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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Frequently asked questions
Pack for the weather. Check average temperatures in the destinations you’ll be visiting, and pack apparel accordingly. You’ll also want to bring sunscreen and a hat for days spent enjoying time on deck.
Most river cruise lines ask passengers not to wear shorts or tank tops in the dining rooms, and shoes are always required. In some cases, you may want to bring cocktail attire in case there’s a formal night — check the information provided by the cruise company to learn about formal nights, themed parties and other special events while aboard.
Choosing the right European river cruise for you is all about prioritizing your must-haves. Here’s what to consider:
Do I need access to Wi-Fi? If yes, choose a cruise line that includes high-speed Wi-Fi.
Will I be drinking alcohol? If you’re planning to indulge, make sure it’s included in your fare.
Will I want to plan activities at each port on my own? If not, look for a cruise line that includes complimentary shore excursions. But remember that you can always book your own adventures.
Which destinations are top on my list? There are so many routes and itineraries to choose from, you shouldn’t have to compromise on where you sail.
Are luxury amenities a must-have? If not, opt for a budget river cruise line. The food may be less than gourmet, but it’ll still get you from point A to point B.
Rates vary widely, depending on the company you cruise with and the perks included in the fare. In general, budget river cruises start around $200 per person, per night, while the most luxurious river cruises can reach up to $500 per person, per night.
However, getting the best value for your European river cruise isn’t necessarily all about snagging the cheapest price. Consider details like shore excursions, gratuities — budget lines will charge you 15% – 18% after disembarkation — and drinks onboard, which can add up fast. In the end, it might be worth splurging up front to get the best bang for your buck later on.
Stephanie Yip is the travel editor at Finder and has been writing about travel and lifestyle for over a decade. She has written for a range of travel publications including Thomas Cook Magazine and Showpo. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, and has visited over 50 countries (and counting). She has a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge of travel and helping consumers stretch their travel cash while on holiday.
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