We’re lucky enough to have countless historical attractions, charming towns, sweeping beaches, and stunning natural landscapes on our own UK shores. But with continental Europe right on our doorstep, we can also enjoy easy access to one of the most diverse, beautiful, and captivating continents in the world.
Home to 44 different countries, the most difficult part of a European holiday can often be deciding which country to visit.
If you’re struggling to pick a place, then why not go on a European river cruise and visit several countries in one trip? Many of the greatest cities and most charming towns are perched along the scenic rivers of Europe, whether it’s the Danube, the Rhine, the Seine, or the Moselle. And a river cruise often allows you to see far more than you could by foot, car, bike, or train.
That’s why we’ve partnered with Avalon Waterways, who are experts on river cruises all over the world, but especially in Europe. With a captain, cruise director, and caring crew to look after you at all times – not to mention luxurious, elegant accommodation – an Avalon cruise allows you to kick back and relax, soak up the views, and hop on and off to explore your surroundings at your own pace.
With this in mind, here are seven scenic river cruises in Europe that will hopefully stir your travel appetite.
1. A Taste of the Danube
To experience the dazzling beauty of Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, why not take a four-day river cruise along the Danube river?
This cruise goes from west to east – beginning in Vienna and ending in Budapest – and along the way, you’ll stop off in many of the quaint towns and historic cities that lie along the edge of this iconic river.
Setting sail from Vienna, you’ll pass through the breathtaking Wachau Valley, where you can admire views of rolling vineyards, forested hills, and towering fortresses at almost every river bend.
In Melk, you’ll visit the magnificent Benedictine Abbey, before heading to Dürnstein, where you can visit the famous blue and white abbey, and see the crumbling castle where Richard the Lionheart was once imprisoned. You’ll then cruise to Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia) to sightsee with a local guide, visit the gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral, and admire dramatic views of the Carpathian Mountains.
The final stop in your journey will be Budapest, Hungary’s enchanting capital, blessed with unique art nouveau architecture, lively ruin bars, and grand bathhouses where you can soak in hot springs.
Immerse yourself in the history of the Danube
2. Grand France
If you’re fascinated by France and passionate about its art, history, and cuisine, then a 15-day cruise along the river Seine and the Rhône Rivers might be ideal.
This particular Grand France cruise begins in the south of the country and winds its way north, taking you through many of the very best sites in France – from the delights and bright lights of Paris to the poignant Normandy Landing Beaches.
You’ll begin in Van Gogh’s beloved Arles on the coast, before heading up the Rhône to historic Avignon, where a guided tour of sites like the 14th-century Palace of the Popes will take you back in time.
Then, in Tournon, you’ll discover its medieval and Roman treasures on a walking tour. And in Lyon, you can admire stunning Renaissance architecture before feasting on some of the finest food in France.
From Dijon, you’ll take the train to Paris, and it’s here that your Seine cruise will begin. Arguably the world’s most romantic city, you’ll be spoilt for choice for things to do. Whether it’s visiting sites like the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame, or simply strolling around admiring the beauty and charm of this iconic city, sampling its fabulous cuisine, and sipping its famously delicious wine.
Discover the romance of France
3. Vida Portugal
If you’re more drawn to sunsoaked Portugal, then a cruise along the river Douro definitely won’t disappoint.
The Douro Valley quite simply is one of the most enchanting spots in Europe, and the Douro – which means ‘River of Gold’ – weaves its way through one of the world’s oldest and most stunning wine regions.
Along the way, you’ll discover the culture and traditions of this unique area, from the passionate Fado music to the mouth-watering culinary creations.
You’ll embark from the coastal city of Porto and your first stop will be Entre Os Rios, from where you can go on guided sightseeing tours in the historic cities of Braga and Guimarães. Then, in Peso da Régua and Lamego, you can visit local farms to try some of the region’s most delicious dishes.
In Pocinho, you can visit the picture-perfect villages and white-washed estates the Douro Region is famous for – from the steep, terraced vineyards and ancient ruins of Freixo de Numão, to the town of Vila Nova de Foz Côa, where you can uncover the history of the Palaeolithic Côa Valley.
You can even visit the Spanish city of Salamanca, the flower-adorned houses of Freixo de Espada à Cinta, and join a sightseeing tour of artistic Amarante – all before heading back to Porto.
Discover the delights of the Douro Region
4. German Grandeur
Germany is a country of culture and contrasts – a place where half-timbered towns are as popular with tourists as sprawling cities and where elegant palaces sit beside futuristic buildings. Then there’s the landscape, which boasts mysterious forests, vast vineyards, and breathtaking river valleys.
The best way to see this historic, beautiful country is by boat, on this nine-day German Grandeur tour. Setting sail from Nuremberg, you’ll first hop off at Bamberg for a guided walking tour of a city that was once the home of imperial dynasties.
Also on the agenda is Würzburg – the ‘Pearl of the Romantic Road’ – followed by Frankfurt, where you can see all the main sites with your host or tour the nearby town of Seligenstadt. Then, prepare yourself for stunning views as you cruise through the dramatic Rhine Gorge, admiring its rugged peaks and romantic valleys.
