A Comprehensive Europe River Cruise Guide

Published on: October 11, 2023
Discover the best way to sail this magnificent region through our detailed Europe river cruise guide. Covering why European river cruises are the perfect fit, which waterways to sail through, to which cruise lines to book, let this guide answer any queries you have.

Unlock the secrets of this region through this Europe river cruise guide. Steeped in history dating back centuries, immersed in rich culture and embossed with sublime natural beauty, Europe invites travellers on an enchanting journey through its diverse landscapes, charming villages and captivating traditions, promising unforgettable experiences at every turn.

While there are countless ways to traverse this diverse continent, one mode of travel stands out for its elegance, convenience, and immersive experience – European river cruising.

In this Europe river cruise guide, we'll embark on a journey down tranquil waterways, uncovering the allure of river cruising and why it has become an increasingly popular choice for discerning travellers seeking an unparalleled blend of relaxation and exploration – from the banks of the Danube to the fascinating Rhine.

Quick Links

Why Book a River Cruise | Popular European River Cruise Lines | Europe’s Famous Rivers
What to Pack For Your Europe River Cruise | Top Tips for Europe River Cruises

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Why a river cruise?

Even if you are an avid ocean cruise enthusiast, there are plenty of reasons why a river cruise in Europe should be on your bucket list:

Intimate experience

River cruising can offer a more intimate and up-close experience with the destinations as smaller ships wind through picturesque landscapes and historic cities – accessing narrower waterways and docking in the heart of smaller ports that large ocean liners cannot visit. Guests explore more diverse destinations, including smaller, less-visited gems. The small ship experience also makes it easier to get to know fellow guests for those who enjoy socialising on board.

Cultural immersion

River cruises in Europe frequently include guided excursions to historical sites, museums, and local attractions, providing guests with a deeper understanding of the regions they visit. Onboard enrichment programs, such as lectures and cooking classes, further enhance the cultural experience. Europe's rivers are lined with historic cities and landmarks, making river cruises an excellent choice for history enthusiasts.

Relaxed pace

River cruises tend to have a more leisurely pace compared to ocean cruises, allowing travellers to unwind and discover more in every destination they visit. There's less emphasis on the rush to the next port of call and more time to spend exploring different regions.

Accessible ports

River cruise ships can navigate relatively shallow waters and pass through lochs, allowing them to dock directly in the heart of cities and towns. This accessibility means that passengers can easily disembark and explore destinations on foot, enhancing their experience.

Specialised itineraries

River cruise itineraries can be highly specialised with each sailing an ode to specific interests such as history, wine, art, and music. Travellers have a depth of choice and can select itineraries that align with their passion and interests.  The destination becomes the centre point of the itinerary compared to some large ocean ships that may feel like a destination on its own.

Ultimately, river cruises offer a distinct and immersive way to explore Europe and can be an excellent option for those looking for a more intimate and culturally rich journey.

Popular European River Cruise Lines

Europe is blessed with many river cruise operators traversing its waters with a navigable network of rivers flowing through numerous countries, making this an exceptional way to explore the diversity of the region. The river cruising season typically begins in late March and continues through summer and into late fall. Some cruise lines even have Christmas market cruises for those who want to explore the beauty of the region later in the year.


Scenic is renowned for its luxurious river cruise ships, offering all-inclusive experiences with spacious suites, personal butler service, fine dining, and top-notch amenities. The ships are designed to provide passengers with a high level of comfort and sophistication. Scenic offers a variety of itineraries along Europe's most iconic rivers, including the Rhine, Danube, Seine, and Rhône. These itineraries feature stops in historic cities, charming villages, and scenic landscapes. Scenic river cruises in Europe are known for their combination of luxury, cultural enrichment, and scenic exploration. They offer an exceptional way to experience the beauty and history of Europe's riverside destinations in style and comfort.

Learn more about Scenic River Cruises.

