The 6 Most Romantic River Cruises in Europe

In my many years of exploratory travel, chasing adventures around the globe, there’s been one place I’ve felt more alive than any other: on the river. While I’ve been known to pursue pulse-quickening whitewater rapids, I’ve also enjoyed the quieter times purling down peaceful rivers. These experiences on the water seem to reawaken us to the beauty of our immediate surroundings, and reconnect us to our souls and to one another. Over the years, European river cruising has gained a rightful reputation for being one of the most enchanting ways to fall in love with the many charms and treasures of the continent, and with a fellow traveler. Needless to say, I’ve jumped on board.

1. Gems of the Danube: Budapest to Nuremberg (8 days)

The 6 Most Romantic River Cruises in Europe

I have a special affinity for this river, which keeps me coming back year after year with my wife and sons. There is so much to love about the entrancing, soul-nourishing Danube. Bordered by medieval castles, idyllic hillsides, and ancient villages, it flows from the Black Forest in Germany to the Black Sea, passing through 10 European countries along the way.

On this special cruise, you’ll sip Wachau Valley wines and stop off at a number of timelessly beautiful cities—Vienna, Bratislava, Salzburg, Český Krumlov, Nuremberg, and the crown jewel of the Danube, Budapest. The Danube is called the “The River of Kings,” so nicknamed because it was the preferred route of travel by many historical rulers. Indeed, it’s easy to feel like royalty while cruising down its serene, sparkling waters and taking in endlessly magnificent sights along its banks.

View Gems of the Danube: Budapest to Nuremberg

2. Romantic Rhine & Moselle: Basel to Amsterdam (15 days)

The 6 Most Romantic River Cruises in Europe

The UNESCO-listed Rhine River is one of Europe’s most legendary journeys. Since the 19th century it’s been known as the “Romantic Rhine,” bringing fairytale fantasies to life and inspiring writers, artists, and composers throughout history. The river weaves through a dreamy array of ruined castles, terraced vineyards, and historic towns that emphasize the intimate connection between this area’s denizens and their environment. Explore the Moselle Valley region, the most beautiful in Germany, with a tour of Art Nouveau architecture and a taste of the region’s famous Riesling.

View Romantic Rhine & Moselle: Basel to Amsterdam

3. Treasures of Burgundy and Provence: Lyon to Lyon (8 days)

The 6 Most Romantic River Cruises in Europe

The next time you find yourself dreaming about a slower pace of life, consider a cruise along the Rhône and Saône rivers, which wind through the lavender fields of Provence and the vineyards of Burgundy. From Lyon to Avignon, you’ll experience the best the south of France has to offer, and along the way taste delicacies such as honey, saffron, truffles, foie gras, and rich chocolates. Your stops will be rewarded with tours of Benedictine monasteries, and wanderings through impressively preserved Roman theaters and medieval market squares. From the sunny deck of your cruise ship, watch endless vineyards pass as the day slips by—the stuff of bucolic dreams.

View Treasures of Burgundy and Provence: Lyon to Lyon

4. Tulip Serenade: Amsterdam to Amsterdam (8 days)

The 6 Most Romantic River Cruises in Europe

Winter’s chill is on the way out and spring is fast approaching. What better way to celebrate this season of renewed vivacity than with a cruise through the most beautiful flora on Earth? Holland is known for its show-stopping tulips and millions of these vibrant bulbs blossom here every year. Instead of a bouquet, give your loved one the breathtaking sight of these tulip fields that seem to stretch beyond infinity. Start in Amsterdam, “the Venice of the North,” and sail through sleepy canals, past windmills, and quaint villages. Float through the Rotterdam harbor and satisfy your sweet tooth with a culinary wonder called stroopwafel. Then, explore Flemish culture in Renaissance cities such as Ghent, Antwerp, and the postcard-perfect Bruges, where you’ll get to taste world-famous chocolates and knee-weakening cheeses. Holland and Belgium are beautiful all year round, but spring is undoubtedly the most delightful time of year to visit, and an opportunity to treat your significant other to something special.

View Tulip Serenade: Amsterdam to Amsterdam

5. Three Rivers Cruise: Amsterdam to Nuremberg (8 days)

The 6 Most Romantic River Cruises in Europe

This cruise will take you down three of Europe’s most important rivers: the Rhine, Main and Danube. Start in Amsterdam where bike-friendly streets weave between a lattice of canals. Then set sail for quintessential Germany, sinuously turning through quaint storybook villages as well as urban gems. On the banks of the Main River is the picturesque Miltenberg, a Bavarian village of sloping cobbled roads and traditional half-timbered buildings decorated with flower-stuffed window boxes. You’ll also visit Würzburg, known as the “Pearl of Germany’s Romantic Road,” a city of eclectic modern buildings and elegant Baroque and Rococo architecture. With a history dating back to the Bronze Age, this former Celtic territory has a storied past that is fascinating to uncover. Along the Rhine, get a glimpse of Cologne’s awe-inspiring cathedral, the world’s tallest twin-spired church.

View Three Rivers Cruise: Amsterdam to Nuremberg

6. Breathtaking Bordeaux: Paris to Bordeaux (12 days)

The 6 Most Romantic River Cruises in Europe

Say the word Bordeaux and many will instantly think of prestigious wines, gourmet fare, and charming châteaux. (Queen Elizabeth herself called the city “the very essence of elegance.”) On this cruise you indulge in all three—an engagement that promises to be a visual and epicurean feast. Float through a stunning southwest pocket of France, and stop off for a visit to Saint-Émilion, the gem of this ancient wine-growing region. Along the Gironde, Dordogne, and Garonne rivers, you’ll visit world-class Grand Cru wine estates and explore the Cognac region (and sample its famous brandy). And don’t forget to try the fresh oysters, delicate aphrodisiacs reaped from Arcachon Bay. By the end of the trip, you’ll realize your romanticized ideas of the Bordeaux region are not far off.

View Breathtaking Bordeaux: Paris to Bordeaux

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