Best European River Cruise Lines

Our European River Cruises Guide

Our European River Cruises Guide

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Specialist

I write all the time about Europe river cruises and their value.  If you take one, you will experience adventure and discovery of some of the great destinations of Europe.  The rivers were the roads of the past—an easy way to transport goods and trade with others—long before roads were built.  Because rivers were so important to humans, amazing sights, crops (especially vineyards) and towns developed around these vital transportation systems.

So, what do people want to know about European River Cruises?

I think they want to know:

1)  Why should they take a European River Cruise?

2) How does a Europe river cruise compare to an Ocean Cruise?

3) What are the best routes to go on?

4)  What European cruise line should they use for their vacation?

So, let’s get our answers to these questions—Ready?  Let’s go!

Why Take a European River Cruise?

Hard to Match any more excellent sights than the Rhine River Gorge Castles on the Rhine—it never gets old!

Hard to Match any more excellent sights than the Rhine River Gorge Castles on the Rhine—it never gets old!

A river cruise is, in our opinion, the best way to experience Europe--there is just so much to see!  The ships are small and comfortable, and the crew and staff are friendly.  Most river cruise lines have good food and wine.  Unlike ocean cruises, there is a clear upfront price that includes most of the expenses of the trip--food, wine & beer, excursions, accommodations, snacks, destination talks, free Wi-Fi, and usually local entertainment.  There are no inside cabins--all have a view.  With all that is included, it is a good value for the money!

Here is a list of my favorite reasons you should take a European river cruise:

  • A very spacious river cruise ship that has no more than 197 guests.

  • Pack and unpack only once during your 7 or more day cruise.

  • Sumptuous accommodations with every conceivable cabin amenity.

  • Incredible gourmet cuisine, much of which is prepared when you order it.

  • Complimentary wines, beers, sodas and bottled water.

  • Many have complimentary small-group sightseeing excursions in every port.

  • Some ships have a gym, sauna, massage, hairdresser, pool, free internet and free use of bicycles.

  • Daily free onboard evening entertainment (usually a piano player, sometimes local groups that come on board).

  • Complimentary in-cabin Internet, entertainment systems and free movies.

  • Dock right in the center of most towns and it takes only one minute to get on/off the ship.

  • Ability to see more of a region and experience the local culture in-depth.

  • A resort-casual onboard atmosphere – leave the formal wear at home.

  • All staterooms have a river view.

I think these are all great reasons to take a European river cruise!

How Does a Europe River Cruise Compare to an Ocean Cruise?

Seabourn Quest in port—great luxury ship

Seabourn Quest in port—great luxury ship

Maybe the best way to compare is to look at the advantages and disadvantages of each mode of transportation for your vacation.  Here is our list:

Ocean Cruise Advantages

  • Less Cost to get on ship than river cruise on some lines

  • More Ship On-Board Experiences

  • Multiple Dining Options

  • Includes room, food entertainment & visits to ports on itinerary

Ocean Cruise Disadvantages

  • Usually Extra Costs during cruise

  • Size—too many people?

  • Larger Distances between Ports

  • Shore Excursions cost extra

  • Could experience rough sailing conditions

A much smaller luxury rivership—holds 156 passengers—what a size difference between this vessel and an ocean cruise ship!

A much smaller luxury rivership—holds 156 passengers—what a size difference between this vessel and an ocean cruise ship!

River Cruise Advantages

  • Smaller, more contact with crew every day

  • A lot more chance to visit historic centers with minimum hassles—see more in less time

  • Mostly All inclusive—food, wine/beer, shore tours all included

  • Always something to see

River Cruise Disadvantages

  • Usually higher price than ocean cruise

  • Limited entertainment—no casino or big shows

  • People with mobility issues may have limits to participate in all activities

  • Could have high water/low water conditions which may restrict ability of rivership to navigate a river

We hope this gives you a good idea of the key differences between an ocean cruise on a larger ship and a river cruise on a smaller ship.

What Are the Best Routes to Go On for a European River Cruise?

Europe Rivers—you get to sail through countries instead of to a country on a big ocean cruise ship. Map courtesy of AmaWaterways

Europe Rivers—you get to sail through countries instead of to a country on a big ocean cruise ship. Map courtesy of AmaWaterways

Perhaps the best answer we could provide is to let you know about our blog and website page about the routes available for you to sail on.

Here is a short write up about the blog I wrote about Europe river cruise routes:

Summary--We are often ask “Which river should we sail on for my first Europe river cruise?”  My short answer is take multiple trips--I would sail on all of them!  However, the problem is that most of us don’t have unlimited time and money to sail them all.

So to solve this dilemma, here is our guide to the European River routes.  I will describe the river, point out a couple of highlights and why you might consider sailing on this river.  The routes may be very short or may cover larger distances.  While there are some variations, many lines essentially cruise the same route on the most popular European rivers.

Since most folks want to know what the best starting rivers are if they have never taken a European River cruise, by far the two most popular rivers are the Rhine and the Upper Danube, so let’s explore them first together.  Then will examine the remaining Europe Rivers you might want to consider for your vacation.

Ready?—Let’s cruise together!

Why it Matters?—river cruising is about the destinations and what you will get to see and experience on your European river cruise.  The wrong destination, or wrong theme can make the trip less valuable, or may even ruin your vacation.

What European Cruise Line Should They Use for Their Vacation?

Two great riverships rafted together—the AmaDolce of AmaWaterways and Uniworld’s River Royale—which is better for your vacation?

Two great riverships rafted together—the AmaDolce of AmaWaterways and Uniworld’s River Royale—which is better for your vacation?

I have written three great, detailed blogs about European cruise lines.  They should allow you to match the right vendor to you travel style and desired level of travel service and amenities.  Here is a summary of the three blogs and links, so you can learn more about this topic.

What is the Best River Cruise Company?

Summary--Perhaps the most often asked question from our clients about Europe river cruising is “What is the best Europe River Cruise Line?  It is almost always followed by: Why is it the best?

So, I googled best Europe river cruise company and got some really interesting results.  The results were all over the place—incomplete lists, reader polls, cruise critic best list(s), and two good river cruise authorities who have some well-reasoned lists.

Why such varied results?  I just don’t think you can create a best list without categories.  My preferred method is to compare all-inclusive river cruise lines together and then compare lines that may require extra costs.  I also think you have to look for how objective these lists are—the source, their qualifications to review river cruise lines and their reasons to rank one line over another.

Another key factor, in my opinion, is that all river cruises are good vacations and how valid is a best company list?—Does it have any real meaning?

Here is a key fact to support that argument—all of the 8 major lines I cover have good accommodations, free Wi-Fi, wine & beer with lunch and dinner, limited entertainment and tours included in their base fare.  At the very least, all river cruise companies are on par with premium ocean cruise companies and with a few exceptions include more than the ocean cruise lines.  

And, when you read my top 10 list below, you will see each of the 8 major lines I cover has at least one win somewhere on my lists.

Why it Matters—we all want the best trip possible and these comparisons and descriptions help you match your personal travel style to the European river cruise line that best matches your budget and desired level of comfort, while traveling in Europe to the many destinations available for your vacation.

River Cruise Vibes

Summary--I have wanted to write this blog for a long time.

Since 2009, I have studied Europe River cruising to try and learn all I could about the river cruise industry. A few industry experts have tried to make comprehensive comparisons of the different lines. Each has a slightly different approach.

We have taken a unique approach by creating a PowerPoint presentation. Our 86 slide 2019 Comparison Guide is very good but even that lacks one factor—the vibe of the line and its ships. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vibe as “the feeling that someone or something gives you.” So, here goes—my evaluation of the vibe or feeling you will get on 8 river cruise lines.

Why it Matters—there is little information of the company vibes in one place together available to the consumer.  Did we provide a good summary of each lines feelings?  Will that help you decide on which line best fits your desired vacation experience?

Europe River Cruise Comparisons

When you are comparing European river cruise lines, it becomes rather complicated, as the details about one company compared to another really make the difference.  To help solve this problem, we have created a great, detailed comparison to help you match your travel style to the available options.

Summary--As many of you know, we have one of the best, in-depth, Europe River Cruise Comparisons available anywhere on our website.  We have updated our 2016 version to provide even more accurate information on the ever changing Europe river cruise scene.

We want to emphasize all of these river cruise lines are good values and special trips.  Many have won awards and there is really no official ranking system to provide you a valid comparison method. 

To help overcome the lack of an official ranking system, we have found that The Berlitz River Cruising in Europe & the USA guide to be as fair an evaluation as presently available to the public.  This book evaluates individual ships in its rating system instead of entire companies, so we have decided to compare the best rivership from each company to determine a ranking system as our method of comparison.

We have also provided our own personal rankings of each line with comments.

So, let’s explore these ranking together, or if you like, just go directly to our full PDF presentation at this link:

Why it Matters—this is an excellent summary—it ranks always on the first page of Google (this is earned—we have never paid to boast anything on the internet).  Getting unbiased information about the various river cruise companies is difficult.  There is no one company that is right for everyone.  We believe we know enough to guide you to the right company that matches your travel style.  Did we convince you?

My Final Thoughts

Wow—sure is a lot of information here!  This is a one stop resource to help you completely understand European river cruises.  We hope we did our job and answered all your questions.

We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise specialists, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader.JPG

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist

  • Viking River Cruise Specialist

  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist

  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist

  • Avalon Waterways Specialist

  • Brit Agent