European River Cruises
European River Cruises
Our Guide to European River Cruising
In recent years, river cruises have become one of the hottest travel trends, eliminating all the time and effort it takes to plan a well thought out itinerary, while allowing you to enjoy a different view out your window every day. It’s one of the best ways to explore multiple destinations in Europe without having to hop on and off trains, get behind the wheel, or constantly pack and unpack.
Unlike those huge cruise ships, these elegant vessels provide a more intimate experience with minimal capacity. Instead of numbering in the thousands, there are typically less than 200 passengers. You won’t be relegated to cruising only coastlines, with their sleek, smaller size feeling more like a large yacht, providing access to smaller ports. While European river cruises can bring you to major cities such as Vienna and Budapest, they also make stops at intriguing smaller towns.
In this guide, we include five of Europe’s most iconic rivers. These include the Danube River, the Rhine River, the Rhone River, the Douro River and the Seine River. River cruises in each of these destinations offers a unique experience, with luxury cabins, exceptional service and the freedom to get off and explore many of Europe’s beautiful cities.
We also offer an insight into life on the cruises: what the cabins are like, what the dining experience offers, the service and the excursions available. For those who would like more information, read our guide of ‘which river cruise is best for me’, or get in touch with our small cruise specialists to find out more.
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Popular European River Cruise Itineraries
Here are some tours and itineraries combining a European River Cruise. Our travel experts really are experts in all things Europe and small ship cruising, so please get in touch if you have any questions.
Paris, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Nice11 NightsFrom $8,390 PPThe ideal trip for art and food lovers covers everything from iconic attractions to wine estates, cooking classes and grand chateaux.
Paris, Lyon, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Nice13 NightsFrom $8,920 PPSpend 14 days and 13 nights on a relax trip covering it all with a focus on food, wine and culture
Venice, Florence, Amalfi, Naples, Rome13 NightsFrom $3,410 PPDiscover the best of Italy from the picturesque canals of Venice and the stunning Amalfi coast to breathtaking Tuscany and Rome.
Which European River Cruise is best for me?
With so many different river cruises available in Europe, you’re probably wondering which one to choose. Of course, as few will suit every type of traveler, the best one to book really depends on your particular tastes, requirements and situations.
First Timers - Rhine & Danube
The Rhine and Danube rivers are ideal for first-time river cruisers, particularly because they include multiple countries, providing a memorable glimpse of a significant region of Europe. The Rhine includes Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, with cruises between Amsterdam and Basel covering a lot of ground in just one to two weeks. That includes everything from the world-famous cathedral in Cologne to wine tasting in the famous Alsace region of France The Upper Danube travels from Germany to Hungary or vice versa, offering an excellent mix of major cities and charming villages, with hillside castles in nearly every stop.
Food & Wine – Rhone
The Rhone is famous for its food and wine. If you’re a foodie, wine enthusiast or both, it’s a great choice as itineraries include excursions like wine tasting in the Beaujolais region and visiting the walled city of Avignon with its fabulous restaurants, trendy cafes, cozy bistros and lively bars. Taste your way through Burgundy vineyards and then conclude in Lyon, the French food capital. Experts have called it France’s “great gastronomic secret,” a place obsessed with dining, even by French standards, with fish and cheese mongers, butchers, charcutiers, bakers of bread and pastries. Plus, the route covers Roman ruins, lavender-filled landscapes, and more.
Castles & History – Rhine
The Rhine isn’t just one of the best rivers for first-time river cruises, but for anyone who wants to take in fairytale scenery that includes castles along with a rich historic past. The 40-mile stretch of river known as the Rhone Gorge, brings magnificent views of castles along both banks. The scenic sails include special commentary, while passengers bounce from one side of the vessel to the other, capturing photos of the many stunning postcard-perfect scenes. One of the highlights is the the Lorelei (or Loreley) in St. Goarshausen with its statue of the bronze woman that memorializes a mythical maiden born of German Romanticism.
Architecture and Art – Seine
Paris is renowned for its romantic atmosphere, fine cuisine, exquisite architecture, and incredible art. River cruises on the Seine, which runs right through its heart, sail round trip from the ‘City of Light.’ That makes it easy to extend your trip at either end, spending more time enjoying the many delights of Paris. Plus, you’ll be able to take in the incredible views of famous landmarks along the riverbanks while cruising, like the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Musée d’Orsay. Seine cruises also take in small-towns where impressionist painters like Monet lived and created many of his works.
