Best European River Cruises

Plan a memorable European river cruise with the help of AAA Travel Agents.

Prague panorama with Old Town Bridge Tower and Charles bridge over Vltava river at sunset, Czech Republic iStock

If you’ve always dreamed of seeing the picturesque view of the glittering Eiffel Tower in Paris or the majestic windmills of Amsterdam from the water, then a European river cruise is for you. There’s a reason river cruise ships are thought of as floating hotels. It’s because you’ll experience the best way to explore inland Europe, with spectacular views, lavish accommodations and unparalleled access.

Here’s your guide to the cruise lines, routes and destinations so you can find the European river cruise that’s right for you.

Benefits of river cruising

People love to experience Europe on a cruise ship for many reasons. The smaller ships used for river cruises can access canals that larger cruise ships can’t. While ocean liners only have access to ocean ports on Europe’s coasts, the smaller longships of river cruises are sized specifically for traveling the interior rivers of Europe and providing up-close and personal views of the continent.

While many ocean cruises charge for extra amenities, river cruise fares offer more-inclusive pricing. Fares on river cruises typically include the basics, such as meals and accommodations, but they also often offer tours, entertainment and port-specific adventures.

The more intimate river cruise ships often provide a higher level of service, with a higher staff-to-guest ratios than typical ocean liners. This means you’ll often experience more personalized service from onboard staff.

River cruises are also more focused on destinations, often with less time on the water compared with ocean cruises. On a river cruise, you may visit one to two ports a day, with small-group tours included as part of your experience. River cruises also cap tour sizes to help create a more intimate onshore experience.

While many travelers enjoy the fact that a river cruise ship is smaller than an ocean liner, that doesn’t mean there will be a lack of things to do. Today’s river ships include amenities like miniature golf, movie theaters, spas and indoor and outdoor pools for guests to enjoy.

Popular cruise lines in the U.S.

Thinking about booking a river cruise in 2024 or beyond? Here are some of the best river cruise lines to consider. Read on to discover where each river cruise line sails, details about size and passenger counts, onboard amenities and more.

A Viking River Cruise vessel on the water in front of an old European building Courtesy of Viking

Viking Cruises

Viking Cruises accounts for half of all river cruises taken by North Americans. Viking Cruises ships sail on eight rivers throughout Europe, with various port and cruise-length options on each river. One important thing to note is that Viking Cruises sailings are only for those over 18 years of age, so travelers cruising with children or adolescents should look elsewhere.  

Couple on AmaWaterways river cruise standing in their cabin with twin balconies Amawaterways


AmaWaterways is known for its staterooms, which feature twin balconies, giving you gorgeous views from every room. The cruise line also offers cabins on several ships for solo travelers and families, making the line appealing to a broader audience. Another amenity from AmaWaterways: fleets of bikes that guests can borrow for solo or group excursions.

AmaWaterways specializes in onshore activities, hiring top local guides to show you destinations as you’ve never seen them before. The cruise line is also more upscale than Viking Cruises; the dress code is country club casual, and it’s recommended that guests pack a dressier outfit—something one might wear to a five-star restaurant—for the farewell dinner.


This boutique river cruise company offers luxury experiences onboard and onshore. Each ship offers luxury accommodations and gourmet panoramic restaurants. When anchored, guests enjoy the carefully curated sights, but it’s never hard to step back onto such a beautiful ship. Their average capacity is 120, so you’ll never be too crowded during the cruise.

A restaurant/bar area on the deck of a Tauck vessel Courtesy of Tauck


Tauck is a smaller river cruise line and boasts a fleet of nine smaller ships offering cruises ranging in size from 98 to 130 passengers per ship. Although Tauck’s ships are the same size as those of other river cruise lines, they sail with fewer passengers, so the common areas are less crowded and the cruise staff more accessible.

Tauck offers an all-inclusive cruising experience, including gratuities and giving cruisers money for shoreside meals, so you can expect prices to be higher than those of less-inclusive cruise lines.

Best European river cruise destinations and sights to see

There are many cities and ports to choose from for your next river cruise. Whether you’re looking to taste wines in Italy, climb the Alps in Switzerland or listen to Mozart in Vienna, here’s a guide to some of the European river cruise routes available to you.

View of the River Danube in Austria iStock

1. Danube River cruise

The Danube River starts in the mountains of the Black Forest in western Germany and flows for roughly 1,770 miles through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.

Danube River cruises are known for following some of the most scenic routes in Europe. Views include the rolling hills of Austria’s Wachau Valley; the city of Passau in Germany, where the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers converge; and the majestic Iron Gate rock passage along the Serbia-Romania border.

A Danube River cruise takes you through the heart of Europe. Routes along the Danube provide a perfect way to experience the iconic holiday markets and displays of Europe. Several cruise lines offer routes that include Budapest’s Christmas markets, a tour of Vienna’s stunning light displays and Germany’s oldest market, the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg.

Twilight view of the Main River in Frankfurt, Germany iStock

2. Main River cruise

The Main River, pronounced “mine,” originates in central Germany and flows west for 326 miles through the country. Longer itineraries often incorporate routes that include the Main, Danube, and Rhine rivers, which create a 2,200-mile waterway from the North Sea to the Black Sea.

