We are often ask “What is the best Europe river cruise route?” My short answer is:
I would sail on all of them (we are working on it–8 river cruises so far and we have sent folks to all these rivers except the new Garonne River). While this is a great response, it really does not answer the question since most folks want to know what the best starting rivers would be if they have never taken a European river cruise. So for new river cruisers, by far, the two most popular rivers are the Rhine and the Upper Danube Rivers. Before you just chose one of these routes, let’s explore together what the rivers of Europe offer.
Here is a quick summary of the major rivers of Europe (Click here to Learn More)
The Rhine River and Its Tributaries
The 820 mile Rhine actually passes through 6 countries, but most folks consider it a German River since so much of its banks are on German soil. The middle Rhine and especially the Rhine River Gorge, has the greatest concentration of scenic banks and castles in all of Europe. It never gets old!
There are three main routes. The first is the Tulip Time route on the lower Rhine and canals in the Netherlands and Belgium in the spring. It is a round trip loop that starts and ends in Amsterdam. Do you love flowers? Then visit the Netherlands in the springtime, when spectacular carpets of colorful tulips are in full bloom on a Tulip Time River Cruise. Throw in lush green countryside adorned with picturesque windmills and add delicious cheeses and already the trip is awesome. Also, this route can include the Belgium towns of Ghent, Arnhem, Antwerp and our personal favorite Brugges. (Click here to Learn More)
The second is usually from Amsterdam to Basel Switzerland on the Rhine, (or the reverse from Basel to Amsterdam on alternate weeks), using both the lower Rhine and the upper Rhine (the upper Rhine is defined as from Koblenz Germany to its source in Lake Constance, Switzerland–remember the river flows north to the Baltic Sea). This cruise begins with legendary canals and the colorful surroundings of Amsterdam, past the majestic Cologne Cathedral and on to the Black Forest region of Germany.
The third route is usually from Trier, Germany to Nuremberg, Germany or the reverse route on the Rhine and the Main tributary and part of the Main Canal. It includes the famous Rhine River Gorge dotted with picturesque castles.(Click here to Learn More)
The Upper Danube is the other great route–typically from Nuremberg or Passau to Budapest. You will get to visit 4 countries, 2 or 3 capital cities (Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest), castles, Abbeys, wine-sloped terraces and even quaint villages-it is a great voyage. This route uses the Main-Danube Canal (106 miles long with 16 locks) and the upper Danube (the Danube is 1,170 miles, making it the second longest river in Europe after the Volga River in Russia). This area has rolling hillsides, lush vineyards, and medieval castles, and the cruise allows you to visit four different countries, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. (Click Here to Learn More)
The lower Danube is the gateway to Eastern Europe. This segment begins in Budapest and ends near the Black Sea. It starts with the rolling hills and vine-clad slopes of the Pecs in Hungary; then moves to the boundary waters that separate Serbia and Croatia; then traverses the narrow gorges of the Iron Gates, a stunning passage that divides the Balkan and Carpathian Mountains and either ends in Bucharest, Romania or at the Black Sea. (Click Here to Learn More)
The Rivers of France
There are 3 rivers in France that are used by the river cruise companies. They are the Seine, the Rhone and the Garonne.
The Seine route is a 7 day round trip cruise into Normandy, starting and ending in Paris. The cruise highlights are Monet’s village of Honfleur, Rouen, the historic capital of Normandy, as well as a chance to visit the medieval towns along this scenic route and visit the D-Day Normandy beaches.
The Rhone cruise goes from Lyon to Arles. Starting in Lyon, the gastronomical capital of France, the cruise goes through France’s legendary wine growing regions of Beaujolais and Cote du Rhone, and allows you observe medieval villages in the Provence region of France. Then on to the Papal town of Avignon and finish in Arles, where Vincent Van Gogh spent much of his time. The cruise then changes direction from Arles to Lyon for the next 7 day cruise. (Click here to Learn More)
The newest river cruise is in the Bordeaux region of France on the Garonne River. It is a round trip cruise out of Bordeaux and features wine tastings, chateauxs and abundant vineyards along the Garonne and its tributaries.
The Douro is a Portugal round trip adventure, usually starting and ending in Porto, Portugal. The Douro is an unspoiled river, decorated with deep gorges, lush vineyards and sleepy fishing villages. This region is famous for Port Wine.
Wine lovers should consider the Rhone or Garonne in France or the Douro (Portugal).
Lesser known routes include the Elbe (Germany) and the Po (Italy). This is a good route to see eastern Germany and parts of the Czech Republic. The Elbe River is shallow in many parts and sometimes the results in more of a bus tour than a real river cruise in low water situations. The Po is in Northern Italy but this route is more a bus tour during the day as only part of the river is used. We would recommend these only for really experienced river cruises or those with a very special interest in these limited river cruises.
These river cruise routes may be very short or may cover larger distances. While there are some variations, many lines cruise the essentially cruise the same route on the most popular European rivers. While I have covered only 7 day cruises, many of these routes can be combined for longer cruises of 14 or 21 days or more.
Every major cruise company also offers pre/post stays along with the river cruise so you can get some extended time in some of the best of Europe’s cities like Paris, Prague, Munich, Baden-Baden and Zurich, to name a few,
With all this variety, doesn’t it make you want to go? It sure does for me–give us a call so we can help you plan a great European river cruise!