Whether you’re a first-time cruiser or an old hand at exploring the world on water, the river cruise market promises something for all tastes. In fact, it’s the fastest growing sector of the cruise industry with an increasingly diverse portfolio of trips that take in some of the most visually spectacular places in Europe.
With fairytale medieval towns to admire, cultural activities to indulge your senses and some of the most sumptuous countryside and glorious natural landscapes in the world, here are the five best rivers to cruise in Europe. But be warned! You may find you can’t stop at just one…
1. The Rhine
The right river cruise can offer travellers the opportunity to explore several countries in one fell swoop, so it’s no surprise the 776-mile Rhine is one of the most popular routes in Europe. Wending its way through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands, guests can expect to sail through a landscape dotted with wine-growing villages, storybook towns and magnificent castles.
2. The Danube
For a taste of eastern Europe’s rich history and natural beauty, book a river cruise along the mighty Danube. This enchanting river flows from Germany’s Black Forest all the way to the Black Sea in Romania with a selection of city highlights along the way. Explore the palaces of elegant Vienna, take a dip in the famous thermal baths of Budapest and admire the rolling hills of Austria’s Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. The Rhone
Those who have a penchant for good food and wine will find plenty of tantalising experiences awaiting on a Rhone river cruise. As you wend your way through the heart of wine-making country, expect to be tutored with tastings and tempted by rustic French cuisine, before walking all that indulgence off in the charming historical towns of the region.
4. The Douro
Compared to an ocean cruise where passengers can often go for days on end with only miles of water in sight, river cruises offer the chance to get up close to a constantly evolving scenic backdrop. A cruise on Portugal’s Douro river excels in this area with rugged hills, cliffside settlements and terraced vineyards creating a sleepy yet enchanting natural setting. Plus, as no night cruising is permitted on the Douro, you won’t miss minute of the action.
5. The Neretva
Slightly lesser-known that it’s more popular European cousins, the Neretva has yet to be discovered by mainstream tourism. One of the cleanest rivers in Europe, it’s shimmering emerald-green waters flow through Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia with opportunities to visit awe-inspiring waterfalls, dramatic canyons and medieval fortresses along the way. Look out for the beautiful white stone Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar, a symbol of reconciliation between the Christian and Muslim forces after the Balkan Wars.
Which river would you like to cruise on this year and who would you take with you?