Europe is made up of some of the most iconic rivers in the world. The continent’s major rivers include Eastern Europe’s Danube; the Germanic rivers, which include the Rhine, Main, Moselle and Elbe; France’s Seine, Saone, Loire and Rhône rivers; Portugal’s Douro river, and the Volga in Russia. Europe’s network of legendary waterways offers a gateway into many of the continent’s cultural and historic treasures, from vibrant cosmopolitan cities to storybook villages and picturesque rural landscapes.
Why cruise Europe
Europe has more navigable rivers than any region in the world. The Danube river alone runs through as many as 10 countries, including Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria. Furthermore, many of the continent’s most legendary cities can be reached via its waterways – from Paris, the City of Lights, Amsterdam, the Venice of the North, and Vienna, the City of Music – and one could argue that there’s no more relaxing way of exploring their historic sites than by a river cruise ship. What’s more, Europe’s rivers offer something for every type of traveller. If you’re a fan of city breaks, then a cruise down the Danube visiting Vienna, Europe’s capital of culture, coffee and concert halls, and Hungary’s buzzing capital, Budapest, is the ideal choice. With majestic landscapes of steep vineyard slopes, fairy-tale castles and medieval towns, the romantic Rhine is perfect for both couples and first-time cruisers alike. Of course, you can’t get more romantic than a cruise down Paris’ iconic Seine, with ships providing passengers with some of the best views of the capital. Meanwhile, wine lovers should look no further than Portugal’s Douro river, featuring forested mountains and old wine estates dating back thousands of years.
The Rhine River is one of the world’s most popular, and most beautiful, waterways to cruise on.…Read more
The River Moselle is the serene sister of the mighty River Rhine, a tributary of the great river…Read more
The Elbe river is a very popular European waterway to cruise on, offering passengers the chance to…Read more
The river Oder is one of Europe’s hidden gems, starting in the mountains of the Czech Republic and…Read more
There’s something extraordinarily romantic about the Blue Danube, the second-longest waterway in…Read more
The romantic Rhône is one of France’s most beautiful and majestic waterways, sailing past rolling…Read more
The inimitable Seine is France’s best-known river, a mighty waterway rising northwest of Burgundy’s…Read more
Often living in the shadows of the Seine and Rhône, the Saône is France’s most underrated rivers to…Read more
To cruise on the River Po is to sail right through northern Italy’s majestic heartlands, past…Read more
The Douro river is beautiful tapestry or gold, red and green. Gold, for the rolling sun-tinged…Read more
Top river cruising countries in Europe
France is home to some of Europe’s most famous rivers, including the Seine, Rhône and the Loire, making it the perfect river cruising destination. Travellers can experience the lush vineyards of Burgundy, the perfumed lavender fields of Provence and the artistic allure of Arles on a Rhône river cruise. A popular and busy river, the 505-mile Rhône is the only major river to flow into the Mediterranean and itineraries today typically cover the 192-mile southern stretch of river that flows through the South of France to the seacoast and often taken in Chalon-sur-Saône – the gateway to the wine capital of Beaune and to Burgundy’s medieval villages – situated on the River Saône, which joins the Rhône at Lyon. Typical seven-night, roundtrip itineraries from Lyon include the main Rhône river ports of Macon, Chalon-sur-Saone, Avignon and Viviers. Some itineraries include a few days in Paris, home of the Seine. On a Seine river cruise, passengers will sail down France’s longest navigable river, which incidentally carries more commercial traffic and freight than any other waterway in the country. Along with Paris, other key ports and highlights of a Seine cruise include Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, Giverny (made famous by artist Claude Monet), Rouen, Normandy’s historical capital, and the picturesque port of Honfleur. At a length of 635 miles, the Loire is France’s longest river and is often referred to as the ‘royal river’, due to the impressive number of royal figures and aristocrats who lived in the châteaux and castles that line its banks. The Loire Valley is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Meanwhile, the lesser-known but equally captivating rivers, the Garonne and Dordogne, meet at the port city of Bordeaux, famed for its wine and beautifully-preserved old town.
