The 8 Best European River Cruises For Every Type Of Traveler

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Kerry Spencer, Contributor

Forbes Vetted

From Portugal’s dazzling Douro to the mighty Danube, a river cruise is a fantastic way of exploring Europe’s magical cities and sensational countryside. Sparkling new Europe-based ships seemingly debut every year, all with innovative features and itineraries that showcase art, history, food and more. The best European river cruises make it easy to enjoy the continent’s marvelous scenery to its fullest, with thoughtful amenities, intimate ship sizes and a slower pace to soak it all in.

Selecting the right river cruise for you depends on the kind of experience you’re after. There’s a European river cruise for every type of traveler, from families and couples to the budget-conscious and luxury seekers. For a true luxury experience, we recommend a sail aboard Uniworld’s S.S. La Venezia, while for active travelers we love the holistic wellness offerings found on AmaWaterways’ AmaMagna. No matter what you’re searching for, these are the best European river cruises to book for 2024 and beyond.

Best Overall European River Cruise: Viking Cruises, Viking Egdir

Viking Egdir

Recommended Itinerary: 15-day Grand European Tour, Budapest to Amsterdam (or vice versa)

Departure: March 15 – November 5, 2024, and April 10 – October 23, 2025

All-Star Amenities: Aquavit Terrace for outdoor dining; wine and beer included with lunch and dinner; spacious Sun Deck; golf putting; elegant library; free Wi-Fi; inclusive shore tour option in every port; elegant Scandinavian design

The doyen of Europe’s waterways is the adults-only Viking Cruises, a multifaceted cruise line that also boasts a fleet of ocean and expedition vessels. With 55 Nordic-inspired “Longships” sailing mainland Europe—including the Danube, Rhine, Seine, Rhône and Elbe—plus four ships on Portugal’s River Douro, Viking has an itinerary for every type of river cruiser. The cruise line’s soothing Scandinavian aesthetic combines a chic design with spacious accommodations that include river views or private verandas, and sails also include drinks during mealtimes, shore excursions and Wi-Fi.

The stellar 2022-built Viking Egdir, carrying 190 passengers, offers a ringside seat of bucolic vineyards and medieval castles on the Rhine, Main and Danube. It also takes passengers to some of Europe’s blockbuster cities, including Budapest, Vienna, Cologne and Amsterdam. Passengers can sip on fine wines in the Wachau Valley, wander Regensburg’s UNESCO-listed old town and marvel at Vienna’s Habsburg-period architecture. Itineraries feature guided trips to revered museums, cathedrals, and palaces—complemented by slow days sailing these scenic waterways.

Best High-End European River Cruise: Uniworld, S.S. La Venezia

S.S. La Venezia

Itineraries: 8-day Venice and The Jewels of Veneto, Venice to Venice

Departure: Weekly between March 31 – October 27, 2024, and April 8 – November 3, 2025

All-Star Amenities: Inclusive alcohol, including premium spirits and wines; Asprey toiletries; airport transfers in port; bikes and Nordic walking sticks available for use in port; butler-serviced suites

Murano glass, Savoir beds and marble-clad bathrooms with Asprey toiletries are just some of the sumptuous features that make Uniworld high-end European river cruising at its finest. Each of the cruise line’s 12 vessels is adorned with opulent antiques, crystal chandeliers and dramatic artwork to create the feel of a lavish boutique-hotel-on-water. Passengers can indulge in free-flowing drinks and market-fresh cuisine, while suite guests are assigned white-gloved butlers, each one trained at the prestigious Ivor Spencer Butler School in England to ensure royal standards are met.

One of the few vessels permitted to dock in Italy’s Venetian Lagoon, S.S. La Venezia explores the colorful facades of Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello, charming Chioggia and the Po Delta, with the bonus of four nights moored in the center of Venice. This ship truly embodies the decadence of Renaissance Venice, with a playful interior featuring hand-painted Venetian masks and flamboyant custom-made fabrics by Venice-design house Fortuny. Passengers can dine on fresh wood-fired pizza at Cielo’s and sip Bellinis at Hari’s Bar, all while taking in views of Venice’s sparkling lagoon.

