9 best river cruises in Europe

River cruising in Europe is a delightful and leisurely way to travel. It offers a unique experience of exploring calm inland waters, gliding past castles, vineyards, and ever-changing scenery. With daily escorted walking tours and other excursions provided by the river line, you can visit key UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other attractions in cities and villages along the way. Alternatively, you can choose to explore on your own, as the ship often docks right in town. Lazy afternoons on the ship allow you to sit back in a lounge chair and watch the world go by, observing kids swimming, farmers tending their crops, and river birds flapping their wings, as you glide to your next destination.

When it comes to choosing which European river to explore, the options are broader than you might expect. The main rivers in Europe for river cruises are the Danube and the Rhine, along with their tributaries. These rivers offer the most popular itineraries, which can be done in one-week segments or longer itineraries that combine different areas and rivers. Even if you only have a week, don’t underestimate the allure of relaxing on a river in France or on the dreamy Douro in Portugal.

One of the best river cruises in Europe is the Upper Danube. This seven-night sailing takes you through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, offering a journey through centuries of history. You’ll have the opportunity to visit cultural hubs such as Vienna and Budapest, with their magnificent architecture and rich cultural heritage. The Wachau Valley, a wine-growing region in Austria, is another highlight, where you can sip on rieslings and gruner veltliners and even go biking. Side trips to Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart, and Old Town Bratislava, Slovakia, are also possible.

For a deeper dive into Eastern Europe’s past and present, the Lower Danube route between Budapest and Bucharest is a fascinating option. This seven-night cruise takes you through Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The stretch of the river through a gorge between the Balkan and Carpathian Mountains is particularly beautiful. Other sights accessible through shore excursions include Bulgaria’s Belogradchik Rocks, a natural wonder, and Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s stunning medieval capital.

The Rhine is another top river for cruising in Europe, known for its natural beauty and fairytale landscapes. A typical one-week route takes you from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Basel, Switzerland, passing through slope-side vineyards, forests, mountains, historic cities, and medieval villages. The Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a highlight with its castles and Lorelei Rock, a legendary cliff. Strasbourg in France, with its Gothic cathedral and Alsatian cuisine, is often a favorite stop on Rhine itineraries.

A Seine River cruise offers a different perspective, sailing from Paris towards the English Channel. While you can catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, the real attraction is the opportunity to visit the beaches in Normandy and gain a deeper understanding of World War II history. Other treasures along the Seine include Giverny, the home and gardens of Claude Monet, and historic Rouen, where Joan of Arc was martyred.

Bordeaux river cruises offer a unique experience as they explore the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers and the Gironde Estuary in Southwest France. You’ll spend more time ashore than floating down the river, with two nights in Bordeaux, the epicenter of French culture and one of the most celebrated wine regions in the world. Wine tastings, visits to vineyards and chateaus, and the opportunity to admire the grape harvest in September or October are all part of the experience.

For wine lovers, Rhone and Saone River cruises are a must. These cruises typically sail between Lyon and Arles or Avignon, taking you through famous winemaking regions in Provence and Burgundy. Along the way, you can visit Roman landmarks such as the Pont du Gard and the Arles Amphitheater, as well as the Palais des Papes in Avignon. The lavender fields and other landscapes that inspired famous painters like Cezanne and Van Gogh are also part of the journey.

Exploring the wine regions of Portugal on the Douro River is a lazy, dreamy, and wonderful river cruise experience. Starting in Porto, you’ll follow the river through the Douro River Valley, a UNESCO-recognized destination, passing by green hillside vineyards. The cruise typically includes a visit to the university town of Salamanca in northern Spain, offering a unique cultural experience. Throughout the journey, you’ll learn about port production and expand your wine education.

The Elbe River, running between the Czech Republic and Germany, offers a rare river cruising experience due to fluctuating water levels and narrow passages. Viking River Cruises is one of the few lines that visits this river, offering a unique opportunity to explore historic cities and towns along its banks.

In conclusion, river cruising in Europe is a delightful and leisurely mode of travel. Whether you choose the Danube, Rhine, Seine, Bordeaux, Rhone and Saone, Douro, or Elbe, each river offers its own unique charm and attractions. From exploring historic cities and cultural hubs to sipping on fine wines and enjoying breathtaking landscapes, there is a European river cruise for every traveler’s taste.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *