The Rhine and Upper Danube Rivers are the most popular European river cruise itineraries, for many reasons. Quintessential Europe, including castles, vineyards, quaint towns, Hapsburg era palaces and iconic capitals. So much to see.
But if you are looking for something different, a bit off the beaten path with fewer tourists, consider a cruise along the Lower Danube. Cruising between Budapest and Bucharest (you dock in Giurgiu) is a special itinerary - a chest full of unexpected treasures.
Off the south eastern coast of Greece lie some of the most stunning islands of the Aegean Sea – the Cyclades Islands. Meaning “encircling”, the archipelago is named such because they form a rough circle around the island of Delos, the legendary birthplace of Zeus’ children, twins Artemis and her brother Apollo. As stated on the Visit Greece tourism site, Delos is the head priest of the Cyclades, the birthplace of immortals. Delos is not a museum. It is not there to tell a story. It is history itself.
France - a land rich in history, art, wine, great food and delightful people. These are a few of the reasons that draw us to this wonderful part of Europe. If you are thinking about a river cruise, the lines that sail the region have done an exceptional job weaving these experiences into their itineraries.
Which river to choose? Despite some similarities, each of these five waterways have unique personalities., which, depending on what you'd like to experience, should help you choose one or at least narrow down the choices.
Still can't decide? Choose one that best matches your dates and budget AND GO! You'll enjoy the experience no matter which area you choose.
Located in the middle of Europe, Austria is one of the continent's most compelling countries. With a history full of famous musicians, renowned artists, an abundance of breathtaking scenery and architecture, Austria is an enchanting country to visit.
The city of Mozart, Salzburg, is one of Austria's little gems. While you can imagine yourself exploring the set of the Sound of Music (and maybe even singing a few tunes), Salzburg has many more wonderful experiences, making this a popular excursion from a Danube cruise.
Here are some of the top things to do:
Sometimes a rail trip is just what is needed to thoroughly enjoy the scenic surrounds. No driving, no constant stopping to get that photo, travel through areas where roads don't or can't go. Sit back in luxury, relax and enjoy the ever changing scenery and wildlife (instead of watching the road).
10 epic train adventures to inspire you:
There is a saying in German: “Wenn schon, den schon.” It basically means “Let’s go whole hog.” Or “All In.”
When it comes to cruise travel, I often encourage you to take advantage of already being in a region by adding on time for deeper discovery, deeper immersion. One easy way to do this – adding time before and after your cruise in the ports where your cruise starts or ends. A second way, adding time to discover more of the immediate region (or even a bit further away). For example, adding the Loire Valley to a Bordeaux or Seine cruise, or taking the Eurostar to London when ending in Amsterdam or Paris. A third way – extending your cruises from the traditional week to two, three and even six weeks.
Now that’s what I would call “Going whole hog”!
The Bordeaux wine region in Southwest France is a perfect pairing for river cruising, wine lovers and culture seekers alike. So while you are here, why not continue your wine, culinary and culture experiences with a visit to the Loire Valley and San Sebastian and Bilboa before or after your Bordeaux cruise?
Have you ever wondered about the difference between Holland and the Netherlands? The official name of the country is the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which is made up of 12 provinces. The two provinces of Noord- and Zuid-Holland together make up Holland. However, most people just say Holland when they are referring to the Netherlands.
An endlessly photogenic destination, Cesky Krumlov is one of South Bohemia’s most famous cities. Known for its narrow cobblestoned streets, castle towers and historic city center, these sites have captured the attention of many visitors for centuries.
The Maltese Islands – Malta, Gozo and Comino - are located in the Mediterranean Sea between the northern African coast and Sicily. These idyllic islands are abundant with rich culture, history, magnificent landscapes and over 300 days of sunshine.
In other words, plenty of reasons to visit. Following are 10 top experiences not to miss.
While not necessarily the first river that comes to mind, the Moselle River is a picture-perfect backdrop for any trip and can hold a lot of appeal for a seasoned river cruiser. While some of the destinations along this waterway are pivotal trade hubs, you won’t find any of the industrial hardware that can clutter the ports of other rivers.
With lush terraced vineyards, fairy-tale castles and villages, half-timbered houses and rolling hills crowned with ancient castles, the Moselle Valley is rich with all the right ingredients for a romantic holiday.
River cruising is a wonderful way to experience Europe – for many many reasons. Immersing yourself in the heart of the country, visiting iconic cities, quaint towns and villages, experiencing new foods…. All true on every river cruise in Europe. And visiting UNESCO sites are always weaved into the itineraries.
Seeing wildlife in their natural habitats can be a life changing, soul stirring experience, not only for animal lovers but all types of curious and adventurous travelers.
