River Cruises: A Great Way to see Europe

We’ve all heard of ocean cruises. They’ve been around since the 1800s. Today, they are a major part of the tourism industry, with a whopping market value of about $40 billion. The largest ocean liner can carry more than 6,000 passengers, not counting the crew. Imagine!

River cruises, on the other hand, are much more modest and intimate. They have a maximum capacity of 200 passengers and a minimum of about 10. River cruises are gaining in popularity for their more leisurely pace. And unlike most ocean liners, they can dock in ports right in the middle of European towns and cities such as: Paris, France; Frankfurt, Germany; Venice, Italy; and Lisbon, Portugal.

Explosive popularity

The popularity of river cruises has exploded since 2012 – with more than 7 million people taking river cruises from 2015-2018. Each year more cruise lines and passenger ships are added. With so much to choose from, it’s important to do your research. Better yet, have an experienced travel agent do the leg work for you.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.
Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.

When is the best time to book river cruises? 

Late summer and early fall are good times to book European river cruises for the following year. Many cruise lines book a year or more in advance. And this time of year, there is still a large selection of inventory available. Another good time to book is in January, when cruise lines announce itineraries for the year ahead.

“The sooner you can book the better, as you will have the best options for cabins and port excursions,” says TierOne Travel Specialist Joanne Hopkins, who has personally gone on several river cruises. “They’re a really nice way to travel. I love them and so do my clients.”

Book river cruises early & save

Early booking can also result in cost savings ranging from as much as $1,000 per person and can even include complimentary flights. Promotions will differ with each cruise line and there are usually expiry dates, so you should book before the deadline if you can. You can pay the deposit now and the balance won’t usually be due until 90 days before your departure.

The best time of year to experience river cruises in Europe is from early spring (catch tulip season in Holland) to late fall (enjoy Oktoberfest celebrations in Germany). Christmas tours, however, are also drawing more Canadians every year.

River Cruises are great for Christmas markets.
Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany.

Benefits of River Cruises

  • The views: The rivers in Europe are relatively narrow, but very deep, and the scenery along the riverbanks is spectacular – fairytale castles, incredible vineyards, picturesque villages, awe-inspiring mountains, and ancient ruins.
  • The ports: One of the biggest benefits of river cruises – particularly in Europe – is how the ports are located right in the centre of cities and towns with most attractions within walking distance. Ocean cruises, on the other hand, stop at ports along the coast and you have to travel sometimes quite far inland to reach your destination.

Sleep easy

  • The cabins: With hotels in Europe being quite pricey, it’s nice to know you have a lovely cabin to return to every night aboard the cruise ship with no extra cost. Cabins can range from modest to luxurious with king sized beds and big screen TVs. You unpack once at the beginning of your cruise and wake up every day in a new city or town.
River cruise Viking Longship accommodation.
Stateroom onboard the Viking Longship Hlin.
  • The excursions: The port excursions are amazing and so convenient. Many shore trips are included in the overall price of your river cruise. You’ll find the tour guides are experienced and well informed. Tour history-rich towns and magnificent castles, old wineries and expansive vineyards. Imagine taking a rooftop tour of Paris or rock climbing in Switzerland. There are also hiking and biking tours available. And if you’re interested in checking out the night life, you can stay out late and enjoy the bars and discos and still make it back to your room on the ship before setting off again in the morning.
    River Cruises offer roof-top tours of Paris.
    Experience a roof-top tour of Paris.
  • The pre- and post-cruise adventures: Depending on how much time you have, your travel agent can book excursions prior to, or after, your river cruise. For example, you could spend a few days exploring Venice and the surrounding Italian communities before embarking on your cruise along the Po River. Or you might plan to spend a week in Paris following a cruise along the Seine River.
German village along a river cruise.
Explore quaint villages along the way.
  • The pace: Having zero chance seasickness is definitely a benefit of river cruises for those who suffer from the churning and rolling of the big ocean liners on the waves. The leisurely pace of river cruise ships on the water is even keel and very pleasant.
  • The age range: River cruises might’ve started out attracting mainly seniors, but they are now just as popular with baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials. They are also great for small families or family reunions with dozens of people, singles, couples, groups and even children. With more ships being added to the river cruise inventory every year, many are offering kid-friendly activities. Disney has even entered the fray by embarking on a river cruise line.

Themed river cruises

The theme cruises: Depending on your hobbies, passions, lifestyle and special interests, you might choose a themed river cruise. Some options:

    • Food & Beverage – local cuisine, culinary delights, gourmet cooking classes, regional wine and beer sampling, vineyard tours and breweries.
    • History & Politics – medieval to modern times, discover your ancestral heritage.
    • Art & Museums – classic, modern, gothic, baroque, etc.
    • Musical Delights – opera, jazz, and world-renowned orchestras with composers such as Mozart.
River cruises offer bike tours.
Take a bike tour in Amsterdam.

Top European River Cruises

European river cruises are more popular than anywhere else in the world due to the amazing scenery, the incredible ports and the close proximity to several countries. Rivers are the lifeblood of Europe and there is the opportunity for an excursion in every port. Experience breathtaking vistas, sloping vineyards, ancient architecture, medieval towns, enchanting landscapes, fairytale castles, Roman ruins, and so much more.

  • The Danube River (2,860 kms) runs from the Black forest of Germany to the Black Sea, winding through Central and Eastern Europe through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine.

Amazing ports

  • The Rhine River (1,233 kms) runs from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea through Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, France and the Netherlands.
  • The Seine River (76 kms) runs from Burgundy, France, to the English Channel at Le Havre, flowing through the heart of Paris and then through the orchards and fields of Normandy.
    River Cruise view in Northern France.
    Spectacular views in Northern France.
  • The Rhône River (813 kms) runs from the mountains of the Rhône Glacier in Switzerland through the heartland of France (Lyon, Arles and Avignon) to the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The Douro River (897 kms) runs from Duruelo de la Sierra in Soria Province across northern-central Spain and Portugal to its outlet at Porto. It is the third longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. Lisbon and Porto are the largest ports in Portugal, with the oldest being Coimbra, Portugal, and Salamanca, Spain.

Incredible views

  • The Moselle River (545 kms) runs through France, Luxembourg and Germany. The Moselle River meets the Rhine River at Koblenz, Germany.
  • The Saône River (473 kms) flows from northeastern France through the picturesque wine-making landscapes of Burgundy and Beaujolais.
    River cruise excursion in France.
    Vineyards and wine in France.
  • The Main River (525 kms) runs entirely in Germany. The largest cities along its banks are Frankfurt and Würzburg.
  • The Elbe River (1,094 kms) runs from Czech Republic to Germany. River cruises typically travel from Prague in Czech Republic to Berlin in Germany or vice versa.
  • The Po River (652 kms) is the longest river in Italy. River cruises on the Po , however, are usually only about 160 kilometres in length and customarily begin and end in Venice with stops in Verona, Murano, Polesella, Bologna, Ravenna and Ferrara, and sometimes Mantua.
River cruises travel Grand Canal in Venice.
The Grand Canal in Venice.

If you feel like it’s time to experience a river cruise of your own, contact one of our TierOne travel specialists! They have extensive experience in life-changing travel and will be able to craft something that is suited to your unique needs.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” – Anonymous

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