Germany’s stunning countryside, awe-inspiring cities and medieval towns can all be discovered by cruise ship. The Rhine is one of Europe’s best-loved rivers, offering up fairy-tale fortresses, terraced vineyards and historic cities. The continent’s longest and most important river begins properly at Reichenau, an island in Lake Constance in southern Germany, from where it then heads through Schaffhausen – where it drops 75 feet down in a cascade known as the Rhine Falls – to Basel. From there, it winds its way down almost 870 miles to merge with the North Sea at Rotterdam, passing through six countries – Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands – on its journey. Top cruise ports on a Rhine river cruise include Strasbourg, Koblenz, Cologne and Basel. Along with the Rhine, the Moselle, one of the Rhine’s longest tributaries, is also well-regarded; cruises saunter through this wine-growing heartland, taking in medieval Koblenz and picturesque Cochem along the way. The 340-mile waterway rises in France’s Vosges Mountains and flows through the historic region of Lorraine along with Luxembourg and western Germany. Germany’s second most well-known river after the Rhine, sailings on the Elbe river run between the culture-rich cities of Prague and Hamburg, and in between are the vineyards of Saxony and the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, south of Dresden. This beautifully restored city is another must-see sight. Other notable towns and cities to be explored on an Elbe river cruise include Meissen, Worlitz, Wittenberg and Magdeburg.
The Blue Danube, which is often voted as being the most popular river cruise destination, is Europe’s second-longest river after the Volga, and flows from Germany’s Black Forest to its delta on the Black Sea and passing through many celebrated cities, from Austria’s capital Vienna –considered the highlight of a Danube river cruise – to Hungary’s bustling Budapest. The Danube is considered one of the best rivers for first-time cruisers, offering an exciting mix of celebrities European cities and beautiful natural scenery as the river winds its way 1,775 miles through as many as 10 beautiful countries. As you sail down, you will not fail to see why the Danube’s beautiful blue waters inspired Johann Strauss to composed the most famous waltz ever written.
There is arguably no better way to experience Portugal’s famed wine region than by a river cruise. Travellers will cruise into the heart of the Douro Valley, home to the River Douro, the third largest river in the Iberian peninsula. It could be argued that Portugal owes its very existence to the Douro, as it was around which the country was founded thousands of years ago. The river stretches from the Atlantic Ocean and the port city of Porto, all the way east and south to Spain's Vega de Terron (and then on from here to the cosmopolitan city Salamanca). Cruisers will also get to experience the historic city of Porto, with its Baroque architecture, cobbled alleys and waterfront cafés, before embarking on a cruise down the Douro Valley, a Unesco-listed pastoral waterway lined with vineyards that have been producing wine for the past 2,000 years. Stops along the way include rural villages such as Bitetos, Regua, Pinhão, Barca d'Alva and Vega de Terron.
Italy is home to several notable rivers, but the most famous when it comes to river cruising is the River Po. The longest river in the country, it stretches more than 400 miles from the western Alps to the Adriatic Sea, near Venice, and traverses through many of the country’s most romantic cities. Cruise itineraries typically beginning on the canals in Venice and journey through the Venetian lagoon to cities including Mantua, Padua, Bologna, Ravenna, Burano and Verona. Highlights of a Po river cruise include sailing through the Po Delta, a Unesco World Heritage-listed expanse of marshland and lagoons, which is an ornithophile’s dream, home to more than 300 bird species. Cruisers will also visit enjoy wonderful wine from the verdant vineyards and classic Italian cuisine, with treats such as Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Felino salami being famous to the region.
Travellers can journey between Russia’s two famous cities, Moscow and St Petersburg, along the Volga river and Russian waterways. The Volga is the longest river in Europe and it winds its way through some of Russia’s most iconic and vibrant cities. From the Kremlin and Red Square to the opulent Catherine Palace and treasure-filled Hermitage Museum, Russia’s rich culture and heritage can all be discovered on a Volga river cruise. The typical route traces the lakes and canals that connect Russia’s two major cities Moscow and St Petersburg, which include some of Europe’s largest lakes, Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega, and so cruisers will also get to experience other culturally fascinating cities in Russia along the way. The majority of the leading river cruise lines sail on the Volga, including CroisiEurope, Viking River Cruises, AmaWaterways, Scenic and Uniworld.
Iconic ports in Europe
Austria’s capital of culture is famed for its concert halls, coffee houses and national waltz dance. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Vienna was home to Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, earning it its moniker of the ‘City of Music’. Danube river cruises are typically bookended by Vienna and Budapest.
