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The ultimate European river cruise guide for 2024 & 2025

Cruise Advice

European river cruising has experienced an extraordinary surge in popularity over the last few years, with an ever more varied range of ships, holiday styles and cruise lines to choose from. Here is your ultimate European river cruise guide.

The amount of choice on offer can be overwhelming, especially if you're new to the world of river cruising. With this in mind, we've put together this guide to the many rivers and waterways of Europe, giving you an overview of what each river has to offer and which cruise lines we recommend, plus itinerary ideas for 2024 and 2025...

European river cruise guide for 2024 & 2025

The Rhine

Often thought of as the river cruise to take, the Rhine is a fairytale experience: craggy outcrops topped with enchanted castles, lush forests and terraced vineyards, pretty villages, atmospheric cobbled streets, ancient towns and more treasures at every turn. The history of the region is significant, and it has inspired composers, writers and poets alike. More or less every European river cruise operator offers a Rhine itinerary - and with good reason, as there is so much to do.

Rhine Valley at Rudesheim, Germany

Check out all the options to find the itinerary that is best for you. Some take you all the way to Basel with the opportunity to extend your stay in the scenic Swiss Alps. Others start in quirky Amsterdam, the perfect city to explore on foot or by water. The picturesque Moselle river might be included - don't miss the opportunity to sample the wines, the quality will amaze you. Other key tributaries are the Neckar and the Main. Early in the year you might be looking out for the 'tulip time' cruises, and the opportunity to visit the lowlands of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, with great art, history and amazing food, such as AmaWaterways' Tulip Time sailings in Spring 2024 and 2025.

Basel Old Town

Don't miss:

The amazing Gothic cathedral in Cologne

Our recommended cruise lines:

Tauck · AmaWaterways · Uniworld · Scenic · Viking · Riverside

Trip reports :

The Danube

Our top choice for your first river cruise, the middle stretch of the Danube (between Passau and Budapest) offers everything: extraordinary capital cities including Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava, pretty villages, great music, art and architecture, and delicious food and drink. Remote abbeys, terraced vineyards and beautiful countryside contrast with signature ports of call packed with 'must see' treasures. Relive the magic - and the dark undertones - of The Sound of Music. Roam the lands of the Habsburgs, and feel the long arm of history stretch through the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Alte Hofburg in Vienna, Austria

The upper stretch of the Danube brings history alive in a spectacular way, as you cruise from Nuremberg with its World War II overtones. Less known is the eastern stretch through Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania all the way to the Black Sea, sailing through the Iron Gates and visiting the proud cities of Belgrade and Bucharest; for returning visitors, this is an itinerary to look out for, like Scenic's Danube Delta Discovery or Black Sea Explorer.

Budapest Parliament at sunrise

Don't miss:

Vienna and Budapest are highlights - go for itineraries with overnight stays in these cities if you can.

Did you know?

The Rhine/Main Canal links the Rhine and Danube rivers, allowing you to cruise all the way from the North Sea at Amsterdam to the Black Sea at Constanta - an amazing 28-day journey.

Our recommended cruise lines:

Tauck · AmaWaterways · Uniworld · Scenic · Viking · Riverside

Trip reports:

The Rhône

The Rhône (and its tributary the Saône) has to be one of the most appealing river cruises you can choose, with so much to offer. Start in the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon, a great destination in itself. The city is easily reached by air or rail, and it's worth considering extending your trip for a real culinary treat.

Lyon, France

Then sail northwards for the world renowned vineyards of the Beaune region, sampling the produce along the way, and southwards into Provence for a wealth of history including extraordinary Roman architecture at Arles, and the seat of the former Popes in medieval Avignon with its maze of cobbled streets - not to mention its famous bridge! See the landscapes that inspired impressionists Van Gogh and Cézanne, with huge fragrant fields of lavender, medieval villages and vineyards, abbeys and monasteries. Along the way enjoy the great food of the region - ideally paired with local wines! We like Uniworld's Grand France itinerary operating from March to November in 2024 & 2025.

Saint Paul de Vence

Don't miss:

The Roman ruins in Vienne

Our recommended cruise lines:

Tauck · AmaWaterways · Uniworld · Scenic · Viking · Riverside

Trip reports:

The Seine

Ah the Seine, flowing through romantic Paris, the 'City of Light'. Here you join your cruise, arriving by rail or a speedy flight. There is time to explore the French capital and its many treasures, before sailing into the Norman countryside, known for its rich cuisine based on the produce of the region: apples, cider, cream and cheese.

Eiffel Tower, Paris

You can visit Monet's famous garden and the beautiful gothic city of Rouen with its fantastic cathedral as you sail towards the sea, and the prettiest seaside town ever, lovely Honfleur. Take an overland trip to the beaches of World War II, where the Normandy landings took place, and see the magnificent museum in Caen. Special visits to picturesque chateaux and abbeys along the way remind you of Normandy's rich history - and don't forget to sample the excellent local cider. Scenic's 10-day June 2024 sailing is the perfect introduction.

Honfleur, France

Don't miss:

Sainte Catherine Church in Honfleur, with two parallel vaults in the shape of an upturned hull.

Our clients say:

"…right on our doorstep and yet we have never explored it before. The speedy Eurostar journey to Paris was a bonus and we loved the final evening right in the city. But our highlight was the beautiful scenic cruising."

