Top European River Cruises Tours & Vacations 2024/2025...

European River Cruises Tours & Travel Packages 2024/2025

50 European River Cruises trips. Compare tour itineraries from 12 tour companies. 9 reviews. 4.5/5 avg rating.

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Top European River Cruises Attractions

  • Tagging along with the chef and shopping the local markets for the nights dinner
  • Strolling the cobblestone roads of historic European cities
  • Savoring the tastes of local gastronomic delights
  • Exploring Givernny, France, along the Seine River, once the home of Impressionist Claude Monet
  • Visiting the D-Day memorial sites and Normandy beaches in France 
  • Tasting the local wines of Champagne, Burgundy and Alsace-Lorraine along the French canals
  • Marveling at the world-famous Cologne Cathedral along the Rhine River
  • Cruising some of the Danube River’s 2,000 miles through Germany, Austria, Hungary and more
  • Shopping at one of the world’s largest European Christmas markets, in Nuremberg, Germany, on the Main River
  • Learning the history of St. Petersburg and Moscow on the Volga River
  • Strolling through 2,000-year-old Lyon, France, set along the Rhone River

European River Cruises Tours & Travel Guide

European River Cruises Attractions & Landmarks Guide

River cruising is one of the hottest segments in worldwide cruising right now, and river cruising in Europe is the most popular location for it. The Rhine, Danube, Seine and Volga are perennial favorites, but don't overlook the Rhone, Saone, Garonne, Gironde, and Dordogne in France; the Elbe in central Europe; the Moselle in Germany and Luxembourg; the Guadalquivir in Spain; the Douro in Portugal; the Po in Italy, Sweden's river-like Gota Canal, and others. You'll get intimate looks at Europe's cities, villages, and scenery that you'll find nowhere else, and have a wide variety of ships and lines to choose from.

Picture yourself floating on one of the great waterways of Europe, magnificent scenery passing by. Your vessel stops in the many places that you read about in history or geography books. Your ship introduces you to the splendors of Europe and facilitates immersion into the local culture. You might be sailing to visit the lands of your ancestors or to experience the local food and drink.

Relaxation prevails on board. Local entertainment and lectures about the ports of call engage guests, but do not overwhelm them with multiple choices for a plethora of activities as is found on ocean going counterparts.

Who Are European River Cruises Best For?

River cruising is the cruise market’s fastest growing segment and with good reason. There’s a laid-back ease to sailing the world’s mighty, yet gentle waterways, unpacking and repacking only once and exploring a new landscape or city each day.

You’re never that far from shore and feel intimately entwined with your chosen destination’s culture and cuisine. You’ll love a Europe river cruise if you: 

  • Prefer a smaller crowd, say 150 total guests as opposed to the nearly 5,000 carried on ocean cruise ships
  • Want to explore your Europe river cruise destination through daily shore excursions, based on interest and activity level - a new port every day and sometimes two in one day
  • Enjoy the moderate activity of walking or biking through historic villages and European capitals and don’t mind riding in a motorcoach to out-of-the-way castles or other attractions
  • Don’t need the bells and whistles of the massive, oceangoing cruise ships, like waterslides and ice-skating rinks 
  • Look forward to meeting like-minded travelers who enjoy the go-with-the-flow ambience of a Europe river cruise 
  • Love the history, culture, cuisine and architecture that are highlights of any Europe river cruise
  • Don’t mind the smaller size of a Europe river ship stateroom as compared to an ocean ship - most are cleverly designed to feel as spacious as possible and many feature a balcony and panoramic windows
  • Are satisfied with small music ensembles or singers and dancers from local villages who come aboard for evening entertainment - as opposed to flashy Broadway-style productions and comedy shows
  • You’re an early riser - shore excursions on a European river cruise typically start as early as 7:30 or 8 AM to take advantage of the day

What to Expect on a European River Cruise

Brochures display photos of gorgeous scenery, famous cathedrals and romantic castles. Those images lure guests to experience the European rivers. But what else should you consider when choosing to travel on a river cruise?

1. Ships have fewer passengers

No getting lost in a crowd or waiting in long lines. Unlike ocean going ships, the ship is rarely the destination as the point of cruising the great rivers of Europe is to explore everything offered in the port. Researching your chosen river cruise operator ensures that you will find a perfect match for a river cruising style that meets your needs.

Cabins on the river cruise ships accommodate two people so larger family groups will need to book another cabin. Connecting cabin options exist, but groups with young children should be aware of the programs or lack thereof, for children on board. Some of the river cruise lines have minimum age restrictions, an important consideration when planning.

