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Scenic River Cruises In Europe – Reasons To Go

A long-boat cruise ship

For all of you out there who love to cruise on the water, wake up every day in a different and fascinating location, and make the most of your travels, I have a charming and unique cruise idea. Discover the most photogenic and enchanting places in Europe by taking one of the scenic river cruises.

European river cruises are very different than an ocean-going cruise. Due to the size of ships; space, entertainment, and facilities vary, but needless to say, it is an incredible experience.

The vessels used to navigate the rivers are logically smaller than their transatlantic big brothers. Regardless of the size, imagine staying in a cozy 60 to 90 rooms boutique hotel where the full board and endless entertainment is awaiting your visit.

Get a boost of endorphins while using the gym. Relax, and take a beauty treatment in the spa. Or why not chill by the pool while enjoying a drink or play some minigolf with your fellow travelers?

And let’s not forget about the exceptional dining experience provided by Michellin stars chefs. What’s there not to like?

River Cruises Vs Ocean Cruises

One of the main advantages of cruising a European river is that the ship docks in the middle of the city. Being in the center of the action allows everyone to make the most of their time in port by taking multiple port excursions.

Another advantage to take into consideration when choosing a luxury river cruise is that you will not get seasick. These rivers are navigable and offer waters that are very calm and smooth. 

Sometimes during low tide, the ships will be forced to dock a bit further from the city center. However, don’t let this fact discourage you. You will most probably only be a short 20 min bus journey from downtown.

Imagine waking up in Budapest, going out to the balcony and enjoying a cup of freshly brewed coffee or an aromatic tea while admiring the beauty of this majestic city. Disembarking after a very satisfying breakfast and heading out for the day to discover the treasures that the city proudly hides.

Joining a bicycle tour or a cooking class, or simply getting lost and finding your way back again while walking the cobblestone streets. Bumping unexpectedly into an ancient palace and letting the beauty of a fascinating abbey take your breath away.

Riverboats are mich smaller than their ocean-going sisters and as a result, way more intimate. Imagine sharing stories with your friends over a piece of the softest cakes somewhere in a cafe, well hidden in the backside of a street.

Picture yourself exchanging photos and anecdotes in a patio filled with trees and colorful flowers and touched by the charm of a little fountain. At the same time, the old musician plays the accordion animatedly, and the lights start to dim.

Yes! European river cruises are the ultimate experience!

Busy Port Days On Scenic River Cruises

sites of Europe
European river cruises stop in great cities

There are multiple and unique activities you will be able to take part in during the city trips, the reason why the entertainment aboard is a little more limited than the one provided in the bigger ships.

From the latest musical concerts and festivals to opera or theatre tickets, wine or beer tasting, cooking classes, walks in nature, bicycle tours, visits to abbeys, local markets, monasteries, palaces, Unesco sites. The range of activities to make your trip memorable is countless.

Lack Of Sea Days

When you compare European river cruises to their more significant ocean-going itineraries, the apparent difference is the lack of sea days. Since European cities are all close together, river voyages from one destination to the next takes no time at all.

During ocean cruises, there are generally a few sea days at the start and end of the cruise. I generally use these days as downtime from the hectic port days. On a Europe river cruise, every day is a busy port day. So, be prepared to walk your feet off on city excursions.

There is no time for boredom on any river cruise, whether you sail the Danube, Seine, Rhine, Rhone, or Moselle Rivers.

After an exhausting but very fulfilling day of discovering the charismatic cities, your floating boutique hotel will be waiting for you to keep enjoying exceptional dining and onboard entertainment.

If you still have energy and want to dance the night away, check out the disco or the party that is happening on the deck!

Unlike a mega cruise ship, small ship river cruises offer less in the way of entertainment. There are no onboard casinos, no specialty restaurants, and no large movie screens. What they lack in amenities, they make up for in character and intimacy.

Cruising Time On A River Cruise

It’s important to note that since cities are close together, the ships leave in the wee hours of the morning and arrive at their next destination a short while later. As a result, you will not witness the actual “cruising down the river” because it happens at night.

So you’ll go to sleep in one city and wake up to another the next morning. For those that enjoy “sail away,” you will not likely see this on many European river cruises. Also, because river ships are much smaller than ocean giants, they tend to be noisier.

Best Season To Navigate The European Rivers

Most of the inclusive river cruises you can take in Europe run from April to October due to weather conditions.

Otherwise, the ships remain in the harbor for the first three months of the year except for Christmas and New Years’ special cruises. Christmas river cruises sail to the towns with the most popular Christmas markets.

These seasonal cruises navigate the waters of The Danube and The Rhine River. Those are the most demanded ones for the festive season and visit Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary in the first case, and France, Germany, Netherlands, and Switzerland in the second case.

The itineraries start from 4 nights with the possibility of extending the stay in a picturesque city such as Prague or Amsterdam.

