The Virtuoso Guide to European river cruising
From Africa to the Americas, Europe to Asia, river cruising is one of the most thrilling ways to see the world. With so many cruise lines to choose from, it pays to have expert advice and insights from a Virtuoso luxury travel advisor.
River cruising remains one of the fastest growing cruise sectors among Australians, who are attracted to this leisurely way of seeing the world by the small ships, intimate settings, educational experiences and high levels of luxury.
We sat down with nine experts – cruise specialists from a collection of the country’s finest Virtuoso agencies – to talk trends, spotlighting the in-demand river cruise lines, the hottest itineraries, the most popular destinations, and their all-time favourite experiences.
A Virtuoso luxury travel advisor that specialises in cruising will always provide unbiased advice and the expertise to match you with the best ship and itinerary that suits you.
For the Virtuoso Guide to river cruising in Asia, Americas and Africa, click here
Meet our experts
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The best of river cruising in Europe
Highlight rivers: Danube, Seine, Volga, Rhône, Main, Rhine, Douro, Garrone
Cruise lines: Crystal Cruises, Tauck, Uniworld, APT, Viking, Avalon Waterways
Europe continues to be the main event for river cruise lines; this is where the industry really took off, and its popularity endures.
The list of beguiling destinations the Danube passes through makes it an unbeatable option for those seeking a snapshot of Europe. Flowing 2,848 kilometres across 10 countries, from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea in Romania, this waterway takes travellers to some of the continent’s most wondrous sights: UNESCO-listed vineyards, historic châteaux, charming villages and fabled cities like Linz, Melk, Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava.
David Brandon and Anthony Goldman both recommend Crystal Cruises’ seven-night Austria round-trip itinerary, ʻDanube Dreams & Discoveries’. “I love this cruise, especially for people who have never done a river cruise and really want to try one,” says Goldman. “It has some amazing highlights, such as Melk Abbey and the regal treasures of Vienna.”
Travelling in the other direction, toward the Black Sea, Goldman also suggests Tauck’s 13-day ʻBudapest to the Black Seaʼ itinerary, with stops in Bucharest and Belgrade. “This lesser explored part of the Danube showcases some amazing history, from the opulence of royalty to the social change with communism.”
Claudia Rossi Hudson also loves the Danube. APT’s 15-day ʻMagnificent Europeʼ – which begins in Budapest on the Danube, glides onto the Main in Germany, and finishes on the Rhine in the Netherlands – “takes you to the heart of little villages jam-packed with history,” she says. “Floating past working barges where families live, the green hills, countryside vistas, the sunsets – all bring this journey to life.”
Avalon Waterways, meanwhile, offers a number of cruise experiences through its country of origin, Switzerland. The line’s 16-day ʻEnchanted Europeʼ cruise starts on the Rhine in Basel, taking you through five countries before docking in Budapest on the Danube. There are standout stops in Germany’s Passau and the UNESCO Wachau Valley. Many shore excursions include leisurely, traditional and independent choices for exploration.
A host of upscale operators navigate France’s five major rivers: the Seine, Rhine, Garonne, Loire and Saône/ Rhône. Uniworld’s eight-day ʻBurgundy & Provenceʼ takes you through some of Europe’s most jaw-dropping and produce-rich countryside on the latter rivers, according to Rossi Hudson. “In addition to the standard shore excursions, it’s possible to upgrade to the Masterpiece Collection, with incredible experiences like wine tasting at Châteauneuf-du- Pape and searching for truffles.”
Uniworld also navigates the Seine on its eight-day ʻParis & Normandyʼ itinerary, which Elizabeth Clarke considers a top pick for history and art buffs. “A visit to Monet’s garden in Giverny is a great experience; the windswept Normandy beaches still have reminders of the WWII landings; and walking tours of Honfleur and Rouen let you see the trail of Joan of Arc.” Brandon enjoys the same route with Tauck, the company’s award-winning European river cruises praised for their personalised service and exclusive destination experiences.
Over on the North Atlantic Ocean, Portugal’s popularity as a river cruise destination is on the rise – especially for repeat cruisers, according to Ruth Leibson. “The Douro River is a magnificent option for those wanting to immerse themselves in Portuguese history and culture,” she says, noting that Uniworld is her preference when it comes to lines plying the waterway. The company’s 11-day ʻPortugal, Spain & the Douro River Valleyʼ from Lisbon to Porto drifts past postcard-perfect terraced hillsides, charming villages and vineyards, with highlight excursions including a visit to Coimbra, the birthplace of six kings.
River cruising in Russia is also growing. Viking operates trips such as the 13-day ʻWaterways of the Tsarsʼ, between Moscow and St Petersburg along the Volga, Svir and Neva rivers. The journey is at the top of Mandy Dwyer’s list. “It’s an enlightening and enriching journey. Visiting small towns along the river allowed me to learn about the true Russia and experience the genuine warmth and pride of the people.”