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The 9 top river cruise lines for 2024.

Sail through Europe, Asia, the U.S. and more on one of these exquisite river cruise lines.

The Top River Cruise Lines

Top River Cruises

Courtesy of Viking River Cruises

Not one for the high seas? Explore the world along its rivers instead.

If you'd like to take a cruise but aren't interested in the hustle and bustle of a massive ocean liner, consider a river cruise. River cruises offer the chance to visit lesser-known ports around the world, thanks to the small size and maneuverability of the vessels. These sailings are known to provide exceptional, personalized service, as most welcome fewer than 200 guests at a time. On top of that, you'll spend the majority of your trip exploring a different port each day, as most destinations along the waterways are fairly close together.

Read on to discover the best river cruise lines around the world, with details about where they sail, the number of passengers you can expect onboard, a snapshot of amenities and experiences, and sentiment from recent travelers.

Viking River Cruises

Uniworld boutique river cruises, american cruise lines, amawaterways, avalon waterways, emerald cruises.

  • Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

CroisiEurope Cruises

Viking Longship Idun on the Main River in front of Johannisburg Palace, Aschaffenburg, Germany.

Number of passengers: 75 to 250 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, U.S.

Viking's 60-plus ships – known as longships – traverse major rivers across Europe, including the Danube , the Rhine, the Douro and more. Other popular routes sail Egypt's Nile River as well as the Mississippi River , and newer options include a series of Great Lakes itineraries.

What to expect: Travelers may be familiar with Viking Ocean Cruises , which operates larger ocean voyages with an emphasis on opulent accommodations and diverse enrichment activities. Viking's river cruises follow a similar road map, with meals, daily walking tours and Wi-Fi access (where applicable) included in the base fare. Other amenities and activities span guest lectures, cooking demonstrations, musical performances, libraries, outdoor decks and more. Select Viking riverboats are also equipped with swimming pools, while cabins feature minibars, premium toiletries, purified water and TVs.

On board, you can expect to find mostly English-speaking passengers. Viking's price point generally attracts older crowds in the 55-plus age group, and travelers must be at least 18 years old to cruise on the line.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers thoroughly enjoyed their experience with Viking, praising the scenic shore excursions, top-notch service and comfortable rooms. Some, however, expressed disappointment with the service as well as the food.

Book a Viking River Cruise on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.

Pool and pool chairs on a Uniworld Boutique River Cruises ship.

Courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Number of passengers: 32 to 159 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America

Uniworld offers luxurious sailings in historic cities across central Europe, France , Italy , Portugal , India, Egypt and Peru.

What to expect: Its 17 ships aim to create the feel of a boutique hotel with stylish decor, antique artwork and specialty restaurants. The ships hold an average capacity of 120 cruisers, and the company boasts one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the industry: about one crew member for every two travelers.

Stateroom amenities vary by vessel but may include marble bathrooms, Egyptian cotton linens, French balconies, iPod docking stations, Nespresso coffee machines, rainfall showers and more. The line's all-inclusive rates cover meals, alcoholic beverages, select excursions, gratuities, onboard fitness classes and Wi-Fi access, on top of entertainment and enrichment classes. Uniworld prides itself on its top-notch cuisine, which is made with local ingredients sourced from the ports on your itinerary and also includes vegetarian and vegan options.

Uniworld's typical clientele tend to be in their 50s or 60s and reside in North America, the U.K. and Australia . The river cruise line has select itineraries aimed at families, LGBTQ cruisers and solo travelers.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers offered abundant praise for Uniworld's voyages, complimenting the stylish accommodations, attentive staff and fascinating excursions. Though complaints were few and far between, a handful of past travelers felt the experience was not worth the high price point.

Compare Uniworld Boutique River Cruises on GoToSea.

 American Cruise Lines ship on river during sunset.

Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Number of passengers: 90 to 180 Sails to:  U.S.

As the name suggests, American Cruise Lines sails exclusively on the rivers and coastlines of the United States. Popular cruises visit destinations along the Mississippi River, on the Hudson River, throughout New England , and lining the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest. The line also tours Alaska , the Southeast coast including Florida , and the Puget Sound between Washington state and the Canadian border.