Riviera Travel River Cruises

Riviera Travel offers river cruises on several of Europe's major rivers, including the Rhine, Danube, Rhône, Seine, Douro, and Moselle. These cruises cover a variety of countries, providing passengers with the opportunity to explore multiple destinations in one journey. Riviera provides exceptional value as a 5-star river cruise product at true value-for-money fares that are significantly lower than similar itineraries of other cruise lines. Riviera is also world famous for looking after solo travellers with no single supplement. The ships are among the youngest in Europe and have an intimate atmosphere, catering to between 126 and 176 guests.

Learn more about Riviera Travel River Cruises.


Tauck is known for its luxury and all-inclusive river cruise experiences on some of Europe's most iconic rivers, including the Danube, Rhine, Seine, Douro, and Rhône. Tauck’s Europe river cruises are known for their all-inclusive nature, including premium beverages, shore excursions, gratuities, and more. With a fleet of boutique-style riverboats, Tauck’s intimate ships offer well-appointed cabins and suites, elegant public spaces, and attentive service. It is also known for its exclusive experiences, such as private wine tastings, behind-the-scenes tours, and special access to cultural events and performances.

Learn more about Tauck River Cruises.

Emerald Cruises

Emerald Cruises is an award-winning river cruise line ready to introduce you to new cultures and traditions. Emerald Cruises offers a variety of itineraries that take you along some of Europe's most iconic rivers, including the Rhine, Danube, Rhône, Douro, and Volga. These rivers flow through diverse and picturesque regions, allowing you to experience the rich history, culture, and natural beauty of Europe. Emerald Cruises boasts a fleet of modern and elegantly designed ships. These vessels are equipped with state-of-the-art amenities, spacious staterooms, and panoramic windows that provide stunning views of the passing landscapes.

Viking River Cruises

Known for delivering immersive cultural experiences and luxurious accommodations, Viking offers travellers a unique way to explore Europe's historic and scenic waterways, including cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Seine, Rhône, Douro, and Elbe, among others. Viking's ships are renowned for their Scandinavian-inspired design, understated elegance, and modern amenities. Staterooms are spacious and comfortable, many featuring private balconies or large windows for enjoying the passing scenery.

Uniworld Cruises

Uniworld is another all-inclusive river cruise operator with carefully crafted Europe itineraries across the Danube, Moselle and Rhine. From castles and stunning architecture to rich history and natural wonders, the sights are mesmerising. The suites on board are spacious and luxurious, providing an exceptional way to discover the sights of Central Europe. As no two ships or suites on the ship are alike, there is a lot of discovery on board, which also contributes to an unforgettable Europe river cruising experience.

Learn more about Uniworld River Cruises.


APT river cruises in Europe epitomise luxury, culture, and exploration. These meticulously planned journeys take travellers through Europe's most iconic waterways, including the Danube, Rhine, Seine, Douro, and more. APT's commitment to excellence is evident in every aspect of the experience, from the opulent onboard accommodations and gourmet dining options to the expertly guided shore excursions that provide a deep dive into the region's history, art, and culture.

Learn more about APT River Cruises.

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Europe’s famous rivers


The Rhine River is one of Europe's major rivers, and it flows through or along the borders of several countries, including the Netherlands, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxemburg and Liechtenstein. Some of the most famous ports include Amsterdam – a vibrant city with historical architecture, Cologne in Germany – famous for the stunning Cologne Cathedral and Old Town and Strasbourg in France – known for its picturesque canals and timber-framed houses.

With a stretch of quaint villages, architectural marvels and wine regions bounding the river, guests can enjoy a blend of history, culture, and scenic beauty during their journeys. Each of these destinations offers unique attractions and experiences that make a Rhine River cruise a memorable adventure. The Rhine River region is also home to some of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage sites including La Grande-Place in Belgium, Speyer Cathedral in Germany and City of Luxembourg Old Quarters & Fortifications in Luxembourg.