2. Review the inclusions

In general, river cruises include many amenities, but it is essential to review those inclusions and decide what matters most to you. Certain shore excursions may be included with options for other excursions available for purchase.

Several Europe river cruise lines offer bicycles or walking sticks. Priority access into popular attractions saves guests from waiting in long lines or allow them to experience special events designed solely for them.

3. Multiple river choices

With many rivers to choose from, deciding on the perfect one comes down to the itinerary and special interests of guests. For example, there are many themed cruises, like those focused on wine or Christmas markets. A popular choice for first time cruisers of the European rivers is the majestic Danube, but there are lesser known rivers like the Douro in Portugal that attract those seeking to explore a new country or lesser-known region.

4. Consider your physcial level expectations

Keep in mind that river cruise ships often dock together and it is necessary to climb from one ship to the next to reach shore. It's a great opportunity to check out other ships, but also poses a problem for those with physical limitations. Combine this with cobblestone roads and a lack of handicap-accessible staterooms and you realize that these cruises accommodate only those with the physical ability to negotiate difficult terrain and the agility to climb from ship to ship.

Top Rivers in Europe for Cruising

Rhine River, Moselle River, and Main River

To see the most castles along a major European river, choose a cruise on the Rhine. It’s undoubtedly one of Europe’s most beloved rivers for its medieval villages, historic cities, terraced vineyards and spectacularly scenic Middle Rhine region (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

One of the best river cruises for wine and food, the Rhine River offers countless opportunities for Riesling tastings and enjoying the traditional cuisine of the Alsace. There are 776 miles of the Rhine to explore, making it an easy number-one choice of river cruises in Europe and the perfect European river for first-time river cruisers. Your Rhine river itinerary may include stops in up to six countries: Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands. 

The top Rhine River cruise itinerary is from Amsterdam to Basel (or the other way around). The Upper Middle Rhine Valley is a highlight of the Rhine River for its ubiquitous castles, wine villages and the storied 433-foot Lorelei rock cliff. Other top attractions along the Rhine River include the Cologne Cathedral, the huge Ehrenbreitstein Fortress in Koblenz and the Alsatian city of Strasbourg, with its cute half-timbered houses. 

From the Rhine, you can also cruise the Moselle, which runs through northeast France and Luxembourg before meeting up with the Rhine at Koblenz. Or, combine the Rhine with the Main river, which flows into the larger waterway from eastern Germany. The Main eventually leads to the Main-Danube Canal and the “Blue Danube,” gateway to Hungary. 

Danube River Cruises

A perennial top river cruise for music lovers, the enchanting Danube River inspired Johann Strauss’ famous waltz. Your heart will be singing as you sail from Germany’s Black Forest, through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria en route to Romania’s Black Sea. 

Among the most popular Danube River cruises are the itineraries from Budapest to Passau. You’ll cruise through the stunning Wachau Valley (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), through sophisticated Vienna and into historic Budapest, with its countless thermal baths. Haven’t gotten enough music? Take a Danube River excursion to Salzburg, Austria, and explore the birthplace of Mozart and the land of the “Sound of Music.”

For an off-the-beaten-path Danube River experience, consider cruising the Lower Danube from Budapest towards the Black Sea, through Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. This quieter stretch of the Danube hosts a huge population of wildlife.

History lovers taking a Danube River cruise will want to focus on Bratislava, Slovakia, for its Old Town; Belgrade, Serbia, home to Sveti Sava, the largest Orthodox church in the world. Lower Danube river cruises also take you to the Iron Gates gorge, which is four gorges in one that separate the Carpathian and Balkan mountains. 

Rhone River and Saone River

For those looking for a food and wine focused river cruise in Europe, the Rhone and Saone rivers are the best choice. You’ll cruise through France’s Burgundy and Provence regions, with plenty of chances to taste the region’s famous wine, and pair these vintages with incredible cuisine. The majority of cruises along these major rivers sail from Lyon to Arles or Avignon, or the other way around. 

Marvel at the medieval treasures of Avignon and Burgundy. In Vienne, explore an ancient amphitheater and temple from 25 BC. Visit the walled city of Viviers and see “The Langlois Bridge at Arles” that inspired Vincent van Gogh. Expert guides on your Rhone and Saone river cruises will regale you with history, art and architecture lessons and arrange for the area’s best wining and dining.

If you are sailing the Rhone River, consider adding onto your river cruise and staying a couple nights in Paris at the start of finish. Take a look at the top Paris guided tour options here.