What to expect: American Cruise Lines operates 19 relatively new small ships and river vessels (the average ship is about 5 years old), ranging from modern riverboats to small coastal ships to authentic paddlewheelers. Comfortable cabins can accommodate up to three people per room, and all ships offer single staterooms designed exclusively for solo travelers . Each room boasts picture windows, a spacious bathroom and – in some cases – a private balcony. In the ships' public spaces, cruisers can enjoy daily onboard entertainment like jazz and blues performances, as well as presentations by historians and area experts.

The line promises an all-American experience. As such, you can expect to find American staff aboard the American-built ships as well as food that pays homage to the destinations you will visit, from New Orleans -style andouille sausage gumbo to New England-inspired seafood boils. Complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres are served every night prior to dinner; all meals, snacks, and wine and beer are included in the base fare. Shore excursions are not typically included in the rate.

Passengers on American Cruise Lines tend to lean North American and are typically mature retired travelers.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers enjoyed their experience, particularly on the line's themed cruises.

Read:  Cruise Packing List: Essentials for Your Next Cruise

AmaWaterways cruise ship on river near town.

Courtesy of AmaWaterways

Number of passengers: 28 to 196 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America  

Consider a river cruise with AmaWaterways, whether you're looking to sail through the heart of Europe or seeking a once-in-a-lifetime adventure touring destinations like Vietnam, Egypt, South Africa or (beginning in 2024) Colombia. A family-owned business founded in 2002, AmaWaterways operates 29 river cruise boats that welcome 150 passengers on average.

The cruise line aims to provide excursion-rich experiences and offers unique themed sailings for passengers with certain interests. Wine-themed voyages are perfect for oenophiles wishing to explore some of Europe's most popular wine regions, while a concierge golf program will transport passengers from one famous golf course to the next. Or, opt for a holiday river cruise to visit magical Christmas markets around Europe. In 2024, AmaWaterways will offer three new Black history-themed itineraries.

What to expect: On board, guests can expect cabins suitable for couples or single travelers, as well as a set amount of connectible rooms designed for multigenerational families. Staterooms are spacious, with perks like bathrobes, slippers and plush bedding. Cabins can feature up to two balconies with AmaWaterways' twin balcony design, which allows for a full, step-out balcony alongside a French balcony with sliding glass doors. In-room Wi-Fi is complimentary, and guests will have access to movies and music on demand.

Outside of their cabins, passengers can enjoy amenities spanning small pools, sun decks, fitness equipment, a hair salon, massage services and more.

AmaWaterways primarily attracts North American travelers in their 50s who enjoy taking part in active shore excursions that involve walking or cycling. Passengers from the U.K. and Australia sail on this river cruise line as well. You can expect to find a mix of couples, families and solo cruisers – including a growing number of millennial travelers – on your vessel, thanks to AmaWaterways' diverse cabin offerings. Adventures by Disney charters AmaWaterways ships for select sailings each year as well.

What travelers say: Recent travelers say AmaWaterways exceeded their expectations, with many noting it was especially enjoyable for families. Still, some were disappointed, particularly with the food.

Find AmaWaterways cruises on GoToSea.

Interior of guest cabin on an Avalon Waterways river cruise ship.

Courtesy of Avalon Waterways

Number of passengers: 16 to 166 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America

Avalon Waterways sails 19 riverboats along popular thoroughfares like the Danube, the Rhone, the Seine, the Nile, the Rhine, the Moselle, the Mekong, the Ganges and more. In 2024, it will also sail the Douro River in Portugal.

What to expect: Launched in 2004, Avalon stands out for its spacious vessels – known as Suite Ships – which feature some of the largest rooms in the river cruise industry and beds that face wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows, providing panoramic views. Additional stateroom perks include complimentary breakfast in bed, L'Occitane toiletries, sitting areas, ample storage space and mattress toppers.

Across the ship, passengers can enjoy amenities like a sun deck with lounge chairs, whirlpools and a game area, in addition to numerous restaurants and bars and a 24-hour self-serve coffee station. You will also have your pick of Classic, Active or Discovery shore excursions – ranging from standard tours with a local guide to hiking outings along a hilltop castle – depending on your interests and physical abilities.

Avalon Waterways attracts English-speaking cruisers from a variety of countries, typically in their 50s and 60s. However, children ages 8 and older are welcome on board (though there are no designated kids clubs), and some voyages draw younger or older passengers.