Cruising on the River Danube is immensely popular, and for good reason. The Danube is one of Europe's most iconic and historic rivers, and it offers a remarkable cruise experience. Some of the countries that flank the river include Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine. The river flows through some of Europe's most stunning landscapes where cruise guests enjoy picturesque views of rolling hills, vineyards, fascinating villages, and dramatic river valleys. The scenery changes as you cruise through various countries and regions, making each day a new visual delight. The Danube is also the gateway to a diverse range of cultures, histories, and traditions. Guests can explore historic cities like Vienna, Budapest, and Belgrade, each with its own unique charm and attractions.

Beyond the major cities, Danube River cruises offer opportunities to experience local culture and traditions. Cruise guests can enjoy folk music performances, visit traditional markets, and savour regional cuisine. There are many Danube River cruise itineraries to choose from, catering to different interests whether you are looking for history, wine, art, Christmas markets, or active exploration.

Some of the major highlights along the Danube include Enchanting Passaau, a set where three rivers meet, Vienna’s elegant architecture, Budapest’s stunning Parliament Building and Chain Bridge and Belgrade’s impressive Kalemegdan Fortress.


River cruising on the Seine River in France offers a delightful and romantic way to explore the heart of France, particularly the beautiful and culturally rich region of Normandy. The Seine River winds its way through some of the most picturesque landscapes in France. As you cruise, you'll be treated to charming countryside views, vineyard-covered hills, and stunning countryside. The riverbanks are dotted with historic towns, charming villages, and lush greenery. Cruises along the Seine often make stops in historic towns and cities along the Seine, such as Rouen, Honfleur, and Le Havre. These destinations are rich in history, architecture, and culture. Rouen, for example, is known for its stunning cathedral and connections to Joan of Arc while Honfleur’s picturesque fishing port is certainly worth a visit.

Many Seine River cruises include excursions to the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy, a profoundly moving and historically significant experience. You can visit sites like Omaha Beach, the American Cemetery, and the Peace Memorial.


The Douro River, often referred to as the "River of Gold," is one of the most picturesque and historically significant rivers in Europe. Flowing through Portugal and Spain, the Douro River offers a unique and enchanting experience for travellers. The Douro is celebrated for its breathtaking scenery. As it winds through the terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley, it offers guests stunning views of the landscape. The region is known for its wine production, particularly the production of Port wine, and the vineyards create a captivating backdrop for river cruisers.

The Douro Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a major highlight of the region. It's characterised by its steeply terraced hillsides covered in grapevines. The valley's unique soil conditions contribute to the production of some of the world's finest wines. A Douro River cruise offers wine enthusiasts the chance to sample a wide variety of Portuguese wines, including the famed Port wine. Many cruises include visits to local wineries and tastings where guests learn about the winemaking process.

Along its course, the Douro River passes through or near several historic cities and towns, including Porto in Portugal and Salamanca in Spain. These cities are known for their architectural beauty, rich histories, and vibrant cultures. Porto, in particular, is famous for its stunning old town, charming neighbourhoods, and iconic bridge.


The Rhône River is one of Europe's major rivers, flowing through Switzerland and France before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. It's a river of immense significance in terms of history, culture, and geography. The Rhône River is renowned for its scenic beauty. As it meanders through the Swiss and French countryside, it offers stunning views of vineyards, orchards, charming villages, and the picturesque landscapes of the Rhône Valley.

The Rhône Valley is famous for its vineyards and wine production, which is a highlight on many cruise itineraries. The river passes through several historic cities and towns. Lyon, often referred to as the "Food Capital of France," is known for its culinary delights and vibrant culture. Avignon boasts the stunning Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arles is famous for its Roman heritage, including the well-preserved Roman Arena.

River cruises on the Rhône River have become increasingly popular. These cruises offer travellers the opportunity to explore the river's charming ports of call, indulge in local cuisine and wines, and partake in guided tours of historic sites.