After visiting the winemaking town of Rüdesheim, you’ll spend the night in the French city of Strasbourg, giving you plenty of time to stroll around the charming La Petite France district.
All this, before crossing the border back to Germany to visit its famous Black Forest (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Here, you can learn and indulge at local wineries, go cycling, or just take in the epic landscape around you.
The cruise will wrap up in Basel, Switzerland, where you can reminisce on your holiday while making new Swiss memories at the same time!
Discover the best of Germany
5. Burgundy and Provence
If you love France but want to spend more time admiring the tranquil countryside rather than busy tourist hotspots like Paris, then why not consider a cruise along the Saône river?
Beginning in the rolling green hills and medieval villages of Burgundy, this eight-day tour winds its way southwards until it reaches the Rhône, where your tour will finish in sunny Provence. This unique cruise gives you the chance to combine the best of two French passions: food and wine.
Embarking from Chalon-sur-Saône, a guided walk in the medieval city of Tournos will offer plenty of opportunities to admire Roman ruins and 16th-century castles.
The next stop is Lyon, famous for being the gastronomic capital of France, where you can enjoy a guided sightseeing tour – with plenty of food sampling! – stop for photos on Fourvière Hill, or cycle around the city. As you cruise, you’ll admire views of world-class vineyards, pretty villages, and serene waterways.
Visits to Tournon and Viviers are also included, where you can discover their glorious architectural heritage on guided walks, before venturing through the equally impressive Avignon, with its unique Palace of the Popes.
On your last day, you can go sightseeing in Arles, visit the Roman Amphitheater, or take a leaf out of Arles resident Van Gogh’s book and take a painting workshop. After this, you’re free to make the most of Provence’s famous clifftop roads, sundrenched beaches, or bustling markets in your own time.
Soak up the culture of Burgundy and Provence
6. Danube Dream for Wine Lovers
If you’re passionate about wine, then why not join a cruise that’s specifically designed for wine lovers – the Danube Dream?
During this eight-day tour, you’ll cruise along the Danube, passing through Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany. Not only will you get the chance to discover some of Europe’s most magnificent cities and towns, but you’ll sample many delicious wines along the way!
The tour starts in the Hungarian capital of Budapest, where after a sightseeing tour of all the main attractions, you can visit a local wine cellar. You’ll then cruise to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, where you can meander through the gorgeous old town, visit the gothic cathedral, or hike up Bratislava Castle.
After an onboard lecture on wine tasting, you’ll arrive in Vienna, where you’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted with the grand architecture and coffee shop culture.
From here, a stop in Austria’s Wachau Valley will offer views of undulating hills, lush vineyards, and imposing fortresses as you cruise along the river. Then, in Dürnstein, there’ll be plenty of time to visit the castle and sip local wines, while in Linz, you can relax in Austria’s largest medieval square.
In Passau, Germany, you can stroll down winding cobblestone streets and admire the baroque architecture before sitting down to a final onboard wine and chocolate tasting.
By the end of this tour, which includes many wine tastings, it’s fair to say you’ll be rather the connoisseur!
Learn to appreciate the greatest wines in Europe
7. Moselle and the Rhine
If you’re drawn to countries like the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, France, and Switzerland, there’s only one way to see them all: from the water.
Famous for its glorious castles and fabulous wines, the Moselle river flows through France, Luxembourg and Germany, where it joins the Rhine, which then winds its way through Northern Germany and into the Netherlands.
This 11-day tour begins in the elegant city of Amsterdam, where you’ll experience unrivalled views of this colourful and historic city as you cruise through its canals. You’ll then arrive in the city of Cologne, which is bursting with culture and history, before stopping at Koblenz, Cochem, and the wine village of Bernkastel. Whether you want to visit splendid castles, hike through stunning gorges, or discover medieval villages, this whole region will likely leave you spoilt for choice.
From Ludwigshafen, you’ll have the chance to immerse yourself in history at the magnificent Heidelberg Castle and see the huge wine vat in its cellars, visit the eerie Frankenstein Castle, or walk the Philosophers’ Way.
Once you hit the Moselle river, it’s then on to the cultural city of Strasbourg, where you can explore in your own way. And last but certainly not least, the tour will end in Breisach, where you can discover the mysterious beauty of the Black Forest – or alternatively, sample exceptional wines in local wineries!
Unearth the history and culture of the Moselle and Rhine
Whether you’re dreaming of exploring the historic towns along the Danube, cruising through France feasting on the finest food and wine, or discovering the best that Portugal’s Douro region has to offer, a river cruise is undoubtedly the best way to do it.
With Avalon Waterways, you’ll have the luxury of stylish, comfortable accommodation and unrivalled viewing decks. Plus, you’ll hopefully be able to unwind, knowing that someone else has made all the plans for you, and organised a holiday that you can tailor to your own preferences – whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation.
With a captain, cruise director, and caring crew on hand at all times, you don’t have to worry about scheduling or trying to fit everything in – you just have to slip into holiday mode and get ready to have some fun.
From sightseeing in cultural cities and delightful towns to visiting local farms for tastings, to hiking, cycling, or just admiring the gorgeous views as you cruise, a holiday with Avalon Waterways will be something you remember for the rest of your life.
To browse more river cruises, head over to the Avalon Waterways website.