the cruise continues to Potsdam for a guided walking tour. A guided tour takes guests through Autostadt Wolfsburg, a park dedicated to the history of the automobile. In Hamburg, there's a city tour and harbor cruise before the cruise continues to the Baltic resort, Laboe, and ends in Kiel.

Teeming River Cruises

Founded in 2017 with the goal of making European river cruises more economical and personalized, family-owned American company Teeming River Cruises developed a different river cruise model. Instead of pre-programmed group activities, guests create their own unique experiences with a complimentary city tour app for each destination. All-inclusive plans and group tours are not part of Teeming's itineraries.

Their cruise in northern Italy along the Po River, "From the Canals of Venice to Renaissance-infused Mantua," is a seven-day excursion starting in Venice where guests can discover St. Mark's Square and Doge's Palace. In partnership with CroisiEurope aboard the MS Michelangelo , the ship heads west to Vicenza and then on to Chioggia. Day four is spent in Verona, with its ancient amphitheater and Giusti Gardens. The next days are spent in Cremona and Mantua with disembarkation and a coach trip back to Venice.

Belmond - Afloat in France

Belmond has another way to cruise some of Europe's rivers — on luxury barges with private chefs and excursions like truffle hunting, hot air ballooning, canoeing, and wine tasting. Seven barges make up Afloat in France , each with its own style and size. The elegant barges cruise the waterways of Burgundy, Provence, Alsace, Champagne, Languedoc, and Franche-Comté from April to October.

On the Belmond Napoleon , guests cruise the River Saône past châteaux, rural river towns, and expansive vineyards. Stops at Montmerle, Mâcon, and Tournus offer opportunities for wine tasting and exploring a Benedictine abbey. There's a walking tour of Chalon-Sur-Sâone and time to browse through St. Jean de Losne.

Related Articles

How to Choose the Right European River Cruise for You

By Janice Wald Henderson

Planning your first European river cruise ? Picking a waterway, dates, and budget seem easy enough. Then you find there's an overwhelming choice of boats out there, and with seemingly similar appearances, routes, amenities—even cost. What to do? Read on for our river cruising guide, which will help you learn the distinct personalities and perks of the major river cruise lines , to find the right one for you.

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AmaWaterways

Vibe : With 144-to-196 passengers, these European ships resemble well-decorated homes-away-from home . Cruises emphasize health and wellness, balanced by fine food and wine. The new AmaMagna , a double-wide boat with a Danube debut in May, offers more amenities and space—including a novel watersports platform (for riverboats). Fellow Passengers : Energetic social Americans, often wine buffs, ranging from 40-plus to Baby Boomers and beyond. Younger cruisers often book themed wine sails. Average Eight-Day Fare : $2,699 per person. Notable Inclusions : All meals, beer, and wine with onboard lunch and dinner; shore excursions; guided hiking and biking tours; bicycles; one-hour daily happy hour with beer, wine, and spirits pre-dinner; and Wi-Fi. Rivers : Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Main, Rhone, Seine, Garonne, Dordogne, Douro; and Dutch and Belgian waterways and canals. Cabins : Residential-ish staterooms typically run between 155 to 502 square feet. Most cabins sport Ama’s signature twin balconies, featuring both a French and outside veranda. Flat-screen TVs double as computers, and baths sport multi-jet showerheads. Eat and Drink : Count on seasonal, destination-driven menus with healthful bents, fine regional wines—even recipes on pillows at turndown. All cruisers enjoy one complimentary, six-course dinner with wine pairings at the haute Chef’s Table, prepared before passengers. Staying Fit : Devotees like the well-equipped gym, walking track, heated pool, and hydration station with infused detox and gemstone waters. A Wellness Host provides complimentary daily classes, like core strengthening and circuit training, as well as personal training for a fee. Shore Excursions : An Ama specialty: The line partners with Backroads, bringing biking, walking, and hiking tours to more than 120 sails this year and in 2020.

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Crystal River Cruises

Vibe : Expect plush, all-suite accommodations serviced by attentive butlers, stellar cuisine, and abundant perks. Riverboats beautifully duplicate Crystal Ocean’s modern luxury style . Fellow Passengers : Consider the mostly American over-50 crowd friendly, well-heeled, travel-savvy, and stylish. Average Eight-Day Fare : $6,333 per person. Notable Inclusions: : All meals, alcohol, and shore excursions (other than über-exclusive); electric bikes (e-bikes); 24-hour room service; self-service laundry (rare to riverboats); Wi-Fi; gratuities onboard and ashore; airport transfers. Rivers : Rhine, Main, Danube, and Moselle. (Note: Crystal riverboats don’t sail in France.) Cabins : Even the smallest suites (188 square feet on the quadruplets; 219 square feet on Mozart), feel swanky. Revel in king—not the typical riverboat queen—beds. Most feature walk-in closets and dual-vanity bathrooms. Modern tech accents include a bedside iPad with room controls. ETRO Italian toiletries, especially the body lotion, are swipe-worthy. Eat and Drink : Think Michelin star-style cuisine, particularly at on-site restaurant Waterside. The Bistro showcases morning specialty coffees and house-baked pastries, midday charcuterie, and later, wine and tapas. A Vintage Room extravaganza (a rare extra cost), paired with legendary wines, is extraordinary. Staying Fit : At the well-outfitted fitness center, personal training’s available. Take comp morning classes like yoga, plunge into the heated indoor pool. Off ship, go kayaking and canoeing, ride an e-bike. Later, unwind in the full-service spa. Shore Excursions : Outings are designed to avoid tourist hordes. Tour groups are limited to an unusually intimate 15 guests, and Crystal’s plush customized coaches deliver leg room, power outlets at every seat, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

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Emerald Waterways

Vibe : Emerald’s 112-to-182 passenger European riverboats resemble attractive mid-priced modern hotels, awash in glass, chrome, and contemporary art, with buzzy lounges. Most boats have spas and salons. The pool converts to a movie theater on all ships except Emerald Radiance . Fellow Passengers : A fun-loving, energetic group, mostly 45 years old and up, although the line increasingly skews younger. Cruisers are from the U.K., Australia, and North America, and like independent exploration, such as bicycling ashore. Average Eight-Day Fare : $2,600 per person. Notable Inclusions : All meals, beer, and wine with onboard lunch and dinner; most excursions; wifi; gratuities onboard and ashore; and airport transfers. Rivers : Danube, Maine, Rhine, Moselle, Douro, Rhône, Saône. Cabins : Solo cabins—great for friends traveling together—run 117 square feet. Most guests book 180-square-foot Balcony Suites. The fanciest, at 315 square feet, include an iPad, Nespresso machine, and some laundry service. Eat and Drink : Reflections Restaurant provides daytime buffets, and four-course contemporary European evening dining with regional wines. Passengers keep the poolside bar lively. Weather permitting, Emerald hosts a popular once-a-week sundeck lunch barbecue. Staying Fit : The large indoor heated pool has a retractable roof, top deck walking/running track, and wellness center with a small gym. Shore Excursions : Many diversified options, including the popular EmeraldACTIVE, featuring guided bike tours and vigorous hikes.

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Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

Vibe : Scenic —Emerald Waterways’ older, pricier sibling—also leans modern chic, with marble, glass, wood, and steel. Ships host between 44 and 163 guests, who enjoy butlers (service level depends on cabin category), and venues like a gym, salon, and spa. Fellow Passengers : Social, sophisticated passengers, usually 55-plus, who relish food and wine and independent exploration. A whopping 45 percent are fun-loving Aussies, with the rest divided between the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. Passengers mix well and many make new international friends. Average Eight-Day Fare : $4,500 per person. Notable Inclusions : All meals and most alcohol; 24-hour room service; gratuities onboard and ashore; excursions and events; Wi-Fi; airport transfers. Rivers : Danube, Main, Rhine, Moselle, Douro, Rhône, Saône. Cabins : Accommodations are dubbed suites, yet the smallest (160 square feet) are considered a cabin by most. All provide Egyptian cotton sheets, down pillows, and L’Occitane toiletries. Butlers stock complimentary mini-fridges, filled with guests’ preferred beverages. Eat and Drink : Scenic offers singular advantages: Six dining choices—like sundeck teppanyaki—and enough dinner tables for two. Tuck into lavish five-course meals in specialty restaurants, perhaps French or Italian. Guests booked in costly suites enjoy one complimentary six-course degustation menu, sommelier-paired with wine, in the haute Table La Rive. Staying Fit : Use the outdoor heated pool, wellness center with workout equipment, running/walking track, and e-bikes. Scenic partners with Trek for 10 sailings per year, melding daily cycling trips into a river cruise itinerary. Shore Excursions : Scenic partners with National Geographic, featuring a Nat Geo photographer and lecturer, on some sails. Most memorable: Every cruise offers a Scenic Enrich event, such as a private ballet performance in a St. Petersburg palace.

