Europe remains the epicentre of river cruising, but you probably don’t realise just how many of its rivers feature cruises.
|A cruise ship on the Rhine River at Cologne, Germany.|
Photo: Viking River Cruises
The bread-and-butter of many cruise companies is of course the perennially popular, history-soaked Rhine River. Vineyards and castle-topped hills along the Rhine gorges are the highlight of an otherwise flat, industrialised landscape. Some ships ply the Amsterdam-Basel route that takes in the whole navigable river and scenic Black Forest, but many veer off at Mainz on the longer Amsterdam-Budapest haul.
The Main River joins the Rhine at Mainz and is linked by canal to the Danube. It’s an intimate little river: golden weathervanes glint on church spires, herons flap and you can almost pluck washing from passing gardens. An eye-popping baroque palace in Würzburg, medieval villages and a side trip to Heidelberg are among shore excursions.
Some companies offer Main-Moselle cruises, generally part of an overland journey from Paris to Prague. The pretty Moselle River is notable for its vineyards and meander into Luxembourg. Ships cruise between Trier and Koblenz, where the Moselle is swallowed up by the Rhine.
|Cruise ships at Dresden on the Elbe River, Germany.|
Photo: German National Tourist Office
It’s a shame more Australians aren’t familiar with the Elbe River, which flows through the Czech Republic and Germany. Only one major cruise company (vikingrivercruises.com.au) sails there. The Elbe is highly scenic as it hits the Sandstone Mountains (nicknamed the ‘Saxon Switzerland’) and passes by Berlin, Meissen and Dresden. Journeys end overland in Prague, although boutique company Noble Caledonia (noble-caledonia.co.uk) sails there along the Vltava River.
You can also sail the Oder River through Germany and Poland (noble-caledonia.co.uk) and the newly developing Tisza River in Hungary and Serbia (croisieurope.travel).
Firmly back on the mainstream cruise route, the upper Danube River between Regensburg in Germany and Budapest rivals the Rhine as cruise central. Its once-standard itineraries are becoming more varied, with some cruises themed on beer, opera, Jewish history and children’s activities. The slightly more intrepid can sail the lower Danube through Eastern Europe from Budapest to Giurgiu near Bucharest, or sometimes on to the river’s Black Sea delta.
|Honfleur on the Seine River in France.|
Photo: Scenic Tours
Meanwhile in France, the Rhône River offers journeys between Avignon and Lyon and onwards on the Saône River into Burgundy. Van Gogh landscapes, Côtes du Rhône wine and Roman ruins combine to entice gastronomes and history lovers. In contrast, Seine River cruises swaps sun-bright Provence scenery for misty, mellow Normandy hills, WWII beaches and Monet’s gardens.
Francophiles can get a third dose in the Burgundy region, where the Dordogne River, Garonne River and Gironde Estuary combine to create a wine-hazy wander through famous-name vineyards and the city of Bordeaux, one of the best cities to be docked on any European river.
Surprisingly, the famous châteaux-cluttered Loire River in France is only getting its first river cruises next year with the launch of the Loire Princesse (croisieurope.travel) in April.
As well as the Douro River in Portugal, it’s also possible to cruise the Guadalquivir River and Guadiana River in Spain (croisieurope.travel) and the Po River in northern Italy (uniworldcruises.com.au), where Venice is one of few ports that links river and ocean cruises.