The Moselle is another historically significant river flowing through France, Luxembourg, and Germany. It is also a tributary of the Rhine River. As it winds through vineyard-covered hills, it offers passengers breathtaking views of lush greenery, charming villages, and terraced vineyards.

The Moselle Valley is often considered one of the most beautiful river valleys in Europe. The region's steep vineyard slopes and temperate climate contribute to the production of high-quality wines. Travellers can enjoy wine tastings at local wineries and learn about the winemaking process. Wine festivals are often held in the region from April to October so guests on board can join in the festivities.

The Moselle River flows past or near several historic towns and cities, each with its own unique charm. Trier in Germany, known for its well-preserved Roman ruins, is one of the oldest cities in the country. Bernkastel-Kues and Cochem are quintessential German towns with picturesque half-timbered houses and medieval architecture.

River cruises along the Moselle are a popular way to explore this region. These cruises often feature leisurely journeys through the valley, with stops at historic towns and opportunities for wine tasting and cultural experiences that are memorable and life-enriching.


The Elbe River, flowing through the Czech Republic and Germany, is one of the biggest rivers in Central Europe. It is known for its historical significance, picturesque landscapes, and cultural heritage. Travellers can enjoy breathtaking views of rolling hills, vineyards, dense forests, and charming towns along the riverbanks. The Elbe Sandstone Mountains, a unique rock formation, add to the river's natural beauty.

The river flows through several historic cities and towns. Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, boasts a stunning old town and iconic landmarks like Prague Castle. Dresden is known for its Baroque architecture and cultural heritage. Meissen is famous for its porcelain, while Wittenberg played a pivotal role in the Protestant Reformation.

Cruises along the Elbe offer travellers the opportunity to explore the region's varied historic towns, cultural treasures, and exquisite natural beauty – from the comfort of a river cruise ship. While onshore, guests immerse themselves in local culture through guided excursions and visits to historical landmarks.

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Find the perfect Europe river cruise!

Whether you want to sail on the Elbe river or the Danube river, Discerning Traveller will have what you need. Book an upcoming voyage with us today.

What to pack for your Europe river cruise

No Europe river cruise guide is complete without a packing list! When packing for a European river cruise, guests should consider a few essentials to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable journey.

  • Start with weather-appropriate clothing, including layers for varying conditions, as European weather can be unpredictable.
  • Pack comfortable, casual clothing for everyday activities on the ship and during shore excursions. Jeans, shorts, t-shirts, and lightweight pants are good choices.
  • Include some dressier attire for evening dinners and special events. A cocktail dress or collared shirt and slacks are suitable for these occasions.
  • Hats and sunglasses are crucial to protect yourself from the sun during excursions.
  • Swimmers are important for those who want to enjoy the ship’s pools and local waterways when docked at port.
  • Don't forget comfortable walking shoes for shore excursions, as well as formal attire for special onboard dinners.
  • A lightweight, waterproof jacket and an umbrella can come in handy.
  • Toiletries and prescription medications should be packed, as well as electrical converters and adapters to charge devices.
  • Include basics like adhesive bandages, pain relievers, motion sickness medication, and any personal medical items you require.
  • A small, lightweight backpack is handy for carrying essentials during shore excursions.
  • Travel documents such as passports, visas, and cruise itineraries must be kept secure.
  • Consider some local currency for small purchases in port, a refillable water bottle, and a daypack for excursions.

Packing smartly ensures that guests are well-prepared to make the most of their European river cruise experience. Remember to check the specific dress code and amenities provided by your cruise line, as these can vary.

Top Tips for Europe River Cruises

Embarking on a Europe river cruise from Australia is a dream journey that promises unforgettable moments and cultural discoveries that are sure to remain with you for life. But here's a quick Europe river cruise guide and tips to keep in mind when making the long journey to Europe from any Australian city.