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Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Vibe : Admirers of opulent European hotels adore Uniworld’s boats, averaging 130 guests. Think bespoke furnishings, intense hues, antiques, crystal, and marble. No ships are alike; one evokes the Art Deco era, another resembles a baronial estate. Six Super Ships, the line’s crème de la crème, prove particularly posh. Fellow Passengers : Chic, discerning passengers who are mostly North American, with some Brits and Europeans, age 50 and up. Average Eight-Day Fare : $4,000 per person. Notable Inclusions : All meals and alcohol; 24-hour room service; shore excursions; wellness programs; gratuities onboard and ashore; Wi-Fi; airport transfers. Rivers : Danube, Moselle, Rhine, Main, Bordeaux, Dordogne, Garonne, Seine, Saône, Rhône, Douro, Po, Moselle. Cabins : Enthusiasts overlook the small cabins (some just 151 square feet) for luxe appointments, like handcrafted beds from legendary Savoir Beds of England, thick towels on heated bars, and Asprey and Hermés toiletries. Butlers pamper suite guests, including unpacking luggage and drawing bubble baths. Eat and Drink : Chefs excel at classic and contemporary European cuisine showcasing local ingredients. Vegetarians, vegans, and the diet-minded dine well. Bartenders craft cool destination-inspired cocktails. Adventurous guests book Uniworld’s intimate dinners in local host homes. Staying Fit : Work off indulgence in the well-equipped gym; certified wellness instructors offer TRX® Suspension Training on select sails. Exhale with a spa facial or massage. Shore Excursions : Enthusiastic guides, speaking excellent English, lead activities such as walks, hikes, kayaking, and bicycling. Particularly noteworthy: Exclusive excursions, like golfing on France’s most prestigious courses, are complimentary.

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Viking River Cruises

Vibe : Virtually identical, the company's 190-passenger Longships possess a contemporary Scandinavian design, emphasizing natural wood, neutral hues, and windows. Enthusiasts praise the alikeness , preferring the same onboard experience wherever they go. With such uniformity, Viking cruises purr along like Bentleys. Fellow Passengers : A primarily American over-50 crowd, well-traveled but sometimes budget-minded, passionate about history, culture, and the arts. Average Eight-Day Fare : $3,748 per person. Notable Inclusions: : All meals, beer and wine with onboard lunch and dinner; one complimentary shore excursion per port; Wi-Fi; ground transfers with Viking Air purchase. Rivers : Rhine, Main, Danube, Seine, Rhône, Douro, Moselle, Elbe, Dordogne, Garonne, and Gironde. Cabins : Viking’s bathrooms, with glass-enclosed showers, heated floors, and anti-fog mirrors, are knockout. Standard Staterooms are small (150 square feet) but functional; comfort comes in 205-square-foot Veranda Staterooms. Splurge on a 275-square-foot Veranda Suite, or 445-square-foot Explorer Suite. Eat and Drink : Viking dishes up familiar American and modern European cuisine. The casual indoor-outdoor Aquavit Terrace delivers pleasing daytime buffets. Most passengers happily dine in The Restaurant on three-course meals at night. Staying Fit : No workout facilities, except for a small walking track (and two putting greens). Concierges can arrange visits to local spas and gyms. Shore Excursions : Widely praised for immersive local experiences, Viking standouts include intimate tea and conversation in local residents’ homes, and a fabulous outing to Downtown Abbey’s Highclere Castle.

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15 of the best river cruises in Europe

Leisurely and luxurious, with incredible food and wine, our europe river cruises are some of the best….

river cruise routes in europe

R iver cruising in Europe is all about life in the slow lane. It’s a way of exploring the history, cuisine and nature of a region as you drift gently past vineyards, meadows and towns.

Rivers have always formed essential transport arteries across the continent, so it’s along their banks that Europe’s great cities have grown, from Budapest and Vienna to Cologne, Paris and Prague . A river cruise is an effortless, stress-free way to take all this in, returning to the comfort of your luxurious floating hotel at the end of each day.

Here are 15 popular river voyages in Europe, whether you’re planning your first cruise or are already a river cruising connoisseur.

Main photo: S an Basilio cruise terminal in Venice (Getty Images)

A canal in Burano (Alamy)

1. Explore the Venetian Lagoon

Best for romance With big cruise ships now banned from the heart of Venice , an unobtrusive luxury river cruise boat is the best way to explore the city and the islands of the misty lagoon. You’ll dock at San Basilio, on the Giudecca Canal, an easy walk from Piazza San Marco. You’ll usually spend three or four nights here, with plenty of time to lose yourself among Venice’s greeny-blue canals, marble palaces and sunlit squares.

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There’ll be forays into the lagoon and, water levels permitting, along the River Po. Here you can take in islands including Burano, famed for its brightly painted houses; Murano, centre of Venice’s glassblowing industry; and sleepy Torcello. Most cruise lines offer a day trip to Bologna, including a pasta-making demonstration, while others treat you to the unforgettable experience of a private, after-hours view of St Mark’s Basilica, guided by an art historian.

The Moselle at Bernkastel-Kues (Alamy)

2. Mosey along the Moselle

Best for longer sailings The narrow Moselle river flows into the Rhine at Koblenz and is often featured as part of a longer European river cruise. The Moselle valley is especially scenic, with terraced vineyards clinging to almost sheer slopes guarded by craggy castles, and the banks dotted with water meadows and quiet villages. The river loops around a series of curves as you head upstream to the historic villages of Cochem and Bernkastel, both famed for their wine production, and on towards Trier. The city has some of the best-preserved Roman structures in the whole of Germany , including the original Porta Nigra town gate and an amphitheatre built to seat 20,000.

The Danube from the hillside town of Petrovaradin in Serbia (Alamy)

3. Uncover history along the Eastern Danube

Best for going back in time Beyond Budapest, the Danube cuts its way through the southern Carpathian Mountains, continuing under the vast skies of the steppes, and finally reaching its marshy delta in Romania. Along the way are cool cities such as Novi Sad and Belgrade, standing in stark contrast to swathes of forested countryside in Bulgaria and Serbia. There’s ancient history in Veliko Târnovo, the former capital of Bulgaria; at the medieval fortress of Baba Vidin; and in the wind-sculpted rock formations at Belogradchik. But this is also an opportunity to learn about the tragedies of the much more recent Balkans conflict, which kept this stretch of the river off limits for decades.

Several lines have now added the eastern Danube to their river cruise collections, some of them providing an extension to Bucharest, a city of grand boulevards and brutalist architecture, and to mysterious Transylvania, a region of jagged mountains where vampires are still very much part of the local psyche.

The harbour at Veere (Alamy)

4. Admire windmills and art on the Dutch and Belgian waterways

Best for culture Spring is the most popular time to cruise the network of waterways criss-crossing the flat countryside where the multiple arms of the Rhine flow into the North Sea. The fields in spring are dazzling with stripes of scarlet, orange and yellow tulips, while a day at the award-winning Keukenhof Gardens, brilliant with blooms, is a winner of an excursion. But this historic region is worth exploring by water at any time of year. Cruises may start in Amsterdam , where you’ll need a couple of days to take in the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum, Anne Frank’s House and the canals. Stops on the voyage might include the medieval harbour town of Veere, and the Unesco World Heritage Site of Kinderdijk, its canals lined with 18th-century windmills. Across the border in Belgium, you can shop for diamonds in Antwerp and handmade chocolate in Bruges , or join a beer tasting tour in Brussels .

The Chateau d’Yquem vineyard in Sauternes (Getty Images)

5. Sample fine wines on the Garonne and Dordogne

Best for oenophiles Sailing through the rolling countryside of one of the world’s greatest wine-growing areas, a cruise from Bordeaux is, naturally, all about wine. The inclusive experience of a cruise here will feature visits to St Emilion, Bergerac, Cadillac and Sauternes, with tours of honey-coloured chateaux slumbering in the midst of lush vineyards. Pedal between the vines on guided cycling excursions, drool over the cheeses in the market at Libourne and gaze from the sun deck at the passing countryside, with salty sea breezes from the nearby Atlantic hanging in the air.

You’ll sail three waterways: the Gironde estuary, and the Dordogne and the Garonne rivers, with the city of Bordeaux sprawling elegantly along the banks of the latter. Bordeaux is one of the few ports in Europe where ships on ocean cruises dock alongside smaller riverboats. Here, check out the grand 18th-century architecture, the classy shopping and the cleverly designed La Cité du Vin wine museum.

Traditional houses in Rouen’s old town (Getty Images)

6. Soak in the scenery along the Seine

Best for countryside There are many reasons to cruise the Seine, not least the glorious countryside of Normandy, with apple orchards, weeping willows and thatched cottages lining the banks. You’ll call at historic Rouen, and have a chance to visit the poignant D-Day landing beaches and cemeteries. Cruises also take in the Palace of Versailles and, in season, Monet’s house and garden at Giverny.

Best of all, though, you’re usually docked close to the centre of Paris at the beginning and the end of the cruise, with all its magnificent sights a stroll away, from the Champs Elysées and Montmartre to the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and the Eiffel Tower. Add this altogether and a voyage on the Seine has to be one of the loveliest cruises in Europe in terms of scenery and history — and the most effortless way to enjoy Paris and the surrounding countryside.