Seine River

Choose the Seine for your European river cruise and feel the romance of France, from Paris to Giverny to Burgundy. The Seine is a top choice for lovers of art, culture, food, wine and history, combining the allure of the City of Light with the poignancy of the Normandy landing beaches. 

Look for Seine river cruises that sail from Paris to Rouen or Caudebec, or vice versa. Typically, your riverboat will dock in Paris for a night, giving you the best views of classic city sights, like the Notre Dame Cathedral and Eiffel Tower. (Double check with your river cruise operator to see exactly where your boat will moor). While you’re in the city, take the time for a guided Paris tour with a local expert to maximize sightseeing, shopping and dining opportunities. 

Along the Seine, top sights include historic Rouen, capital of Normandy, and known as the “City of a Hundred Spires” for its many churches and huge Gothic cathedral. From Rouen or Caudebec, river cruise travelers can visit pretty Honfleur, recognizable as one of Monet’s muses. And just about all Seine cruises allow for excursions to the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy. 

If you have the time, extend a Seine River cruise to Burgundy or Bordeaux for a two-week voyage. Take a look at the best Rhone and Saone River cruise options here.

Douro River

The Douro River is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful river cruises in Europe, winding its way through Portugal and Spain. In between free-flowing glasses of port wine, snap photos of verdant landscapes and Spanish baroque architecture.

A Douro River cruise is an excellent choice for travelers who love architecture, history, wine, and photography. Unlike cruises on the larger European rivers, there isn’t as much to see at the mooring points, so you’ll venture inland by motorcoach for sightseeing and wine tasting.

Known as the “River of Gold,” the 130-mile Douro River offers one itinerary. You’ll sail from the UNESCO World Heritage city of Porto  to Vega de Terron, which sits on the border with Spain. Along your Douro cruise, top highlights include Carrapatelo, the world’s deepest lock; Regua and Lamego in the heart of port wine country; Pinhao, for port wine tasting; and Salamanca, Spain, a full-day excursion available from Vega de Terron. 

For photographers sailing the Douro, it’s an added benefit that no nighttime cruising is allowed on the river, so you won’t miss a single vista of the passing countryside.

Elbe 

The perfect Europe river cruise for history buffs, the Elbe River is one of the Continent’s lesser-known waterways, but one of its most fascinating. You’ll sail from Berlin to Prague, or vice versa. Take time to explore these cultural hotspots, then get ready for a voyage full of ancient landmarks, stunning scenery and wine tastings in Saxony. 

Elbe River cruises stop in Dresden, a city that rose from the rubble of World War II to become the “Florence on the Elbe,” as painted by Italian artists Canaletto. Don’t miss the Cathedral of Our Lady, the icon of Dresden with its bell-shaped dome. Other highlights of the Elbe River include the porcelain factories of Meissen, Saxon Switzerland and the pretty Czech town of Litomerice, a favorite for its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

Best River Cruises in Europe for Wine Lovers

When it comes to the best cruises in the world for wine lovers, European river cruises are the gold standard. It is these very waterways, after all, that helped wine makers in the valleys of  Europe, from Germany to Spain to Portugal, distribute their beloved vintages and share them with the wider world.

Oenophiles going on a European river cruise have many options, including the Rhine, Rhone, Seine and Danube. Wine-themed river cruise itineraries often feature insightful programming to enhance both your understanding and love of wine and provide a peek into Europe’s wine culture.

Attend local wine tastings, meet regional winemakers, enjoy thoughtful pairings at dinner and more. With some Europe river cruise operators offering more than 60 wine-related itineraries, wine enthusiasts aren’t wanting for choice. 

You’ll still love a wine-centric river cruise in Europe if you’re not a wine expert. Most of the folks you’ll meet onboard love a good glass of wine as much as you do, but not all are collectors or pseudo-sommeliers. 

When should go on a wine river cruise in Europe?

There’s actually an added benefit to wine cruises in that a lot of them take place during the shoulder season (as opposed to the more expensive high season). The harvest season takes place in September and October, allowing for participation in wine celebrations along Europe’s major rivers. 

