top of page

Choosing the Right European River Cruise

River cruising is the fastest-growing sector of the cruise industry, with new ships being launched each year. On the plus side, this means more choices, including an ever-increasing number of themed vacations, such as food and wine, active and family-oriented sailings. On the other side

of the coin, the biggest challenge about planning a European river cruise is identifying one that

is right for you.

River Cruises are Active

Unlike ocean cruises that offer "sea days" with plenty of time to relax, voyages along European waterways include a stop each day with a busy -- albeit completely optional -- sightseeing program. So if you want to make the most of your trip, there isn't always as much time to chill out onboard as you might think.

More is Included

With the exception of a few lines that offer an "a la carte" shore excursion schedule, daily tours are usually included in the cruise fare. They range from introductory walking and motorcoach tours of towns and cities along the route, to immersive experiences such tours of ancient castles, vineyard visits and food tastings.

Some lines also offer extra fee options that are a bit more unusual, including bike tours, exclusive evening concerts, cooking classes, art lessons and even the chance to conduct an orchestra in Vienna.

They Differ from Ocean Cruises

The majority of river cruises are a week long -- typically taking in three countries -- with some lines offering longer trips from 10 days to two weeks or more. They almost always start in fantastic cities such as Paris, Amsterdam and Budapest, and most itineraries include an overnight onboard. I can offer customized pre and post cruise extensions so you have more time in these great cities.

It should be noted that virtually all ships on the Rhine and Danube are exactly the same size in order to fit into locks and pass below bridges. Price differences in fares reflect the number of passengers (the more expensive lines carry less people, others up to 190), onboard facilities such as massage rooms and gyms, plus inclusions (some lines include all drinks and gratuities).

Shorter Cruise Season

One final caveat about cruising Europe's rivers: Aside from special Christmas market and New Year cruises, the season typically runs from April to October. Be aware that heavy rain and spring flooding can make the rivers swell and the locks become impassable. (Many are under bridges, so if the water is too high, boats can't fit underneath.)

Similarly, during long dry periods, low water can be a problem. If vessels can't move, you'll be taken to the sights by motorcoach or, if the logistics allow, moved to another ship further along the river.

Below are the main choices for a European river cruise:

Rhine River

With more castles than any other river, the Rhine combines centuries of history and culture with spectacular scenery and some of the oldest and most historic cities in Germany. The lesser-known Moselle river, running through northeast France and Luxembourg, joins the Rhine at Koblenz. The Main river flows into the Rhine from eastern Germany; cruise along this, and you'll end up in the Main–Danube Canal, which enables vessels to sail into the iconic "Blue Danube," the gateway to Hungary and beyond.


The inspiration behind the famous waltz by Johann Strauss, the Danube is an enchanting river. A Danube cruise is also a history lesson about the days when Vienna ruled an empire and, more recently, an Iron Curtain divided Europe.


If you like food and wine, this is the river cruise region for you, as it sails through Provence and Burgundy, the gastronomic heartland of France and two of the country's top wine-making regions. You'll cruise past acres of vineyards and have ample opportunities to taste the local grapes.


Paris, Monet's garden in Giverny and poignant wartime cemeteries and the Normandy landing beaches are among the unique features of a cruise on the Seine river through northern France.


If you like scenery, you'll love cruising on Portugal's Douro river, rising in Spain and winding through rugged and dramatic green landscapes until it reaches the Atlantic in Porto, the country's second city and home to famous-name port houses. The fortified wine is the national drink and there'll be plenty of opportunity to taste it en route.


An Elbe cruise is for anyone who loves discovering the past and wants to explore one of Europe's lesser known rivers. There will be time in the fascinating cities of Berlin and Prague at the start and end of the cruise, plus the chance to discover the birthplace of the Reformation along the way.

If you're still not sure which one is right for you, allow me to help you choose the right itinerary, cruise line, sailing and customized pre and post cruise extensions to make the most of your time in Europe.

26 views0 comments


bottom of page