The Elbe at Dresden (Alamy)

7. Enjoy culture along the Elbe

Best for dramatic scenery The Elbe is tricky for most river cruise ships to navigate but a generation of shallow-draft boats and paddlewheelers is able to take you from edgy Berlin to medieval Prague . A typical cruise visits Wittenberg, including a look at Dr Martin Luther’s house; Meissen, of pottery fame; and elegant Dresden. The landscape is especially spectacular as you head south from here, cruising through “Saxon Switzerland”, where the river slices through dramatic sandstone mountain ranges. Some river cruises end in Melnik in the Czech Republic, while others join the Vltava river and sail into the heart of historic Prague. Either way, you can easily bolt on a stay in Prague as an extension to your trip.

Konopiste Castle (Alamy)

8. See Bohemia on the Vltava

Best for unique sailings The Vltava is shallow enough in places to wade across, so it’s understandably not an option for the ships of most river cruise lines. But the lightest vessels can sail here, heading deep into the countryside of the Czech Republic. A voyage on the Vltava is certainly an unusual experience, offering an intriguing insight into forested Bohemia as you head south from Prague to Stechovice, famous for its gold mines and pottery, and the former Habsburg hunting lodge, Konopiste Castle, former home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. There’s time in Prague itself, too, to see the Charles Bridge, the castle and the atmospheric old town.

Half-timbered houses on the marketplace in Miltenberg (Alamy)

9. Discover medieval villages on the Main

Best for a Christmas cruise While many European cruises sail from Amsterdam to Basel along the Rhine, others leave the river near Mainz and sail the navigable stretch of the Main. This takes you as far as Bamberg, where the Main-Danube canal begins. The river flows through forested hills and past lush water meadows. In between Frankfurt and Würzburg, you’ll visit medieval Miltenberg, its crooked, half-timbered houses straight out of a Grimm’s Fairytale. A cruise in winter is particularly scenic, the banks cloaked in snow and the Christmas markets in full swing.

Frankfurt, Germany’s financial centre (hence its nickname, “Mainhattan”), is a largely modern city with a sensitively restored medieval heart and lively pubs lining the riverbank. In the elegant university town of Würzburg, meanwhile, you’ll visit the Residenz, one of Europe’s most opulent Baroque palaces.

The view from Eigg across the Sound of Rum (Alamy)

10. Cruise the Caledonian Canal

Best for hunting for the Loch Ness Monster The Caledonian Canal follows the natural fault line of the Great Glen, which slices through northern Scotland . A cruise along it means sailing over silent lochs, framed by brooding mountains, forest and heather-clad hillsides, on a voyage that takes you between Fort William, on Scotland’s west coast, and Inverness in the northeast. You’ll explore the sea lochs of the west, with day excursions to the Hebridean islands of Eigg, Iona and Mull, before sailing the length of Loch Linnhe and into the canal itself. One of the highlights here is Neptune’s Staircase, an extraordinary flight of eight locks. You’ll also sail the length of narrow Loch Ness, sheer-sided mountains plunging into the deep, dark, peaty waters that conceal the secret of “Nessie”.

The most beautiful cruises around the UK

11. Fall for the romantic Rhine

Best for seeing the Black Forest One of Europe’s longest and most important waterways begins its journey high in the Swiss Alps and finds its way to the North Sea in the Netherlands. The Rhine is yours to discover on a romantic river cruise — a voyage that can cover the Netherlands, Germany and Austria all on one sailing, on a trip that can last up to 20 days. Whichever direction you choose to head in, and whichever cruise ship you choose, you’ll pass lush vineyards, medieval towns and dramatic rocky gorges with stops to explore the cities of Strasbourg, Koblenz and Cologne. It’s also possible to go beyond the typical Black Forest routes and wind along the Moselle.

12. Cruise the Rhône to Provence

Best for sun-soaked French landscapes If you’d like to experience France in microcosm, a cruise along the Rhône is going to tick all the boxes. Sailing one of Europe’s finest rivers will take you to the vineyards of Burgundy and charming Avignon, showcasing some of the country’s finest landscapes on the way. Highlights include winding through Burgundy and the sun-soaked countryside of Provence. You’ll explore Lyons , with its grand boulevards and quaint old town; the medieval streets of Avignon and its opulent papal palace; the stupendous Roman amphitheatre in Arles — and much more.

13. Find the treasures of the Douro

Best for food and drink Wine tasting, gourmet cuisine, beautiful landscapes… the treasures of the Douro River are easy to discover on a luxurious river cruise from Portugal’s Porto to the Spanish city of Salamanca. Enjoy the medieval architecture and bountiful local tastes of Porto’s wine regions, before heading west, into the peaceful Iberian countryside. Shore inclusions allow you to discover the most beautiful towns and monasteries in Portugal along the way, including the ceramic-laden Lamego and the 12th-century walled village of Castelo Rodrigo. After crossing the border into Spain, you’ll try a flamenco show and tour of Salamanca — a historic beauty with a fascinating past.

14. Discover the Blue Danube

Best for variety The Danube River has been the lifeblood of Central Europe for centuries and there’s no better way to experience it than on a river cruise. Awake each morning in a new destination — such as the charming cities of Vienna and Bratislava, home to some of Europe’s most stunning Christmas markets – and spend your days admiring the ever-changing countryside of Austria , Slovakia and Hungary. You’ll soon see how Budapest , the ‘Pearl of the Danube’, earned its nickname: on the western bank of the Danube you’ll find the medieval city of Buda, and on the opposite bank is Pest, with its fabulous neo-Gothic architecture and fistfuls of Unesco World Heritage Sites.

15. Discover the heart of southern Spain

Best for impressive architecture The very name Andalucia conjures up images of flamenco and sherry, of narrow winding streets through historic old towns. It’s not normally associated with cruising, but it’s possible to experience the charms of southern Spain and see some of its greatest classical cities on a river cruise. You’ll wander the elaborate Alcazars and beautiful gardens of Seville , discover the sherry bodegas of Jerez, spend an evening in the coastal city of Cadiz, and discover Córdoba’s world-famous mosque-cathedral.

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7 Great European River Cruises to Book Right Now

With an overwhelming number of european river cruise adventures to choose from, we’ve narrowed it down to 7 of the region’s most popular and picturesque rivers..

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Best European River Cruises

The Douro River is a rising star in the river cruising world, with almost every major river cruise line introducing itineraries here in recent years.

Photo by Mikhail Gnatkovskiy/Shutterstock

Laid-back and leisurely, yet heavy on adventure and destination immersion, the river cruising industry is booming (both at home and abroad) for good reason. Sure, there’s the unpack-once-and-go appeal of the floating hotel format that’s common to all cruise vacations. But river cruising stands out from its oceangoing counterpart for its small ships (averaging capacity for around 150 guests), rates that bundle in value-add extras like guided excursions and libations with meals, and itineraries that are positively port intensive.

Europe is at the vanguard of this greater global river cruise phenomenon, where winding waterways—from the Danube to the Douro, and the Rhine to the Rhône—invite voyaging inland to the continent’s heartland, areas that are inaccessible to ocean-bound ships. Here you’ll find storybook-setting riverbanks lined with medieval castles and sloping vineyards, historic cities and agreeable villages. And on any given weeklong sailing, it’s not unusual to drift through three or more European countries en route, affording the perfect sampler itinerary for any eager explorer of Europe. These are seven of the very best European river cruises to take.

Passau, Germany, is one of the Old-World gems that line the Danube; city lovers also appreciate access to stunning European capitals like Vienna and Budapest.

Passau, Germany, is one of the Old-World gems that line the Danube; city lovers also appreciate access to stunning European capitals like Vienna and Budapest.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

Danube River

Europe’s second-longest river at 1,770 miles (after Russia’s Volga), the storied Danube River—immortalized as “the Blue Danube” in composer Johann Strauss II’s famous waltz—rises from western Germany ’s Black Forest mountains, emptying out to the Black Sea at Romania. En route, it traverses 10 countries: Germany, Austria , Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia , Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine—with access to major European capitals (including Vienna , Budapest, Bratislava, and Belgrade) along its banks. With plenty of appealing Old-World riverfront attractions (castles, fortresses, churches, abbeys, and vineyards galore), paired with a front-row seat to some beautiful blockbuster cities (like Budapest and Vienna), it’s little wonder that it’s one of the world’s most popular river cruise regions.

Itineraries typically break down into the more popular Upper Danube runs, between Bavaria and Budapest (with featured stops in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary), or the lesser-explored Lower Danube, which typically connects Budapest to Bucharest on a river route through Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania.

Set Sail: Sail the Danube on AmaWaterways’s May 2019-launched, 196-guest AmaMagna , which has been making waves for its design; at 72 feet across, it measures twice the width of standard European riverboats. Guests get spacious digs to spread out in (nearly half of the staterooms are balcony-trimmed suites, starting at a roomy 355 square feet), access to four restaurants and lounges, plus riverboat rarities like a water sports platform, heated pool, cinema, and a sizeable wellness studio (host to fitness classes and spa treatment rooms). Seven-night Danube itineraries run between Budapest and Vilshofen, Germany (with stops in Bratislava; Passau, Germany; and several ports in Austria—including Vienna—en route); or sign on for a festive Christmas markets sailing around the winter holidays. Rates from $2,549/person; amawaterways.com

Sail the Rhine in style aboard one of Crystal Cruises’s plush riverboats, with offerings like personal butlers, an indoor pool, and in-room iPads.

