6 best European river cruise lines

Set sail on a luxurious adventure alongside picturesque villages and cities.

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There’s something utterly romantic about exploring Europe by boat, whether traveling down the Danube through Austria, Hungary and Serbia — where castles and charming towns emerge around every turn — or along the Rhine through Switzerland, Germany and Amsterdam, where dramatic mountains and heritage canals paint the landscape.

These are the companies offering river cruises with the most arresting landscapes in Europe. Where will you go?

danube river village

Uniworld

Uniworld is the ultimate all-inclusive luxury river cruise line. The food is gourmet, gratuity is included in your fare and the level of service is stunning. Fitness facilities and spas are available on board as you sail on thoughtfully curated routes, spanning in length from eight to 20+ days.

  • Family-friendly and themed cruises available, including art, yoga and “Jewish heritage.”
  • Farm-to-table dining concept ensures food is fresh and wine tastings are local.
  • Award-wining hospitality, including 2019 induction into “The British Travel and Hospitality Hall of Fame.”
Book a Uniworld cruise
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U by Uniworld: River cruises designed for millennials

At a slightly lower price point, U by Uniworld offers chic river cruises on boats that are part yacht, part boutique hotel. Each ship has a max capacity of 120 passengers, a lax dress code and only two restaurants — one of them is a tapas-style bar.

It’s less inclusive than the other cruise lines on this list — meals are limited to three per day, and you have to pay for booze by the glass. However, the crowd is younger and people who don’t drink much might appreciate the à la carte setup.

Book a U by Uniworld cruise
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AmaWaterways

Known for its active shore excursions like hiking and bicycle tours, along with cruise itineraries dedicated to tasting the flavors of each region, AmaWaterways offers beautifully curated experiences above the waves. Choose from routes through The Netherlands and Belgium or enjoy tantalizing Portugal. Indulge in the golf concierge program to get access to champion courses along the way.

  • A sightseeing tour is included at each port, complete with a “late starter” option for those that want to sleep in.
  • All cabins have at least one private balcony, while most have two.
Book an AmaWaterways cruise
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Viking River Cruises

Viking River Cruises prides itself on offering an intimate onboard experience for “the thinking person,” complete with curated libraries, guest lectures and a list of recommended films to watch beforehand to pique your excitement. Its ships cater to less than 200 guests and are designed with a clean Scandinavian touch, delivering a relaxing onboard atmosphere. You must be at least 18 years old to embark.

  • Regional cuisine and vintage wine from your destinations.
  • Shore excursions focus on enriching, educational activities like museums and historical sites.
Book a Viking River Cruise
budapest parliament danube river cruise

Crystal River Cruises

Winner of the 2019 Condé Nast Readers’ Choice Award for Best River Cruise Line, Crystal prioritizes immersive visits at each port of call. With 24-hour butler service, gratuities included in your fare and on-demand movies in every cabin, you might mistake the boat for a 5-star hotel. Complimentary shore excursions offer rich access to the culture and history of bucket-list destinations.

  • Michelin-inspired, farm-to-table dining inspired by the region.
  • Conversational lectures with visiting processors, and emphasis on social mingling.
Book a Crystal River Cruise
evening cruise slovakia

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways has bragging rights to the largest cabin windows in river cruising — they’re 30% wider than the industry standard. You’ll find warm, friendly hospitality without stuffy white-glove service.

Choose your cruise by region, country or even theme — beer appreciation river cruise, anyone? The sky’s the limit.

  • Book themed cruises through Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Switzerland.
  • Along with the Danube and Rhine, it’ll take you down the Moselle and Saône in France, plus the Rhône in the Mediterranean.
bridge amstel river bicycles amsterdam holland

Tauck River Cruises

Emphasizing boutique ports and insight into daily European life, expect warm camaraderie aboard a Tauk river cruise. Private shore excursions are included with your fare — expect cooking demonstrations, samplings of local cuisine and local guides — as are gratuities.

You know the stress of trying to find the most authentic activities in foreign destinations? Well, you can relax because Tauck specializes in unique tours that get to the heart of each city or village you visit.

  • Airport transfers included, so you can navigate to and from the port with ease.
  • See Activity and Pace Levels for each cruise, so you know what level of physical activity to expect.
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How we chose these cruises

When choosing cruises for this list, we looked at the quality of routes available from each cruise line, prioritizing well-paced itineraries with port stops at key destinations around the region. We favored companies that are known for delivering authentic, immersive experiences highlighting cultures of the towns and cities along the river.

We also considered onboard dining and weighed the number, variety and overall quality of restaurants against passenger reviews. Additionally, we assessed cabin amenities against each price point, looking for river cruise lines that are known to deliver the highest value.

Finally, we sought out customer reviews on travel websites and personal travel blogs, considering first-person experiences and each company’s overall reputation.

European river cruise companies compared: What’s included?

Complimentary Wi-Fi is available from all of the river cruise lines we’ve chosen for this article, so you can post breathtaking photos without delay.

Alcoholic drink policies and shore excursions are two other features to consider:

Company Alcoholic drink policy Shore excursions included
Uniworld Unlimited premium liquor, wine and beer
AMA Waterways Wine and beer are complimentary with lunch and dinner Yes — one sightseeing tour at each port is included
Avalon Waterways Wine and beer are complimentary with lunch and dinner
Viking River Cruises Wine and beer are complimentary with lunch and dinner
Crystal River Cruises Unlimited premium liquor, wine and beer Yes — in each port, there are at least two complimentary excursions to choose from
Tauk Unlimited premium liquor, wine and beer ✔️

European river cruise deals and sales

U by Uniworld U by Uniworld

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Black Friday sale, restrictions apply. See site for more details.

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U River Cruises 2020 celebration event - save 30% on select cruises with U River cruises

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U River Cruises - looking for the best way to experience Europe? It's U River Cruises - 8 day cruises from $2,499

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MSC Cruises MSC Cruises

Cruise the Mediterranean or Northern Europe from only $579pp

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Avoya Travel Avoya Travel

Up to 75% off cruises to the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska and Beyond

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Save on Top Europe Itineraries with Free Ship Credit + Free Gratuities and More Bonuses

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30% savings on select 2020 river cruises in Central Europe

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Up to $30 off European travel deals

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Bottom line

A river cruise through Europe is one of the best ways to see the continent, whether it’s your first or one-hundred-and-first visit. If you’re hesitant to book, browse other options — ocean cruises are pretty cool, too.

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