An Unexpected Way to Travel Europe

by Lexa Pennington /
Lexa Pennington's picture
Oct 24, 2013 / 0 comments

I’m always looking for unique ways to explore destinations I love. I remember reading a book in college (for fun, not for class), on cruising down the Seine on a houseboat. Now the drawback, as I remember, was dealing with the boat and all the details of living on it (cooking, showers, etc.). But what if you could explore the rivers of Europe, and let someone else do all the work? Count me in!

Rhone River

Rhone River. Photo Wikimedia Commons: Remi Mathis

European river cruises have become very popular in the last few years, and for good reason. It is a great way to see Europe from a new perspective, and there are great European river cruise deals to be found. You’ll also be spoiled by the luxury of the cruise, and meet some interesting people. But where to start? Click here for best rates and availability.

Here are some tips for your European river cruise:

An Unexpected Way to Travel Europe

When to go

It depends on your schedule, of course, but there are some really cool river cruises at times you might not expect – for instance, a Christmas market cruise! These ships stop at the most popular Christmas markets in Europe, including Vienna, Budapest, Köln, and Nuremberg.

You might not choose to book an early spring cruise, if there are signs of river flooding. Check the weather predictions before booking.

Kinderdijk windmills

Kinderdijk windmills. Photo flickr creative commons: Richard Martin

How long?

Some river cruises are more than 2 weeks, while some are as short as four or five nights. Think of what you’d like to do, and how much time off you have, when planning your trip. You can also combine cruise intineraries, to extend your cruise (I think you’ll be bitten by the river cruise bug, too!).

Sights from the River

I swooned when I started seeing Conde Nast Traveler’s Wendy Perrin's photos of her river cruises. The views from on board the ship – spectacular. Don’t forget – every morning when you wake up, you’ll see something new – a castle, perchance, or a bridge that makes you sigh.

Sights from a European River Cruise

On a European River Cruise. Photo flickr creative commons: Shankar s.


Wherever the ship docks, you have the chance to hop off and explore. You can take guided bike tours, visit museums, shop, eat, and watch cultural performances (music, theatre, etc.).


Are you a wine lover? Never fear – there’s a river cruise just for you. Be sure to look at the Rhone river cruises, which all include stops at local vineyards, as well as cities that are well-known for their gustatory delights.


We love street food, especially in Europe. Take advantage of your time on excursions to try the local specialties. Then head back onboard to dig in to more gourmet tastes at your leisure.

Departure/Arrival Cities

If you’re smart and have the time, book a few extra days at the departure and/or arrival city, to get used to the time zone AND explore. Almost all of these cities are ones you’d want to visit, anyway – so this is a double bonus!

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo flickr creative commons: GreenLakeBlue

What to bring

Pack light – there’s not much closet space on the ship, but you don’t need any dressy outfits on board. Think country club casual. Be sure to bring warm items if you’re traveling in cold weather (i.e., for that Christmas Market cruise). If you’re going on excursions that require fancy dress, pack accordingly. Check and see if your ship has a pool (bring a swimsuit) or exercise facilities (if you plan to use them – walking through the towns might be exercise enough!).

Bring a small day bag or backpack that will hold your camera, passport, money, etc. Keep it zipped and close to your body.


Not yet ready to head out? Read this article, by one of my favorite travel writers, Pico Iyer. In Confessions of a Cruise Convert, he dispels all my worries, and makes me long to hit the waterways.


Read more: Benefits of Taking A River Cruise