River cruising was an entirely new concept to Europe when it was introduced in the mid-1970s: a floating hotel that journeys between destinations. In its simplest form, a river cruiser is nothing more than a barge with a hotel on top. For many travelers, the slow chug along the river is just the right pace for getting the lay of the land. Sitting on the top deck of a ship under brilliant blue skies, you gaze on fabled landscapes dotted with castles, villages, and vineyards. A flight of stairs down you have all the amenities of a modern hotel—restaurants, bars, lounges, fitness facilities, spas, Internet access, and comfortable staterooms.
River cruises offer opportunities to step ashore in fairy-tale towns and major European capitals that can’t be reached on a traditional cruise ship. Most river cruisers take these trips to immerse themselves in Europe’s contemporary culture in a way they can’t when traveling between a different Mediterranean port every day and to learn something about the history of the towns along the Continent’s greatest rivers.
What is it Like Onboard?
The onboard ambience spans such a range that there are ships to suit most travel preferences and lifestyles. While some vessels emphasize elegance, others are much more casual. Travelers can find river cruisers that rival Europe’s finest boutique hotels at one end of the spectrum while at the other, it’s possible to cruise Europe’s rivers much like an independent traveler who opts only for basic accommodations and dining.
When Can I Sail?
The main river-cruising season begins in March and continues through the end of December, beginning with “tulip time” cruises in the Benelux countries and ending with “Christmas market” cruises in Hungary, Austria, and Germany. The majority of itineraries are seven nights, though longer cruises are available. For popular itineraries, you may need to book your cruise up to a year in advance, but if you can’t deal with so much advance planning, consider cruising from March through May or from September through December, when the crowds are thinner and airfares may be more reasonably priced than during peak periods.
River cruising is perfect for those who want a relaxed grand tour of Europe and for cruisers who want to explore Europe beyond the coastline. River cruising presents the grandeur and charm of Europe as well as the indelible landscapes that inspired Europe’s great artists. Few things in life can beat the views of Europe over the ripples of its rivers.
You have questions; we have the answers. To learn more about river cruising, you’ll find the links below helpful. If you still need to know more, visit the Avid Cruiser and spend some time with our articles, port reviews and cruise logs.