Rolling on a river: A different way to experience Europe

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A trip to Europe is on most people’s bucket lists, and whenever I hear people plan out their hectic multi-country itineraries, I can’t help but feel sorry for them: trying to fit in as many cities as possible in a couple of weeks, their schedules usually leave no time for relaxation. Over the last few years, scenic river cruises have gained in popularity rapidly – and there’s a good reason for that. I remember how much we loved getting around Southern Europe hassle-free on our Mediterranean cruise, waking up in a new country every day and never having to pack up and leave our room, being well-fed and having some downtime while the ship was pulling into or out of a port.

Loreley by Mike Powell on

River cruises are still much less crowded than the well-worn path of the giant cruise ships that traverse the Mediterranean day after day, week after week.

Still not convinced? Here are some other reasons why I think river cruises might be worth considering for your next trip to Europe:

1. Get off the beaten path

This would be the biggest draw for me, especially in the summer months, when trains, buses and budget flights are packed with anyone from gap year backpackers to Asian tour groups who are all doing the same ol’ Europe tour: Rome, Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague and Budapest. What this means? Endless lines to see the main attractions, inflated hotel prices and being ripped off at least once, no matter of that’s by a tourist restaurant or a smart scam artist.

If you go on a river cruise instead, you’ll get the same classic Europe experience, but you’ll stop in lesser known towns which doesn’t mean they’re less visit-worthy but just lesser known on an international level. Rhine and Danube river cruises are particularly attractive, since these two rivers run through a large part of Europe and pass by some of the most gorgeous capitals (think Vienna, Budapest or Belgrade) and some incredibly pretty and charming smaller towns. Every German though would assure you that Bamberg for example is a quintessential German town, complete with half-timbered houses, crooked alleyways and cobble-stoned streets. So not only do you get less crowds but also much more interesting stories to tell back home, instead of the same ‘Berlin? You went to Checkpoint Charlie? The Brandenburg Gate? Museum island? Yeah we did all that too when we were there.’

Old Town Hall | Bamberg, Germany
Photo: Nico Trinkhaus – Bamberg Photos

2. Do something unique

A river cruise is a much more exclusive travel experience than a) a Mediterranean or Caribbean cruise, both of which have lost any feel of exclusivity over the last 15 years and tend to feel more like shepherding sheep these days, and b) train or bus travel through Europe which will have you either sit in traffic on the highways packed with Europeans on their way to their summer vacation or sweat on a crowded, non-air conditioned train.

River cruises have the advantage that the ships are much smaller which gives them an exclusive and elite feel, and the smaller number of people on board means you’ll get a much more intimate experience that way.

On the Danube above the town of Melk
On the Danube above the town of Melk by b k on

3. Travel stress-free and in comfort

As I already mentioned, no matter if you’re taking a bus, a train or evens rental car, there will be stressed involved in one way or another, that’s just unavoidable. Traffic on the highways means uncomfortably long hours on a bus and missing out on sights because you were stuck in a traffic jam somewhere, trains are delayed and not missing a connection somewhere along the way would be a miracle.

A river cruise on the other hand gets you everywhere on time, you don’t need to worry about reading maps or parking and not to mention the scenery you’ll get to enjoy while traveling to your next destination, glass of wine in hand. You’re on vacation after all and you should be able to relax before and after a day of sightseeing.

ScenicTours Cruise Ship

4. Get a special Europe experience

A river cruise allows you to see a completely new side of Europe – the waterways are some of the most picturesque in the world, passing medieval castles, vineyards, traditional towns and lush green rolling hills. If you’re the kind of person who wants to experience something that not everybody gets to live to see, a river cruise is just right for you: luxurious, relaxing and unique.

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Castle along the River Rhine by kate_dave_hugh on

Have you done a river cruise or would you consider one? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


  1. A travelers mantra of “you never know what’s around the next bend” proved itself to me long ago while backpacking around on my very first trip to Europe. We stood on the bank of the Rhine River, stuck out our thumbs and were picked up by one of the many huge Rhine cargo boats within a couple hours. We kicked back on the planks that covered the hold below, (a very old boat) drank Heineken’s, (provided by the Dutch Captain), and enjoyed the passing view of the Rhine Gorge. We ended up living on the ship for a month, traveling up river to Heidelberg, then back down river to Antwerp, Belgium. I even worked as the Captain’s “First Mate” for a couple weeks and earned several hundred dollars. It was simply unbelievable and could never have been planned.
    My method of travel always allows for serendipity. And the best part is that it’s more often than not, FREE!

  2. I’ve always been turned off of big cruises, but a river cruise does sound like it could be kinda fun. Plus, since there is a lot of country hopping involved in European travel this type of cruise could be a great option. Those rooms look pretty nice too!

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