Top 8 European river cruise companies compared
Set sail on a luxurious adventure down some of the world's greatest rivers with these European cruise companies.
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There’s something utterly romantic about exploring Europe by boat.
Whether you’re travelling down the Danube through Austria, Hungary and Serbia, where castles and charming towns emerge around every turn, or along the River Rhine through Switzerland, Germany and Amsterdam, where dramatic mountains and heritage canals paint the landscape – seeing Europe by river is an experience like no other.
Keen to board the ship and set sail? These are the companies offering river cruises with the most arresting landscapes in Europe.
Boasting a handful of awards, including Best Luxury Cruise Line 2015 by Cruise Passenger Magazine and Best Luxury Tour Operator 2016 by Luxury Travel Magazine, Scenic Cruises has made a name for itself in luxury tourism. Its 5-star cruise ships travel throughout Europe, Russia and Asia, offering services that include airport-to-boat transport, unlimited access to top-shelf beverages, personal butler services and onshore excursions tailored to your whims and desires. Quality, thy name is Scenic.
- Luxury travel that includes 5-star cruise ships, unlimited beverages, personal butler services and tailored onshore excursions.
- River cruises travel throughout Europe (including France and Portugal), Russia and Asia (Vietnam and Myanmar).
- Solo travellers welcome.
A cruise company that needs no introduction, APT has a reputation for being the most innovative and awarded luxury river cruise operator in Europe – and with good reason. Its fleet sails throughout Africa, Asia and Europe, delivering personalised service, all-inclusive luxuries and amenities and grand on-shore hotel experiences on each and every cruise. Go on, spoil yourself.
- Themed cruises include APT’s Wine Series, which sees you travel through vineyards and partake in onboard wine tastings.
- APT Collection cruises offer Royal Signature Experiences where you can undertake an imperial rail journey, visit Namedy Castle and attend a concert in the City Palace in Vienna.
- 260+ river cruise options throughout Europe.
A member of the larger Globus travel company, Avalon Waterways has an extensive catalogue of cruise experiences to choose from. Choose your cruise by region, country or even theme – beer appreciation river cruise anyone? The sky (or should that be the water?) is the limit.
- Book cruises through Austria, Bulgaria, Holland, Switzerland, Hungary, Belgium, France, Romania, Serbia, Germany and Slovakia.
- Christmas river cruises are available.
- Stopover packages are available.
Viking Cruises prides itself on offering an intimate on-water experience. Each one of its longships typically caters to less than 200 guests, delivering a relaxing and uncrowded onboard experience. Its river cruises travel along the Danube, the Rhine, the Douro (Portugal) and the Elbe (Germany), with numerous guided tours being offered at each docked city, making the experience not only intimate but immersive as well.
- Travel on small ships of 200 guests or less.
- River cruises travel along the Danube, the Rhine, the Douro and the Elbe rivers.
- River cruises and ocean cruises available.
5. G Adventures
Those who prefer a faster-paced river cruise experience can explore G Adventures’ sailing options. Although limited to Burgundy for European adventures, the tour company offers exceptionally intimate boats (a maximum of 22 passengers), making it ideal for larger groups or for social butterflies who enjoy the company of strangers.
- Sail through Burgundy via river cruise or barge.
- Intimate sailing groups (22 passengers on cruises through Burgundy).
- River cruises down the Amazon, the Mekong and the Ganges are also available.
Based out of Germany, A-Rosa’s humble fleet of 11 vessels is dedicated to river cruises throughout Germany and Eastern Europe. For those who prefer touristic luxuries, five of its bespoke ships are designated for international travellers with a variety of international cuisines and languages available.
- Specialises in river cruises throughout Germany, including down the Danube, the Rhine and the Rhone.
- Single supplements available.
- Meals included on most sailings.
Whether you’re young or young-at-heart, Intrepid Travel offers adventurous cruises that will fuel your lust for travel. Its fleet of Europe-based yachts travels through the Mediterranean, with each housing up to 11 passengers. Best part is, you won’t have to lift a finger to help sail the ship – unless, of course, you want to.
- Intimate groups of 8-11 per yacht.
- Minimal luxury facilities with bathrooms being shared and meals operating by a trip kitty, which everyone contributes to.
- Activities are 50/50 land-based/water-based so you’ll have plenty of time to explore the townships that you dock into.
8. U River Cruises
U River Cruises is a branch of a well-known luxury river cruise company that caters to millennials. It sails the rivers of Europe and has many stopovers in famous cities.
- Each ship has a maximum of 120 passengers.
- Requires only a 10% deposit to hold your reservation.
- Single supplements available.
European river cruise companies compared: What's included?
|Company||Meals included?||Beverages included?||Solo-traveller friendly?||Excursions included?||What extras are included?|
|Scenic Cruises||Yes||Yes||Yes (supplement)||Yes||Butler service|
|APT||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Airport transfers and gratuities|
|Avalon Waterways||Yes||Yes||Yes (supplement)||Yes||Wi-Fi access|
|Viking Cruises||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Wi-Fi access|
|G Adventures||Most||Yes||Yes||Yes||Internal flights (select tours)|
|U River Cruises||Yes||No||Yes (supplement)||Yes||Gratuities|
What's the best river cruise line in Europe?
We've shortlisted Scenic Cruises, APT and Avalon Waterways as some of the best river cruises in Europe based on features such as user ratings, variety and options and extras.
In 2020, Crystal Cruises was named as the best river cruise line at Travel+Leisure's World's Best Awards. It impressed with its high level of detail, customer service and luxury, which one guest stated was better than any five-star hotel they've stayed in.
U By Uniworld, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Tauck and Viking Cruises were also highly placed at the Travel+Leisure awards.
According to online tour booking agent TourRadar, AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, G Adventures, Leufner Cruises, Portugal Travel Centre, Scenic Cruises and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection are top of the list. All have average review ratings of 5 out of 5 stars on the site.
How much are European river cruises?
European river cruises range from $550 to over $25,000. Costs vary greatly depending on cruise length, where you're cruising, the cruise line and its quality and the cabin you travel in. You can find cheaper cruises are with small name brands like Nicko Cruises, which will take you through Eastern Europe over a few days. More expensive cruises can last for over a month, offer 5-star cabins and can be all-inclusive.
Are river cruises usually all-inclusive?
Yes. Most European river cruises are all-inclusive and offer at least a few meals, standard beverages and board.
Popular river cruise destinations
The Danube, the Rhine and the Seine are three of the most popular rivers to cruise in Europe. These travel through:
- Germany (Danube, Rhine)
- France (Seine, Rhine)
- Hungary (Danube)
- Austria (Rhine, Danube)
- The Netherlands (Rhine)
- Switzerland (Rhine)
- Slovakia (Danube)
European river cruise deals and sales
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