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6 of the best European river cruises by rail

Cruise Advice

Travelling between Europe's great cities on a river cruise, sailing through the ever-changing scenery along the way, is the perfect choice for travellers who like to be ashore every day, exploring grand capitals and rural villages independently or with expert guides.

Europe's interconnectedness goes beyond its historic waterways; the continent's rail network is extensive, and surprisingly easy to navigate. Whether you're concerned about long queues at the airport, looking to lessen the environmental impact of your holidays, or simply wish to experience the joy of travelling by train, it's easy to join a river cruise by rail. We've picked some of our favourite river cruise itineraries, some common and some less so, to show just how easy it is.

Dutch & Belgian Waterways

Crystal's 'Tulips & Windmills' itinerary is a springtime delight that explores the Dutch and Belgian waterways, with time in fashionable Antwerp and captivating Ghent, along with the vibrancy of the bulb fields during tulip season. This 7-night Amsterdam round-trip, which begins and ends with an overnight on board in the Dutch capital, operates on several different departure dates throughout April.

Train travel to Amsterdam involves a convenient direct Eurostar service from London St Pancras, arriving just a short walk (or shorter taxi) from where the river cruise ships dock. At around 4 hours from city centre to city centre it rivals the convenience of flying. On the return take a high-speed service from Amsterdam to Brussels Midi station, then check in for the Eurostar back to London.

Canal in Ghent

Rhine, Main & Moselle

One of the great rivers of Europe, the Rhine flows from the Swiss Alps through France, Germany and the Netherlands, passing vineyards, fairytale castles and picturesque little villages. There are plenty of itineraries to choose from, and Crystal Cruises' 7-night 'Romantic Rhine' voyage from Amsterdam to Basel, departing on 30th August 2021, is a particularly fine example.

This cruise includes time in the beautiful cities of Cologne and Strasbourg, along with pretty riverside towns such as Rüdesheim and Mannheim. An overnight in Amsterdam at the start of the journey means you can choose from any of the three direct daily Eurostar services from London. Returning from Basel, a mid-morning TGV departure to Paris Gare de Lyon then the Eurostar from Paris Gare du Nord will have you at London St Pancras before 6pm.

Petite France, Strasbourg

More unusually, AmaWaterways operate a handful Amsterdam to Luxembourg itineraries along the Rhine and Moselle, with the latter usually only included as a side trip on a Rhine cruise. These 7-night departures include the 3rd August 2021 'Vineyards of the Rhine and Moselle' sailing, travelling through wine country with tailored excursions to sample the local delights.

The itinerary begins with an overnight in Amsterdam, making your outbound train travel easy, and the return journey leaves Luxembourg City just after 10am on the TGV to Paris Gare de l'Est, then the Eurostar from Paris Gare du Nord will have you at London St Pancras by 5pm.

Moselle river flowing through Cochem, Germany

Dordogne, Garonne & Gironde

Another region famed for its wine is Bordeaux, where the Dordogne and the Garonne rivers meet to form the Gironde estuary. The city of Bordeaux, with its pretty UNESCO-listed 18th-century old town, is the start and end point for cruises operated by several cruise lines, allowing you to visit the nearby vineyards of Pauillac, Saint-Emilion and the Médoc.

One such sailing is Uniworld's 27th June 2021 'Brilliant Bordeaux' departure, which includes the cost of your train (or airfare) as standard. The journey from London St Pancras travels via Paris, with a change between Paris Gare du Nord and Paris Montparnasse required. Leave London just before 8am and you'll arrive in Bordeaux by 4pm. Set off on your return journey just after 11am and you'll arrive back in London before 5pm.

Saint Emilion church, France

Rhône & Saône

In southern France the Rhône, fed by its tributary the Saône, flows southward to the Mediterranean Sea, passing through the vineyards of Burgundy and the hills of Provence. A common route sees ships sailing between the French culinary hotspot of Lyon and the former papal stronghold of Avignon, travelling through stunning countryside and enchanting towns that captivated artist such as Van Gogh.

Uniworld's 'Burgundy & Provence' itinerary operates from March to October, including a 4th July 2021 sailing from Avignon to Lyon. The journey from London to Avignon departs at either 7am or 11am, arriving just before 2.30pm or 6.30pm. The return from Lyon departs at 11am and arrives just after 4pm. Both routes are via Lille, where only a platform change is necessary, and you'll be travelling on board Eurostar and the TGV.

Uniworld's SS Catherine in Tain L'Hermitage, France

AmaWaterways offer a more unusual journey in this region, featuring more of the Saône, including the Roman history around Chalon-sur Saône and the charming town of Tournus. Beginning with a 3-night pre-cruise stay in Geneva, the 7-night 'Essence of Burgundy and Provence' cruise starts from Chalon-sur Saône, visiting Gothic monasteries and Benedictine abbeys, as well as the highlights of Lyon, Avignon and everything in between. Then continue on to Arles, considered one of the most beautiful cities in France. Here you will disembark and travel on to Barcelona for a 3-night stay.

This itinerary runs in both directions between March and November. The 21st June 2021 departure begins in Geneva, reached by Eurostar to Paris Gard du Nord, then TGV from Paris Gare du Lyon to Geneva, departing just before 8am and arriving at 5.30pm. Returning from Barcelona you'll take a TGV Duplex direct to Paris Gare de Lyon then the Eurostar from Paris Gard du Nord to London St Pancras. Leave at 6am to reach London before 5pm, or have a more leisurely morning and leave just after 10am to reach London before 9pm.

Place de la Republique, Arles, France

Many of these journeys travel through Paris, where a change of stations is required, and you should allow two hours between trains. Getting from one station to another is easy; either take the Metro or jump in a taxi, for a journey likely to take no more than 30 minutes. Grab a coffee and a bite to eat and you'll soon be on your way again. We've highlighted the best options based on the specific sailings listed, always arriving at a convenient time for your first evening on board, but we can tailor your trip to include overnight stays in cities en-route and offer alternative routings where possible.

Gare de Lyon, Paris

Finally, although the Mundy Cruising office is conveniently close to St Pancras station, we know that most people will have to travel to get to central London, and an early morning departure might not be convenient. We highly recommend starting your holiday early with a stay at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London; this beautiful hotel, which first opened in 1873, harks back to a golden age of train travel, and provides the perfect start to a rail journey across Europe.

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Meet the author

Alex is Director of Sales & Marketing at Mundy Cruising, having worked with the company for 10 years and in travel for over 18 years. Most recently he's cruised on Regent Seven Seas and has also sailed with Seabourn, Crystal, SeaDream, Tauck and Ponant. His favourite destination is South America however he's also enjoyed cruises in the Western Mediterranean, Middle East, East Africa & Indian Ocean, India, Myanmar, South East Asia and Antarctica. When he’s not travelling he loves walking holidays; a favourite included a trek to Everest Base Camp.

More about Alex

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