Here are a few highlights from some of the top wine-focused river cruises in Europe:

  • Touring Cognac, France and blending your own brandy 
  • Sailing the home rivers of France’s Saint-Emilion, Sauternes, Medoc and Margaux wines
  • Tasting burgundy in the region’s capital of Beaune
  • Following the Muscadet Wine Route and sipping white wine in an ancient chateau cellar
  • Wining and dining along the Rhone, visiting Viviers, Avignon and Chateauneuf-du-Pape 
  • Cruising on the Douro River and visiting Quinto do Seixo 
  • Sampling the red wines of the Bordeaux region of France, and its sauternes sweet wines
  • Stopping at the wine estates of Portugal and Spain
  • Indulging in the famed Rieslings of Germany and visiting the wine towns of Rudesheim, Koblenz and Cochem 
  • Learning about the Syrah and Grenach blends of the Rhone River valley, as well as the Gamay grape

Dining Experience on a European River Cruises

It’s no secret that one of the biggest joys of vacation is the chance to indulge and enjoy regional cuisine. Dining on European river cruises is no exception. Lest you think you’ll be stuck on the river cruise eating from the same menu or buffet every night, remember you’re in a new place every day throughout your cruise.

With each new city or wine village along the river, you’ll have the opportunity to dine onshore, tasting the local delicacies. Most European river cruise operators will incorporate the regional flavors into the cuisine they serve onboard, as well, so you’ll be able to indulge around the clock. 

How does dining work on a Europe river cruise boat?

Typically, river cruise operators offer one meal seating time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While not universal, most river cruises include all three meals in your fare, including any mealtimes that occur when you’re off the boat on an excursion.

As for drinks, the majority of river cruise lines offer free wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch or dinner. Luxury river cruise operators may be all-inclusive and include an open bar. And still others offer beverage packages from which to choose before you depart.

Your Europe river cruise vessel is likely to have one main dining restaurant, where, typically, breakfast and lunch are buffet-style and dinner is served by the waitstaff. A few upscale European river cruise lines are starting to offer specialty dining restaurants with multi-course tasting menus and wine pairings. Check with your river cruise company for full dining options and ask whether specialty dining requires advance reservations. 

There is generally no strict dress code for dining on a European river cruise. This is meant to be quite relaxed, from start to end, so no need to pack formalwear. There may be one captain’s welcome or perhaps a farewell dinner, but “smart casual” will do you just fine - no gowns or tuxedos required! 

For foodies and oenophiles, choose a Europe river cruise line that focuses on gourmet meals and wine, with regional cuisine offered onboard, well-chosen restaurant outings onshore and vineyard tours and tastings. 

Overall, you’ll get a good taste of the region on the main rivers of Europe, with local favorites served at dinner. However, should you choose to eat more like you do at home, there are always simpler items available, such as chicken, salad and salmon. The river cruise dining staff can deal with special dietary requirements with ease ad typically offer marked-up menus to reflect which dishes have nuts, dairy, glute, etc.

Top Sites and Cities on European River Cruises

Among the top attractions on European river cruises are:

  • The Christmas markets of the Rhine River in Cologne, Rudesheim, Mannheim and Strasbourg
  • The wine landscapes of the Douro River in Spain and Portugal, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Salamanca in Spain
  • Holland’s iconic windmills and tulip-strewn fields
  • Beautifully restored Dresden, Germany
  • The beaches of Normandy and D-Day memorial sites
  • The Venetian islands of Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello
  • Austria’s Wachau Valley and its fortresses and vineyards
  • Paris and the Seine River 
  • The Main-Danube Canal
  • Countless castles along the Rhine, Moselle and Main rivers
  • Roman ruins in Arles
  • Wine regions of Beaune and Burgundy

European River Cruises Reviews & Ratings

4.5/5  Excellent
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Rick & Fran

Aug 2015

We enjoyed the entire experience

We enjoyed the entire experience; Normandy and Omaha Beach were especially moving. The food and service deserve praise too. This is our third Viking cruise and we'll...

L

Larry

Oct 2018

Misleading and often just plain dishonest.

We paid for a 3 week luxury river cruise but received a large group bus trip across Europe with many days of packing and unpacking. I called our Viking representativ...

C

Charles

Oct 2022

Good and no so goog

Recently returned from a Viking Rhine trip on 10/14. The good: Rhine water levels were good, no issues. Service on the vessel was A+, excluding one attendant with...

T

Tonya

Aug 2015

Incredible experience

Incredible experience sailing on the Grand European tour from Amsterdam to Budapest! Just wonderful! The tours were interesting, and most allowed for adequate free t...

B

Bruce & Susan

Aug 2015

Already planning our next cruise

We talked about doing a cruise with Viking ever since we were made aware of them back in 2008. We just arrived home yesterday and are still floating on air! The spec...

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