What travelers say: Most recent reviews are positive, with travelers highlighting the friendly, knowledgeable staff and tasty food.

Explore Avalon Waterways cruise deals on GoToSea.

Dining area on Tauck river cruise ship.

Courtesy of Tauck

Number of passengers: 84 to 130 Sails to:  Europe

Travel company Tauck wears multiple hats: It operates small-ship voyages around the world, land tours across seven continents, small group journeys for an average of 24 travelers at a time, family tours and – finally – European river cruises. Six new river itineraries in Europe are on the docket for 2024. Take your pick from nine river vessels to explore popular waterways like the Douro, the Moselle, the Rhine, the Danube and the Rhone.

What to expect: All-inclusive fares cover shore excursions, onboard activities and entertainment, gratuities, beverages and more. Plus, Tauck offers exclusive access to unforgettable experiences like wine tastings at private vineyards and gala dinners in historic castles.

More than 80% of the staterooms feature French balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing for excellent views. Other in-room amenities may include adjustable climate controls, satin linens, pillow-top mattresses, terry cloth robes and more. Outside of your cabin, you'll find perks such as a sun deck, a putting green, enrichment programs like cooking demonstrations, a fitness center and complimentary bikes for onshore exploring.

Tauck caters to affluent, English-speaking cruisers – primarily Americans in the 55-and-older age group – though you may also find families with adult children on board. The line appeals most to travelers who prefer all the details of their trip to be taken care of for them, versus those who like to plan activities independent of the cruise line.

What travelers say: Recent passengers generally speak highly of their Tauck river cruise experiences, pointing to the exceptional level of organization and spacious, luxurious accommodations. Others said they were underwhelmed for the price.

Aerial of Emerald Cruises river cruise ship on river in Urbar, Germany.

Getty Images

Number of passengers: 84 to 180 Sails to:  Europe, Asia

Previously known as Emerald Waterways, Emerald Cruises transports travelers across some of the most popular rivers in Europe and Asia, including the Danube, the Rhine, the Douro and the Mekong.

What to expect: The cruise fare covers all meals, beverages with lunch and dinner, daily shore excursions − which include more physically rigorous options called EmeraldACTIVE – Wi-Fi access and gratuities.

Emerald operates nine river vessels, all of which boast luxurious public spaces and accommodations with en suite bathrooms and flat-screen TVs. Common-area amenities span heated indoor pools, sun decks, spa and wellness facilities, and a variety of eateries. Onboard fitness classes are available, as are other forms of entertainment. On shore, cruisers can borrow bicycles to explore historic city centers.

Typical clientele aboard Emerald Cruises' voyages includes American and British passengers around retirement age, though some younger travelers may make an appearance as well. Children 12 and older are permitted on board and on tours, but there are no kids clubs or designated activities for younger cruisers. Special rooms and dinner reservations are available for solo travelers.

What travelers say: Cruisers on recent sailings – especially first-time sailors – enjoyed their experiences on Emerald Cruises. High points included the attentive crew members and the stress-free booking and planning process. However, some felt that customer service and communication were subpar.

Interior of guest cabin on Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours river cruise ship.

Gillies Zaiser | Courtesy of Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

Number of passengers: 68 to 163 Sails to: Europe, Asia

From the Danube to the Mekong, Australian travel company Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours offers lavish, all-inclusive river sailings with an emphasis on customization. The more upscale sister brand of Emerald Cruises, Scenic affords travelers the opportunity to do as much or as little as they want while on board and ashore.

What to expect: Enrichment activities are hand-picked by the line's "Journey Designers," and vessels provide a top-notch level of service thanks to their high crew-to-passenger ratios. In fact, each passenger receives a designated butler who can complete nightly turndowns and make laundry arrangements, among other tasks.

Spacious suites on board are larger than those on most other riverboats (ranging from 160 to 510 square feet). High-tech balcony controls allow lodgers to let in as much air as they'd like with the touch of a button. Cruisers will also enjoy special in-room touches like pillow menus, slippers and robes.

When it comes to dining, Scenic sources local ingredients and culinary inspiration from the ports visited on the itinerary to provide an authentic experience. All meals are included in the base cruise fare, along with beverages, gratuities, Wi-Fi access, shore excursions and electric bicycle usage in select destinations.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers were pleased with their experiences aboard Scenic's vessels, praising the spacious cabins, pampering butler service, and knowledgeable crew members and tour guides. However, some travelers were particularly disappointed with the food.