Sail the Rhine in style aboard one of Crystal Cruises’s plush riverboats, with offerings like personal butlers, an indoor pool, and in-room iPads.

Courtesy of Crystal Cruises

Rhine River

The legendary, 765-mile-long Rhine—which flows from the Swiss Alps toward the North Sea at The Netherlands—has served as an important continental transport route for centuries, teeming with historical, cultural, and economic significance for Europe. Regional riverboat itineraries are extremely popular, bringing guests to celebrated cities like Basel, Switzerland, and Strasbourg, France, and placing an emphasis on Germany with calls in locales like Koblenz, Mannheim, Rüdesheim, and Cologne.

Here, riverbanks are loaded with diversions, including a distinct riverscape flanked by fairy-tale castles, along with a setting steeped in history and myths (such as that of the Lorelei siren, who supposedly lures sailors and fishermen to their deaths). The most popular itineraries run between Basel and Amsterdam , with several stops in France and Germany en route.

Set Sail: Upscale Crystal Cruises branched out from ocean sailing to include a river cruise arm in 2016. Since then, it’s emerged as an industry tour de force, most especially on the Rhine River, where it now operates Crystal Bach , Crystal Mahler , Crystal Debussy , and Crystal Ravel , four intimate, 106-passenger, new-build ships that have launched over the past two years. On the only all-suite, all-balcony riverboats in Europe, expect plush onboard touches like in-room iPads, personal butlers, and an indoor pool, along with loaner e-bikes and kayaks for enhanced port exploration. Itineraries range from 7 to 16 nights in duration; try the weeklong “Splendors of the Rhine” sailing, with runs between Amsterdam and Basel and stops in Strasbourg and throughout Germany (at Cologne, Koblenz, Rüdesheim, Speyer, and Breisach). Rates from $3,799/person; crystalcruises.com

UNESCO World Heritage site Kizhi Pogost with its 18th century wooden churches is a popular stop on Volga cruises.

UNESCO World Heritage site Kizhi Pogost with its 18th century wooden churches is a popular stop on Volga cruises.

Photo by Mikhail Markovskiy/Shutterstock

Volga River

The vast Volga is Europe’s longest river (running for some 2,200 miles from central Russia to the Caspian Sea) and sailing it—along with several adjoining waterways (including a network of lakes, like Lake Ladoga)—makes for a fascinating voyage of discovery through Russia. Itineraries run between the nation’s two great cities—St. Petersburg and Moscow—and cruising here pairs time spent exploring both culturally and historically rich metropolises on either end (multi-night calls are typically incorporated at each). Plus, journeys factor in plenty of stops in rural villages and smaller “Golden Ring” cities (including Uglich and Yaroslavl—two featured stops on this designated tourist route, which connects historic locales northeast of Moscow) that span the 400-plus miles between the two mega-cities. And while most days are spent exploring onion-domed Orthodox churches, icon-filled monasteries, and myriad other historic sights, keep in mind that you may have longer sailing stretches between more distant ports (pack some Tolstoy to fill in the gaps with on-deck reading).

Set Sail: Viking has been sailing Russia’s waterways since the company’s debut more than 20 years ago, and today it expertly executes Volga voyages via a fleet of five 196- to 204-passenger riverboats. Its popular 12-night “Waterways of the Tsars” itinerary features three-night stays in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, calls in the Golden Ring cities of Uglich and Yaroslavl, and stops in the village of Kuzino (gateway to the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery) and at the open-air museums at Kizhi and Mandrogy. Expect unique excursions like a private tour of the art-filled vaults of the Hermitage and a hosted home visit for tea and vodka with a local Russian family in Uglich. Rates from $5,499/person; vikingrivercruises.com

Douro River

Rising from north-central Spain and making its way for over 550 miles across northern Spain and Portugal, before emptying into the Atlantic, the Douro is a rising star in the river cruising world. Nearly every major river cruise line has introduced itineraries here in recent years. Most voyages come bookended by the lively cities of Porto, Portugal, and Salamanca, Spain (the latter is typically accessed by the Spanish border village of Vega de Terrón)—or simply sail round-trip out of Porto—with calls at quieter ports and old hilltop towns along the way (like Peso de Régua, at the heart of port wine country).

Here, however, it’s less about any blockbuster sights than the pastoral landscapes, pocked by plenty of quintas (Portuguese for wineries) and verdant vineyards—many of which fall within the UNESCO-recognized Douro River Valley. It’s a natural fit for oenophiles, who will have ample opportunity to tipple the local bounty en route, including, naturally, aromatic port aplenty.

Set Sail: Tauck will launch its presence on the river in 2020 with an all-new riverboat—the 84-passenger m/s Andorinha —that was purpose-built for the Douro, with a reduced passenger capacity that affords roomier proportions compared to most competitor ships on the waterway. The ship will run a trio of Douro River itineraries, including one designed just for families and another featuring land-based extensions in Lisbon and Madrid . Or try its seven-night “Villages and Vintages” itinerary, which cruises round-trip from Porto with stops in Portugal at Régua, Pocinho, Pinhão, and Guimarães. Excursion highlights include an onshore wine-pairing dinner at a Douro Valley wine estate and a guided bike ride through vinho verde wine country. Rates from $4,190/person; tauck.com

France’s Rhône River is a haven for epicures and history buffs, with riverboats, from companies like Avalon Waterways, that bring guests through Provence (and, sometimes, Burgundy).

France’s Rhône River is a haven for epicures and history buffs, with riverboats, from companies like Avalon Waterways, that bring guests through Provence (and, sometimes, Burgundy).

Courtesy of Avalon Waterways

Rhône River

This 505-mile stretch between the Swiss Alps and southern France lets out in the Mediterranean Sea (near Marseille), affording a lovely ride along the way, marked by Alpine scenery filled in with gorges and valleys. Take in the sights of France’s Provence region, too, with its wine country, groves of olives and citrus, and fragrant fields of lavender (landscapes that inspired Vincent van Gogh and other artists). It’s a downright delicious option for epicures, with itineraries that are anchored in Lyon, considered France’s gastronomical epicenter. Those with a taste for antiquity will appreciate a journey here, too, thanks to regional Roman landmarks like the Pont du Gard aqueduct or Arles amphitheater.

Most of the France-exclusive itineraries here run for a week between Lyon and Arles or Avignon. Some continue north on the Saône River, the chief tributary of the Rhône (the two merge in Lyon), and into the heart of Burgundy; it’s a gateway to stops like Burgundy’s wine capital at Beaune.

Set Sail: In May, Avalon Waterways rolled out new “Active & Discovery” itineraries on the Rhône, on southern France runs between Arles and Lyon, featuring stops in Tournon, Viviers, and Avignon. A departure from the one-size-fits-all excursion packages offered by many of its competitors, on these sailings guests can select from nearly three dozen customizable tour offerings, like a painting class in Arles, a wine-blending workshop in Avignon, or a mountain bike ride in Beaujolais. The seven-night itineraries unfold aboard the 166-passenger Avalon Poetry II , one of the line’s signature “Suite Ships,” featuring staterooms that transform into veritable open-air balconies via their wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows. Rates from $3,099/person; avalonwaterways.com

Docking in Paris is undoubtedly a major draw of any Seine river cruise.

Docking in Paris is undoubtedly a major draw of any Seine river cruise.

Photo by Shutterstock

Seine River

The storied Seine—revered as one of the world’s most romantic rivers, thanks to its deep ties to Paris —extends beyond the City of Lights for fascinating river voyages into northern France. The 485-mile-long waterway flows northwest from France’s Burgundy area near Dijon, through Paris, and into the Normandy region, before emptying into the English Channel (at Le Havre).

Paris is the point of embarkation (and also disembarkation) for most round-trip sailings here, affording time to enjoy a small taste of the city (where at least one overnight stay is commonplace). Typical itinerary highlights include Monet’s gardens at Giverny ; the Normandy D-Day beaches (with 75th-anniversary D-Day landing commemorations underway in 2019 ); medieval Rouen, with its Gothic cathedral; and the picturesque fishing village of Honfleur.

Set Sail: River cruising has traditionally attracted more mature travelers, although Disney stirred things up with its special brand of family-friendly magic when it launched a partnership with AmaWaterways in 2016 (via its river cruise–inclusive Adventures by Disney arm). Sail aboard the 144-guest AmaLyra on the brand’s new-for-2019, seven-night Seine River voyage to Normandy, sailing round-trip from Paris and including a two-night, land-based extension in the city. (Note that departures in 2020 are cruise only.) Calls include Vernon/Giverny, Le Havre, Rouen, Les Andelys, and Conflans, where family-focused excursions include active tours like hiking the cliffs of Étretat or immersive local experiences, such as a Monet-inspired painting workshop in Giverny or a Normandy apple orchard visit (complete with a calvados tasting for the grown-ups). Rates from $5,169/person (discounted kids’ rates from $4,999/person); adventuresbydisney.com

River cruises in the Bordeaux region often include visits to vineyards and chateaus.

River cruises in the Bordeaux region often include visits to vineyards and chateaus.

