How to Pick a European River

by Fran Golden

How to Pick a European River

by Fran Golden

Europe's winding rivers, from Portugal's Douro to Germany's Rhine and France's Rhône, are some of the most scenic in the world. And river cruises mean visits to castles and vineyards, with time to explore UNESCO heritage sites as well as European capitals. The options can feel overwhelming. To help, we've collected our 10 favorite European river itineraries. Feeling indecisive? Many of these rivers connect, and longer itineraries can cruise two or even three waterways in one route.

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Lyon's Terreaux Square / iStock.com / Hornet83
Vienna's Michaelerplatz
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1. Upper Danube

This riverway inspired the famous "Blue Danube" waltz. Sail between Bavaria and Budapest, through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. Highlights include Vienna, with its world-class music, art, and café scenes, as well as Budapest, where you'll dock near the capital's magnificent Parliament building. This is the perfect route for culture vultures and fans of royal opulence.

This riverway inspired the famous "Blue Danube" waltz. Sail between Bavaria and Budapest, through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. Highlights include Vienna, with its world-class music, art, and café scenes, as well as Budapest, where you'll dock near the capital's magnificent Parliament building. This is the perfect route for culture vultures and fans of royal opulence.

North Gate of Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest
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2. Lower Danube

Follow the Danube from Budapest through Croatia, Serbia (including Belgrade), Bulgaria, and Romania and experience historic reminders left by everyone from the Romans to the Communists. Dracula's spirit is present within the haunts of his inspiration — Romania's Vlad the Impaler — as is a surprising amount of rugged natural beauty.

Follow the Danube from Budapest through Croatia, Serbia (including Belgrade), Bulgaria, and Romania and experience historic reminders left by everyone from the Romans to the Communists. Dracula's spirit is present within the haunts of his inspiration — Romania's Vlad the Impaler — as is a surprising amount of rugged natural beauty.

Strasbourg
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3. Rhine and Moselle

You'll feel like you're in a fairy tale as you cruise between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland, through Germany and France — including beautiful Strasbourg. This route is all about breathtaking views of canals, castles, medieval villages, historic cities, and steep slope-side vineyards.

You'll feel like you're in a fairy tale as you cruise between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland, through Germany and France — including beautiful Strasbourg. This route is all about breathtaking views of canals, castles, medieval villages, historic cities, and steep slope-side vineyards.

Nuremberg
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4. Main

If seeing Germany is your priority, pick a cruise that focuses on the Rhine's longest tributary, which takes you between Frankfurt's financial center and the Bavarian city of Nuremberg. Along the way you'll marvel at forests, hilltop castles, baroque palaces, vineyards, and churches.

If seeing Germany is your priority, pick a cruise that focuses on the Rhine's longest tributary, which takes you between Frankfurt's financial center and the Bavarian city of Nuremberg. Along the way you'll marvel at forests, hilltop castles, baroque palaces, vineyards, and churches.

Rouen Cathedral
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5. Seine

This storied river meanders from Paris through the French heartland to the beaches of Normandy, where poignant memorials at this World War II landing site are among the key attractions. Also en route, visit châteaux, Claude Monet's home and gardens at Giverny, and Joan of Arc's riverside Rouen.

This storied river meanders from Paris through the French heartland to the beaches of Normandy, where poignant memorials at this World War II landing site are among the key attractions. Also en route, visit châteaux, Claude Monet's home and gardens at Giverny, and Joan of Arc's riverside Rouen.

Lavender field in Avignon
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6. Rhône and Saône

Sip Côtes du Rhône or a glass of rosé in the heart of southern France's Burgundy and Provence regions. Start in Lyon and cruise to Avignon, and along the way experience landscapes that inspired Vincent van Gogh, as well as ancient landmarks including the Roman amphitheater in Arles and stone farmhouses surrounded by lavender fields.

Sip Côtes du Rhône or a glass of rosé in the heart of southern France's Burgundy and Provence regions. Start in Lyon and cruise to Avignon, and along the way experience landscapes that inspired Vincent van Gogh, as well as ancient landmarks including the Roman amphitheater in Arles and stone farmhouses surrounded by lavender fields.

Saint-Émilion
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7. Bordeaux

From the gorgeous city of Bordeaux, cruise on the Gironde and Garonne rivers through the world's most famous wine region, including Médoc, Margaux, and Saint-Émilion. There's less cruising involved here (these rivers are short), but you'll be too busy visiting wine châteaux and tasting local grapes to notice.

From the gorgeous city of Bordeaux, cruise on the Gironde and Garonne rivers through the world's most famous wine region, including Médoc, Margaux, and Saint-Émilion. There's less cruising involved here (these rivers are short), but you'll be too busy visiting wine châteaux and tasting local grapes to notice.

Douro Valley
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8. Douro

This route winds through Portugal's scenic, UNESCO-recognized Douro River Valley, where the country's famous fortified port wine is produced. On the river's narrow stretches, you'll pass steep, sun-soaked vineyards; during excursions, you'll visit historic hilltop towns as well as the fascinating Spanish medieval city of Salamanca.

This route winds through Portugal's scenic, UNESCO-recognized Douro River Valley, where the country's famous fortified port wine is produced. On the river's narrow stretches, you'll pass steep, sun-soaked vineyards; during excursions, you'll visit historic hilltop towns as well as the fascinating Spanish medieval city of Salamanca.

Potsdam
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9. Elbe

Your itinerary includes the must-see cities of Berlin and Prague and cruising on a shallow, narrow river (which is why not every line sails it). The mountainous landscape is jaw-dropping, and other attractions include Potsdam, with its 1,200 acres of parks and palaces, plus the resurgent city of Dresden.

Your itinerary includes the must-see cities of Berlin and Prague and cruising on a shallow, narrow river (which is why not every line sails it). The mountainous landscape is jaw-dropping, and other attractions include Potsdam, with its 1,200 acres of parks and palaces, plus the resurgent city of Dresden.

St. Petersburg's St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral
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10. Volga

Europe's longest river connects the historically significant cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Though recent political tensions mean that fewer ships are traveling this route, if you go you'll experience the buzz of urban life and cultural attractions, plus more than 400 miles of rural landscapes.

Europe's longest river connects the historically significant cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Though recent political tensions mean that fewer ships are traveling this route, if you go you'll experience the buzz of urban life and cultural attractions, plus more than 400 miles of rural landscapes.

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