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The Top 6 Most Popular River Cruises to Take in Europe

The European continent is characterized by its iconic rivers. From the Danube to the Douro to the Rhine, these rivers form the network through which the economic and cultural lifeblood of Europe until recently depended. Today, taking a river cruise along some of these hallowed bodies of freshwater will take you through some of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful cities.

The river cruise has long been one of the best ways to see the sights for any US travelers in Europe. If you are planning on booking a river cruise soon, you should be aware that visa application is set to undergo a major overhaul starting from January 2021. As of this date, you will be required to apply for the new ETIAS visa waiver scheme to gain permission for a 90-day stay. You can consult this excellent ETIAS visa guide to check whether you are eligible for the scheme.

Once you have your paperwork in place, it is time to start thinking about which river cruise you will go for. The possibilities are endless, but read on for a list of the five most popular cruises among foreign tourists.

1. Danube Cruises

The Danube is Europe’s second-longest river, stretching from its source in southern Germany all the way to the Black Sea. On the way, the river passes through no fewer than ten different countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine and Romania). There are lots of tours currently running on different sections of the river, ranging from budget to luxury. The route will take you past some of the continent’s most beautiful Eastern European cities, such as Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Bratislava.  

2. Elbe Cruises

Another commonly traveled route is along the River Elbe that traces a route northwest from the Czech Republic to its mouth in Denmark. The Elbe is born to the south of the Krkonoše Mountains near the border of the Czech Republic and Poland, growing to become one of the most important waterways in Central Europe. Cruises run from Prague to Hamburg, stopping in five cities along the route. Among these cities are Meissen, which is famous for its fine porcelain, and Dresden, where you can stop off to see the majestic Seper Opera House as well as the Zwinger Palace. 

3. Rhine Cruises

From is source deep in the Swiss Alps, the Rhine flows northward to meet the sea at its end in the Netherlands. You can take a cruise that will carry you from Germany’s mountainous Black Forest region past the lush wine region of Cologne to the gem that is the Dutch city of Amsterdam. One the way you will pass a fantastic array of fascinating historical sites, and if you go in the right season, you can catch the tulip fields in bloom in northern Holland.

4. Rhône Cruises

A cruise along the Rhône will take you through some of the most charming cities in France. Cruises usually start in Lyon or Avignon, taking revelers past some of France’s most significant landmarks, some of which date back to Roman times. The majority of the route winds through the Provence region, known for its incredible wines and landscapes which have inspired some of the best work of artists such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Picasso.

5. Seine Cruises

The magnificent Seine famously flows through the center of Paris as it snakes its way through France’s bucolic northern regions. Having passed many of the most infamous battlegrounds from the World Wars, the river finally empties its load into the English Channel. Most cruises will include trips to the Normandy beaches that played host to the D-Day Landings in 1944.

6. Douro Cruises

From its source in northeastern Spain, the Douro River gathers force on its way across the Iberian Peninsula toward the Atlantic Ocean at Porto. Its name roughly translates as the “River of Gold”, and you can see why when the light strikes the water as sunset approaches. A cruise along the Douro River will take you past some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the whole world as well as several UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

There are few better ways to take in the sights and sounds of Europe than from atop the deck of a luxurious river cruise ship. As you watch the world go by in the company of your nearest and dearest and a glass of wine on one of the cruises described above, the wonders of the European continent will begin to reveal themselves to you in a way that they never could have had you taken another kind of trip.