Best European River Cruise For Families: A-Rosa, A-Rosa Sena

A-Rosa Sena

Itineraries: 7-night Rhine Experience Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Cologne to Cologne

Departure: Late March to late October 2024 and 2025

All-Star Amenities: Children up to 15 travel free; family cabins sleeping up to five and kids splash pool (A-ROSA Sena); dedicated kids club with programming for 4 to 15 years olds; spa thermal area; wine tasting room; family excursions

German river cruise line A-Rosa has carved a niche for multigenerational river voyages after pioneering its kids club in 2014. The line’s European family program is available on at least one ship on each river the line sails during school breaks. Fun activities include a “meet the captain” event, pizza-making classes and treasure hunts. All ships are stocked with age-appropriate games and books, and family shore excursions to zoos and theme parks feature on itineraries.

A-Rosa Sena, launched in 2022, is a knockout for its array of family facilities. A jaunty kids’ club with a climbing wall and secret nooks is positioned next to 12 family cabins, each sleeping up to five, featuring nautical-themed bunk beds. The 280-passenger ship—the largest on the Rhine—has a kids’ splash pool next to a larger pool, with some sailings offering kids swimming lessons for an extra fee. Mealtimes are peachy, too, with dishes such as dressed salmon and pork goulash, plus a children’s buffet luring kids to the table. After a long day of exploring, parents and grandparents can relax at the spa or in the lounge.

Best European River Cruise For Couples: Scenic, Scenic Azure

Scenic Azure

Itineraries: 11-day Unforgettable Douro, Porto to Porto

Departure: April-November 2024 and 2025

All-Star Amenities: Butler service; Scenic Sun Lounges; complimentary restocked minibar; pillow menus in suites; included premium drinks, Wi-Fi, shore excursions and gratuities; L’Occitane toiletries; Vitality Pool and Scenic E-Bikes available for use in port

While Scenic isn’t strictly adults-only, this elegant Australian-owned cruise line doesn’t tend to draw many families, making it ideal for couples. There are 12 Scenic all-suite vessels on Europe’s waterways, each one featuring nifty innovations such as in-suite windows that slide down at the touch of a button—perfect for languid mornings gazing at picture-perfect scenery. Couples can dress up for glitzy cocktail receptions and choose from romantic dining venues, including Portobellos or L’Amour, for candlelit meals for two. Diamond Deck and Junior Suite guests can also dine at Table d’Or, where a six-course degustation menu is paired with local wines.

With balmy summertime temperatures, Portugal’s sublime Douro is an idyllic river cruise destination for couples. The intimate 96-passenger Scenic Azure winds through the port-producing (and UNESCO-listed) Douro Valley, with its terraced vineyards, olive groves and tranquil towns and villages. The itinerary sees Scenic whisk passengers to historic vineyards and cellars in Regua, Vinhateiro and the Côa Valley to sip on local wines and Port. An unmissable outing for couples is a private classical concert at the beguiling Sao Francisco Church in Porto, offered as one of the cruise line’s “Scenic Enrich” experiences.

Best European River Cruise For History Lovers: Tauck River Cruising, MS Sapphire

MS Sapphire

Itineraries: 11-day River Seine: Châteaux, Impressionism and Normandy, Paris to Paris

Departure: July-August 2024

All-Star Amenities: Inclusive drinks, shore exclusive shore excursions, gratuities and airport transfers; Molton Brown toiletries and terry cloth robes in cabins, 400-thread satin bed linen; putting green

Tauck’s all-inclusive European river cruises are a boon for travelers with a thirst for history. The cruise line sails all of Europe’s major rivers, offering thoughtfully crafted shore experiences that dig deep into each destination’s past. Between off-hours tours at world-renowned museums and guided walks through medieval cities, guests are also invited to join enriching lectures aboard the ships.

Sail the Seine from Paris to Normandy aboard Tauck’s intimate 98-passenger MS Sapphire to explore destinations such as Caudebec-en-Caux, Les Andelys, Mont-St-Michel and Étretat. The cruise features a number of thoughtful, exclusive excursions, like dinner at the 16th-century Château du Taillis and a walking tour in Rouen to Joan of Arc Square and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen. Most poignant, however, is the chance to pause at the D–Day Beaches, with 2024 marking the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy. The guided tour also visits the somber Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial on Omaha Beach.

