9 best river cruises in Europe

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River cruising in Europe is a type of delightfully gradual and straightforward modes of journey. You are in a small floating resort, exploring calm inland waters, gliding previous castles and vineyards, and surroundings that modifications by the hour.

Day by day escorted strolling excursions and different excursions, supplied by the river line, get you to key UNESCO World Heritage Websites and different metropolis and village sights you’ve come to see. Or you’ll be able to select to discover by yourself, which is simple since your ship usually will dock proper on the town.

Lazy afternoons on the ship afford the time to take a seat in a lounge chair and watch the world go by — youngsters swimming from the riverbanks, farmers tending their crops, river birds flapping their wings — as you glide to your subsequent vacation spot.

Which European river must you discover? The alternatives are broader than it’s possible you’ll anticipate.

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The principle rivers in Europe are the Danube and the Rhine and their tributaries. These are by far the most well-liked, doable both on one-week segments or longer itineraries that mix areas and generally mix rivers. Even when your cruise is barely every week, don’t underestimate the attract of enjoyable for seven days on a river in France or on the dreamy Douro in Portugal.

Listed below are the 9 greatest river cruises in Europe.

Higher Danube

Linz metropolis middle and Danube River in Austria. SAIKO3P/GETTY IMAGES

An ideal seven-night starter river cruise in Europe is the Higher Danube, which takes you thru centuries of historical past as you discover Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

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Ships go to such cultural hubs as Vienna, with its opera and artwork museums and elaborate royal palaces, and Budapest, Hungary, with its magnificent structure and trendy vibe. In case your ship passes the Hungarian Parliament constructing at night time you might be in for a deal with; magnificently lit, it’s one of the photographed sights on the river.

Alongside the route, between Melk and Krems in Austria, you cruise by the Wachau Valley, a key wine-growing area producing rieslings and gruner veltliners, with sipping alternatives obtainable. It’s additionally an incredible place to bike, which is why I desire to be on ships with bikes comparable to these of AmaWaterways.

You may additionally have the choice of a aspect journey to Salzburg, Austria, the birthplace of Mozart — and likewise the place a number of scenes for the film “Sound of Music” have been filmed. A shock for a lot of is Previous City Bratislava, Slovakia, which can not have been in your must-do listing, however charms with its beer tradition and castles.

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Decrease Danube

A Danube river cruise on the Serbian and Romanian border. SILVERJOHN/GETTY IMAGES

For a deep dive into Japanese Europe’s previous and current, the fascinating Decrease Danube route between Budapest and Bucharest, Romania, explores historical past from the medieval occasions and Victorian period of Dracula to the rise of communism and the Bosnian Conflict.

The seven-night river cruise takes you thru Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. Probably the most stunning stretch of the river is a 62-mile passage by a gorge between the Balkan and Carpathian Mountains. It’s additionally one of many deepest stretches of river on the planet.

Different sights accessed on shore excursions through bus embrace Bulgaria’s Belogradchik Rocks, that are naturally carved towering pink rock pinnacles that seem to take types comparable to “Madonna with little one,” and Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s beautiful medieval capital.


Drachenburg Citadel alongside Germany’s Rhine River. IDEEONE/GETTY IMAGES

Relating to high cruising rivers in Europe, the Rhine wins for pure magnificence and fairy story landscapes. A cruise on the river between Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Basel, Switzerland — a typical one-week route — takes you previous expanses of slope-side vineyards, forests and mountains, historic cities and medieval half-timbered villages.

That’s even earlier than you get to the Higher Center Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Website. This 40-mile stretch of river, between Rudesheim and Koblenz, Germany, has castles galore (it’s possible you’ll think about Rapunzel letting down her hair) and Lorelei Rock, the legendary cliff mentioned to distract sailors with the mesmerizing tune of a maiden.

The French metropolis of Strasbourg with its well-known Gothic cathedral and strong Alsatian culinary scene is commonly a favourite cease on Rhine itineraries, with different highlights together with Heidelberg, Germany, with its imposing fortress.

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A view of the Seine River in Paris. EVA KATALIN/GETTY IMAGES

Positive, you’ll be able to catch sight of the Eiffel Tower when boarding a river ship in Paris, however you are able to do that whereas staying in a resort. The true sights of a Seine river cruise are crusing on the river outdoors the town towards the English Channel and a go to to the seashores in Normandy for a perspective on World Conflict II.