Side view of CroisiEurope Cruises river cruise ship.

Helwin Goetzinger | Courtesy of CroisiEurope

Number of passengers: 22 to 200 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa

CroisiEurope is a family-run French cruise line that has been in business since 1976. This line has more than 50 ships and barges that sail to countries around the world, including Egypt, Cambodia and Spain . Unusual in river cruising, the line operates two custom-built ships that sail on Lake Kariba in southern Africa. Additionally, CroisiEurope has a division that sells barge cruises throughout France on six different canals, such as Burgundy or Provence.

What to expect: CroisiEurope is known for its wide range of destinations and is one of the only river cruise lines that operates custom-built ships on Germany 's Elbe river, the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers in Spain and Portugal, and Venice 's canals. Onboard accommodations are relatively basic, which keeps the cruise fare to a budget-friendly minimum. The cruise line aims to provide the best value for money in the cruise industry. Cuisine is focused on French food with some local flair in the main dining room, which is included in the cruise fare.

The passenger mix on a CroisiEurope cruise is relatively international, featuring large contingencies from France, Germany, the U.K. and North America. Announcements are typically given in both French and English. The cruise line sees a mix of older couples and groups as well as younger families, depending on the itinerary and time of year.

What travelers say: Several cruisers echoed that some of CroisiEurope's river ships are due for a refurbishment and that internet connectivity leaves a lot to be desired, while others maintain that the experience was superb.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Size: River cruise ships are smaller in size and the number of passengers they can accommodate, with one lounge and one main dining room being a typical setup.
  • Atmosphere: The overall vibe on a river cruise is more relaxed and far less busy than that of an ocean liner.
  • Onboard entertainment: River cruising is notoriously sleepy at night, with a focus instead on local enrichment like cooking demonstrations or liqueur tastings. Due to the busy schedule of port calls and excursions, most passengers are tired after a long day of sightseeing and don't mind a lack of nightlife.
  • Excursions: Most of your time on a river cruise is spent out exploring the destinations, which can sometimes be two stops in a single day. Passengers can choose from a variety of activities in port – including biking, kayaking and hiking – or explore the destination at a leisurely pace.
  • Cuisine: Cuisine tends to be focused on local specialties but is prepared to accommodate predominantly American tastes. Not every river cruise line offers unlimited drinks, but the majority include beer and wine at lunch and dinner, often showcasing regional varieties.
  • Price: River cruising typically comes at a much higher price point than ocean-based itineraries.
  • American Queen

Note that inclusions can vary by cruise line. For example, Viking rates – while not fully all-inclusive – cover beer and wine at meals and one tour per day, while gratuities and other drink packages are left to the discretion of the guest.

Avalon Waterways, on the other hand, offers a number of included tours in every port on select itineraries that range from cultural or culinary-focused to active.

In terms of inclusions and service ratios (the number of crew on board to guests), the following river cruise lines are considered the most luxurious:

You might also be interested in:

  • The Top Cruises on Small Ships
  • The Top Adults-Only Cruises
  • The Best Cruise Insurance Plans
  • The Best Annual Travel Insurance Plans
  • The Best Travel Insurance for Seniors and Retirees

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11 Best River Cruise Itineraries to Book in 2023 and 2024

By Paris Wilson

11 Best River Cruise Itineraries to Book in 2023 and 2024

All products featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The best river cruises have always had a mystique to draw travelers in—even those who are new to cruising. For history buffs, they could be an excellent way to visit ancient sites or historical landmarks. For those that love the outdoors, river journeys are a way to experience the natural landscape of the dream destinations. This year, the river cruise market has been anticipating more travel, so consider booking these once-in-a-lifetime voyages as early as you can. 

Here, we’ve highlighted 11 of the most exciting river cruise itineraries to book for this year and next—from Amazonian expeditions to kid-friendly European voyages , these cruises have something for every kind of traveler.