Best Value European River Cruise: Emerald Cruises, Emerald Luna

Emerald Luna

Itineraries: 8-day Jewels of the Rhine, Amsterdam to Basel (or vice versa)

Departure: May-October 2024 and 2025

All-Star Amenities: Indoor pool that turns into a movie theater at night; 20 e-bikes for use in port; Egyptian cotton sheets; ESPA toiletries in bathrooms; top-deck barbecues; golf-putting green; single occupancy cabins

River cruises are not known as a low-cost vacation option. Some lines, however, offer excellent value—especially when you compare the price to the overall cost of a land-based vacation in Europe. One cruise line that consistently offers great value is Emerald Cruises, a river cruise operator that gets travelers more bang for their buck—without compromising on quality or service. As standard, Emerald’s eight Europe-based “Star-Ships” offer a generous number of inclusions built into the cost of the cruise, with typically lower entry level fares.

Airport transfers to and from the ship, drinks (non-alcoholic, beer and wine) with lunch and dinner, gratuities, Wi-Fi and a plethora of shore excursions are included. There are often excellent deals to be had, too, such as free flight credit when booking early, buy-one-get-one-free offers and reduced-single supplement for solo travelers. Emerald’s ships are unquestionably elegant, including the 180-guest Emerald Luna, which sails Europe’s Rhine, Main, Danube and Moselle rivers. Guests on board can enjoy a heated pool that transforms into a cinema, spacious suites and a dedicated wellness area.

Best European River Cruise For Foodies: Riverside Luxury Cruises, Riverside Ravel

Riverside Ravel

Itineraries: 7-night Experience Rhône, Avignon to Avignon (three-, four- and five-night itineraries also available)

Departure: April 10, April 22, June 14, June 26, 2024

All-Star Amenities: All-suite ship; butler-service; onboard concierges; Vintage Room for private dining and wine tastings; open dining in the main restaurant; rooftop herb gardens

Palate-pleasing gastronomy and epicurean shore excursions make new arrival Riverside Luxury Cruises a standout for foodies. The cruise line, which cruises on several ships that once belonged to luxury cruise line Crystal, offers a sublime culinary program, particularly on the 110-passenger Riverside Ravel, which taps into the Rhône’s extraordinary bounty. All menus onboard reflect the region, with vintage wines, dishes featuring truffle, escargot and foie gras and a gout-inducing selection of premium cheeses.

For true indulgence, book a table at the fleetwide reservation-only Vintage Room, set up for private dining, with an extravagant seven-course wine-pairing menu. The experience is worth the $295 fee, especially for true oenophiles who will get to savor coveted Bordeaux Grand Crus. Other highlights include visiting a truffle farm near Viviers and savoring a selection of wines at Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard. In Lyon, guests can visit foodie heaven at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, the city’s outstanding indoor food market filled with a vast array of produce.

Best European River Cruise For Active Travelers: AmaWaterways, AmaMagna


Itineraries: 7-night Magna on the Danube, Budapest to Vilshofen

Departure: February 11-December 15, 2024, March 9 – December 28, 2025

All-Star Amenities: Full-size pickleball court (AmaMagna); wellness studio with fitness equipment; active shore excursions; included Wi-Fi and excursions in every port; complimentary wellness bar with juices and infused water; daily cocktail hour and bikes for use ashore

AmaWaterways’ holistic wellness program encompasses a variety of fitness classes and wellness-themed excursions, making it the leading European river cruise line for active travelers. Each ship has an onboard wellness director who hosts daily fitness classes as well as meditation and yoga. The cruise line’s active excursions are perfect for taking in some of Europe’s most breathtaking scenery, with passengers able to cycle among Austria’s Wachau Valley vineyards on a Danube cruise or hike the Philosopher’s Way for dreamy views of Heidelberg on a Rhine sailing. AmaWaterways was also the first river cruise operator to carry a…

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