How to Decide Which River to Cruise in Europe

If you’ve been thinking about taking a cruise inside of Europe but haven’t decided which river to cruise, you first need to consider where you would like to travel. Most rivers in Europe flow through several cities and often more than one country. 

So the first thing you need to decide is where you want to travel and then consider the river or rivers you can cruise to reach those destinations in Europe.


Frankfurt on the Main River in Germany

Frankfurt on the Main River in Germany

By Mylius (Own work) [GFDL 1.2 ( or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

If you would like to visit Germany, you can choose between several rivers. Most rivers also flow through other countries, though. The Main River is the only river that is entirely in Germany. It’s connected to the Rhine at Mainz to its west and to the Main-Danube Canal in Bamberg to its east.

Main River – Most itineraries are between Frankfurt and Nuremberg in southern Germany. Nuremberg is actually located on the Main-Danube Canal, which connects the Main River to the Danube. Cruises on the Main are often combined with the Danube or Rhine rivers or both. 

Day, evening and scenic cruises in Frankfurt.

Moselle River – An overnight cruise on the Moselle is always combined with the Rhine River and sometimes other waterways, such as the Dutch & Belgian Waterways, the Main River or the Danube River. A few of the cities along the Moselle include Trier, Bernkastel, Cochem and Koblenz, which is where the Rhine and Moselle rivers are joined.

Rhine River – Since the Rhine River flows through Amsterdam and Switzerland and along the eastern coast of France, you will probably visit more than Germany. In Germany, however, you’ll have a chance to visit Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Heidelberg and some cities in the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany. 

There are also a few cities in Germany you might not visit on a Rhine River cruise. Even if it’s not included in your itinerary, you’ll at least cruise through them. Düsseldorf is located on the Rhine River north of Cologne. And Bonn is located southeast of Cologne.

Day, evening and scenic cruises in Cologne.

Danube River – A Danube River cruise will always include travel to Austria and other countries in Eastern Europe. You may visit a couple of cities in eastern Germany, such as Passau or Regensburg. Although, there are other cities on the Danube in Germany south of Passau, cruise ships do not travel that direction on the Danube.

Dresden on the Elbe River in Germany

Dresden, Germany on the Elbe River at Dusk

Photo © Total Pics

Elbe River -  Located in northeastern Germany, the Elbe also flows through Czech Republic. Most river cruises begin or end in Madgeburg, which is about 90 miles east of Berlin. A few of the cities you might visit, include Berlin, Wittenberg, Meissen, Dresden and Saxon Switzerland.

Day, evening and scenic cruises in Hamburg and Berlin.


Lyon, France at the Confluence of the Rhone and Saone Rivers

Lyon France Sits at the Confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers

Seine River – The Seine River is located in northeastern France, and most river cruises begin in Paris. If you would like to take a cruise through Paris, this river is a great choice. This cruise includes a visit to the Normandy Beaches as well as a stop in several cities along the Seine, such as Vernon, Conflans, Rouen and possibly the port cities of Honfleur and Le Havre.

Day, evening and scenic cruises in Paris.

Rhône River – Located in southeastern France, a Rhône River cruise will take you through the Provence Region. Cruises usually begin or end in Lyon and may be combined with the 

Saône River. Cities visited on the Rhone often include Vienne, Tournon, Viviers, Avignon and Arles. This region is famous for its vineyards and wineries.

Day, evening and scenic cruises in Avignon.

Saône River – The Saône forms a confluence with the Rhône River in Lyon. An overnight cruise on the Saône is always combined with the Rhône River and may begin in either Chalon-sur-Saône or Lyon. You’ll cruise through the Burgundy Region of France on this river and visit some vineyards and wineries along the way.

Dordogne & Garonne Rivers and the Gironde Estuary – These waterways are combined for river cruises that begin and end in Bordeaux in southwestern France. The city of Bordeaux sits on the Garonne River just south of the Gironde Estuary, which is formed by the confluence of the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.

This is also another region in France known for its vineyards and wine production. 

A few cities visited in addition to Bordeaux, include Cadillac, Saint-Émilion, Blaye and Pauillac in the Medoc region. 

Day, evening and scenic cruises in Bordeaux.

Rhine River - A cruise on the Rhine River will take you between France and Germany for part of the journey. The main city in France is Strasbourg in the Alsace region, but most of the cities visited along this stretch of the Rhine will actually be in Germany on the eastern side of the river.


Danube River - Wachau Valley in Austria

Danube River - Wachau Valley in Austria 

Danube River - The Danube River is the only river in Austria that features overnight cruises. There are day, evening and scenic cruises in Salzburg on the Salzach River and in Vienna, which is connected to the Danube through other waterways.

On a Danube River cruise through Austria, you'll have a chance to visit Linz, Melk, Durnstein and Vienna. Salzburg, which is located about 80 miles southwest of Linz, is also featured in some itineraries.

Austria is not listed in Eastern Europe, because it is categorized as a western European country by the United Nations.

Eastern Europe

The Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary

The Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary

By The Photographer (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Danube River - The Danube River flows through several countries in Eastern Europe: Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. Depending on the itinerary, you may travel as far east as Bucharest or only as far as Budapest.

There are itineraries on the Danube that only travel through Eastern Europe and are usually between Budapest and Bucharest.

Other major cities visited on the Danube may include, Bratislava, Belgrade and Belogradchik.

Day, evening and scenic cruises in Budapest.

Tisza River -  This is an interesting river found in only one itinerary offered by CroisiEurope. The cruise begins on the Tisza River in Tokaj, Hungary visiting several cities before reaching the Danube River in Novi Sad, Serbia. The river cruise is from Tokaj to Budapest. 


Rhine River in Basel, Switzerland

Rhine River in Basel, Switzerland

By Norbert Aepli, Switzerland (User:Noebu) (Own work) [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Rhine River - Cruises on the Rhine River usually begin or end in Basel, Switzerland. You won't visit other cities on the Rhine in Switzerland. However, other cities are often included in the itinerary; and some of these cities have river cruise options.

Flights normally arrive at or depart from the airport in Zurich. An overnight stay may or may not be included. A few other cities sometimes visited are Lucerne and Geneva. 

Day, evening and scenic cruises in Lucerne, Geneva and Zurich.


Douro River in Porto, Portugal

By Paula Santos (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Douro River  - The Douro River flows through northern Portugal and Spain. Cruises on the Douro River are usually round trip from Porto, which is located on the northwest coast of Portugal. You'll travel through the beautiful Douro River Valley, which is famous for its vineyards and wine production.

Cities visited along the Douro River, include Régua, Pinhão and Barca D'Alva.

Day, evening and scenic cruises in Porto and Northern Portugal.

Guadiana River - The Guadiana River is located in both Spain and Portugal. CroisiEurope has only one river cruise package for the Guadiana. Cities visited in southwestern Portugal, include Alcoutim and Vila Real.


Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

Po River and the Venetian Canals - The Po River flows through northern Italy and is connected to Venice through the Venetian Lagoon. A cruise on the Grand Canal and other canals in Venice are included in a Po River cruise package.

Polesella and Seravalle are located along the Po River. A few other cities, such as Verona, Bologna and Ravenna, are not located near the river. Some itineraries also visit Florence and Rome either before or after the river cruise.

Day, evening and scenic cruises in Venice, Florence and Rome.

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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+.

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