A guide to river cruising in Europe

18 September 2018

Discover the peaceful world of river cruising with leisurely journeys along the world’s great rivers. The beauty of a luxurious river cruise is the constantly-changing landscape. Enjoy calm waterways as you sail smoothly past towns, villages and picturesque countryside. River cruise ships are usually far smaller than their ocean-faring counterparts, making for a warm and intimate atmosphere on board.

Cabins almost exclusively come with a view, thanks to the narrow design of river ships, while many boast balconies where you can unwind as you watch the world go by. This style of cruising is ideal if you love plenty of onshore exploring, as they tend to dock in a new town every day. Cultural sightseeing excursions are organised for each new destination, with some cruises theming their travels around interests like wine tasting, gastronomy or classical music. Hop off to enjoy local restaurants in the evening or keep things simple and dine in the on board restaurants.

Europe is one of the most popular destinations for river cruisers, so we’ve picked several of our favourite rivers that you will love.


Where? The Saone rises in France and meets the Rhone at Lyon and together they flow south, emptying into the Mediterranean near Arles.

Why go? History lovers can visit Roman amphitheatres and temples in Vienna and Arles, while 30 minutes outside Avignon, the stunning Pont du Gard aqueduct – a UNESCO World Heritage Site built by the Romans in the first century AD – has three tiers of arches and stands nearly 50 metres high.

In Lyon, known as the gastronomic capital of France, foodies can tuck into Michelin-starred meals at top-rated restaurants, or try local dishes in one of the many Bouchon eateries. There is also wine tasting in Chateauneuf du Pape and Tain L’Hermitage.

Recommended for… Experienced river cruisers, wine lovers, Van Gogh enthusiasts, foodies and history buffs.


Where? The Danube rises in the Black Forest mountains of western Germany and flows to its mouth on the Black Sea.

Why go? While not as blue as Johann Strauss would have us believe, the Danube is one of the most attractive rivers in Europe, flowing past five capital cities and through the beautiful Wachau Valley in Austria and Iron Gate Gorge, which separates Serbia and Romania. Vienna is the jewel in the crown of the Danube, with grandiose palaces such as Hofburg and Schonbrunn as well as many ornate private residences and monumental architecture. Budapest is memorable for its waterfront, which is beautiful by day but spectacular after dark, and Bratislava has its quirky statues and a pretty old town.

Recommended for... First-time river cruisers, city-breakers, history enthusiasts, music lovers and foodies.


Where? The Rhine rises in Switzerland and flows through France, Germany and the Netherlands, where it empties into the North Sea.

Why go? One of the big attractions is Amsterdam, where a canal cruise and the Rijksmuseum are on the must-do list. If time allows, we’d suggest you also pre-book a slot to visit the Anne Frank House. Cologne is a city with a magnificent cathedral and chocolate museum. The Rhine Gorge is the most scenic part of the river, passing beneath more than 40 medieval castles and fortresses, as well as the Lorelai Rock, where legend has it that a beautiful maiden threw herself to her death over a faithless lover. Cruise past steep vineyards, see a 450-year-old bible, ride a cable car and explore half-timbered houses and a grand cathedral with an ancient astronomical clock.

Recommended for…

First-timer river cruisers, city-breakers, wine lovers, keen gardeners, history enthusiasts and art connoisseurs.


Where? The Douro flows through northern Portugal, emptying into the Atlantic at Porto.

Why go? Whichever itinerary you choose you will have time in Porto, which sits at the mouth of the Douro, and the Spanish city of Salamanca, reached on excursions from Vega de Terron. Both are spectacular, with beautiful churches, imposing architecture and grand squares. Tours in Porto visit Gaia, for tastings in one of the port wine lodges. In Salamanca, peek inside the old 12th-century Romanesque cathedral, and new Gothic-style basilica which, despite its name, dates back 500 years. Outside the big cities, life on the Douro slows down, with time to admire the stunning scenery and visit sleepy towns and medieval villages.

Recommended for…Sun worshippers, city-breakers and port wine lovers


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