When it comes to European river cruising, the upper Danube and Rhine are invariably the ones first time cruisers will sail. And with good reason. Both are wonderful rivers to explore. With distinct personalities, you will find big cities, quaint villages, history, culture, food, beer, wine, and so much more, whichever river you choose.
With that popularity though, means more ships on these rivers to accommodate the huge interest. Undoubtedly still a wonderful small ship experience, but if you've "been there done that", you may want to check out these lesser traveled, less crowded yet exceptional options in Europe.
For the explorer at heart, you won't be disappointed.
The Douro River, Portugal's River of Gold, is approximately 557 miles long and flows from northern Spain through north-eastern Portugal into the Atlantic Ocean. The Douro Valley, the birthplace of Port wine, is one of the most beautiful regions in the world to visit, with its windy canyons, steep hillsides filled with vineyards, quaint old world villages and natural beauty.
A cruise on the Douro is perfect for wine connoisseurs wanting to experience the region’s most well known beverage, and those wanting to discover Europe’s best-kept secret, with its spellbinding natural beauty and cultural heritage. Along with visits to regional vineyards and picturesque towns, one also ventures into Spain to visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Salamanca.
The Elbe River originates in the Krkonose (Giant) mountains of the Czech Republic and flows north into Germany, eventually dumping into the North Sea by Cuxhaven.
The highlights of this cruise are most notably Prague, Dresden and Berlin, and offers a wonderful view into the former East Germany. History in the region dates back to the 800's, the cities are enchanting, the royal palaces beyond beautiful. Lover's of architecture will experience Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance style. Ever changing landscapes and scenery along the way, including the Saxon Switzerland National Park.
Historic towns along the river include Wittenberg, where Dr. Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation, Meissen, world famous for its fine porcelain, and Dessau, heart of the Bauhaus movement.
Saxony is also known as Germany's boutique wine region. which dates back over 800 years. The country's smallest wine region, it has approximately 20 wineries. Some of Germany's finest and most coveted wines are produced here, but with high demand and low production they can be hard to come by.
The Lower Danube
Most travelers start/end their Danube cruise in Budapest. But so much more is to be seen when traveling further. The Lower Danube itineraries sail between Budapest and the Romanian capital of Bucharest, taking you through former Eastern Bloc countries, including Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and out to the Black Sea's Danube Delta.
Experience capital cities. some of the region's oldest towns dating back to the 1100's, Hungary's paprika growing area and scenic marvels, including the famous Iron Gates between Serbia and Romania, with the likeness of King Decebalus carved into the rocks.
A highlight of this itinerary is Europe's second largest and best preserved delta, teeming with Europe's highest concentration of bird colonies, with some 300 species calling the delta their home.
The Main River is the longest tributary of the Rhine River and the longest river lying entirely in Germany. It connects to the Danube through the Main-Danube canal - a stretch of 106 miles between Bamberg and Regensburg. This modern marvel allows for river cruise travel from the North Sea to the Black Sea.
Quaint, quiet, quintessential - the Main has a relaxed tone, but with plenty to keep you interested and busy. Top sites include Bamberg, a town that dates back to the 9th century and is now a UNESCO site, and Wurzburg, a glamorous Baroque city and the Franconian wine capital of Bavaria. From here you can also explore the lovely town of Rothenberg ob der Tauber, the best preserved medieval town in all of Germany.
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder