River cruising has truly come into its own over the past few years. While previously targeting retirees, cruise companies have made great strides to freshen their ships and itineraries to appeal to younger couples, and even families. Whether you want to step inside a fairy-tale and visit Europe’s incredible castles and vineyards.
River cruising was born in Europe, where meandering waterways connect a lot of countries that are rich in history, culture, and regional cuisine. Europe’s riverside towns and villages are especially atmospheric in late spring, early summer, fall, and during the holiday season when Christmas markets pop up. Travelers wanting to sample a river cruise for the first time often begin on one of Europe’s most famed rivers. Here are the options.
Danube: Most first – timers select a Danube River cruise due to the incredible array of destinations packed into the itinerary. The river, which stretches from the North Sea to the Black Sea, cuts through Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. The river is actually segmented into three sections — the Upper, Middle, and Lower Danube — and cruise lines offer explorations of all. Expect to see voyages between Budapest and Vienna, but — depending on the length of the cruise — you could transit between Nuremberg and Passau in Germany. Lower Danube itineraries often begin or end in Bucharest, Romania
Rhine: Cruising the Rhine affords the opportunity to visit German ports, but you may also stop in France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland (depending on the itinerary you select). If you want to pull out all the stops, look for itineraries that are marked “Grand Voyage.” These combo tours offer a route along both the Rhine and Danube, adding Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to the mix. Note that the Rhine can have high water levels in May and June — particularly between Vienna and Cologne. This may require transferring to a bus to reach certain ports.
Moselle: As one of the longest tributaries of the Rhine, the Moselle offers itineraries of its own. Some stretches of the river have a more industrial feel, but cruisers are rewarded with winding banks where medieval villages are tucked away.
Rhone: Many river cruises bring you to a variety of countries. However, if you select a Rhone River cruise, you’ll only explore destinations in France. That can be a plus or minus, depending on how you look at it. While the cruise itself isn’t as scenic as the voyages on the Rhine or Danube, the ports have lots of culture and history. The food served onboard is also delectable, as it borrows from French cuisine. One thing to note: Summer can be windy along the Rhone
Seine River: It is only 110 miles as the crow flies from Paris to the English Channel, but the Seine River snakes its way through 240 miles of magnificent Norman vistas. There is much to see as this waterway winds through France’s history: the riverside cultural monuments of Paris, scenic vistas that still today inspire great artists, farmlands that produce Calvados apple liqueur, and so much more.
Volga River: Itineraries run between Moscow and St. Petersburg and nearly all cruise lines schedule an overnight in both cities so passengers can really dig into the destinations. While these cruises are labeled as Volga River explorations, you’ll also sail along some other waterways, including lakes and canals.
Lesser-Known Rivers: There are other rivers throughout Europe that are building their reputations for river cruises. If you’ve done all of the above voyages and are looking for something new, check out the Elbe, which transits through the Czech Republic and Germany. Italy’s Po and Portugal’s Douro are also solid picks.