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Budapest, Hungary (Photo: TTstudio/Shutterstock)
Budapest, Hungary (Photo: TTstudio/Shutterstock)

The 10 Best River Cruise Lines in Europe for Every Traveler

Budapest, Hungary (Photo: TTstudio/Shutterstock)
Budapest, Hungary (Photo: TTstudio/Shutterstock)
Jeannine Williamson

Last updated
Sep 22, 2023

Read time
6 min read

Picking the best line for a European river cruise can be a challenge as more and more lines compete for attention on European waterways. Many American travelers have heard of river cruise lines like Viking, AmaWaterways and Avalon Waterways -- and you can find more about them below.

However, there are also other lesser-known cruise lines to choose from that are contenders for the best river cruise line in Europe, depending on your travel style. To help you out, we've taken a look at 10 lines, from the familiar to the lesser-known, so you can decide the best river cruise line in Europe for you.

1. Best European River Cruise for First-Timers: Viking River Cruises

A Viking Longship sails the Danube (Photo: Viking)
A Viking Longship sails the Danube (Photo: Viking)

With more itineraries than any other, Viking is the best cruise line in Europe for first-time river cruisers. The world's largest river cruise line offers a well-tested river cruise recipe on its fleet of identical Scandinavian-style longships. Insightful port talks provide information on the next day's program that cover all questions, such as how much walking is involved and difficulty levels.

Viking includes one excursion in each port with your fare, and offers a wider variety of river cruises in Europe than others. That gives new-to-river-cruise passengers plenty of options to try their hand at a cruise length that fits their style and a wide array destinations from which to choose.

2. Best European River Cruise Line for Active Travelers: Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways' Panorama Suite (Photo: Avalon Waterways)
Avalon Waterways' Panorama Suite (Photo: Avalon Waterways)

If you like to stay fit and healthy on vacation, Avalon Waterways is the best line for get-up-and-go European river cruises. In addition to regular itineraries, Avalon offers Active & Discovery sailings on the Rhine, Danube, Rhone, Moselle, Seine and Dutch waterways. Work up an appetite with action-packed kayaking, hiking and cycling tours before returning to a well-earned meal. Onboard cuisine features a variety of menus including Avalon Fresh which showcases mainly vegetarian dishes.

3. Best All-Inclusive European River Cruise Line: Scenic

Tauck MS Emerald docked in Europe (Photo: Tauck River Cruises)
Tauck MS Emerald (Photo: Tauck River Cruises)

When it comes to a river cruise line in Europe, Scenic's all-inclusive fares are hard to top. They cover all premium drinks, including a minibar in every cabin, plus specialty dining, butler service and gratuities.

In addition to the main dining room, ships have smaller venues where every passenger can have a meal. There's also the exclusive Table La Rive fine dining experience for Diamond Deck suite guests. Daily activities feature a wide choice of included shore tours so you can personalize your cruise experience.

4. Best Budget-Friendly European River Cruise: Grand Circle Travel

River Adagio Activity/Entertainment
River Adagio Activity/Entertainment

Grand Circle generally draws travelers aged over 50 and is a popular line for Americans cruising the rivers of Europe. But one of the best features of this line is its price point. Grand Circle attracts a high number of repeat passengers, drawn by value-for-money fares that are often lower than other European river cruises.

Perks include a roommate matching service for solo cruisers, competitively priced single supplements and group discounts, plus price match guarantees. Ships offer traditional-style cruising and Exclusive Discovery Series, which provides first-person accounts from locals or expert talks about the destinations you'll be visiting.

5. Best European River Cruise for Cuisine: AmaWaterways

AmaKristina ship exterior

AmaWaterways is the only cruise line on Europe's rivers to be a member of the prestigious international gastronomy organization Chaine des Rotisseurs. Additionally, the line's culinary director is a member of the French association Tables et Auberges de France.

Fancy associations aside, these credentials translate into some truly awesome dining experiences. European ships have the cozy Chef's Table restaurant where all guests get to dine for free once every cruise. AmaWaterways also has food and wine-themed sailings accompanied by expert hosts.

