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6 of the best European luxury river cruise lines

Cruise Advice

The major success story in the cruise industry in recent years has been that of river cruising, with a huge increase in vessels introduced each year, additional itineraries researched and operated, and the sudden expansion of quality river cruise vessels throughout Europe and further afield. Here is your guide to the best luxury river cruise lines in Europe.

So many companies are jostling for position, claiming to be the best, that it's hard as a consumer to make a judgement on which to choose. First of all, a quick rule of thumb - you get what you pay for! If something looks cheap, that's either going to be because it is out of season (March/April or late October/November), or because it is of an inferior quality.

Whilst in the ocean going cruise market it is quite easy to differentiate from brand to brand, when choosing a European river cruise, you will be more likely to find many similarities. If you are paying top dollar, you should expect included shore excursions, included drinks with meals, included gratuities, local entertainment, a lecture programme, whisper headsets and bicycles for passenger use. In our opinion, the following companies are the very best luxury river cruise lines in Europe:

Tauck River Cruises

For over 90 years, the Tauck family have specialised in operating worldwide tour programmes. Many generations of Taucks have been involved in making the company the huge success it is today, with a focus on their personal philosophy of integrity, innovation and respect.

What does this mean to you as a Tauck customer? Well, first of all the company has had over 90 years to build 'old friend' relationships around the world, and so when they speak of 'Uncommon Access', this means they can really and truly take you into privately owned collections and venues for a totally unique experience. Secondly, the company instils its principles right across the board, ensuring that all its tour directors and staff buy into a way of behaving that is principled and caring, so you know you are going to be properly looked after, by empowered problem solvers who can resolve issues right on the spot.

Tauck River Cruising - Swiss Emerald in Bernkastel

And finally, it means that you will be travelling with fellow guests who, like you, look for the best value rather than the cheapest price, choosing Tauck over cheaper alternatives because they have heard from friends and acquaintances about the special experience which is travelling on a Tauck tour.

So on a Tauck river cruise, expect extra tour directors, lots of little Tauck touches to surprise and delight, and fares which include every detail of your seamless travel experience. Tauck river boats are elegant and welcoming, with interesting designs (such as the unique loft cabins on the lower decks) and excellent no supplement fares for solo travellers.

Tauck Inspiration Class - Loft Room


In 2002, three families, all passionate about river cruising, travel and the highest levels of hospitality, created a new company: AmaWaterways.

President Rudi Schreiner, born in Vienna, teamed up with Kristin Karst, from Germany, and Jimmy Murphy, a brilliant travel entrepreneur from Ireland, and these three were the pioneering co-owners of the company, jointly creating an award-winning cruise line with 25 ships, and more to come.

The highly personal AmaWaterways operation, with hands-on involvement from the owners, results in a warm and cosy environment with lots of emphasis on the guest experience, as the families' passion for great design, great service and great food permeates throughout the team.

AmaWaterways - AmaMagna library

AmaWaterways set the bar high with some industry leading initiatives - cabins with one or even two balconies (a French balcony and a full outside balcony); fewer guests on each ship to ensure the restaurants and lounges are not crowded; a menu of varied included shore excursions in every port of call; special interest tours, and different tour paces; a fleet of complimentary bicycles; guided hikes and more.

As a member of La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the focus on food has been paramount, with a main restaurant plus The Chef's Table tasting menu. Wine, beer and soft drinks are included with lunch and dinner, as well as a free happy hour at cocktail time.

The double width AmaMagna was launched in 2019 to operate on the Danube - well worth a second look if space is important to you, with lavish accommodation and lots of dining and lounging options.

AmaMagna on the Danube river in Bratislava, Slovakia

Uniworld River Cruises

Whilst you may not have heard of this much awarded company (its core market is in the US), you should certainly add it to your roster of the best river cruise vessels in the world.

When you step on one of their vessels, you immediately start to appreciate the Uniworld difference. The concept is all about recreating the feel of a small boutique hotel on board an all-inclusive river vessel, and every ship is different, personally designed by members of the Tollman family who own Uniworld's parent, TravCorp.

If you've seen pictures of Uniworld's ships then you'll probably have been struck by the slightly garish interiors depicted in the official photography; but in reality, the decor is a lot more subtle than it appears in the oversaturated promo shots. Quirky, yes, but elegant and tasteful with it.

Uniworld's new Super Ships, the S.S. Victoria and S.S. Elisabeth, were originally part of Crystal Cruises as Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler, and offer elegant decor, stylish dining options and some of the largest suites on the rivers of Europe.

Uniworld River Cruises - River Royale in France

In design terms, it is all about the detail - depending on the vessel, you will find hand crafted mirrors, lavish staircases, original collections of antique oil paintings, hand-painted trompe l'oeil ceilings, faux marble columns and ornate murals, all bearing tribute to the skills of artisans from all over Europe. Within the staterooms and suites, the lavish décor is enhanced by the latest technology.