Photo by thierry dehove/Shutterstock

Bordeaux waterways

Another river cruise alternative within France is set within the Bordeaux region in the southwest of the country, where sailings are offered on the Dordogne and Garonne rivers and Gironde estuary (which leads toward the Atlantic Ocean). An increasing number of river cruise options here are anchored out of the UNESCO-protected city of Bordeaux, where ships overnight so that guests can discover its historic structures, outstanding dining, and lively riverfront. From there, itineraries emphasize the surrounding rural areas and most especially, the fine wines that are synonymous with the region. Common ports of call include Blaye, Cadillac, Libourne, and Pauillac, and itineraries come jam packed with visits to vineyards and wine châteaus in celebrated regional wine destinations like Médoc, Sauternes, and Saint-Émilion.

Set Sail: Upscale Uniworld launched the line’s 124-passenger, French-themed S.S. Bon Voyage (fresh from a $14 million renovation) in April, which runs seven-night “Brilliant Bordeaux” itineraries on the Garonne, Dordogne, and Gironde waterways. Sailing round-trip from the city of Bordeaux, the itinerary calls on Blaye, Bourg sur Gironde, Cussac-Fort-Médoc, Pauillac, Cadillac, and Libourne en route. Diverse excursion highlights include a private wine tasting at the Château Latour (on the Médoc peninsula), a yoga session at the 17th-century Blaye citadel, and a sunrise hike at Dune du Pyla, Europe’s tallest sand dune. Back on board the ship, unwind at the deck-top infinity pool or while enjoying a food-and-wine pairing dinner at the intimate La Cave des Vins venue. Rates from $2,499/person; uniworld.com

>> Next: Why Your Next Trip to Europe Should Be on the Canals

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Rhine river cruise

Top 5 European river cruises

  • The Rhine Valley

Whether its hilltop towns in Provence or Gothic castles scattered along the Rhine, a European river cruise allows you to visit a wide range of storied cities and out-of-the-way villages in a relaxed fashion. No matter where you go, you can enjoy gourmet dining, indulgent spa treatments, and your choice of in-depth tours with experts.

Here, we’ve created a primer to river cruising in Europe, introducing the distinctive, wide-bottomed ships and their on-shore experiences. We’ve picked out five of our top routes, which take in everything from tulip fields beside Dutch waterways to the ancient vineyards along Portugal’s Douro River.

About the routes

We’ve spotlighted five of Europe’s greatest rivers for cruising. Each one works well as a standalone trip, but we think you’ll get even more from your experience if you combine them with an in-depth visit to the city or cities at the start or end of the cruise — you can use the itineraries we’ve suggested below as inspiration. Of course, your specialist will craft your trip just for you, choosing hotels and experiences that match your particular tastes.

Avignon, France

Waterways in Belgium & the Netherlands

  • Duration: 7 nights
  • Start & end point: Amsterdam
  • Countries: The Netherlands and Belgium

Each spring, the Netherlands  erupts in a riotous celebration of tulips and other spring flowers — from farm fields to botanical gardens, the country boasts millions of bulbs blooming in candy-bright shades of lipstick red, sunshine yellow, and vivid orange. If you’re planning your cruise between late March and early May, you’ll get to soak up the splendor of the blooms.

This cruise gives you a chance to explore the country’s well-known love of tulips, with (optional) visits to a family-run tulip farm and the Floralia flower show in Antwerp . The grand finale is a stop at the annual festivities in the prestigious Keukenhof gardens, where 7 million bulbs — including 800 varieties of tulips, not to mention dozens of daffodils, hyacinths, and crocuses — draw visitors from around the globe every year.

The cruise begins and ends amid the scenic, shady canals of Amsterdam . Along the way, you’ll get a chance to admire Belgium’s  wealth of medieval architecture in Bruges , Middelburg, and Ghent , and admire the historic windmills at the village of Kinderdijk. In addition to the floral-themed stops, you can discover the timeless appeal of Delft pottery or indulge in a masterclass from a Belgian chocolatier.

Learn more: You can incorporate this cruise on any trip to Europe, like this ten-day itinerary suggestion   that includes time in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam

Germany & Luxembourg: the Rhine & the Moselle

  • Start & end point: Luxembourg and Nuremberg
  • Countries: Germany and Luxembourg

From the vineyard-lined shores of the Moselle to the castle-dotted bends of the Rhine, this cruise gives you a chance to explore the food, drink, and scenic landscapes of both Germany  and Luxembourg . Many of the experiences here allow you to acquaint yourself with the region’s cuisine and distinctive alcoholic beverages — you can sample smoked beer and traditional wurst in Bamberg, sip the renowned wines of the Rheingau region, or learn to bake a pretzel at a small local bakery. For a more active trip, you might opt for hikes through vineyards or up steep hills to explore local castles.

Along the way, you’ll visit villages like Bernkastel-Kues, Cochem, and Wertheim, which seem lifted from the pages of a storybook with their half-timbered houses painted in cheerful primary hues. You can also opt to visit the Niederwalddenkmal monument via a gondola with panoramic views of the Rhine Valley. Or, you might venture down the Romantic Road  to visit Rothenburg, Germany’s best-preserved walled town.

Learn more: This 13-day suggested trip  adds time in both Paris and Prague before and after your cruise, extending your exploration through the heart of Europe.

Luxembourg City

Germany & the Netherlands: the Rhine

  • Between: Geneva and Amsterdam
  • Countries: France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland

It seems like there’s a castle around every curve of the Rhine — imposing Gothic confections of crenellated ramparts and pointed towers that loom over the river. Cruises along the Rhine let you admire the apparently endless parade from the water, and give you the chance to actually slip inside a few — for example, you can opt to take a guided tour of the stately interiors of Burg Lahneck in Germany.

In addition to castles, you’ll find medieval villages dotted along the banks — places you likely wouldn’t visit any other way. For example, you can stop at the Alsatian town of Strasbourg to visit the well-preserved 16th-century old town, packed with brightly painted half-timber buildings.

In Germany, the river is also known for its vineyards — you can enjoy a simple tasting in Rüdesheim am Rhein. Alternatively, join a cycle tour through Breisach or take a gondola ride to the Niederwalddenkmal monument, followed by a sampling of Riesling wines.

Learn more: This cruise pairs well with an in-depth exploration of Amsterdam, which is included in this 12-day suggested itinerary .

Rheinstein Castle, River Rhine, Germany

France: the Rhône

  • Start & end point: Lyon to Arles
  • Countries: France

Gentle hills drenched in sunshine, lavender fields that hum with bees, storied vineyards, and fragrant truffles — a Provence  cruise between Lyon  and Arles  lets you fully indulge your senses. The route highlights why this region’s sumptuous character has inspired poets, painters, chefs, vintners, and even popes since the Roman era.

The on-shore tours here include a truffle hunt through the sunny countryside, following a trained truffle-sniffing dog. You could choose a vineyard tour and tasting in the Beaujolais region, known for its gamay grapes and lighthearted approach to winemaking. Or, enjoy a red-wine-and-chocolate tasting at Le Château de Tournon.

With narrow medieval streets paved in honey-gold stones, Arles inspired Vincent Van Gogh when painting his Café Terrace at Night , which has made the French city a popular destination for art lovers. You can take a walking tour with an art historian to learn more about the painter’s time here and visit a Van Gogh-themed gallery.

Arguably the climax of the cruise is a stop in Avignon , home to the Palais des Papes, or papal palace. A tour of this sprawling complex of turrets, fortifications, and battlements will give you a glimpse into the Pope’s power in 14th-century Europe.

Learn more: Get inspired with our 13-day suggested trip , which includes this cruise as well as time in Paris, Versailles, and Cannes.

Lyon, France

Portugal & Spain: the Douro

  • Start & end point: Porto & Vega de Terrón
  • Countries: Portugal and Spain

A cruise down the Douro  in Portugal and Spain is a chance to explore one of the world’s oldest designated wine regions, known for both its vistas and its vineyards. The steep sides of the valley are lined with hand-carved terraces where vintners have been growing grapes for more than a millennium — we think the best way to enjoy the views of the gently undulating terraces is from the river.

The route includes several chances to visit local quintas, a Portuguese word for wine estates. They dot the riverside and you’ll be able to stop at several to try traditional cuisine as well as sample the fortified port wine that the region is known for. You can also stop for another tasting in the city that gave the wine its name — Porto .

Looking beyond food and wine, you can also choose to take guided tours of small local villages as well as the city of Salamanca , a Spanish UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to one of the oldest universities in Europe. Other options include guided hikes and cycling tours, and a chance to explore the blue-and-white-tiled interior of the Palácio Anadia, a Baroque palace from the 18th century.

Learn more: A Douro cruise is included in this 13-day suggested itinerary , which also gives you time to explore Lisbon and Madrid.

Salamanca, Spain

About the ships

These are not the ocean-going liners that many people think of when they hear ‘cruise ship’. They’re much smaller, usually only holding about 150 passengers, creating a more intimate trip. The keels are flat and wide — almost barge-like — and the low, close-to-the-water profile means you’ll have a smooth voyage.