Colombia's Magdalena River with Amawaterways

Amawaterways is now accepting reservations for its highly anticipated cruises on Colombia's Magdalena River departing from both Cartagena and Barranquilla in 2024. Both seven-day itineraries explore Colombia's rich musical and cultural history, along with a chance to experience the country's natural wonders and local cuisine. Amawaterways is the first major river cruise line to highlight Colombia’s beauty with these types of voyages. Ship amenities are plentiful, as both vessels feature staterooms with balconies, a main restaurant, a fitness center with three spa treatment rooms, and a sun deck with a relaxing whirlpool.

Family river cruises on the Danube and Rhine with Emerald

Emerald is opening up two of its Europe river itineraries to younger guests, with  kid-friendly menus and exciting onboard activities such as video games, movies, and tournaments. Children must be 10 years old or older to take part in Emerald’s kid-friendly voyages. Both itineraries have been modified and feature destinations the whole family can enjoy. The Danube Explorer includes stops in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary . While the Jewels of the Rhine explores the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Switzerland.

Mississippi River Cruises with Viking

Float down the mighty Mississippi with Viking's first U.S. voyages. Featuring five different itineraries with stops in New Orlean s, Memphis, and St. Paul, you’ll explore the French Quarter, enjoy authentic Memphis barbecue, and get an up-close look at America’s national bird, the bald eagle. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Viking is offering special fares, reduced airfare and a$25 deposit on select voyages.

Black history and culture in France with Amawaterways

During Amawaterways' Black History cruise, guests aboard the AmaKristina will sail through the South of France along the Rhone River. The journey from Arles to Lyon will include stops in Avignon, Viviers, Tournon, and Vienne. After arriving in Lyon, passengers will stay in Paris for an exclusive guided tour showcasing jazz, food, and wine, all while shining a light on Black heritage.

Amazon River voyages with Seabourn

Journeying through the Amazon's small channel of the Boca dos Botos, Seabourn's expedition team, will immerse you in the region's one-of-a-kind ecosystem. The three itineraries are broken up into regions: Flooded Forests and Blackwater Tributaries; The Frontier Amazon; and The Peruvian Amazon. Each major region exemplifies a new, unique environment that differs from the next. Take in the natural beauty of the flora and fauna as you share space with sloths, howler monkeys, and more. 

Christmas markets in Europe with Scenic

Scenic Cruises is amping up the holiday cheer with six itineraries this November and December. Each city will showcase a unique Christmas experience as you stop in Amsterdam , Munich, Paris, and Prague, just to name a few of the festive ports in store. It will be a holiday like no other as you dock at quaint riverside villages aglow in fairy lights. Walk over the cobblestones with mulled wine in hand while you browse handmade goods and enjoy festive treats and age-old traditions.

Viking's Nile River Cruises

Follow the footsteps of the ancient Egyptians with Viking's voyages down the Nile . Delve into the history of those that called Cairo home, built the Pyramids, and looked upon the great Sphinx. With stops in Luxor, Quena, and Esna before docking in Aswan—it’s a timeless voyage you won’t want to miss. As part of Viking’s anniversary sale, a $25 deposit is applicable for this booking. 

India’s Golden Triangle aboard Uniworld

Immerse yourself in India’s “Golden Triangle”—Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra. The 10-day itinerary features visits to the Taj Mahal, Rajbari temple complex, and Mother Teresea’s home. While en route, you’ll enjoy meals created with fresh ingredients, take part in welcome and farewell gala dinners, and have complimentary house wine, local spirits and beer, soft drinks, and tea served throughout your voyage. 

Portugal's Douro River with Scenic 

Experience the past and present of Portugal as you travel through the Douro River Valley. The river flows from Spain to the Northern Portuguese countryside, which is known for its wine production. Five different tours are being offered with stops in Lisbon , Porto, Madrid, and Salamanca. Passengers will have the chance to explore charming villages, see the Palace Duques de Bragança, kayak along the Pinhão River, and sample delicacies of the region. Plus, every stateroom aboard Scenic's ship comes with private butler service to ensure the journey is truly stress free.

Aqua Expeditions Mekong River cruise

Along with visits to bustling cities like Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City , Aqua Expeditions' Mekong River cruises also visits serene ports in the countryside. Imagine kayaking to floating villages, watching silk weavers at work, and biking to village markets. Beyond the beautiful sights in Cambodia and Vietnam, the ship, Aqua Mekong , is a marvel in itself. The vessel has 20 suites that feature full-length windows and onboard amenities include a cinema, top deck plunge pool, and sun deck with lounge chairs and cabanas. If you book a river cruise between now and 2025, you can receive 30 percent off your voyage.

