Planning out your first river cruise in Europe and not sure where to start? Well, look no further! We recently took a European river cruise with Riverside Luxury Cruises and it had an amazing experience. River cruises are such a unique way to see different parts of Europe all while having all the comforts of a floating luxury hotel. Yet, there are some things you should know before hopping on your first one. Let us share all about our experience on the Riverside Mozart ship and the best tips to know before sailing away.
12 Tips For Your First Europe River Cruise
1. Picking Your Europe River Cruise Itinerary
The first tip to know about booking your European river cruise is finding the right route. Everyone has a different travel style, and there are so many different cruise itineraries to choose from. On our recent trip with Riverside Luxury Cruises we took a 7 day trip from Budapest to Vienna.
The Europe river cruise took us up the Danube River on a remarkable journey. We went through three different countries, passing castles, vineyards, and the regions most iconic cities along the way.
Are you more interested in a different part of Europe? How about sailing down the Rhine or taking a biking tour of Amsterdam and Belgium? There is truly a fun river cruise in Europe that can be tailored to whatever you’re looking for.
If you have a favorite route or cruise company you love let us know in the comments at the bottom!
2. What Level of Luxury Do You Want?
Just as there are countless European river cruise itineraries, you will have several different companies and boat styles to choose from. Now we may have screwed up with our first experience because Riverside Luxury Cruises is super high-end!
They had a spa, world-class chef, massive top deck, multiple restaurants, and overall incredible service. We even had a dedicated butler who we could call at any time of the day.
Now you shouldn’t expect every boat to have this level of luxury. It may depend on your budget or how lavish you’d like to be on the river.
Also, note that within most cruise ships are different sized rooms. So even if you pick a smaller room with a top cruise company you’ll still have access to all the fun amenities and dining options.
3. Book a Room With a Balcony
That brings us to our next point! You’ll definitely be spending time while sailing in your room, especially in the mornings and nights. For this reason, we highly recommend getting a room with a balcony.
The difference between this and a standard window is huge and can completely enhance your Europe river cruise experience. On our own cruise we had a french balcony. We loved having the sliding door opened all the way giving which gave us a great view and fresh air.
There was nothing like pulling away from Budapest our first night and seeing the Hungarian Parliament all lit up from our bed. If available, we will totally be booking a room with a balcony on our next river cruise in Europe.
4. Learn About Each Destination Beforehand
Obviously, when planning your European river cruise you will have picked out a special region to look forward to. Many travelers choose river routes that they’ve never sailed before, and will be visiting towns and cities which they know nothing about.
Be sure to do some research beforehand on each place you’ll be stopping before your trip. This way you can get the background information and spend more time soaking in the local cultures after you arrive.
One quick tip is to pick up some local currency to save time hunting for ATMs. Remember that you’ll only have limited time at every stop! On our Europe river cruise we even stopped in two different Austrian towns in the same day.
5. European River Cruise Excursions
While there is plenty to explore on your own, you should take advantage of the tours offered on river cruises in Europe. They typically provide local experts who will meet you at your stop for guided shore excursions.
We did a tour almost every day on our trip with Riverside Luxury Cruises. One day we even split up because we were interested in a different attraction. They can range from city walking tours to vineyard visits, and fun museum trips.
One of our favorite excursions was the day we spent in Salzburg. On this tour, we were docked in Linz and taken 2 hours by bus to the famous Austrian city. We started with a guided city tour, then had almost 3 hours to see the castle, explore old town, and see Mozart’s birthplace. What a day!
Whether it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site in one of the medieval towns or a bike ride to a nearby castle, you’re sure to have a blast on these set tours.
6. All Inclusive Europe River Cruises
One of the best parts about a European river cruise is the different culinary options aboard the ship. After only sailing on ocean cruises before this, we were so impressed with the meals aboard our river cruise in Europe.
Instead of the daily buffets we were served mostly a la carte. Some nights we even had 5 to 6 course meals paired perfectly with local wines. We loved how many of the dishes were catered to the region we were sailing through. A couple of days we also ordered breakfast in bed which was a luxurious change up.
Know that the food options can range among the different Europe river cruise ships. Some boats may only have one restaurant for all your meals while others could have multiple options.
It’s a great idea to look though the food offered before deciding on the company to go with. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for special dinners and restaurants that have an extra charge. These can often include tasting menus and premium wines to enjoy.
More times than we count, we found ourselves on the top sun deck with a glass of champagne taking in the views before dinner. In addition to the great meals, there were different bars around the boat serving beer, wine, and cocktails. Depending on your travel style, you may want to consider an all-inclusive alcohol package or to just pay as you go.
