A relaxing cruise along one of Europe’s famous waterways is a surefire way to make the most of your vacation across the pond.
Over the last few years, riverboat cruises have grown immensely in popularity, and understandably so. These range in terms of length, price, and the type of boat you’ll be cruising in, from amphibious WW2 vintage “Ducks” (DUKWs) to luxury river cruisers with all the modern conveniences of a modern-day hotel or restaurant.
In one of the latter bad boys, you can travel between some of Europe’s most iconic locations in style. Best of all, when your accommodation is also your ride, you can see much more of your chosen destinations without worrying about transport logistics.
Regardless of how long or how expensive your cruise is, most river cruises are fully guided with friendly staff on hand to tend to your needs and keep you abreast of your surroundings and itinerary.
This article will provide you with a list of the top river cruises available in Europe, as well as some places you may see along the way, and how much you can anticipate spending.
Best European River Cruises
1. Vltava River Cruises
First on our list is the absolutely stunning Vltava River – the longest waterway in the Czech Republic.
Vltava, roughly translated, means ‘Wild Water,’ which is somewhat in contrast to its peaceful atmosphere. This magnificent river flows through the heart of Prague for a whopping 19 miles and is crossed by no less than 18 bridges. In totality, however, it is much longer, nearly 268 miles, bordering large parts of North Bohemia.
If you’re planning on visiting the Vltava, there are a variety of multi-day cruises on offer that travel between culturally rich cities from Prague, to Mělník, to Dresden.
You’ll be treated to views of sweeping architecture and scenery, optional day excursions to famous heritage sites, and traverse the confluence of another renowned waterway, the Elbe River, en route.
Whimsical forests, numerous grand palaces, and remarkable bridges are just a few things you can expect to experience on this unique European cruise, starting from $3300. Be sure to pack your camera. The landscapes of Bohemia are picturesque and panoramic, especially at dusk.
If you’re looking for something more modest, one hour of Vltava river cruising comes with an educational audio commentary and costs only fifteen bucks per participant. There are more landmarks to see in the area, such as Prague Castle, Chateau Melnik, and Hluboká Castle.
Thinking of staying in Prague? The River View Residence is a great spot to stay because of its proximity to the western bank of the Vltava River. The Free Spirit Apartment is about 0.8 miles away and offers another traveler-friendly option.
2. Danube River Cruise
The Danube River has been the muse of musicians and artists worldwide for centuries. And from just a glance at virtually any stretch, it’s easy to see why. If you want to see a lot of central Europe without having to deal with the hassles of trains and cars, cruising the River Danube is for you.
The Danube River is quite unlike any of the other European rivers. It is the second-longest in the continent but, more impressively, it passes through 10 different European countries and four capital cities. Set against the Carpathian Mountains, the skies feel endless, and the atmosphere beats with history.
There are plenty of options for how much time and money you will spend on the Danube river cruise, may it be through barge cruises, yacht cruise lines, or smaller river vessels. Some cruises last for an hour, with some cruises lasting all evening with dinner and champagne.
On a Danube river cruise from Vienna to Budapest, you will pass through Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, while exploring medieval fortresses, fairytale castles, concert halls, and fine wineries. I actually have a lot of love for Budapest, and highly recommend this frequently overlooked destination.
Spending a few nights in Budapest is best experienced at a leisurely pace, so make sure your accommodations are up to par. Some of the best options include MEININGER Budapest Great Market Hall, Barceló Budapest, and the Kozmo Hotel Suites & Spa.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Austria & Things to Do
3. Amstel River Cruise
Bordering the stretch of Southern to Northern Holland, the relatively short Amstel River starts in Nieuwveen and flows through Uithoorn and Amstelveen before joining the IJ.
At only 19 miles long, this is one of the smaller rivers on our list, although no less impressive than the others. It makes up for its small size by connecting some of Europe’s most important art and architecture collections, such as the famous Museumplein. The Amstel is also host to various tributaries that divert into Amsterdam’s incredible canals.