9 best river cruises in Europe

Fran Golden

River cruising in Europe is one of those delightfully slow and easy modes of travel. You're in a small floating hotel, exploring calm inland waters, gliding past castles and vineyards and scenery that changes by the hour.

Daily escorted walking tours and other excursions provided by the river line take you to key UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other city and village attractions you've come to see. Or you can choose to explore on your own, which is easy since your ship often will dock right in town.

Lazy afternoons on the ship afford the time to sit in a lounge chair and watch the world go by — kids swimming from the riverbanks, farmers tending their crops, river birds flapping their wings — as you glide to your next destination.

Which European river should you explore? The choices are broader than you might expect.

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter .

The main rivers in Europe are the Danube and the Rhine and their tributaries. They are, by far, the most popular, doable either on one-week segments or longer itineraries that combine areas and sometimes combine rivers. Even if your cruise is only a week, don't underestimate the allure of relaxing for seven days on a river in France or on the dreamy Douro in Portugal.

Here are the best river cruises in Europe.

Upper Danube

reviews river cruises

When it comes to Europe river cruises, a perfect seven-night starter sailing is the Upper Danube, which takes you through centuries of history as you explore Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.

Ships visit such cultural hubs as Vienna, with its opera and art museums and elaborate royal palaces, and Budapest, Hungary, with its magnificent architecture and modern vibe. If your ship passes the Hungarian Parliament building at night, you're in for a treat; magnificently lit, it's one of the most photographed sights on the river.

Along the route, between Melk and Krems in Austria, you cruise through the Wachau Valley, a key wine-growing region producing rieslings and gruner veltliners, with sipping opportunities available. It's also a great place to bike, which is why it's nice to sail with lines, such as AmaWaterways , that carry bikes on board for passengers to use.

You might also have the option of a side trip to Salzburg, Austria, the birthplace of Mozart — and also where several scenes for the movie "Sound of Music" were filmed. A surprise for many is Old Town Bratislava, Slovakia, which might not have been on your must-do list but which charms with its beer culture and castles.

Related: Booking your first river cruise? Here's what you need to know.

Lower Danube

reviews river cruises

For a deep dive into Eastern Europe's past and present, the fascinating Lower Danube route between Budapest and Bucharest, Romania, explores history from the medieval times and Victorian era of Dracula to the rise of communism and the Bosnian War.

The seven-night river cruise takes you through Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. The most beautiful stretch of the river is a 62-mile passage through a gorge between the Balkan and Carpathian Mountains. It's also one of the deepest stretches of river in the world.

Other sights accessed on shore excursions via bus include Bulgaria's Belogradchik Rocks, which are naturally carved towering red rock pinnacles that appear to take forms such as "Madonna with child," and Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria's stunning medieval capital.

reviews river cruises

When it comes to top cruising rivers in Europe, the Rhine wins for natural beauty and fairytale landscapes. A cruise on the river between Amsterdam in The Netherlands, and Basel, Switzerland — a typical one-week route — takes you past expanses of slope-side vineyards, forests and mountains, historic cities and medieval half-timbered villages.

That's even before you get to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This 40-mile stretch of river, between Rudesheim and Koblenz, Germany, has castles galore — you might imagine Rapunzel letting down her hair — and Lorelei Rock, the legendary cliff said to distract sailors with the mesmerizing song of a maiden.

The French city of Strasbourg, with its famous Gothic cathedral and robust Alsatian culinary scene, is often a favorite stop on Rhine itineraries, with other highlights including Heidelberg, Germany, and its imposing castle.

Related: Christmas market river cruises: What to expect on a holiday sailing

reviews river cruises

Sure, you can catch sight of the Eiffel Tower when boarding a river ship in Paris, but you can do that while staying in a hotel, too. The real attractions of a Seine River cruise are sailing on the river outside the city toward the English Channel and a visit to the beaches in Normandy for a perspective on World War II.

Your visit there and to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, as well as other memorials and monuments to the fallen, is a poignant experience (one that requires a two-hour bus ride from your ship, however). Avalon Waterways brings a World War II expert on board to add insight on select sailings.