7. Pack For the Weather
What you pack for your river cruise in Europe will completely depend on the time of year. We went on our cruise vacation in mid-July which meant we had very hot temperatures. This meant we brought plenty of short sleeves, shorts, dresses, and skirts for this European adventure.
However, if we were traveling during holiday season in the winter we would have obviously brought the proper clothes. Coming off an incredible road trip in Scotland, we did have some warmer clothing that we didn’t expect to come in handy.
When sitting on the top deck after dark the weather can be drastically different and actually quite chilly with a breeze. So even in the spring and summer you should pack for changing weather you might come across.
You should also plan for any national parks, hikes, or outdoor activities you will be taking part in. We’re definitely glad we had our bathing suit for the spa, and sturdy walking shoes for touring the historic cities.
Keep in mind that many Europe river cruises have a dress code for formal dining. Be sure to bring dress shoes, pants, and appropriate attire.
8. Take a Longer Europe River Cruise
So how long are you thinking about river cruising for? When planning for our own river cruise in Europe we noticed that there were a wide range of days to choose from. The most popular cruises seemed to be the three to seven day trips on the water.
Don’t get us wrong. You can certainly see a lot on a Danube river cruise or floating through Southern France over three or 4 days. Yet, we found that having a full week allowed us to truly embrace the Europe river cruise life. This way we had plenty of opportunities to explore the stops and enough time to thoroughly enjoy the boat.
After all, if you’re paying for luxury river cruises in Europe you will want to use the amenities on board! The Riverside Mozart ship had a full spa, massages, cigar room, and 2 different bars. Simply enjoying a drink on the top deck and taking the in the spectacular scenery was great even when parked.
9. Plan Around a Special Occasions
One of the best times for a European River Cruise is to commemorate a special date. We actually celebrated Brigitte’s birthday the day we were docked in Bratislava Slovakia! Another couple on board was cruising for their 13th wedding anniversary.
There’s no better way to enjoy a fun time with your loved ones than on a river cruise in Europe. While many travelers pick river cruising for a romantic holiday, know that it can be any type of trip you want!
Don’t be afraid to make friends as you enjoy your sailing trip. There are even small group journeys that cater to solo travelers if that’s your thing.
10. Arrive Early & Stay Late
One of the best ways to make the most of your holiday is to actually extend it! If you have time and it works with your flights then plan to arrive in your departure city. It’s even nice to have a few days after wherever you dock to stay there before leaving.
Not only will it give you more time to explore the first port, but it can be a good idea to get to your departing city a day early or two early. This way you can account for any mishaps with airline delays or cancelled flights.
If you have an early checkout at your hotel we found that most European river cruise lines are very accommodating. As long as the boat is docked in your first port there should be no problem leaving your bags on the ship until you’re allowed to check in.
This also goes for the end of your cruise. Just like many hotels, the check out time will be in the morning to early afternoon. If the end (or next stretch of your vacation) isn’t starting directly from there you can usually leave your bags and come back and get them later.
11. Don’t Miss the Last Boarding Time!
This is one of the most important tips we can give you for Europe river cruises. Pay very close attention to the boarding time at each stop. They will always have it listed on your daily schedule and in the main lobby as you leave the boat.
An easy way to ruin your holiday is to be left behind, and have to find your own way to the next destination. Do your best to get back on the cruise ship early and leave yourself enough time to not add any extra stress.
12. Is a River Cruise in Europe Worth it?
100% yes! Most travelers imagine cruising to be a large ocean ship with thousands of other people. Yet, a European river cruise is such a unique and intimate experience.
After taking ocean cruises before this we really appreciated the difference. Going to so many historic and beautiful places in Europe on small ship cruises makes for such a great holiday.
So what are some of the things we loved most? First off, the views! Often times, sailing on the ocean will bring large ports and a ton of open water. However, on river cruises in Europe you can always expect to see something interesting from your window.
Many of our stops were in small villages and towns along the Danube River that we’d never been to. While we loved the big capital cities as well, the quaint European towns are something we gravitate towards more.
Are you thinking about a Douro River Valley cruise or heading out on the Danube like we did? Know that there’s no shortage of great itineraries to explore! We’re happy to answer any questions you might have about a River Cruise in Europe in the comments below.
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
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Europe River Cruise Travel Planning
Trains: When traveling through Europe be sure to check Omio for the best train and bus deals.
Rental Car: We always use Discover Cars to rent vehicles. There are so many beautiful cities and small towns to explore in Europe!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered!.We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.