To match the décor, attention to detail is the watchword throughout the vessel: charming and attentive service by staff trained to Uniworld's exacting standards, gourmet dining, exclusive shore excursions included in the fare, all combine to make a Uniworld river cruise something quite different from the norm.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection - SS Maria Theresa

Scenic River Cruises

We are all familiar with the dedicated travel habits of our most discerning Antipodean cousins, and Australian-owned Scenic gives them a stylish yet easy going way to explore across Europe. Your fellow guests will primarily be from Down Under, interspersed with other English speakers including Americans, Brits and South Africans.

Scenic's 'Space-Ships' boast some of the largest suites on the European rivers, with a wealth of luxury facilities, and include a spacious wellness area, complimentary WiFi, electric bikes, five dining venues and a spacious Sun Deck. The décor is shiny and contemporary, and all-inclusive pricing includes complimentary drinks all day every day, tipping, flights, transfers and an interesting programme of shore excursions.

Scenic Jasper on the Danube in the Wachau Valley, Austria

Balcony suites on the European ships feature the Scenic Sun Lounge system that transforms your balcony into an all-weather conservatory-style space at the touch of a button - so if you are cruising off-season, you can still enjoy great views in an enclosed balcony area.

Ashore, you can choose from unique 'Enrich' experiences; free choice exploration at your own pace, which lets you pack in back to back tours or go for a far more leisurely experience; tours by bike, hikes and more. On board, the varied dining options and facilities of the ship give you a great base to plan your next day of activities.

Once you've got a taste for Scenic, you have lots of opportunities to come, with a wide range of cruises and destinations including Europe and South East Asia.

Scenic River Cruising - Sun deck

Riverside Luxury Cruises

Riverside Luxury Cruises is a new river cruising brand, launched in 2023, from the owners of luxury hotel group the Seaside Collection. Together with their near 50 years of experience in luxury resorts on land, the company has also acquired the river vessels previously owned by the former Crystal Cruises.

The double-width Riverside Mozart sets the standard for luxury cruising on the Danube, and although this is an older vessel, it was completely refurbished by Crystal to an extremely high specification, and this shines in its new iteration as Riverside Mozart. The ship's larger size means that guests enjoy spacious all-suite accommodations and there are several dining options including the Bistro for tapas-style bites and the Vista Bar and Grill on the top deck, perfect for taking in the picture-perfect surroundings as you meander along the river.

Riverside Mozart- Vista Grill

In 2024, two identical 106-guest vessels join the fleet as Riverside Ravel and Debussy, originally Crystal River Cruises vessels which were newly built in 2017 and 2018. Together these ships offer a range of itineraries across the Rhine, Rhône and Saône and guests will enjoy suites boasting large panoramic balcony-windows in all categories.

Across all three vessels in Riverside's fleet, you can expect personalised and attentive service with one crew member for every two guests, butler service in every suite, and refined and thoughtful cuisine in a range of venues.

They also offer a wide selection of voyage durations so you can sample the brand on a 3- or 4- night taster cruise or opt for a longer 11- or 12-night duration to fully immerse in the culture and history of Europe.

Riverside operates a staggered pricing policy and we recommend opting for the premium all-inclusive with excursions which offers meals, a premium drinks package, gratuities and a choice of shore excursions included in the fare.

Riverside Bach - Riverside Suite

Viking River Cruises

The river cruise industry owes a debt of gratitude to the Viking giant, whose highly visible advertising campaigns have created a widespread awareness of all the reasons you might choose a river cruise, and enabled them to effectively 'own' the sector. Totally reliable, with a fantastic range of product, and supported by offices around the world, Viking have a tried and tested formula which won't let you down, with a focus on exploration and learning.

Viking Longships are decorated in a contemporary Scandinavian style, fresh and free of clutter. Huge windows ensure light-filled lounges and restaurants. Most accommodation is compact and functional, but if you are looking for more space, those options are available.

Viking River Cruises - Viking Freya in Durnstein, Germany

Excursions are a mixture of included and optional, and the more unusual ones are designated Local Life, Working World and Privileged Access, so you can choose to tailor your experience to suit your personal passions. On board, the Culture Curriculum includes lectures on history and art; tasting of vintage wines; restaurant menus inspired by local cuisine; informative port talks; and local folkloric shows and musicians.

Indoor and outdoor dining areas serve meals with a local influence alongside global classics, and throughout the vessels you will be looked after by Swiss-trained staff.

Take a moment to review the Viking range of product - with so many choices you can always find a new itinerary, even in regions you have visited before.

Viking Aegir - Veranda stateroom

River Cruising Uncovered...

Thinking about a river cruise but don't know where to start? Our informative guide is packed full of everything you need to know, including which cruise lines we recommend, what to expect on each river and how to make the most of your trip...

Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising. Most recently she's cruised on Windstar and has also sailed with Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, SeaDream, Ponant, AmaWaterways and Aqua Expeditions. Her favourite destination is the Galapagos however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Danube, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, Brahmaputra, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Mekong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Caribbean and the Arctic. When she’s not travelling she loves reading, food and wine.

More about Edwina

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