Italy’s most famous and busiest cruise port has been drawing travellers the world over for centuries for its awe-inspiring architecture, art-filled palaces and incredible history. Commonly referred to as the ‘City of Water’ or the ‘City of Canals’, Venice was a city made for cruising.
Douro river cruises start and end in Portugal’s second city. The Unesco-listed old town is complete with beautiful churches, squares and brightly-coloured houses. You cannot visit Porto without taking a tour of the port houses, where huge fortified casks are filled with the region’s fortified wine.
Danube sailings typically begin or end in the romantic city of Budapest. Hungary’s capital has been ranked as one of the world’s most walkable cities and features many sites of interest, including St Stephen’s Basilica, Váci utca, the Great Market Hall and the Castle District.
‘The City of Canals’ is renowned for its museums, colourful buildings and abundance of bicycles. Rhine river cruise itineraries typically include a stopover in the capital of the Netherlands.
The 2,000-year-old historic town is situated where Germany’s two rivers – Rhine and Main – meet. Expect many historical sites in this incredibly picturesque town, including Ste Stephen’s Church, which features Chagall stained-glass windows, and the Gutenberg Museum, where you’ll find the first printed Bible.
The Portuguese capital of Lisbon is included as a stopover on many Douro river cruises. Sample the famed (and delicious) custard tarts, take a stroll down the cobbled streets and flanking bougainvillea-clad squares and pay a visit to the Time Out Market, where some of the capital’s best culinary experiences can be found. The Belém district contains some of Lisbon’s historical monuments.
Located along the Rhine river, Basel is marked as the entry point to the Swiss Rhineland. The quaint town has become well-known for its prestigious art fairs and luxury watch and jewellery fairs, hosted annually.
River cruises regularly stop by Bratislava on their way down the Danube. Slovakia’s principal city is the world’s only capital to border three countries. Most of Bratislavia’s main sights in the old town, which dates back to 1572, can be easily reached from where river cruise ships dock.
Serbia’s capital, also known as the ‘White City’, has transformed into a bustling modern metropolis following the violent collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Cruises on the Danube regularly stopover in Belgrade.
Prague, Czech Republic
When people think of Prague, British stag dos and copious amounts of lager often spring to mind – but there is so much more to the Czech capital as those who’ve cruised to it can attest. Its position on the Vltava makes it a popular stop on Danube river cruises.
Cruises on the Seine offer great views of the City of Lights, including its most iconic building, the Eiffel Tower. From romantic Paris, cruises sail into the heart of one of France's most historic and picturesque regions, Normandy.
Germany’s oldest major city has a harbour conveniently situated at the edge of its old town, making it the perfect stopover on a Rhine river cruise. Landmarks in the 2,000-year-old city include the twin-spired Cologne Cathedral and the Museum Ludwig, which houses 20th-century masterpieces, including works by Picasso.
You’ll find an eclectic mix of neoclassical, Bauhaus and Art Deco architecture in Bucharest’s city centre. With its wide boulevards, it’s not hard to see why this was once dubbed the ‘Paris of the East’.
Top river cruising experiences in Europe
The City of Lights
Spend the festive season in the eternally romantic City of Lights, Paris, then sail down the Seine and explore northern France. See the twinkling Eiffel Tower and the markets of medieval Rouen before returning to a ship decked out with Christmas trees and festive decorations.
Fairy-tale castles on the Rhine
You can sail through the heartlands of Europe on a Rhine & Moselle river itinerary. Explore historic Cologne, visit the wine villages of the Moselle and see the valleys of the mighty Rhine Gorge.
See the Netherlands at their most colourful as you enjoy a relaxing river cruise, gliding past tulip fields and windmills. Some cruise itineraries will offer you the opportunity to visit the famous Keukenhof Gardens and spend plenty of time in Amsterdam.
The romance of Italy
River cruise lines such as CroisiEurope moor in the Venetian lagoon for overnight stays in the historic capital, before meandering along the River Po through the romantic cities of Mantua, Verona and Vicenza.
Russia and the Volga
Step back in time to a world of imperial palaces and old-school tradition as you sail down Russia’s mysterious Volga river. Many cruise itineraries include overnight stays in St Petersburg, where you can pay a visit to the Hermitage Museum and enjoy a Russian ballet performance.
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