If you are a fan of the Holiday season, then you should experience it the European way. There’s nothing better than indulging in delicious street food, savoring the cinnamon aromas of the mulled wine.

Or how about ice skating in a winter wonderland, purchasing unique gifts for your loved ones, and dousing your senses in the sights, scents, and sounds of Christmas? A Christmas river cruise is a must, even if you try it just once.

We are sure you remember very well that Christmas movie you watched where a couple was taking a stroll in the romantic streets of Vienna?

Or a group of old friends had a reunion while sharing a hot chocolate and countless memories in Brugge, or the girl got proposed in a Christmas market in Strasbourg? A festive river cruise makes a memorable winter getaway.

Itineraries For All Tastes And Budgets

Moving onto summer river cruises, the itineraries diversify and adapt to all kinds of budgets and tastes, whether you take a one-day river cruise, a National Geographic river cruise, or a seven day round trip luxury cruise.

You can experience an exciting trip on a Rhine cruise, taking you across Germany, Holland, France, and Switzerland.

Cruising the Danube on a scenic river cruise in Europe
Cruising The Danube on a scenic river cruise in Europe

Another popular itinerary to discover Europe at its finest whether you are a lover, a foodie or an art enthusiast, cruises along the Danube. The ancient river invites you to discover scenic spaces in Budapest, Vienna, and Prague in an extraordinary way.

Immerse yourself in the Danube river’s historic ports, which ooze with culturally rich interest. If you’re celebrating an anniversary or looking for the perfect honeymoon destination, look no further. A scenic river cruise brings so much romance to the art of cruising.

A very different itinerary from the ones proposed above is a Douro River cruise. Running from Spain to Portugal, the Douro Valley will bring you to discover charismatic cities such as Lisbon, Porto, and Salamanca.

During this itinerary, the past, present, and future merge seducing every visitor. Touring Porto via tram, admiring the old architecture, and indulging in excellent wine tasting will present you with a very exclusive way of traveling.

Bike And Boat

For the adventurous cruisers, I encourage you to have a look at a “Bike and Boat” trip. There is one particular itinerary that melts perfectly together bike rides and Europe river cruising. It also navigates through the Rhone river, in the south of France which is a magical destination.

You will get to cycle to a beautifully drawn landscape where wild horses roam around, flamingos lounge under the sun, and endless vineyards gift you with the most scenic views.

UNESCO sites, historic towns like Avignon, lavender fields, and monasteries like Saint-Paul de Mausole are a few of the highlights. Vincent Van Gogh was treated at the mentioned monastery and inspired by it.

Cost of European River Cruises

When comparing Austria River cruises, German River cruises, or Russian River cruises, it’s essential to look at the quality and what’s included. With everything else in life, you get what you pay for.

Cheap river cruises usually sail in the shoulder season, have less desirable ports of call, and not everything is included. Paying extra for drinks and excursions can make that Blue Danube River cruise not so affordable.

Helpful Tips Before Booking Your River Cruise

If all this talking about how marvelous scenic river cruising is, and you are almost ready to book a 2021 Europe river vacation, here are some things that will be very helpful before you hit the “book” button:

The room size differs from old to new vessels. New vessels usually have bigger rooms and balconies. Depending on your preferences and budget, you might want to consider an upgrade to a larger room.

Here, you can enjoy a morning beverage in your balcony while taking in the views. Or, how about taking in the sunset in a picturesque European city with your significant other?

Scenic cruises on European rivers do not include airfare to and from the debarkation city. Having said this, check with the cruise company if they offer the possibility of managing also your airfare.

Should a delay on your flight occur, the cruise company tends to help out. Options include rescheduling a flight or finding another solution.

Travel insurance, travel insurance, travel insurance. We will never repeat this enough. Delays, cancellations, weather conditions, sickness, lost baggage, stolen items, accidents while traveling, or before the holidays.

There are so many factors that can change your vacation! Having travel insurance will give you peace of mind before, during, and after your holiday until you are home safely.

It is crucial to consult as well before booking your trip if your dietary requirements can be met once onboard. Being a celiac with lots of food allergy, I won’t travel anywhere unless I can eat safely on my vacation.

Another thing to take into consideration is if the river cruise operators offer access for individuals with disabilities. Some vessels have small walkways and limited space, so make sure you have it all covered.

What’s Included?

What’s included in the cost or what are you paying for. Some operators offer all-inclusive European river cruises. However, with other companies, drinks, and shore excursions will not be included. In some others, wine and beer only and one or no excursions.

Tips for the crew are not be included. So, you might want to add that to your travel budget so you can make a total estimation of your travel cost.

Research your cruise line and read a lot of travel brochures. Moreover, careful planning is the key ingredient for a trouble-free trip.

Now I have opened your mind to one of the best ways of discovering Europe and make the best memories of it. Get your camera and luggage ready and Bon Voyage!

Happy travels ~ Karen