Bicycle excursion on a Rhine River cruise

In theory, any river cruise can be an active one, given that shore-centric itineraries allow passengers to pursue all manner of land-based activities.

Many lines, particularly those plying Europe's rivers, already provide bicycles for their passengers. (And if they don't, you can always rent one in port.) But as competition in this fast-growing segment of the cruise market heats up, some lines are seeking to attract a broader -- and younger -- clientele by offering a greater scope of active and adventurous pursuits.

Here's a look at some best-bet lines and itineraries for river cruisers who like to be on the move.

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Avalon Waterways

Biking, hiking and canoeing play into the line's new Active Discovery on the Danube itineraries. Eight such cruises will depart from Linz, Austria, to Budapest (or the reverse) between July and October 2017. Unusual opportunities on the cruise range from archery lessons to exploring an underground salt mine.

Besides athletic pursuits, passengers can engage in immersive experiences like hiking along a World War II smuggling route; joining a question-answer session with a count in an Austrian castle; taking a Viennese cooking class; and visiting a farmer in his apricot orchard.

In 2016, Avalon added 10 bikes to each of its Europe-based ships. They're free and available for independent touring.  Additionally, the line offers optional guided excursions in locales where cycling is especially good. These include the Dutch countryside outside Amsterdam; Austria's Wachau Valley; Germany's Kaiserstuhl wine region; and along the Moselle River in Germany.

AmaSonata passengers parked with bikes along river


The cruise line packs more than two dozen bikes and helmets onboard its 18 river ships for guests' free use, and will arrange for a guide, if requested, at no extra charge.

For die-hard cycling enthusiasts, Ama has partnered with travel outfitter Backroads to offer fully supported rides. Some are round trip excursions that depart and return to the ship. Others are longer forays in which participants bike while the ship sails, meeting it at the next port. Daily routes offer a couple of variations in duration and difficulty.

In 2017, 58 AmaWaterways/Backroads collaborations are planned, including a full-ship buyout in September for 150-plus cycling cruisers. (Most of Backroads' sailings on AmaWaterways are limited to 30 participants.) The European sailings are on the Danube, the Rhine, the Seine and the Douro in Portugal.


The Strasbourg, France-based affordable cruise line's active excursions proved so popular in 2016, they tacked on extra sailings and have a good selection of hiking- and biking-focused cruises in 2017.

Among them: Hiking cruises in Austria and Hungary (departing May 19 and September 15 from Vienna); in Portugal's Douro Valley (departing October 16 from Porto) and in France's Rhone Valley and Provencal Rhone (departing April 8 from Lyon). Each itinerary offers concurrent excursions for non-hikers.

Six bike-cruise itineraries offer multiple route options on most days to accommodate cyclists of varying stamina levels. New for 2017 are four departures on a Danube River bike cruise, a route that is growing in popularity.

Other routes are Burgundy to Provence via the Saone and Rhone rivers (departing August 20 from Lyon); on Bordeaux's Garonne Rive (three departures); on the Loire River (three departures from Nantes); and on the Rhine (three departures from Basel to Amsterdam and three in the reverse direction).  

Tauck River Cruises

Each of its ships stocks 12 Jan Janssen bikes (a popular Dutch brand) for complimentary use. In 2017, a number of guided excursions include a ride along the Rhine and Moselle rivers; cycling through vineyards along the Rhone River; and, on some of its family-oriented itineraries, guided rides along the Seine in Paris and the gardens at Versailles. On some cruises, the line runs an included "Active Tauck" hike that is really quite tame in nature.

Guided shore excursion on a Uniworld cruise


The line maintains a fleet of free cycles for self-guided or escorted group excursions. It also provides walking sticks for hikers. And on some itineraries, guided kayaking trips are offered. These "Go-Active" options are a component of Uniworld's Well-Being on the Water initiative, which offers lighter meal options, an onboard "wellness coach" and onboard classes such as yoga.

In 2016, Uniworld launched a partnership with upscale tour operator Butterfield & Robinson on its eight-day Enchanting Danube itinerary that's similar to that offered by AmaWaterways/Backroads.  Cyclists make tracks on shore using the ship as a floating hotel and spa. Butterfield & Robinson guides and support crew lead the way. In 2017, the river cruise biking option will be offered on selected sailings from May to September on both the Danube and Rhone rivers.