Every traveler knows the best type of travel itinerary allows you to explore the nature, culture, food, and history of a new destination in an authentic and unhurried manner while taking in all the sights. However, when it comes to traversing the multitude of stunning cities, towns, and villages of Europe, river cruises offer the perfect blend of activities and leisure. Whether you are an avid cruiser or a novice traveler finding the best European river cruise to meet your particular style of travel, budget, and interests is paramount to ensuring a successful trip. But be forewarned, your first time experiencing Europe by river may make you a lifelong customer.
So what is it that makes river cruises so appealing to a wide variety of travelers? Unlike most other travel itineraries and group excursions that are restrictive based on demographics, physical abilities, or budgets, river cruises can appeal to pretty much everyone. So, whether you’re planning to travel with colleagues, friends, or families, there is a river cruise that is right for you. The key is finding the best itinerary, cruise line, ship, and cabin to fit your style of travel.
River cruises are a naturally immersive and enriching travel experience. Stopping in different cities and towns along a particular region each day provides ample opportunities for exploration. And unlike their ocean counterparts, travelers averse to crowds enjoy the small boat ambiance and personalized service.
What makes river cruises vastly appealing is visiting many destinations without ever feeling rushed or hurried. Typical land itineraries require multiple modes of transportation to get you from one destination to the next. Trains, planes, automobiles, and motorcoaches can leave even the most seasoned traveler exhausted.
River cruises eliminate the need for endless packing and unpacking. Furthermore, travelers don’t waste precious travel time in transit at the mercy of airlines and trains. In addition, many ports offer a variety of excursions, from discovering art, learning about history, exploring a city by walking tours, cycling through the countryside, tasting local food and wine, and more.
Where Do River Cruises Typically Go?
The first step in planning a river cruise in Europe is deciding which river you should sail on. Each of Europe’s majestic rivers traverses different destinations and has its unique feel and ambiance.
Danube River Cruise
The Danube river is arguably one of the most popular and famous rivers in the world. It is the second-largest river in Europe. The Danube borders ten European countries (Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, and Romania). Cruising along the Danube allows travelers to explore many of Europe’s most enchanting cities and towns. Itineraries on the Upper Danube commonly stop in Budapest, Prague, and Vienna. In comparison, Lower Danube trips visit Germany or Romania. This means that the Danube river cruise is one of the only European river cruises that take you through multiple cities and countries in a single itinerary.
Taking a river cruise through the Danube feels a bit like stepping back in time. Imagine yourself admiring ancient cities, centuries-old architecture, and romantic vistas as you float along the dreamy shores. Glimpsing into Europe’s storied past will turn even the most skeptical traveler into a historical connoisseur.
Rhine River Cruise
The Rhine River is the longest in Germany. Cruising along the Rhine takes you on a magical adventure. Rhine river cruises are popular as they typically begin in the lovely city of Amsterdam and travel through the Netherlands to Germany.
Fan’s of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars will enjoy visiting locations mentioned in the book and filmed for the big screen. Additionally, since the Rhine river winds along West Germany, the gothic architecture, medieval towns, and enchanting villages will leave you feeling like a character straight out of a Brothers Grimm story.
And that’s not all! The Rhine river cruise takes you on a journey of romantic towns with visible Roman influences, award-winning vineyards, fairy-tale castles, and heart-stoppingly beautiful settings.
Rhone River Cruise
As similar as it sounds to the Rhine, the Rhone river flows down from the Alps and moves through France and Switzerland until it joins the Mediterranean Sea. Rhone River cruises typically explore various picturesque villages of France. River cruises along the Rhone are especially appealing to honeymooners and romantics. Few places in the world envoke sentiments of love and longing like France’s iconic cities and towns.
But France isn’t just for lovers. The city of Lyon is home to many of the best restaurants in Europe. It is widely considered the unofficial gastronomic capital of France. Cruises along the Rhone river also explore Burgundy and Beaujolais, known for their wines. Most luxury river cruise lines offer extraordinary wine and food tours for a variety of styles and budgets. Whether you are a wine connoisseur or simply want to partake in fun tasting experiences, there are a plethora of vineyards to choose from. Rhone should be at the top of your wish list if you, quite literally, fancy a taste of France.
And, of course, a river cruise in Europe would not be complete without story-book towns and villages replete with priceless artwork and masterful architecture. So make sure to explore cities like Avignon and Arles.
Douro River Cruise
The Douro is a major river in Europe and flows through Spain and Portugal. This river is the highest in the Iberian Peninsula, giving way to the impressive city of Porto. If you are planning a cruise along the Douro River, consider extending your trip and spending a few days exploring Porto. It is the second-largest city in the country, and one of the most beautiful.
While Porto is blessed with a stunning waterfront location, the town is most famous for its wines. Porto makes some of the world’s best wine. Therefore, many tourist attractions center around tasting rooms and other port wine experiences. Take the opportunity to taste the world-famous port wine, enjoy the mild climate, and partake in some of the open-air activities. In addition, the Douro river cruise introduces travelers to beautiful off-the-beaten-path villages and rolling hillsides. Therefore, exploring the region on a bike can be a fun and memorable experience for active travelers.
River Cruises-Which River Cruises to Take?
While all river cruises have a lot to offer, you want to choose the itinerary, ship, and cruise line that is right for you. Here are the best European river cruises for all types of travelers, and what you can expect on each:
Best For: Cultured travelers and art lovers
Uniworld river cruises are one of the world’s most renowned and respectable luxury cruise lines. If you are a traveler who truly loves art and history, then Uniworld river cruises may be your best choice. Designed to suit the particular needs of cultured travelers, Uniworld river cruises offer an excellent staff-to-guest ratio, small ships, and unparalleled service.
To display their commitment to supporting the arts, the ships are decorated with original artwork. In addition, the team at Uniworld works tirelessly to craft truly immersive and authentic shore excursions for guests. Their all-inclusive amenities provide guests with gourmet food, unlimited premium spirits and wines, and thoughtfully curated shore excursions. At the same time, the warm staff and beautifully appointed rooms will make you feel right at home.
Best For: Luxury travelers, epicures, and wine connoisseurs
Wish to avoid crowds and prefer to travel with a consistently vetted crew? Then Crystal River Cruises will be the best European river cruise for you. The Crystal brand is world-famous for delivering incredible and ultra-luxury travel experiences for discerning guests. Best for luxury travelers and wine connoisseurs, this is a luxury cruise company designed to serve its travelers with the highest level of service. Crystal riverboats offer open-seating dining and serve Michelin-inspired cuisine.
It only takes one look at the gorgeous interior, spacious rooms, and panoramic windows opening to picturesque balconies to convince you that when it comes to luxury, Crystal reigns supreme. In addition, crystal river itineraries offer multiple overnight stays allowing travelers to explore destinations at a more leisurely pace.
Best For: Families and active travelers
Love to see the best in everything and live your life to the fullest? AmaWaterways tailor their cruises to take you on a grand adventure through Europe’s most famous destinations! Although many river cruises cater to a mature clientele, AmaWaterways invites children as young as four to join in the fun.
The cruise line has partnered with Adventures By Disney to create incredibly immersive and engaging itineraries for families and children. Perfect for a multi-generational trip or even a family-friendly company retreat. Children can enjoy falconry shows, explore magical castles, bike through ancient towns, and hike through enchanting forests. And if you’re hoping for a little exercise, you can rely on AmaMagna’s complimentary kid-friendly bicycles on board.
In addition, many AmaWaterways European river cruises offer evening city tours making it a good choice for active travelers and those wishing to explore longer. Finally, music lovers will love the magical Mozart concert in Vienna.
Best For: Travelers who enjoy the flexibility and onboard entertainment
If you’re looking for an immersive river cruise and love onboard entertainment, then Avalon Waterways could be the best European river cruise for you. Offering a flexible schedule that presents various programs from the Avalon Choice program and built with large staterooms and suites with open-air balconies, one step on board of an Avalon Waterways cruise, and you won’t want to get off.
In addition, travelers fascinated by European culture and history will enjoy Avalon’s historical and cultural immersion through lectures, special interest sailings, and tour guides.
Best For: Well-heeled travelers and multi-generational groups
Tauck River Cruises are perfect for a myriad of seasoned luxury travelers. Their itineraries appease everyone from families traveling with children, to cultural attachés, to wine connoisseurs and history professors. Designed to appeal to travelers of all ages, Tauck is renowned for its incredible service, cultural immersion, and creativity.
Tauck’s European river cruises offer exclusive VIP access, unique cultural programs, and gourmet dining experience explicitly curated for their guests.
At the same time, Tauck Bridges offer multi-generational river cruise itineraries specially designed for families. So whether it’s discovering kid-friendly attractions or planning activities like scavenger hunts and games in the Louvre, arranging cooking demonstrations to attract eager youngsters, or planning outdoor exploration for active teens, Tauck Bridges designers have every detail covered.
Best For: First-time river cruisers
Scenic River Cruises might be the best option to wet your European river appetite if you are new to river cruising and wondering whether you will enjoy it. The cruise line offers guests a five-star, all-inclusive experience. However, what makes Scenic River Cruises the best for many travelers are their well-designed programs.
Scenic trains their staff to ensure travelers access information, superior service, and flexible and knowledgeable guides. Whether it’s arranging GPS e-bikes, providing airport transfers, arranging laundry and gratuities, or giving you a guided tour of the port, Scenic River Cruises proudly does it all!
Best For: Retirees and adult only vacations
Last but not least, Viking River Cruises are arguably one of the most renowned and famous brands in the industry when looking for the best European river cruise. Moreover, Viking appeals particularly well to retirees and active adults. So if you’re looking to finally stretch those legs after years of hard work and enjoy an adult-focused and relaxing European river cruise, Viking may be the answer.
Viking’s European river itineraries will take you along on a ride that’s quiet, immersive, enriching, and thoroughly entertaining. Although Viking ships have a reputation for maintaining a quiet and peaceful onboard atmosphere, they are superb at bringing their A-game to enrichment programs and shore activities.
For more insight on the beauty of cruises, check out our previous blog The Art of Cruising.
Nervous about motion sickness onboard? Check out our blog How to Cure Motion Sickness While Traveling for amazing tips.
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