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When is the best time for a river cruise in Europe?

Get low prices, good weather and avoid hoards of tourists.

The best time for a river cruise in Europe is September.

September has a pleasant climate and usually sees normal water levels, which means a minimal chance of disruption due to high or low water levels. Plus, with the majority of summer crowds gone— and the heat of July and August behind you — September brings some of the best river cruising conditions. Tickets also tends to be cheaper during this time.

October is the next best month to schedule your European river cruise, though the temperature tends to be cooler.


When to avoid scheduling your European river cruise

During April, May and June, melting snow and rain can lead to flooding in some European rivers. As a result, ships have trouble passing under low-hanging bridges.

When levels start to recede around August, especially after a dry summer, cruises can be postponed or canceled altogether because low water in some of the river systems. However, if this is the best time for you to travel, consider getting cruise insurance so that you’ll be compensated for altered itineraries or canceled sailings.

By November and December, you run the risk of rivers freezing in northern and eastern Europe. They’re sometimes closed shortly after Christmas during the dead of winter. The colder temperatures may also deter you from sitting out on the cruise deck to enjoy views of the passing countryside.


Weather

The best weather for a European river cruise is from late June to mid-October, when the climate is warm and dry. Just watch out for low water levels around August.

Cheapest time for a European river cruise

The cheapest European river cruises are in early spring and late fall — that’s March and early April, or October and November — when the temperature is cooler and crowds are few. Though you’ll need to bundle up, it may be worth it to book your cruise during these off-peak times, simply because of the low prices.

Best European river cruises for every season

Since most European river cruises are designed to feature the surrounding landscape, you may want to time your cruise based on seasonal festivities or foliage.

Spring

  • Tulip cruises in Holland and Belgium. See and smell the spring flowers while cruising through a network of canals and rivers in northern Europe. These cruises typically include excursions to see famous gardens and parks.

Summer

  • Active river cruises. With warm weather and long days, summer is the best time to book European River Cruises that include active excursions like hiking, biking and long tours through cobblestone streets.

Fall

  • Leaf peeping cruises on the Rhine. October is ideal for seeing vibrant red and orange trees along the Rhine, as it weaves through Amsterdam, Cologne and Strasbourg.
    • Our favorite — Romantic Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel, with Crystal River Cruises.

Winter

  • Christmas market cruises. France and Germany are two popular countries for Christmas-themed river cruises along the Danube and Rhine. Drink mulled wine, eat traditional Christmas fare and revel in the holiday spirit in cities like Basel, Strasbourg, Melk, Vienna and more.

Latest European river cruise deals

Deal

Mississippi River cruises starting from $1,395 per person

Expires 6 Nov 2021
Deal

View current river cruise offers

Traveling during COVID-19
The CDC continues to advise caution when traveling within or outside the US, However, it no longer requires self-quarantine or a COVID-19 test for fully vaccinated domestic travelers as of April 2021. International travelers need to get tested three days prior to flying out of the US and within three days after returning, even if you are fully vaccinated. It recommends that you delay travel if you’re not fully vaccinated to protect yourself and your family from getting or spreading the virus.

If you’re planning a trip outside the US, bear in mind that many countries have placed restrictions on US tourists. Check the US embassy website for updates before booking international travel.

Bottom line

Finding the best time of year for your European river cruises makes for a wonderful way to visit bucket list cities throughout the continent. Explore various cruise options to help book the best experience.

Frequently asked questions

Will I be reimbursed if my river cruise is canceled due to weather?

Sometimes — but each cruise line handles this situation differently. If a portion of a river is closed due to high or low water levels, some cruise lines transport you to a port rather the cancel the cruise. It can supplement the inconvenience with a discount on your next booking. If an entire cruise is canceled because of weather, most cruise lines offer reimbursement on your trip.

We’d suggest calling the cruise line before booking to learn about its weather cancellation policy. Or you could check its terms and conditions.

What should I pack for a European river cruise during the winter?

You’ll want to pack a long coat, scarves, gloves, hats and waterproof boots. Your cruise lines should provide you with a packing list that’s specific to your itinerary, but in general, expect cold days and possible rain.

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