6. Best European River Cruise for Solo Cruisers: Tauck

Tauck  ms Emerald (Photo: Tauck River Cruises)
Tauck ms Emerald (Photo: Tauck River Cruises)

Upscale river line Tauck is the best for solo river cruises in Europe, even though Grand Circle gives the line a run for its money. Tauck waives single supplement charges on all of its Category 1 lower-deck cabins on every ship in its European fleet.

The line also offers reduced solo-traveler surcharges on higher-grade cabins on select sailings. Tauck's ships carry fewer passengers than riverboats of a similar size, so it's easy for solo travelers to make new friends. You'll also find a high number of inclusions, such as all drinks from the bar and with meals, to create a stress-free sailing with no hidden extras.

7. Best Boutique European River Cruise: European Waterways

L'Impressionniste (Photo: European Waterways)
L'Impressionniste (Photo: European Waterways)

European Waterways isn't the most widely known European river cruise line, but for travelers craving something truly intimate and unlike any other sailing, it's the best.

European Waterways has 17 barges sailing along the less-visited waterways in the U.K., France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy. Most European Waterways ships are old working barges, though the casual houseboat atmosphere includes beautiful modern interiors. Each all-inclusive cruise holds just eight to 20 passengers and can also be chartered by families and groups.

If that size river cruise sounds too small for you, Uniworld is a great boutique-style option for sailing Europe's rivers.. The line is more high-end than European Waterways and decor runs maximalist. Uniworld's ships are each distinctly designed and outfitted, and the all-inclusive itineraries include tours, meals, liquor and wine, fitness classes and more.

8. Best European River Cruise for Onboard Facilities: AmaWaterways AmaMagna

AmaMagna (Photo: AmaWaterways)
AmaMagna (Photo: AmaWaterways)

AmaWaterways is one of the best known river cruise lines in Europe, but one ship in particular stands out from the pack for what it's able to offer: AmaMagna.

For starters, cabins are larger and you'll find seven suites onboard. There are also four different dining venues (more than most river ships), and that choice has proven popular with previous passengers.

AmaWaterways ups its dedication to active cruisers with a bevy of wellness spaces as well, including massage rooms, a fitness center, open-air spin classes on the sun deck and a pool. However, despite being twice as wide as most river ships in Europe, there are only about 30% more travelers onboard (just shy of 200 passengers).

9. Best European River Cruise Line for Unique Destinations: CroisiEurope

Amalia Rodrigues (Photo: CroisiEurope)
Amalia Rodrigues (Photo: CroisiEurope)

CroisiEurope is the largest company based in Europe and operates a fleet of riverboats and hotel barges. While people from North America aren't regular passengers on the line's European river cruises, the line is bilingual so English-speaking passengers won't be left out.

CroisiEurope is the only line to sail on the Loire River in France, with a specially designed modern paddlewheeler to navigate low water levels. Similar vessels sail France's lesser-known Elbe River and CroisiEurope is also the only line to sail on Spain's Guadalquivir River and the Vltava River in the Czech Republic.

10. Best European River Cruise Line for Families: Adventures by Disney

Posing for a photo with Adventure Guide Byron (Photo: Cynthia Drake)
Posing for a photo with Adventure Guide Byron (Photo: Cynthia Drake)

Adventures by Disney is, unsurprisingly, one of the best river cruise lines for families in Europe. The line charters AmaWaterways and, while you shouldn't expect a bevy of Disney branding on the ship, Disney's Adventure Guides are trained to bring kids into the river cruise experience.

Programming and excursions are geared toward kids, To that end, expect a focus on storytelling rather than straight history lessons. You'll also find plenty of energetic and engaging activities, like tobogganing, 4x4 tours and bike excursions. The ships also have small pools onboard, popular with any kid on vacation. In the evenings, supervised meals for kids and teens (and movie nights) keep the vibe upbeat until bedtime.

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