There’s so much to love about a European river cruise. It’s the type of holiday that forces you to slow down, relax, enjoy the company, savor regional cuisine and indulge yourself in the magnificent vistas that roll by your cabin window.
Steeped in history, Europe’s great rivers reveal a privileged view of timeless towns and villages, landscapes and castles that can’t be seen from the seat of a coach, train or car.
Prepare for a sense of awe as you gently pass by mighty castles on the Rhine in Germany, sweeping hillside vineyards along the Seine in France, medieval churches on the Moselle and the Danube … it’s the stuff travel dreams are made of.
Add the fact you only need to unpack once and every time your ship docks, you step right into the heart of the cobblestoned streets and market squares of some of Europe’s most charming cities and it’s easy to understand why a river cruise is on so many bucket lists.
To help you plan your own dream holiday, here’s a snapshot of what to expect from the fabled waterways of Europe.
One of the most celebrated rivers in all of Europe, the 1770-miles of the Danube wind through 10 different countries all the way from Germany’s Black Forest to the mouth of the Black Sea. No other inland waterway on earth passes through as many borders.
Europe’s second longest river after the Volga, the banks of the Danube offer a virtual living history lesson of the continent.
Once a highway of commerce for the Roman Empire, today its passage through the capital cities of Vienna, Belgrade, Budapest and Bratislava make it the perfect route for a diverse European odyssey.
A World Heritage site, this revered waterway is often referred to in poetry, painting and music and most notably, it was also the inspiration behind Johan Strauss’ famous ‘Blue Danube’ waltz which you’ll often hear from the riverbanks at various historic points along the river.
Claiming more waterside castles than any other river in Europe, the Rhine offers unparalleled scenery and as such, is a great choice for first time cruisers.
Flowing from Switzerland to the Netherlands where it spills into the North Sea, the views from your cabin on this route provide a magical, almost fairy-tale like element to your experience.
Depending where you are, the river actually takes on localized spelling – in Germany it’s the Rhein and the Rijn in Netherlands but is most commonly referred to by its French spelling derivative, Rhine.
This important waterway passes through many famous and beautiful cities including Cologne, Bacharach, Koblenz and Mainz in Germany, Strasbourg in France and Basel in Switzerland.
The middle section of the river is its most stunning with sheer rock banks, vineyards and spectacular castles the feature.
Snaking its way from the Langres Plateau near Dijon in north-eastern France, through Paris and onto the beaches of Normandy, the Seine is one of the country’s – if not the world’s – most fascinating rivers to explore.
Even without the French capital as its showpiece, it’s difficult to comprehend how much history rolls out before you when travel along this beautiful river.
Using the Seine as your guide, visit Giverny and wander through the house and gardens where Claude Monet forever changed the world of art with Impressionism. In Conflans and Auvers-sur-Oise, see where Vincent van Gogh captured his own unique view of the world. Stroll through stunning Chantilly Castle or King Richard the Lionheart’s Château Gaillard, snap photos you will never forget in Honfleur, Les Andelys or the village many consider to be the most beautiful in France, Lyons la Forêt … there is so much to see you will be spellbound.
In Rouen, the capital of the Normandy region, you’ll be able to explore medieval laneways and learn about Joan of Arc, visit the amazing Rouen Cathedral or walk the historic battlegrounds of The Somme.
The Moselle that runs through France, Luxembourg and Germany has a history of human settlement that pre-dates the Romans.
The river is immediately associated though with the grapes that were first cultivated on the terraced hillsides more than 2000 years ago.
Germany’s oldest wine-growing region, touring the Moselle Valley offers connection to many of Europe’s finest preserved medieval towns and villages like gorgeous Cochem, Koblenz and the twin-towns of Bernkastel-Kues.
Germany’s oldest town, Trier, in the southwest, is predictably a treasure trove of fascinating things to see and do. Hugged close to the Luxembourg border on the banks of the Moselle, there are many Roman structures still to see including baths and an amphitheater and the Archaeological Museum is full of Roman artifacts.
The Trier Cathedral is Germany’s oldest church dating from the fourth century.
Emanating from central-northern Spain and extending all the way to Porto on Portugal’s stunning coastline, the Douro is one of the Iberian peninsula’s largest and most traveled rivers.
Translating to ‘river of gold,’ the Douro takes its moniker from the bright Iberian sun that bathes the river.
Venturing up the Douro Valley, a World Heritage Site, will put you into the heart of premium port and ‘sticky wine’ country. Learn all you need to know about this very special wine region at the Museu do Douro, the wine museum in Peso da Régua.
As you sail past olive groves, vineyards and almond plantations, you’ll enjoy the serenity and diversity of this 557 mile-long river.
Lamego, Pinhão, Favaios, Castelo Rodrigo, Bitetos and Salamanca may not be household names among travelers but once you have explored them, you’ll definitely pass the word around.
Mateus however may be more familiar due to the world famous rosé it produces. With its stablemate white wine variety, it represents 40% of Portugal’s table wine exports. The palace on the Mateus label (Casa de Mateus), is open to the public.
A tributary of the Rhine, the Main is a 326-mile river flowing through Germany and is the country’s longest land-locked waterway.
In 1992, a canal system was completed that connected it to the Danube making it possible for river cruises to navigate Europe’s major rivers from Amsterdam all the way to the Black Sea in one 2,200-mile unbroken journey.
Areas along the river suffered damage during World War II and today you’ll see not only the impact of the conflict but the many castles, abbeys and even breweries that were spared.
European river cruise options
If you’re ready to cruise the scenic waterways of Europe, then Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours has the right cruise for you. With award-winning service and a truly all-inclusive service, Scenic will deliver the vacation of a lifetime.
- Jewels of Europe – 15 days – Amsterdam to Budapest
- Black Sea Explorer – 8 days – Budapest to Bucharest
- Rhine Highlights – 8 days – Amsterdam to Basel
- Normandy and Gems of the Seine – 11 days – Paris to Paris
- Romantic Rhineand Moselle – 15 days – Basel to Amsterdam
- Unforgettable Douro – 11 days – Porto to Porto
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