Book your flights and cruise early

Flying out of Australia in the European summer can be expensive, so get in early and book your flights to get the best savings. The same goes for your cruise. To get the cruise and itinerary you want, get in early and you will also likely benefit from some early bird savings. Discerning Traveller has a dedicated air department that can organise the perfect fly cruise package for you. Contact us today and we can organise flights to go along with your European river cruise for you.

Invest in packing cubes for additional convenience

Cruise cabins often have limited storage space. Packing cubes help you make the most of the available space by compressing your clothes and essentials. They are designed to fit snugly into your luggage, allowing you to bring more items without overloading your suitcase. Not only will you save room, but you’ll also be able to perhaps fit an extra souvenir or two.

Don’t try to see it all

Tempting as it may be, especially with a packed river cruise itinerary, try to take in the sights at a more relaxed pace to truly enjoy Europe’s quaint little towns and villages. Be mindful and think ahead when planning your trip and don’t physically exhaust yourself racing from one landmark to the next. Don’t forget – it’s still a holiday!

Bring cash

While most places have progressed to cards, cash still prevails in some places and might be the only accepted form of payment depending on where you go, especially in local markets and small shops. Also, consider that different countries might have different currencies besides the Euro. Be sure to review the countries you visit and try to exchange cash ahead of time.

Quiz your crew members for tips onshore

No better way to adventure like a local than from the eyes of people who’ve been there multiple times – the crew! Ask them where is the best place to eat, where to avoid, and their favourite landmarks and you won’t go wrong.

Choose the right season

Consider the time of year you want to travel. Spring and summer offer pleasant weather and longer daylight hours, while the holiday season can be magical with Christmas markets. Summer is often the best time to explore the full splendour of the European landscapes, but crowds are more substantial, and some popular destinations can be quite busy.

Participate in excursions

Take advantage of the included shore excursions. They provide a deeper understanding of the local culture and history. With local guides often leading the way, you have the best chance to truly dive into each port of call compared to doing your own free-form exploration. But keep in mind that river cruises follow a strict schedule, so be punctual to avoid missing the ship – especially if you decide to explore on your own.

Wake up early

The best way to avoid the crowds is to get up and out early. This is especially so for cities such as Venice, Paris, and Rome where it can be a little too crowded by 1pm. The morning in particular is quite lovely, particularly in coastal towns before the tourists wake up and start their own adventures.

Respect local customs

Some customs may be unique and different so it is worth researching a bit about the local customs of the places you are visiting so you can be more mindful, especially when visiting churches, temples, or other religious sites.

Whether you're interested in exploring historic towns, enjoying scenic vistas, or experiencing European culture, follow these tips for a memorable and enriching travel experience.


A river cruise tour to Europe offers travellers a unique and enchanting way to explore the heart of this remarkable region up close and personal. With the convenience of unpacking just once and the opportunity to visit a diverse array of historic cities, gorgeous villages, and scenic landscapes, river cruises provide an immersive experience that is both relaxing and culturally enriching. From the stunning panoramas along the Danube to the romantic allure of the Seine and the rich history of the Rhine, each river brings its own set of wonders to discover.

Add to this the luxurious amenities, guided excursions, and culinary delights offered on board, and it's clear why travellers should seriously consider a Europe river cruise – a journey that combines comfort, adventure, and cultural exploration into an unforgettable and seamless vacation. With the help of this Europe river cruise guide, we hope that you're ready to take that next step to organise the dream holiday for you.

Discerning Traveller is your river cruise specialist with a dedicated and knowledgeable team that can help you choose the cruise line and itinerary that best aligns with your passion for exploration. We can organise river cruises, along with flights and accommodation to deliver a complete bespoke travel package, giving you complete peace of mind knowing there’s a team who have already done the hard work to ensure you have a great time.

Looking for land-based products while in Europe, then check out our Europe land tours.

Contact our friendly team to discuss your next itinerary and let us help you make it unforgettable.

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