Other treasures exist along the Seine, not the least of which is Giverny, the home and gardens of impressionist artist Claude Monet. If you are a fan of his art, much of the property might seem familiar.

In historic Rouen, where Joan of Arc was martyred in the Middle Ages, stop by the Rouen Cathedral (another subject of Monet) before losing yourself on cobblestone streets with wonderful cafes.

Related: River cruise packing list: What to pack when traveling by riverboat

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Bordeaux river cruises are different from other water routes because you explore two short waterways — the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers — and the Gironde Estuary in Southwest France.

You'll spend more time ashore than floating down the river on this itinerary, with your ship docked for two nights in the city of Bordeaux, a mini-Paris with grand 18th-century buildings. Who cares when you are in the epicenter of French culture, in one of the most celebrated wine regions in the world?

Bordeaux serves up the opportunity to sip Medoc, Margaux, Saint-Emilion, Pomerol and Sauternes wines as you expand your wine education. You'll visit vineyards and gorgeous chateaus. Your cruise line might even host a dinner at a wine estate one evening. If you plan your cruise for September or October, you'll be able to admire the grape harvest.

Related: The 5 best cruise lines for solo travelers

Rhone and Saone

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Another must for wine-lovers is exploring the interior of France, sipping Cotes du Rhone in such famous winemaking regions as Hermitage and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in Provence and Beaune in Burgundy.

Rhone and Saone River cruises typically sail between Lyon and Arles or Avignon, and they're top-loaded with such non-wine attractions as the Roman aqueduct Pont du Gard and the Roman Arles Amphitheater, as well as the massive Palais des Papes (Papal Palace) in Avignon. You'll also be able to take in the lavender fields, haystacks and other scenes that inspired painters like Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh.

reviews river cruises

For a lazy, dreamy, wonderful river cruise experience, nothing quite beats exploring the wine regions of Portugal on the Douro, one of the major rivers through the Iberian Peninsula. The home base for these river cruises is Porto, Portugal, with its historic city center, spectacular bridges and port houses.

On one-week cruises, you'll follow the river 130 miles past green hillside vineyards in the Douro River Valley, a UNESCO-recognized destination, before turning around at the Spanish border. The river cruises typically include a visit to the university town of Salamanca in northern Spain. Viticulture is very much the lesson en route, as you learn about port production on the "River of Gold."

Related: 5 cruise lines to try if you just can't stand being around kids on vacation

reviews river cruises

Due to fluctuating water levels and narrow passages, the Elbe is a challenging river that runs 680 miles between the Czech Republic and Germany. Historically, it formed part of the border between East Germany and West Germany.

River cruising here is a rare experience. Viking River Cruises is one of the few lines that visits (another is the French line CroisiEurope), offering 10-day itineraries that combine hotel stays in the cities of Berlin and Prague with a stretch of river between Prague and Wittenburg, Germany.

The cruises are on ships built specifically for the Elbe route. They stop in places such as resurgent Dresden, heavily bombed during World War II but expertly rebuilt; the Saxon Switzerland region of Germany with its striking sandstone rock formations; and the spa town of Bad Schandau.

reviews river cruises

The Po River in northern Italy is tidal, making it another challenging waterway. However, it affords the opportunity to combine a visit to Venice with a river cruise. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises does the Po in high style with its 126-passenger S.S. La Venizia, completely decked out with a sense of place, from Fortuny fabrics and Murano glass to its gilded accents.

The one-week route doesn't take you far but does include the walled city of Padua, the charming fishing village of Chioggia, and the culinary mecca of Bologna.

For those looking for a longer experience, Uniworld cleverly combines a Po cruise with luxury rail journeys to places like Istanbul, Switzerland and beyond.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

  • The 5 most desirable cabin locations on any cruise ship
  • A beginner's guide to picking a cruise line
  • The 8 worst cabin locations on any cruise ship
  • A quick guide to the most popular cruise lines
  • 21 tips and tricks that will make your cruise go smoothly
  • 15 ways cruisers waste money
  • 12 best cruises for people who never want to grow up
  • The ultimate guide to what to pack for a cruise


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  1. River Cruise Reviews

    My River Cruise Reviews. I’ve been on more than 50 river cruises during the past decade, and on each of those cruises, I’ve written some sort of review. The review may have taken the form of a video, or it may have been presented as an article with photos here on River Cruise Advisor.

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