We’ve chosen ships with spacious staterooms that have floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as (usually) both a French balcony and an outdoor balcony. The sophisticated decor, attentive service, and luxe amenities are a match for most elegant hotels in Europe, and usually of a much higher standard than you’d find if you wanted to spend the night in many of the villages en route.

Dining here is a gourmet affair, with both local and international menus, and a generous wine cellar. You can sit down to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as enjoy wine and beer with meals and tapas between eating times — all included as part of your package.

Also included is a wide menu of activities available at each stop. You can go for guided hikes, while a fleet of bicycles onboard means you can explore like the locals do, with or without a guide. Gourmets can opt for a wine tasting, market tour, cooking class, or beer-and-bratwurst feast. And, of course, there are guided walking tours.

In the evenings, as you travel effortlessly between villages, castles, and vineyards, you can take advantage of your ship’s spa for treatments, attend the nightly entertainment, or simply enjoy a cocktail on the sun deck as you admire the countryside scrolling past you.

River cruise ideas in Europe

These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy river cruise experiences in Europe. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

Riesling vineyards

Cruising the Rhine: vineyards & villages

12 days from $11,495pp

Nuremberg's historic old town

Germany river cruise, Paris & Prague

13 days from $12,895pp

Views from the river, Lyon

Rhône river cruise: Roman ruins & truffles

13 days from $17,595pp

Traditional Rabelo boat, Porto

Douro river cruise: port tasting & palaces

13 days from $11,295pp

Amsterdam canal in the autumn

Cruising the Dutch & Belgian waterways

10 days from $8,295pp

Europe river cruises in pictures

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Best River Cruises in Europe

European river cruises.

Rhine River

If your idea of the ultimate holiday is to take in as much culture and sightseeing as possible, without having to rise up off your deck chair, then it’s time to consider a European river cruise.

Iconic rivers criss-cross the continent, and most will take you past historic castles, stunning panoramic vistas, famous capitals, and lesser-known towns and villages. Europe’s rivers served as a vital means of transportation for thousands of years, which means along their courses you’ll find some of the continent’s oldest and grandest cities, including several capitals.

There are five large rivers on the continent that see most of the traffic — the Danube, the Loire, the Volga, the Elbe and the Rhine. Each has several tributaries, many of which are also navigable by boat, which means it’s also possible to combine more than one famous river on a single multi-day cruise. There are also several smaller rivers that have fewer cruise options, but are no less attractive or intriguing.

Although luxurious European river cruises tend towards the expensive side of travel, most are all-inclusive of meals and daily tours, such as walking tours and vineyard visits. If you’re unsure where to begin with picking the ultimate cruise, these 14 options are an ideal place to start.

Danube

The Danube is one of Europe’s most beautiful rivers. From its source in Germany’s Black Forest to its mouth in the Black Sea, it runs through 10 countries, more than a dozen cities and four national capitals. As such, your options when it comes to cruises along the river are numerous.

The Hungarian capital of Budapest is the most common starting or ending point for cruises along the Danube, owing to its location and the splendor of the river as it flows through the city. The leisure cruise route between Vienna and Budapest is one of the busiest on the continent, but it’s possible to go even further. Several options stretch into Austria, or venture up towards Czechia using the Danube’s large tributaries. If you’re intent on an extended multi-day river cruise, it’s possible to reach Germany, connect to the Rhine, and cruise all the way to the Netherlands.

Whichever option you choose, the Danube will deliver scenic and cultural delights, and if you’d like to mix up your sedate cruise with some activity, most tours will stop along the route for sightseeing, cycling or hiking. Viking Cruises offers several options along the Danube and its tributaries, some of which last up to 15 days.

Rhine

The Rhine runs some 766 miles from Switzerland to the Netherlands, where it empties into the North Sea. Along the way, it flows through six countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands) and some of the region’s most famous cities, including Basel, Strasbourg, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Koblenz and Rotterdam.

The sheer diversity of the scenery, architecture and culture along the course of the Rhine make it one of the best to cruise in Europe. There are several options available to would-be river cruisers, depending on how much time and money you can allow. In particular, the Middle Rhine, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site , is a stunning region to tour by boat. It’s over this 40-mile stretch that you’ll pass dramatic landscapes dotted with historic towns, ancient castles and award-winning vineyards.

Although many cruises focus on the Middle Rhine, it is also possible to travel by boat all the way from Amsterdam to Basel. Tauck offers this as an option, with trips lasting approximately eight days, as well as several other itineraries to follow along the Rhine.

Main River

If you’ve already ticked the Danube and Rhine off your list, or you want to add a new leg through truly fascinating territory, then the Main River is a great option to consider.

This major Rhine tributary runs for 330 miles through the German Highlands, eventually flowing through Bavaria and joining up with the Rhine close to Mainz. Cruising the Main route will expose you to some of Europe’s most fascinating history, as much of the area it passes was devastated during the Second World War. The river also passes through Frankfurt, one of the world's greatest history-meets-modernity cities.  

The navigable stretch of the river runs approximately 240 miles, and many cruise companies, including Avalon Waterways , choose to combine it with other rivers in the region, usually the Moselle and the Rhine. It’s also possible to connect to the Danube, via the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, which means you can extend your cruise into several nights through additional countries.

Moselle

The Moselle is another significant Rhine tributary. It runs more than 300 miles from France’s Vosges Mountains all the way to Koblenz in Germany. Sailing along this river will expose you to some historical delights, spearheaded by the fact that this is Joan of Arc territory. The Moselle also passes through incredible Alpine scenery flanked by castles, vineyards and medieval towns, as it skirts the border between Germany and Luxembourg.

Although parts of the journey take you through industrial regions, there are long stretches of unspoiled scenery, and most cruise operators also combine tours of the Moselle with those on the Rhine, which offers increased diversity. Riviera Travel offers several cruise options along the Moselle and Rhine throughout the year.

And if you can’t get enough of the rivers in this part of the world, you can keep going along the Main or Neckar as well. This can extend your trip from five to 15 days, and take you from Amsterdam all the way to Basel.

Rhone River

France’s Rhône River presents some of the continent’s best cruising options, with several companies offering remarkable trips through the country’s south. The Rhône, together with the tributary Saone, offers 500 miles of Provencal scenery as it winds its way towards the Mediterranean. It eventually empties into the sea not far from Marseilles, making this one of the most diverse and captivating cruise options on offer in Europe.

Along the way, the boat will pass through some of France’s best food and wine cities, including Arles, Avignon, Viviers, Tournon-sur-Rhône and Lyon. There will be ample time to take in some the region’s famous walled towns, monasteries and even Papal palaces.

Cruise companies like Avalon Waterways and APT offer trips lasting up to seven days. Most passengers choose to fly into Paris, take a high-speed train to Lyon, and spend a week on board the boat in a memorable roundtrip.

Seine River

For most people, a cruise on the Seine involves hop-on, hop-off sightseeing to experience a few Parisian highlights. But while this is certainly a great way to see Paris, there’s a lot more river than that which passes through the capital.

Although a lot of people combine a cruise on the Seine with a transfer to Lyon, where they continue towards the Mediterranean along the Rhône, Scenic offers cruises that travel northeast from Paris to Rouen, Honfleur and Vernon.

Each of these cities offers something unique, from the ancient capital of Normandy, to quaint seaside villages like Honfleur. Of course, leaving the French capital by boat, and heading out towards the coast, is an incredible experience in itself, and the perfect way to see the region from an all-new perspective.

MS Volga Dream

At over 2,000 miles, the Volga is Europe’s longest river. It’s western Russia’s main waterway, and has vast historical significance to the region. A cruise along the Volga is a magnificent affair, passing through grand cities, historical villages and impressive scenery.

The river is divided into three key parts: the Upper (which includes the source), Middle and Lower (where it flows out into the Caspian Sea). It’s navigable for most of its course from March to December each year, and if you use the numerous canals along the route, it’s possible to reach the likes of the Baltic and Black Seas, and even Moscow.

Given the sheer length of the Volga, and the size of Russia, it would be impossible to see everything on a single cruise. Many travelers choose to sail between Moscow and St. Petersburg on the stately MS Volga Dream , which can take between seven and 10 days, depending on excursions en-route.

Over the course of this journey, you’ll also pass through numerous locks and cross two of the continent’s largest lakes.

Elbe River

The River Elbe holds historical significance as the one-time border between East and West Germany. Today, it flows from Germany to Czechia, linking the popular tourist cities of Berlin and Prague.

Cruises along the Elbe also expose travelers to more obscure towns along the way, such as Meissen and Wittenberg, which offer authentic insight into the region’s fascinating culture. There’s the added benefit of heading all the way to the Czech capital, one of the continent’s most celebrated destinations.

There are several ways to approach a cruise along the Elbe, but many consider the best starting point to be Berlin, which is close to the river itself. From there, you can coast along the river all the way to Prague, over the course of at least eight days, with scenic stops along the way. There are many cruise lines that operate along the route, including Nicko Tours , Lueftner Cruises  and Shearings .

Lore River

The Loire river cuts across France from east to west, forming the famous Loire Valley. It’s been the domain of holiday-goers for many years, thanks in large part to the region’s scenic beauty, small towns and exquisite wines.

