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Which is the best river for first time river cruisers?

Cruise Advice

First-time river cruisers in Europe will love the in-depth exploration of countries and countryside at a leisurely pace, with plenty of time to get a feel for the region. The great rivers of Europe are like ancient highways, so which river should you choose for your first visit?

The Rhine

Closest to home, the mighty Rhine river flows from the mountains of Switzerland to the sea at vibrant Amsterdam. The fairytale scenery on the upper Rhine, with craggy outcrops topped by magical castles, wine terraces, medieval villages and historic cities, makes for a romantic first choice. The region has a rich history dating back to the Romans, and crossing this huge river continued to be challenging right up to World War II.

You will explore Gothic cathedrals, hilltop medieval villages, and picturesque towns, with some amazing art collections as you travel through the lands that inspired Rembrandt, Durer and van Eyck. Highlights will be Basel, Strasbourg, Rudesheim, Cologne and Amsterdam. Investigating the food and drink will be fun, with amazing white wines and some excellent beer. As you approach the North Sea, the spectacular scenery gives way to a more industrial region, but arriving in Amsterdam makes it all worthwhile.


The Danube

The key stretch of the Danube between Austrian capital Vienna and Hungarian capital Budapest will be quieter and more picturesque than the Rhine, with fewer cargo ships and less industrialisation. Some spectacular scenery features terraced vineyards, craggy gorges, and beautiful abbeys and churches. Your river cruise itinerary will probably also include the Slovakian capital Bratislava, and an overland trip to Prague is an easy add-on, so this is a great way to tick off a whole range of capital cities, each with its own charm.

For music lovers, this will be the number one choice, with lots of options in Vienna (your river boat will probably stop here overnight), not to mention the opportunity to relive the Sound of Music on a trip from Linz to Salzburg (it's not just Rogers and Hammerstein of course - Mozart was born here!). You will enjoy sampling the excellent local wines and beers, as well as some classic local specialities such as wiener schnitzel and Sacher torte.


The Rhône

For a taste of France, the Rhône offers so much that this is a great option for a firsttime river cruiser. Foodies will know that Lyon is effectively the gourmet capital of Europe (or arguably the world!) with over 20 Michelin-starred restaurants. As you sail, you will get to visit the great vineyards of Burgundy with amazing tours and tastings in Beaune or Macon.

But it's not just about the food and wine on this European river cruise. The area has an extraordinarily rich Roman history and Avignon was the seat of the Catholic Popes during the 14th century. You will be blown away by the amazing architecture in Arles and Avignon, and the viaduct at Pont du Gard. The quality of the light in the region was beloved by the impressionists, and Van Gogh in particular was inspired by the region, with its gorgeous lavender fields

The Douro

Less known, but in our top choices for your first European river cruise, is the Douro in Northern Portugal, a way to explore a remote region with so much to offer. Porto is key to your trip: you embark and disembark here and have plenty oftime to explore this lovely historic city with its pretty tiled exteriors, flamboyant cathedral, and steep narrow streets. Leave time of course for a delicious port tasting and the opportunity to learn more about the region's number one export.

The other highlight of a Douro cruise is an overland trip to the Golden City, Spanish Salamanca, whose historic centre has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Take a walk through centuries of history, art and knowledge and see the famous University, one of the oldest in Europe. As you cruise along the Douro you will appreciate the amazing scenery and hilltop villages with plenty of opportunity to explore and taste the local delicacies at local tascas and tabernas: fresh seafood, creamy cheeses, suckling pig and goatling.

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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