Main River cruises give you a front-row seat to the beauties of Bavaria, Germany. You’ll pass by both small towns and large cities, including Frankfurt, Offenbach, Wertheim and Würzburg.

Highlights of this picturesque route include:

  • Nuremberg’s medieval Old Town
  • Bamberg’s 11th-century cathedral
  • Wertheim’s fairy-tale castle that overlooks the city center.
Laufenburg Old town on the Rhine iStock

3. Rhine Rive cruise

The Rhine River flows in Western Europe for 765 miles, from the Swiss Alps to the Netherlands. The banks of the Rhine are home to famous cities like Basel, Switzerland, and Cologne, Germany, as well as other lesser-known German gems, like Worms, one of the oldest cities in Europe, and Bonn, the birthplace of composer Beethoven.

You’ll find the most beautiful natural scenery of the Rhine River along a 90-mile stretch just south of Koblenz, Germany, where the Rhine cuts a winding gorge between the Hunsrück and Taunus mountains.

Aerial view of Seine River in Paris at Pont du Carrousel iStock

4. Seine River cruise

For a view of Paris you’ll never forget, put a Seine River cruise at the top of your list. Seine River cruises often begin and end in Paris, but travelers will make a loop around the spectacular City of Light to experience the culture and history of the area.

Every major river cruise line offers a Seine River cruise with varying itineraries and shore excursions, but there are a few iconic spots that shouldn’t be missed:

  • Paris: Explore all the city has to offer: the glittering lights of the Eiffel Tower, the iconic art of the Louvre, the history of the Paris Panthéon and the beauty of Notre Dame Cathedral.
  • Giverny: This town just outside of Paris is where you’ll find the home of famous impressionist artist Claude Monet. While there, you can see the garden that inspired his renowned water lily paintings.
  • Normandy Beach, located in the city of Bayeux, was where the legendary D-Day battle took place during World War II. The nearby Normandy American Cemetery is a sobering reminder of the lives lost on the Normandy beaches. On Omaha Beach, you’ll find the Les Braves (or The Braves in English) sculpture commemorating the courageous men landing on the beach.
Moselle Sinuosity in Trittenheim, Germany iStock

5. Moselle River cruise

The Moselle River is considered one of the best-kept secrets in river cruising. A tributary of the Rhine River, the Moselle winds 339 miles across northern France and western Germany. This beautiful route is a wine lover’s dream. The Moselle River is known for its growing regions that produce mostly white grape varieties. The area vineyards focus on Riesling grapes, but growers also produce Elbling and Müller-Thurgau varietals.

In addition to wine, the Moselle River is also known for its quiet villages and historic fortresses. Along the way, you won’t want to miss:

  • The Governor’s Palace in Metz, France—a remarkable castle with breathtaking grounds.
  • Koblenz, Germany, a Roman military post established in 9 B.C.
  • The majestic views of the Moselle from the Imperial Castle in Cochem, Germany.
Pont Saint Benezet bridge and Rhone river aerial panoramic view in Avignon iStock

6. Rhône River cruise

A Rhône River cruise gives you the views and experiences of a lifetime. This 505-mile river is typically associated with France, but it begins at the base of a glacier in the Alps of Switzerland. The river empties into Lake Geneva and then travels through the Jura Mountains and on to Provence, France, where it eventually meets the Mediterranean Sea near Marseille.

Rhône River cruise itineraries vary in length from seven to 21 days, and a typical route takes you from Avignon, France, to Lyon, France, providing all the sensory splendors the country has to offer. Along this route, expect to see the vineyards of Provence, fragrant purple lavender fields and lush olive groves.

This region is also a foodie’s paradise, so many cruise lines offer excursions to visit truffle farms as well as wine and chocolate tastings as typical cultural tours.

Aerial of the Porto city and Douro River in Portugal iStock

7. Douro River cruise

This is the southernmost route featured in our European river cruises guide—the Douro River on the Iberian Peninsula. This 556-mile river begins in Spain and travels through Portugal to empty into the Atlantic Ocean. Douro River cruises vary in length from seven to 14 days, depending on your route, and typically sail from Portugal to Spain.

Here are a few of the must-see destinations along the Douro River:

  • The beautiful city of Porto, Portugal, which is known as the City of Bridges, and its historic quarter, home to the cathedral and the Sāo Bento Railway Station.
  • The Santuário de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies), which sits at the top of a staircase of nearly 700 steps in the city of Lamego, Portugal.
  • The Palácio de Mateus in Régua, Portugal, one of the grandest palaces on the Iberian Peninsula.

The Douro River Valley is the oldest demarcated wine region—declared in 1756—and is where port wine is produced. The area, referred as the Alto Douro Wine Region, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its 2,000-plus years of winemaking. Cruising along the Douro River gives you spectacular views of terraced hillside vineyards, quaint towns and dramatic views of the Spanish and Portuguese countryside.

Book the best European river cruise with help from a AAA Travel Agent.

River cruises truly are an experience unlike any other. Call your AAA Travel Agent today to book your next European river cruise. When it comes to booking flights, sightseeing and excursions, your AAA Travel Agents can help you put together the best European river cruise itineraries to ensure that you experience the vacation of a lifetime.

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