European river cruises have become one of the more popular methods of travelling through Europe, and it’s no wonder given the sheer size of the continent. As travellers we are often time poor and limited to the restrictions of annual leave, and so want to cram as much as possible into our European holiday. River cruising is a great solution, as it has the ability to take you on a journey through so many culturally diverse countries full of bucket-list worthy cities within one single itinerary. And even better, you only have to unpack once!
When to take a European River Cruise
While there are a number of European river cruises that run in the winter months (the Christmas Markets cruises to be specific), the river cruising season typically runs during the warmer months between April and October. That said, rainfall levels can significantly impact a river cruises’ ability to run to itinerary even during this season. Heavy rain and spring flooding can make rivers swell, meaning that the boats are unable to pass through the locks and under the bridges that frequent the rivers. Conversely, long dry periods can mean that the water levels aren’t high enough for the boat to successfully manoeuvre down the river. If for any reason your boat is unable to move you’ll be taken to the sights by coach, or, if logistics allow, moved to another ship further along the river.
Cruise Lines that offer European River Cruises
You’ll find the majority of cruise lines that offer river cruising have some options within Europe. While some, like U River Cruises and Crystal River Cruises only offer the major waterways of the Rhine and Danube as well as a selection of cruise on the Seine or Moselle, most also offer cruises through Portugal’s Douro River and the waterways of Russia. Look out for APT, Travelmarvel, Uniworld and Viking River Cruises.
How to get to Europe
While Qantas is now offering a non-stop 17 hour flight from Perth to London, your flight will include a stopover when you fly with any other airline from any other Australian city to Europe. Most airlines fly via a city in Asia, however Emirates and Etihad fly via Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively, which are great destinations to break up the long journey with a transit stop.
The Rhine and Danube Rivers
The most popular river cruising destination in Europe, the Rhine and Danube Rivers flow across the European continent. The Rhine River starts in the Swiss Alps and travels through Germany and the Netherlands before emptying at Amsterdam into the North Sea. The Danube River originates in Germany (and connects to the Rhine River via a man made canal and the Main River) and travels east through Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria to empty into the Black Sea.
There are a small number of itineraries that focus solely on one of these rivers, however you’ll find most cruise lines integrate the two to create a comprehensive European river cruise experience. These comprehensive cruises tend to travel between Amsterdam and Budapest or Amsterdam all the way to Bucharest and range between 14 and 22 nights of river travel. If you’d prefer to focus on one river, Uniworld, U River Cruises and Viking offer cruises exclusively on the Rhine, while Uniworld, U River Cruises, APT and Viking offer cruises solely on the Danube.
There are a number of European river cruises that travel during the ‘off’ winter season with a focus on the region’s stunning Christmas markets. These markets are utterly magical and immerse you in the Christmas spirit, all the while giving you a true taste of these charming towns during the enchanting winter months.
The Douro River
Portugal’s Douro River, roughly translated to ‘River of Gold’ so aptly named due to the way the setting sun catches the light on the water, travels between the Soria Province in Spain all the way to Porto on Portugal’s coast. If you’re embarking on a Douro River Cruise, however, it’s likely that you’ll only be travelling on the Portuguese section of the river. The cruise component of these itineraries are usually either 7 or 8 nights, however there are often options to extend your time pre and/or post the cruise and even continue your journey on land into Spain.
View Douro River cruises
River cruising in France
There are a number of rivers that you can cruise when in France. The most popular French itinerary is along the Seine River in the north of the country, during which you can immerse yourself in the deep history of the country including visits to the famous beaches of Normandy as well as exquisite gardens Giverny, known for their connection to Monet. In the country’s west, explore the rich wine region of Bordeaux with cruises along the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers, however only Uniworld and APT offer cruises to this region. In the south, cruise down the Rhone River, which ultimately flow into the Mediterranean Sea along the affluent coastline of the French Riviera via a region of France that’s known for its gastronomy.
River cruising in Russia
Despite spanning such a large part of our globe, Russia is still quite a difficult country to travel through. As such, embarking on a river cruise is the perfect way to see both the major cities of the region, as well as the less frequented and culturally rich towns along the Neva, Svir and Volga Rivers. Itineraries tend to be of 11 or 12 nights duration and cruise between St Petersburg and Moscow.