Active Couples – Danube
Cruises on the Upper Danube are perfect for couples who want to be more active, with opportunities for plenty of romance and outdoor adventure. Activities include everything from biking and hiking to canoeing. Cycling is one of the most popular ways to explore the Wachau Valley, one of Austria’s most notable grape-growing region. Cultural capitals such as Budapest and Vienna offer city cycling tours, while nearly every stop has a ruin or hillside castle to hike to. You might ride a bike in Bordeaux to a chateau too. With the Danube much less industrialized than other rivers in Europe, expect plenty of fresh air and scenic views.
Christmas Markets – Rhine & Danube
The holiday season is another lovely time for a cruise, especially on the Rhine and Danube rivers as it features destinations known for their Christmas markets. There are often themed seasonable voyages that not only run through towns in Germany famous for their markets, but places like Vienna, Austria and Strasbourg, France. They’re the perfect antidote to a commercialized Christmas, featuring charming wooden chalets decked out with twinkling lights, with opportunities to buy handcrafted goods like wooden toys, old-style ornaments, and puppets, rather than mass-produced items. All the while enjoying a more authentic holiday atmosphere, complete with roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and holiday music.
What to Know About the River Cruising Ships
With a significantly lower crew-to-passenger ratio of around 1:3, you can expect a more personalized, intimate experience on a river cruising ship, including the opportunity to take advantage of the staff’s insider knowledge. The vessels are perfectly proportioned which allows them to navigate Europe’s preeminent waterways, yet you won’t have to sacrifice space or modern comforts. As mentioned, they typically have a capacity for less than 200 passengers with fewer than 100 cabins, providing opportunities for intimacy and privacy.
The trips include delicious meals that can even make for a foodies’ delight, and while river cruises don’t typically come with huge water slides and stages for Broadway shows, you’ll often have access to gym facilities, beauty and wellness services.
All About the Cabins
Cabins on these chic modern river cruising ships offer incomparable luxuries with various suite classes that span multiple decks, providing plenty of choices depending on your travel preferences. All cabins include features like HDTVs, pillow menus and individual climate control. Balcony suites will enhance the experience that much more. They come with a system that transforms the balcony into an all-weather conservatory style space in addition to offering the finest luxury amenities. Sleep peacefully in a king-size bed and enjoy floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that open to sweeping vistas of the world that passes by. Look forward to sipping your favorite beverages in the fresh air, surrounded by beautiful landscapes – and, you’ll have 24-hour in-suite dining, butler service, a minibar with coffee and specialty teas, and high-end bathroom amenities too.
On Board Dining Options
No matter which particular ship you board, you can look forward to outstanding cuisine throughout your cruise. Unlikely many of those large cruises, there are no boring, bland buffets, rather dining venues and menus to suit every occasion. River ships include award-winning chefs who carefully select locally sourced ingredients, serving dishes that feature the authentic flavours of the region with an exciting, diverse array of options. No matter what your tastes or particular diet requirements, you can expect sumptuous meals that reflect European culinary highlights. It’s not just a cruising adventure, but a true gastronomic journey that guarantees a feast for the senses, combined with the scenery and attractions you’re looking forward to witnessing on any route you choose, from the lovely Seine to the Danube.
The Excursions – All Included
Another reason to love river cruising is that you won’t have to continually pull out your wallet when you want to take advantage of an excursion, as they’re all included. Every itinerary was designed to allow you to immerse yourself in the destinations that were all carefully handpicked by travel experts who know the region inside and out. You’ll enjoy experiences that introduce you to the best of cultural highlights along Europe’s waterways, whether you want something more relaxed, active, and/or to squeeze in as much as you can. Look forward to a range of exciting options enjoyed a pace that suits you. You might take a walking tour, exploring an Old Town at a leisurely pace, savor the works in galleries and displays in museums without being rushed, or venture outside the city for a brisk hike or bike ride.
Truly 5-Star Service
Not only does the fewer number of guests on board allow staff to provide a higher level of personalized service without as many to attend to, but the ships include a team of highly experienced butlers. They’ve been trained on how to provide the utmost in 5-star service, with the head butler also a professional sommelier to help you find the perfect bottle to pair with those delicious dishes. That also means you can be sure that your journey is stress-free with an expert on hand to help complete the experience of your dreams. From nightly turndown service to complimentary laundry concierge service, getting your attire pressed and ready for an evening of fun, you’ll have your own personal butler who will be happy to take care of it all. In fact, the personable service is a highlight that many guests note made their river cruise so memorable.
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