Your go to to the seashores and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, in addition to different memorials and monuments to the fallen, is a poignant expertise (one which requires a two-hour bus trip out of your ship, nonetheless). Avalon Waterways brings a World Conflict II skilled on board so as to add perception on choose sailings.

Different treasures exist alongside the Seine, not the least of which is Giverny, the house and gardens of impressionist artist Claude Monet. In case you are a fan of his artwork, a lot of the grounds could seem acquainted.

In historic Rouen, the place Joan of Arc was martyred within the Center Ages, cease by the Rouen Cathedral (one other topic of Monet), earlier than getting misplaced on cobblestone streets with fantastic cafes.


A Bordeaux river bridge with St Michel cathedral within the distance. LITTLECLIE/GETTY IMAGES

Bordeaux river cruises are completely different from different water routes since you discover two quick waterways — the Dordogne and Garonne rivers — and the Gironde Estuary in Southwest France.

You’ll spend extra time ashore than floating down the river on this itinerary, together with your ship docked for 2 nights within the metropolis of Bordeaux, a mini-Paris with grand 18th-century buildings. Who cares when you’re within the epicenter of French tradition, in one of the celebrated wine areas on the planet?

Bordeaux serves up the chance to sip Medoc, Margaux, Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Sauternes wines, as you increase your wine training. You’ll go to vineyards and lovely chateaus. Your cruise line might even host a wine dinner at a wine property one night. If you happen to plan your cruise for September or October, you’ll get to admire the grape harvest.

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Rhone and Saone

A view of Lyon alongside the Saone river. GREGORY DUBUS/GETTY IMAGES

One other should for wine lovers is exploring the inside of France, sipping Cotes du Rhone in such well-known winemaking areas as Hermitage and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in Provence and Beaune in Burgundy.

Rhone and Saone river cruises usually sail between Lyon and Arles or Avignon, and are top-loaded with such non-wine sights because the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard and the Roman Arles Amphitheater, and the huge Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) in Avignon – plus the lavender fields, haystacks and different scenes that impressed painters comparable to Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh.



For a lazy, dreamy, fantastic river cruise expertise, nothing fairly beats exploring the wine areas of Portugal on the Douro, one of many main rivers by the Iberian Peninsula. The house base for these river cruises is Porto, Portugal, with its historic metropolis middle, spectacular bridges and port homes.

On one-week cruises, you comply with the river 130 miles previous very inexperienced hillside vineyards within the Douro River Valley, a UNESCO-recognized vacation spot, earlier than turning round on the Spanish border. The river cruises usually embrace a go to to the college city of Salamanca in northern Spain. Viticulture may be very a lot the lesson en route, as you find out about port manufacturing on the “River of Gold.”


The Church of Our Girl, Haussman Tower, Catholic Court docket Church, Semperoper and Elbe River in Saxony, Germany. HARALD NACHTMANN/GETTY IMAGES

Attributable to fluctuating water ranges and slender passages, the Elbe is a difficult river that runs 680 miles between the Czech Republic and Germany. Traditionally, it fashioned a part of the border between East Germany and West Germany.

River cruising here’s a uncommon expertise. Viking River Cruises is among the few traces that visits (one other is the French line CroisiEurope), with 10-day itineraries that mix resort stays within the cities of Berlin and Prague with a stretch of river between Prague and Wittenburg, Germany.

The cruises are on ships constructed particularly for the Elbe route and cease by locations comparable to resurgent Dresden, closely bombed throughout World Conflict II however expertly rebuilt; the Saxon Switzerland area of Germany with its placing sandstone rock formations; and the spa city of Dangerous Schandau.


The Po River in Turin, Italy. LADIRAS/GETTY IMAGES

The Po River in northern Italy is tidal, making it one other difficult waterway. Nevertheless, it affords the chance to mix a go to to Venice with a river cruise. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises does the Po in excessive type with its 126-passenger S.S. La Venizia, utterly decked out with a way of place, from Fortuny materials and Murano glass to its gilded accents.

The one-week route doesn’t take you far however does embrace the walled metropolis of Padua, the charming fishing village of Chioggia, and the culinary mecca of Bologna.

For these on the lookout for an extended expertise, Uniworld cleverly combines a Po cruise with luxurious rail journeys to locations like Istanbul, Switzerland and past.

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