Visitors to Amsterdam seeking a short European canal cruise as part of a day trip instead of a multi-day tour can opt for one for as little as $40. You can also go to the Heineken brewery and see the Anne Frank house while you’re there.
Alternatively, you can go all out and book a multi-day round-trip Amstel cruise with companies like Viking River Cruises. On a trip like this, you can expect to visit breathtaking historical gardens, various museums, and heritage sites like Kinderdijk, beloved for its collection of traditional Dutch windmills, as well as cities and attractions in neighboring Belgium.
If you are planning to have shore excursions and stay longer within the Amsterdam area, you can stay in this lovely Lounge Park Apartment near the city center, or on the water in a Houseboat!
4. Thames River Cruises
The River Thames, England’s longest river, flows from Gloucestershire into the North Sea, right through the heart of London.
Although only a relatively short stretch of the Thames is open for river cruising, there is so much to see you’ll feel like you’ve traveled much further. You’ll also pass by boatbuilding sites and rowing courses while enjoying unique city and countryside views.
Some of these cruises are accompanied by fine food and entertainment. If that sounds like your bag, look into luxury river cruise lines, like the cruises undertaken by the Magna Carta.
These luxury river cruises are not only suited to tourists. They’re also an excellent option for Londoners planning a once-in-a-lifetime stay-cation. With an onboard spa and an in-house master chef, a suite on a cruise like this starts at around $5,500-$6,500 – but you can also requisition the entire vessel for $40,500-$48,000!
But as you travel the world with your budget in mind, you can still see the sights for 40 minutes to two hours of a river cruise along the Thames, costing only around $16 to $17 per person.
Once you are off the river cruise, one of the best places to execute shore excursions around the River Thames is the Tower of London. Then, you can also stay at their local accommodations, such as this stunning penthouse with a spacious sun deck, or at a luxurious room of The Montcalm At Brewery London City.
See Related: Most Beautiful Villages in England to Visit
5. Seine River Cruises
A romantic cruise in the Seine River is great for those who wish to lose themselves in the romance of Paris and Normandy. The Seine, which begins just north of Dijon and ends in the English Channel, is a simply magnificent river that spans 483 miles, with 60% of its length available for recreational boating.
This is great news for tourists, as there is so much to see along the Seine, from the World War II landing beaches of Normandy to the great cultural wonders of Paris. You can experience all of that good stuff on this tip-top 8-day round-trip Seine river cruise from Paris.
Cruises include numerous excursions to must-visit sites like the Normandy beaches and the Eiffel Tower, with delicious meals and plenty of French wine. I recommend taking this trip in the summer so that you can enjoy your evenings as much as your days.
If time is a factor, but you’re still looking to be blown away, think about a private boat tour of Paris. There are 37 bridges spanning the Seine in Paris alone, which is enough to make any architecture buff swoon.
Paris river cruises of the Seine are best for small group journeys and intimate gatherings. For example, in this package, you can enjoy a private Seine river cruise with exclusive access to a boat, some wine, and all the sights of Paris for around $500.
The tour will begin in Suresnes, a city just outside of Paris. After being on one of the best river cruises, you can opt to be left off at the activity provider’s pontoon in the Parisian suburb of Issy Les Moulineaux.
By then, you can strategically pick your place to rest and stay near the area. You can stay at the elegant Courtyard by Marriott Paris Porte de Versailles, Hotel Gabriel Issy Paris, or the budget-friendly Hotel Luxor.
6. Rhine River Cruises
Cruising the Rhine is like a real-life fairytale, as this dramatic river flows through the most otherworldly landscapes of Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Liechtenstein, and the Swiss Alps.
Exploring the Rhine River is surely worth anyone’s time, so if you plan to take this trip, it is best to save up and enjoy a multi-day cruise. Trust me.
On a tour that takes you through multiple countries, you can see many once-in-a-lifetime sights. You can lay your eyes on medieval castles, gothic cathedrals, thick forests, and wide mountain gorges.
In between, you can also go on shore excursions to charming eateries and shops in the various towns you’ll hit up. For example, this monster 15-day cruise will take you from the south of France, all the way to Amsterdam, visiting towns in France, Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands!