Wildlife themed itineraries are best experienced in small group settings – whether they be private or small group land tours or small ship cruises, taking you into areas less visited, less accessible. Small groups lend themselves perfectly to a better learning environment while contributing to the conservation and protection of species. Sustainable tourism - the best way.
Following are 7 top itinerary picks – one on every continent. Photo credit above: Lindblad Expeditions
Budapest is a fascinating city with incredible history. Its roots date back to the Roman times and even earlier; modern Budapest dates back to 19th and 20th centuries when it was part of the Austria-Hungary empire and while under Soviet rule for 45 years, which ended in 1991. Today the city is a thriving metropolis, drawing in tourists from all over the world, many arriving or departing on a river cruise.
A few fun facts about the Czech Republic:
Basque country – an autonomous region located in northwest Spain and south west France – is filled with breathtaking coastal vistas, colorful villages and cities scattered throughout the green countryside.
Spain’s Basque country stretches from the popular beachfront city of San Sebastian (seen above) to Bilbao in the west and Vitoria-Gasteiz and the Rioja region in the south.
Basque country is often added as an extension to Spain and France trips, and I’m seeing cruise lines adding port stops here too. Vibrant, lively, spicy and diverse are just a few ways to describe the top 4 reasons to visit this beautiful region.
A question I get quite often from my cruise clients is whether or not to take a cruise excursion while in port or go at it independently. My answer depends on the port of call, if my clients have been to the port before and how comfortable they are exploring on their own. (Note: As of this writing, many cruises are on hold and excursions must be taken through the cruise line. This article assumes we will have options to book our own excursions or explore independently in the near future.)
Cruising the rivers of France is such a delight, each offering very different experiences. When thinking of the Bordeaux region, it’s all about food, wine and all the beautiful châteaux. On the Seine, history, World War II and art are highlighted, and on the Saône and Rhône rivers it’s about gastronomy, history, architecture.
Experiences on the Saône and Rhône rivers are often more focused on the Rhône, Lyon and Provence, so when I was introduced to the Burgundy region of the Saône, I found it so delightful I just had to share the insights with you.
Bavaria, Germany's largest state, is home to spectacular events, great cities, fairy tale castles, two national parks and 8 UNESCO world heritage sites. And that's just the beginning.
Bavaria is a breath-taking region, and a perfect journey to add before or after a Danube river cruise. Take a look at a few of Bavaria's highlights along with several tour ideas.
Searching for a different type of vacation experience? Maybe a unique trip for a family reunion or simply a group of friends? Time to truly unwind and unplug with like minded travelers?
A luxury barge cruise experience could be just the ticket!
Photo courtesy of European Waterways
These days there are cruise themes for many different interests: Golf, art, photography, World War II history, cultural heritage, gardening, beer, and yes, wine. Wine themed cruises have been around for several years and have become quite popular. Exclusive access to vineyards, winemakers, special talks and tastings one normally doesn't have access to plus all the normal excursions. A perfect pairing!
Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city behind Moscow, was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great. Because of his love of Holland, he included many beautiful canals and bridges (342 of them) in the design, which is why the city is now also known as Venice of the North.
Beyond the canals though is a city rich in history, culture, art, beautiful gardens and so much more. It’s a popular stop for both Baltic cruises and river cruises between Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Here are 8 treasures not to miss while visiting this fascinating place.
Over 10,000 waterfalls, 130 volcanoes (30 active), 800 hot springs, 269 named glaciers and a population of 334,00 fun and friendly residents, all in an area smaller than the state of Kentucky. This is Iceland.
If you love open spaces and nature mixed with a little adventure (or a lot), then a visit here might just be for you, because Iceland can be simply described in one word -
To really experience all that Iceland has to offer, you need 7-10 days to explore the country. But if you only have a few days (maybe you are on a stopover to/from Europe or you are on a cruise), day trips in and from Reykjavik will have you leaving with WOW memories.
My top suggestions include the following:
Faial - The Blue Island, known for its hydrangeas
The Azores - truly an under the radar hidden gem of a destination and just 4 hours flying from Boston.
Often described as the Atlantic's version of Hawaii, this archipelago of 9 beautiful and unique islands covers an area of approximately 386,000 square miles. An autonomous region of Portugal, it is full of pristine and natural beauty, unique scenery, quaint fishing villages, historical centers and so much more.
In Central and Eastern Europe, you’ll find some of the most spectacular landscapes, architecture — castles, churches and war memorials—as well as some of the most colorful, inviting cultures in the world. But what is the best way to see it all? On a river cruise, of course!
Here's what you'll experience on a sample Danube itinerary.
Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder