River Cruises: What is the Most Popular River to Cruise?



River cruising continues to be a growing segment of the travel industry each year. What is the most popular river to cruise, though?

If you have ever considered taking an overnight river cruise, you may have wondered which river is the best to cruise. While many things may ultimately guide your decision, knowing which waterways are the most popular could be helpful.



A good way to determine which river cruises are the most popular is to look at where the most itineraries and ships are located. In terms of regions, you’ll find the most river cruises in Europe, the United States and Asia.

Although, there are rivers throughout the world, travelers seem to flock to Europe for river cruises. Since river cruises are very popular in Europe that is where you will find the largest number of itineraries, ships and suppliers. 

There are several rivers in Europe; however, only about 13 of them are considered major waterways in terms of overnight cruises – the Rhine, Moselle, Main, Danube, Elbe, Rhône, Saône, Seine, Garonne, Dordogne, Douro and Po rivers and theDutch & Belgian Waterways.


Main River in Frankfurt, Germany

Main River in Frankfurt, Germany


When you are considering possible rivers to cruise, it’s important to know where they’re located, since that can determine popularity. Germany, Eastern Europe and France are popular destinations for river cruises.

Several major rivers flow through Germany – the Rhine, Moselle, Main, Danube and Elbe. All rivers, with the exception of the Main, also flow through other countries in Europe. 

Only one major river flows through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Romania – the Danube. 

And in France there are also several major rivers – the Rhône, Saône, Seine, Garonne and Dordogne. France is definitely a popular river cruise destination, but it’s not where the most popular river is located.

To determine the most popular river to cruise in Europe, let’s look at which river has the largest number of itineraries. Cruises on the Danube River (only) are the most popular, and cruises on the Rhine River (only) are the second most popular. 


Wauchau Valley on the Danube River in Austria

Wauchau Valley on the Danube River in Austria


Most cruises on the Rhine River are between Basel and Amsterdam; however, with Danube River cruises, there’s more of a variety offered. For example, on the Danube, you can cruise between Budapest and Bucharest or between Passau and Budapest.

The Rhine and Danube rivers are indirectly connected as well as being connected to other waterways, such as the Main-Danube Canal, the Main River, the Moselle River and the Dutch & Belgian Waterways. The Danube River combined with other waterways has the most itineraries in Europe. And the Rhine River plus other connected waterways is not far behind with the number of itineraries available.

If you’ve already been on a river cruise in Europe, chances are you’ve already sailed on one or both of these rivers. If you have not yet been on a river cruise, either river is a good choice for your first trip.

While being the most popular river to cruise doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best choice, there’s a reason why river cruise companies offer so many more itineraries on these waterways. Popularity is driven by what consumers want, which determines the number of itineraries for each river.


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Lauri Wakefield is a travel writer who specializes in  river cruises in Europe and the U.S. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.

[This page may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here.]




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