Our recommended cruise lines:

Tauck · AmaWaterways · Uniworld · Scenic · Viking

Trip reports:

The Garonne

Bordeaux has to be one of the most beautiful cities in France, and it's the perfect starting point for your cruise into the heart of wine country on the Garonne, Gironde and Dordogne rivers.

Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux

Aquitaine in south west France is known for its superb Appellation d'Origine Controllée Grand Cru wines, and here are names to conjure with: St Emilion, Pomerol, Médoc and more. Chateau visits and tastings will be a key feature of your stay, but that is not all the region has to offer: amazing scenery, pretty medieval towns and villages, fortified bastides and castle mansions are all at your fingertips. Viking's 7-night Bordeaux round-trip sailing at the end of April 2024 is a fabulous way to experience this world-famous region and avoid the summer crowds.

Bordeaux, Framce

Don't miss:

A walking tour in Bordeaux itself is a must - broad streets, magnificent buildings, pretty parks and many beautiful churches - then sit at a pavement café with a good glass of Bordeaux to enjoy the atmosphere.

Our recommended cruise lines:

AmaWaterways · Uniworld · Scenic · Viking

Trip reports:

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...

The Douro

Portugal's Douro Valley, where grapes have been grown for 2,000 years, is the perfect base to visit picturesque quintas, explore natural treasures in the Douro International Natural Park, tour fortified villages and pilgrimage towns, and relax as you cruise through the verdant countryside. At the mouth of the river is the lovely blue and white tiled city of Porto, the capital of northern Portugal and home to port wine. It has a fascinating regenerated area on the river front, and is wonderful to explore with its hilly streets and lanes, enabling you to quickly get lost as you soak up the atmosphere.

Porto, Portugal

As soon as you set sail, you reach a region largely untouched by tourism, visiting unspoilt villages and places you have never heard of, in a beautiful scenic setting. Along the way your experience will be enhanced by wine and port tastings, and the opportunity to sample locally grown produce, delicious hams, and traditional specialities of the region. With any luck, you will also get to see some flamenco dancing. If you have time, ensure you start or finish your journey with a side trip to lovely Lisbon: stand by for some serious hill climbing though! We like Uniworld's Portugal, Spain & the Douro River Valley sailing on board Portuguese-inspired S.S. São Gabriel in late September 2024 to enjoy the pleasant early-autumn heat without the crowds.

Douro river valley, Portugal

Did you know?

You can combine a Douro River cruise with a visit to three legendary Spanish cities: Salamanca, Madrid and Toledo.

Our recommended cruise lines:

AmaWaterways · Uniworld · Scenic · Viking

Trip reports:

The Po

When it comes to Italy, your river cruise choices are more limited, but no less appealing for that. The canals and rivers in the area were once the ancient trade routes used by the Romans and the early Mediterranean settlers, enabling you to get a real insight into many cultures - including Roman, Etruscan, Istrian and Byzantine. The Renaissance of course is key to the region, and you will indulge in the arts, architecture and history of the region over many centuries.

Gondolas in Venice, Italy

Based in the magical city of Venice, the Venice Lagoon, Po river and Canal Bianco enable you to visit renaissance gems such as Verona, Padua, Bologna and Ferrara. While in Venice, visit the three outer-lying Venetian islands, Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello. The beautiful canals and rivers of the region pass by picturesque lagoon islands with their colourful houses, and wild beach dunes and pine woods with an abundance of birdlife. Delicious seafood, local culinary specialities and fine wines are all a feature of cruises in this area. Uniworld's Milan, Venice & the Jewels of Veneto itinerary is a top pick here, on board S.S. La Venezia that sails only in this area. Go in May for pleasant temperatures and (slightly) fewer crowds.


Don't miss:

There are too many treasures to mention, but we particularly recommend the Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.

Did you know?

During the summer months from June to the end of August, the extraordinary arena at Verona is home to an unmissable Opera Festival - a visit can easily be combined with a Po river cruise.

Our recommended cruise lines:

Uniworld · European Waterways

Trip reports:

The Elbe

The Elbe is one of Europe's most unspoiled rivers - predominantly natural, it has been unaltered by human technology. As a result, if it is on your wishlist - and it certainly should be - you will have to hunt around to find the cruise you want. This is because the river is so shallow that few vessels are able to navigate it. Expect spectacular beauty, particularly as it meanders through Saxon Switzerland, with wetlands and woodlands which have been virtually untouched.

Dresden, Germany

Amazing cities, risen from the rubble in war-torn East Germany, dot your route. You may start your trip in edgy Berlin, one of the most exciting cities in the world, before stopping in rococo Potsdam and embarking your ship in Wittenberg. Take in Dresden, magnificently restored, Meissen with its fine porcelain, and scenic cruising through Saxon Switzerland. The journey finishes in magnificent Prague, where an extended stay to explore is a must. Viking's Elegant Elbe 5-night cruise in October 2024 is a perfect taster for exploring the region, with options to extend with stays in Berlin and Prague.

Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic

Don't miss:

A day or two pre or post-cruise in fascinating and cosmpolitan Berlin or beautiful Prague.

Did you know?

The Elbe supports several wine-producing areas - the Saxonian Wine Route, Melnik and Litomerice.

Our recommended cruise lines:


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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