If you don’t have 15 days, try this unique steamboat Rhine river tour out of Frankfurt. The sights along this Rhine River cruise are fantastic for nature lovers, plus they’ll even throw in lunch or dinner depending on the time of day!
See Related: Best Lakes in Germany
7. Mosel/Moselle River Cruises
The Moselle (or Mosel depending on which country you’re in) rises in the Vosges mountains in eastern France and flows through Luxembourg to western Germany. Rather than being a bonafide river, it is a stunning tributary of the River Rhine, joining the mighty river near the historic German town of Koblenz.
Due to its relatively small size, the Moselle doesn’t have much in the way of grand river cruises. Any luxury cruises that do include the Moselle normally feature it as part of a larger cruise incorporating rivers like the Rhine or the Main, like this Christmas on the Main and Moselle river cruise.
Having spent time exploring the Moselle, I can tell you that the stretch of river around the town of Cochem in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany is particularly lovely. To enjoy this gorgeous band of river in a more unique boating setting, why not book a canoe trip of the Mosel? As part of the tour, you will have the opportunity to explore local vineyards or breweries for lunch!
After a long day under the sun, it’s a good thing you’ll be able to recharge your energy right as you arrive. At Cochem, you can stay at a cozy accommodation called Hotel Zehnthof.Plus, you can also rest at Hotel Germania or the Hotel Ravene.
8. Rhône River Cruises
Champagne in the South of France? There is no better way to experience this region than aboard a luxury river cruise experience along the River Rhône, one of the major rivers in France and Switzerland.
From Lyon to Avignon, this relaxing cruise boasts the best of Provence, including whimsical landscapes and charming chateaus. Some sights you can expect to see are the Roman amphitheater in Arles, the papal palace, and the charming old-town region of Lyon.
But that’s not all. Rhône cruise liners themselves are famously lux, with some sporting on-board spas and gyms, as well as decedantly kitted-out dining areas and evening entertainment.
If Lyon seems like the place for you, an all-inclusive cruise can set you back around $2800, but it’s worth it for all you’ll get to see.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in France & Things to Do
9. Garrone River Cruises
After sampling champagne on your Rhône River cruise, you may find yourself craving something else to quench your thirst. Cruising down the Garrone River can be combined with a wine-tasting excursion that you can arrange in advance.
Typically setting off from the French wine town of Bordeaux, these trips will give you a peek at the magnificent Garonne River while allowing you to relax to the soothing sounds of the city. With so many possibilities, you may choose between activities. This includes a classic yacht cruise and a leisurely lunch while admiring the stunning architecture.
When you board the river cruise line, you’ll be treated to breathtaking sights, including the Bordeaux Cathedral and the Place de la Bourse.
As this river is located in one of the most famous wine areas of France, most river cruise ships include a glass (or two) of wine. Most tours on this trip focused on the history of the buildings in town. You will also be able to appreciate the magnificent structures as the cruiser passes the UNESCO World Heritage site, Port de la Lune.
This Garonne yacht cruise costs around $60 and is an affordable alternative for individuals interested in trying out river cruises for the first time.
Tourists and visitors can experience luxury and relaxation by staying at Campanile Bordeaux Nord and Pullman Bordeaux Lac. Another option is to rest and enjoy the sun deck of Live Hotels Bordeaux Lac.
10. Elbe River Cruises
The river cruise ships that frequent the Elbe River are well worth it if you’re interested in German waterways of the historic city of Dresden. There are tons of short and single-day cruises of the Elbe in Dresden.
Here you’ll see one of the most well-known bridges in Europe; The Loschwitz Bridge, popularly known as the “Blue Wonder.” This famous crossing attracts visitors from all over the world.
The best short river cruises in the area will take you to see various locations around Dresden. Rest assured, they are well worth your time to see for only about $20-$30. For example, as you cruise along on this classic paddlesteamer, you will also see the Pillnitz Palace with its Baroque style and classic architecture.