There’s just one major cruise ship that floats along this famous river, called the MS Loire Princesse . It’ll allow you to explore the valley’s best attractions, including several castles and French national monuments.

In many ways, to cruise down the Loire is to travel sedately through history, and you’ll stop in at several cities and quaint towns along the way. The typical cruise option is eight days long, starting and finishing in Nantes. You’ll venture out east, before retracing your steps all the way back to your starting point.

If you prefer a more active approach to sightseeing, you can also combine your cruise along the Loire with a biking option that combines both modes of transport for optimum sightseeing enjoyment.

Douro River

The stunning Douro River offers an enticing river cruise option in the far west of Europe. The river winds its way through Spain and Portugal, and a cruise along it will allow you to explore several fascinating cities and attractions.

The Douro is one of the Iberian peninsula’s largest rivers. From its source in northern Spain, it flows all the way to the popular Portuguese coastal town of Porto, where most cruises start and end.

Cruises along the Douro usually venture up into the Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This incredible valley, along with several postcard-worthy towns and ancient cities, will give you insight into some of the oldest Portuguese food, culture and traditions. Emerald Waterways and Scenic offer various sailing itineraries through Portugal.

Thames

Much like Paris’s Seine, most people who venture out onto the Thames will do so on a short sightseeing excursion in London. But this iconic river flows through more than just the British capital — and all but 25 miles of the river is open to cruising.

The Thames winds sedately through eight English counties, from Cotswold Hills all the way to the North Sea. Along the way, it passes through such prestigious cities as Oxford, Reading and Windsor. Much of the river is controlled by locks, but the final 50 miles are tidal, meaning not all ships can access this section.

Although boats on the Thames are a regular sight, it’s unusual for cruise ships to schedule journeys along this stretch of water. Instead, the majority of scenic cruises are done on large boats, often just for the day, to offer a unique vantage point of London and its nearby attractions.

If you’re intent on an overnight journey on the famous river, then your best bet might be booking a ticket aboard the converted cargo barge Magna Carta . Though built in Holland, it now sails the River Thames with capacity for up to eight overnight guests.

Gota Canal

There are few better ways to discover Sweden’s unique beauty than by venturing onto her vast waterways. Arguably the best of these is the 370-mile waterway that links Gothenburg to the Baltic Sea, called the Gota Canal, and you can ride a classic steamer, the  Wilhem Tham, for the majority of it. This jaw-dropping 25-cabin ship dating back to 1912 is an experience in itself.

The canal will take you past churches, castles and remote Swedish villages, with an option to journey for four or six days. Most of the routes along the country’s so-called Blue Ribbon also require the use of locks, which the expert crew will handle, allowing you to sit back and enjoy the incredible sights and sounds.

Po River

The Po River is Italy’s longest, flowing for some 400 miles in an easterly direction from Venice. Though it passes through various cities such as Turin, Piacenza, Mantua and Ferrara, it’s only possible to cruise on approximately 100 miles of it, to the town of Mantua.

Cruises along the Po River begin in perhaps the most famous canalized city of them all, Venice. There are various stops along the way, but most cruises will include the likes of Murano, Burano and Verona. Some, such as CroisiEurope Cruises, also offer land-based connections for day trips to famous towns a short distance from the river, including Polesella, Bologna, Ravenna and Ferrara.

Cruises along the Po last anywhere from five to 13 days, with most operating between March and October. Although Italy is not big on river cruises, this is perhaps one of the most unique ways in which to explore some of the country’s iconic cities and towns.

Oder River

Although the Oder is more inconspicuous than other European rivers, particularly when it comes to large commercial cruises, it’s by no means one to overlook. As part of the Roman “Amber Road,” it was at one stage used to transport amber from the Baltic region all the way to the Mediterranean.

Cruises on the Oder don’t tend to go as far. Most travelers begin in Berlin, transfer to nearby Potsdam, and then spend up to seven nights cruising to the Gulf of Pomerania, where the river empties. Routes between Germany and Czechia, such as those offered by Saga , last up to eight nights, although some tour operators take the trip a step further, and include an additional leg that will take you all the way to Copenhagen.

Whether you choose to continue on to Denmark, or go with a shorter option, a river cruise on the Oder will allow you to experience both German and Polish culture in a way few land-based travelers have.

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Raise your sights and set your sails for the rivers of Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa on an Avalon Waterways cruise. Elevate your cruise experience with fewer passengers, more choices, and endless possibilities.

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With longer port calls and our destination-focused approach, Viking maximizes your discoveries in Europe. From the fairytale castles of the Middle Rhine to the natural beauty of Norwegian fjords, you will gain deep insight into the continent’s cultural and historic riches.

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Highlights of europe river cruises.

Europe’s inland waterways and stunning seaside coasts are brimming with old-world treasures. Discover them in celebrated capitals such as Vienna and Oslo, and in delightfully surprising ports, like Bratislava, Slovakia and Skagen, Denmark. From river to ocean, you can find:

  • Cologne’s towering Gothic cathedral
  • A traditional Sami ceremony north of the Arctic Circle
  • Ancient trade routes of the Vikings
  • Budapest’s regal Parliament building and Chain Bridge
  • Sheep farming and wool production in a Faroese village
  • Vintners tending their vines in quintas along the Douro
  • The Hanseatic past of historic Bergen
  • Kinderdijk’s windmills, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Picturesque Icelandic waterfalls and fjords
  • Award-winning beers at Britain’s oldest brewhouse

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Overview Legendary Danube

7- night cruise, 7- night cruise with 3 nights prague pre-cruise, 7-night cruise add pre- or post-cruise land program 7-night cruise with 3 nights prague pre-cruise 7-night cruise with 3 nights prague pre-cruise add pre- or post-cruise land program 7-night cruise, cruise from : nuremberg to budapest, cruise from :, countries: austria, germany, hungary austria, germany, hungary, czech republic, rivers: danube, legendary danube at a glance.

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'You're not fighting the crowds' in Europe when you visit on a river cruise

river cruise routes in europe

Europe has no shortage of marquee tourist hot spots , but Diamond Meadows’ first river cruise there didn’t include them.

The 28-year-old graduate student took a cruise along the Rhine and Moselle rivers that took her to cities like Koblenz and Trier in Germany (she supplemented the sailing with train travel around Austria, Switzerland and elsewhere).

Meadows was traveling with her mom and her mom’s boss, who uses a wheelchair. The group chose the CroisiEurope Cruises sailing for the ease of sailing with a mobility device . But she discovered other upsides.

“It takes you exactly into the heart of the city,” said Meadows, who is based in Tennessee. Their roughly 160-guest vessel offered convenient drop-offs in smaller destinations, allowing them “to access so much more.”

Many European destinations were packed with tourists last summer . But river cruises in the continent can offer a more laid-back way to travel with small ships visiting a mix of popular and less-crowded ports.

Are river cruises better than ocean cruises?

Jen Campbell Boles, founder of the travel agency Explore More Family Travel, said that while cruising in general is a “great value for seeing Europe,” river sailings are particularly immersive. “One quote we always use in the travel industry is, ‘Ocean cruise liners take you to the destination, river cruises take us through the destination,’” she said.

Passengers visit not only major cities but also quaint villages and often disembark within walking distance of attractions. When they are done exploring, they return to a ship with an average of 150 guests.

“It's more intimate, it's cozier,” said Campbell Boles. “You're not fighting the crowds, obviously.”

That was part of the draw for Jim Jones, 57, who took Avalon Waterways river cruises with his wife in 2011 and 2014.

“The smaller cities were an attraction,” said Jones, who is based in Phoenix and works for a software company. He enjoyed visiting Avignon in the south of France, for example, which was once the seat of the papacy . “I’m a total history geek,” he said. On their first cruise, he recalled, “just about every town” they visited had a farmers’ market, allowing them to sample local food.

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Unlike ocean cruise ships, with their large casinos and plentiful bars, onboard “it was very relaxed and a much slower pace.”

River cruise vessels tend to have “less bells and whistles,” Campbell Boles said (though she added that guests get a more personalized experience as a result of their small size).

Adam Duckworth, president and founder of Travelmation, echoed that. He said the cruises are less about the ship than where it’s going. “This is truly an experience about itineraries.”

Are European river cruises cheaper than land-based trips?

While travelers can find land-based accommodations that are less expensive than river cruises, there are other factors to consider.

River cruises tend to bundle more costs, such as alcohol in the fare, than a mainstream ocean cruise line, Duckworth said (though exact policies vary by line). At least one excursion per day is typically included, as well, Campbell Boles added.

She said demand for Europe is still “through the roof” and land-based pricing is particularly high. “Even if you're staying in the highest category stateroom or suite, you're spending less than an equivalent hotel,” she said.

Are luxury cruise ships worth the money? We did the math for Silversea's Silver Nova.

Would you spend $14,000 on a cruise? Here's why these travelers splurged.

Transportation from one destination to another is also built into a river cruise, whereas travelers might have to take a train or make other arrangements to visit a mix of places. “I mean that really adds up in Europe, so this is a great way to see a lot more variety,” Campbell Boles said.

Passengers can also add pre- and post-cruise stays, allowing them to “get the best of both worlds.”