But, like with any cruise line, schedule adjustments or trip cancellations may be necessary if water levels are unusually high or low. In case that happens, the place still has a lot to offer. Some attractions near the ship docks include the Old Masters Picture Gallery, Green Vault Museum, and the Semperoper.
Dresden is a beautiful city with a rich history, and you’ll want to stay somewhere that reflects its character. Here are some hotels that will give you a taste of the city’s personality and charm: Super 8 by Wyndham Dresden, Bilderberg Bellevue Hotel Dresden, and Hyperion Hotel Dresden Am Schloss.
And while Dresden is a simply magnificent city, despite its near destruction in World War II, you might just be more interested in the Elbe itself. If that’s the case, think about a luxury cruise along the Elbe, like this incredible Christmas cruise!
See Related: Best Things to Do in Dresden, Germany
11. Douro River Cruise
Last but not least, no European river cruise list would be complete without mention of the Douro River, which meanders through Spain into Portugal. This trip is perfect for tourists who want to experience sleepy Mediterranean villages and vineyards set against rolling hillsides.
While a Douro tour offers excursions to various historical monasteries and ports, it also takes you through a vibrant urban scene full of world-class eateries. Some must-visit stops are Lamego, the city of ceramics, as well as Castelo Rodrigo. In Spain, you can visit Salamanca, a city-sized UNESCO World Heritage Site filled to the brim with history and culture.
When you’re in Porto, you want to make sure you’re really immersed in the city’s culture and history. For that, you need to know the best places to stay which are Hotel Carris Porto Ribeira and Porto Palácio Hotel by The Editory.
But if you’d want to spend more days in tranquil surroundings, you can opt for a 5 day river cruise through Porto and the Douro River Valley. The fee for this luxury cruise, which includes stays at 4-star hotels, is relatively affordable at about $1,450. Included, you’ll find all the amenities you need to enjoy a relaxing holiday in some of the world’s most beautiful places.
How to book the best river cruises in Europe
Getting the best deal on a river cruise is all about finding the right cruise line and reading reviews. Here are a few tips:
GetYourGuide is great for finding affordable river cruises. You can filter by departure port and duration, and then compare prices to find the best deal.
Viator has a lot of options for day trips and excursions, but it also has some great deals on multi-day river cruises. If you’re looking for something other than a full-day excursion, this might be right up your alley!
Yes! You can even find river cruises through our dear friends at Booking.com.
CruiseCritic is an amazing site with tons of information about different cruise companies and reviews from previous customers. The site also has an interactive map that lets you see exactly where all the different ports are located so you can easily plan your trip!
Viking is one of the top companies for finding, planning, and building luxury river cruises, including custom ones. You can find some of the best river cruises Europe has to offer through Viking River Cruises.
See Related: Best Sites for Booking Tours
What is the most popular European river cruise?
There is no more well-traveled river in Europe than the Danube. Along its 2,000-mile course, it runs through several European countries and is a must-see if you’re planning a trip to Europe.
Is river cruising a good way to see Europe?
If you enjoy traveling a lot, one of your goals should include river cruising. Not only can you have a great time on river ships or a yacht, but you will also witness many other places and visit different cities without stressing yourself out walking or commuting a lot. You’re also more likely to see sights that you might miss on foot or via tour bus.
What is the best river cruise for first-timers?
Apart from what you want to get out of a river cruise, the best European river cruises depend on the cruise lines and river cruise companies that will handle your trip, making it best to check online reviews before booking. To give you a head start, it’s best to cruise along the Garrone River on a day cruise for those with less time on their hands or a modest budget. If you’ve got the time and the cash to splash, try a multi-day cruise down the Danube.
What time of year is best for European river cruises?
Usually, the cruising seasons in European waterways are from March to December, but it would be better to go on a cruise from April to May. Off-peak seasons, however, should be considered because there are frequently discounted deals from river cruise lines.
Which is the most scenic river cruise in Europe?
I’d have to say Rhine River cruises offer the most mesmerizing views with breathtaking cities and breathtaking landscapes to see. Along with historic towns, looming hills, thick forests, and magnificent castles along the way, you’ll get to enjoy some incredible food and drink.
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