“What we say is that a river cruise oftentimes can be a premium product,” added Duckworth. “But for what you're experiencing – the comfort, the (lower) stress, the luxurious experience on board – we find it to be actually the best value through Europe from our experience.”

Are European river cruises kid-friendly?

Since river cruises require a certain amount of free time – most are at least seven days long – they have tended to be popular with older guests, according to Duckworth.

But in the past couple of years, he has noticed more multigenerational travel in the sector. “We're seeing grandparents bring their grandkids, we're seeing young professionals go on a river in Europe for the first time,” Duckworth said.

Some operators have offerings that are particularly well-suited to younger guests. Adventures by Disney offers river cruises with AmaWaterways, and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has a Generations Collection .

How long should I go on a cruise?: How long and short cruises compare

Even if programming is curated with kids in mind, though, Duckworth cautioned that river cruise vessels don’t offer the same breadth of amenities as large ocean ships. “If your kids want to go to a waterpark and they want to go on a FlowRider and they want to play putt-putt all day, there are great lines for you, but a European river cruise is probably not one of them currently,” he said.

Some lines also don’t allow kids or have varying age requirements, so it’s important to do some research beforehand.

For those going for the first time, Campbell Boles suggested starting with a cruise on the Danube or Rhine since they are “kind of the most iconic.”

“I mean, it’s Europe,” she added. “It’s going to be great no matter what river you go on.”

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach him at [email protected].

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  1. Best European River Cruise Routes Guide

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VIDEO

  1. 8 Best River Cruises in Europe

  2. 10 River Cruise Lines in Europe that You Must Try!

  3. European River Cruising : 8 Need-to-Knows And Tips for First-time Cruisers

  4. 6 Best European River Cruise Lines. Which One Is Right For You?

  5. Viking European River Cruises

  6. Best River Cruises in Europe

COMMENTS

  1. Best European River Cruise Routes Guide

    The Upper Danube is the other great route on Europe rivers (it is the single most popular river cruise route in all Europe—it has about 30% of all river cruise passengers that take a Europe river cruise every year)—and typically goes from Nuremberg or Passau to Budapest.You will get to visit 4 countries, 2 or 3 capital cities (Vienna, perhaps Bratislava and Budapest), castles, Abbeys, wine ...

  2. The 10 Best River Cruise Lines in Europe

    8. Best European River Cruise for Onboard Facilities: AmaWaterways AmaMagna. AmaMagna (Photo: AmaWaterways) AmaWaterways is one of the best known river cruise lines in Europe, but one ship in ...

  3. 10 Best European River Cruises 2024/2025

    5. It was a great cruise. The food was amazing, the crew was really helpful, and the tours and tour guides were great. The only thing to imporve on if the WiFi which only worked half the time. Romantic Rhine (Southbound) 2024. Roxana, Huei-Chun Chiu 12 Apr, 2023.

  4. 9 best river cruises in Europe

    For a deep dive into Eastern Europe's past and present, the fascinating Lower Danube route between Budapest and Bucharest, Romania, explores history from the medieval times and Victorian era of Dracula to the rise of communism and the Bosnian War. The seven-night river cruise takes you through Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.

  5. River Cruise Itineraries in Europe: A Guide to the Best Routes and

    The Rhine River is one of the most popular river cruise destinations in Europe, and for a good reason. The river flows through six countries, including Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, and France, and offers breathtaking views of the Rhine Valley. Visitors can explore the charming town of Rudesheim, visit the stunning Lorelei Rock, and enjoy ...

  6. 15 of the Best European River Cruises

    Emerald offers both yacht and river cruises, with a range of cruises on the rivers in Europe. Founded in 2013, Emerald now features a fleet of nine "Star-Ships," with stylish suites, first-class ...

  7. Choose Your European River: Our Best River Cruise Guide

    Essentials: Typical routes that take in the Moselle include seven-night cruises between Luxembourg and Basel, or Luxembourg and Nuremberg, or a 10-nighter from Basel to Amsterdam with a side trip ...

  8. Europe River Cruises

    Highlights of Europe River Cruises. Europe's inland waterways and stunning seaside coasts are brimming with old-world treasures. Discover them in celebrated capitals such as Vienna and Oslo, and in delightfully surprising ports, like Bratislava, Slovakia and Skagen, Denmark. From river to ocean, you can find: Cologne's towering Gothic ...

  9. Europe River Cruises

    River cruises feature less sailing time in favor of shore excursions and exploring destinations along the way (and most lines offer free tours when in port). You'll find European river cruise ...

  10. Our Guide to European River Cruises

    Cruisers are from the U.K., Australia, and North America, and like independent exploration, such as bicycling ashore. Average Eight-Day Fare: $2,600 per person. Notable Inclusions: All meals, beer ...

  11. 15 of the best river cruises in Europe

    The Moselle at Bernkastel-Kues (Alamy) 2. Mosey along the Moselle. Best for longer sailings The narrow Moselle river flows into the Rhine at Koblenz and is often featured as part of a longer ...

  12. The Best European River Cruises to Book

    Danube River. Europe's second-longest river at 1,770 miles (after Russia's Volga), the storied Danube River—immortalized as "the Blue Danube" in composer Johann Strauss II's famous waltz—rises from western Germany's Black Forest mountains, emptying out to the Black Sea at Romania. En route, it traverses 10 countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia ...

  13. How to Choose a Europe River Cruise

    River sailings remain a popular choice for cruisers, with new ships being launched each year -- Viking alone launched eight new ships in Europe in 2022. On the plus side, this means more choices ...

  14. Top 5 European river cruises

    Portugal & Spain: the Douro. Duration: 7 nights. Start & end point: Porto & Vega de Terrón. Countries: Portugal and Spain. A cruise down the Douro in Portugal and Spain is a chance to explore one of the world's oldest designated wine regions, known for both its vistas and its vineyards. The steep sides of the valley are lined with hand ...

  15. Best River Cruises in Europe

    European River Cruises A Rhine river cruise is packed with memorable scenery, like the medieval German town of Heidelberg. ... The leisure cruise route between Vienna and Budapest is one of the busiest on the continent, but it's possible to go even further. Several options stretch into Austria, or venture up towards Czechia using the Danube ...

  16. The 8 Best European River Cruises 2024

    Best European River Cruise Overall: Viking Cruises, Viking Egdir. Best High-End European River Cruise: Uniworld, S.S. La Venezia. Best European River Cruise For Families: A-Rosa, A-Rosa Sena. Best ...

  17. Europe River Cruises

    Cruise to Europe with Avalon Waterways. Just as the great cities of the world arose along the great rivers of Europe, so did the gentle hills and humble villages that you'll encounter on an Avalon European river cruise. From the rich heritage of Budapest to the rare haunts of Bucharest, and from the castles of Germany to the classics of ...

  18. River Cruises in Europe

    All-Inclusive, Luxury River Cruises. Uniworld, the world's best and most awarded luxury river cruise line, cruises spectacular rivers throughout Europe, Russia, Egypt, Asia, and Peru. Every Uniworld cruise is meticulously crafted to be an experience you won't find anywhere else. Plus, the included and optional excursions completely immerse ...

  19. What is the Best Europe River Route?

    The Upper Danube is the other great route on Europe rivers (it is the single most popular river cruise route in all Europe—it has about 30% of all river cruise passengers that take a Europe river cruise every year)—and typically goes from Nuremberg or Passau to Budapest. You will get to visit 4 countries, 2 or 3 capital cities (Vienna ...

  20. The 10 Best River Cruises in Europe

    Rhine. The 776-mile Rhine River, which runs through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands, is known for being one of the best European cruises, famous for its castles and stunning scenery. On a typical seven-night cruise from Amsterdam, ports and excursions include Basel, Cologne, Koblenz, the Rhine Gorge ...

  21. Europe River Cruises

    Highlights of Europe River Cruises. Europe's inland waterways and stunning seaside coasts are brimming with old-world treasures. Discover them in celebrated capitals such as Vienna and Oslo, and in delightfully surprising ports, like Bratislava, Slovakia and Skagen, Denmark. From river to ocean, you can find: Cologne's towering Gothic ...

  22. 25 BEST Europe River Cruises 2024 (Prices

    80% off the second Sailor on all Mediterranean sailings. 70% off the second Sailor on all Caribbean sailings. Set sail from our homeports in Barcelona, Athens, Miami, or San Juan. Limited-Time ...

  23. River Cruises

    A family-owned company since 2002, award-winning AmaWaterways offers unforgettable river cruises with 28 ships sailing through Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. 'Ama' means love - and we put love in everything we do, from our exquisite locally-sourced cuisine to our variety of included shore excursions in every port to our warm, personalized service. We are also proud of our innovations ...

  24. European river cruises offer more 'intimate' way to see the continent

    Europe has no shortage of marquee tourist hot spots, but Diamond Meadows' first river cruise there didn't include them. The 28-year-old graduate student took a cruise along the Rhine and ...

  25. Europe River Cruises

    Treasures Of The Danube. 215 Reviews. Leaving: Budapest. Cruise Line: Viking River Cruises. No prices currently available for this sailing. Itinerary. Ship.