The 8 Best European River Cruises of 2021

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The Rundown

Best Overall: Viking River Cruises

Viking River Cruises

Viking River Cruises

  • Sails from: Kiev
  • Duration: 11 Nights
  • Ship Name: Viking Sineus
  • Itinerary: Kiev, Ukraine; Dnieper River, Ukraine; Zaporozhye, Ukraine; Kherson, Ukraine; Odessa, Ukraine; Black Sea; Port Raysut, Oman

When it comes to river cruising, Viking River Cruises is one of the most widely-recognized brands – and with good reason. The company operates more than 70 vessels and continues to be honored with awards. One of Viking’s most unique European River voyages is aboard the Viking Sineus, a 196-passenger vessel along the Dnieper River to the Black Sea. Completely refurbished in 2014, the Sineus' staterooms all boast a river view (while suites have private balconies), plus there’s a library and boutique, sun deck, and observation lounge with panoramic views. Excursions are included in the price such as an old Cossack fortress-turned-museum in Zaporozhye, or a home visit in Kremenchug to try traditional Ukrainian dumplings. 

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways

Courtesy of Avalon Waterways

  • Sails from: Mainz, Germany
  • Duration: 5 nights
  • Ship Name: Artistry II
  • Itinerary: Rudesheim, Germany; Rhine Gorge, Germany; Koblenz, Germany; Cologne, Germany; Amsterdam, Holland

Avalon Waterways is known for its “Suite Ships” that are 30 percent larger than other river cruise ships, and feature panoramic, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling windows for prime viewing right from the staterooms. On the Artistry II, there’s also a sky deck with whirlpool and shade awnings, a fitness center, and a covered observation lounge. Avalon showcases mouthwatering cuisine with fresh produce provided by local growers, complimentary wine pairings with sommeliers, and flexible dining times. On the Rhine River cruise, passengers can partake in three types of included excursions: “Classic," which includes a guided walk of Amsterdam, “Discovery," featuring the Mechanical Music Museum in Rudesheim, or “Active," which offers a guided hike in Rudesheim’s vineyards. 

Best Service: Scenic Cruises

Scenic Cruises

Courtesy of Scenic Cruises

  • Sails from: Porto
  • Duration: 7 nights
  • Ship Name: Scenic Azure
  • Itinerary: Regua, Portugal; Lamego,Portugal; Vega de Terron; Spain Salamanca, Spain, Pocinho, Portugal; Pinhao, Portugal; Porto, Portugal

The Douro River in Portugal is quickly gaining popularity among river cruise passengers with several cruise lines offering voyages, including the 5-star, Scenic River Cruises. Built in 2016 and designed to navigate the Douro River, the 96-passenger Scenic Azure is smaller than other vessels in the fleet, but with one crew member for every two guests, her size ensures impeccable service. Suites range from 183 square feet to 420 square feet and feature butler service in every cabin and private balconies in most. The “Delightful Douro” itinerary sails round-trip from the UNESCO World Heritage City of Porto, with plenty of time to explore and see the top sights, including tours to the Palacio da Bolsa and Guimaraes Ducal Palace.

Best Boutique: Uniworld



  • Sails from: Venice
  • Duration: 7 nights
  • Ship: River Countess
  • Itinerary: Venice, Chioggia, Polesella, Porto Viro, Venice Islands (Burano, Mazzorbo, Torcello)

If boutique hotels are your style, consider a boutique river cruise with Uniworld. Unlike many other river cruise lines, each ship on Uniworld is completely different – with its own sense of style, décor and design. The luxurious,130-passenger River Countess will ply sail the Po River – a lesser-traversed route for other river cruise lines. The entire ship features regal décor, with chandeliers in the lobby, marble bathrooms in staterooms with Hermès bath products, built-in closets, and gorgeous French balconies – not to mention, personal butler service. Included excursions range from bike riding in Little Venice and a visit to UNESCO-designated Ferrara to experience the ancient art center. 

Best Solo Cruise: Riviera Cruises

Riviera Cruises

Riviera Cruises

  • Sails from: Amsterdam
  • Duration: 4 nights
  • Ship Name: MS Oscar Wilde
  • Itinerary: Enkhuizen; Rotterdam; Kinderdijk; Keukenhof; Amsterdam; Holland

With more than 30 years of experience in river cruising, Riviera Cruises prides itself on personal attention and tailor-made cruises, including a four-night cruise for solo travelers (with no single supplements). During the spring voyage, passengers will have an opportunity to explore the famous windmills at Kinderdijk, drive through the lovely bulb fields of Keukenhof Gardens, a world-famous floral display, take a walking tour of Amsterdam, and visit the port town of Enkhuizen. The 169-passenger, MS Oscar Wilde vessel was built in 2017 and has a gorgeous, marble-floored lobby and is flooded with natural light – from the observation lounges to the spacious staterooms, which feature floor-to-ceiling window walls that lead to private balconies. 

Best for Families: Adventures by Disney

Adventures by Disney

Courtesy of Adventures by Disney

  • Sails from: Budapest
  • Duration: 7 nights
  • Ship Name: AmaLea
  • Itinerary: Nuremberg, Germany; Regensburg, Germany; Passau, Germany; Linz, Austria; Melk, Austria; Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary

If you’re traveling with little ones, Disney has partnered with AMA Waterways, which specializes in luxury river cruises in Europe, to offer kid-friendly river cruises that are loaded with educational opportunities. Disney Adventure Guides help to showcase each destination and are onboard each cruise, plus there’s Disney movie nights and culture immersion opportunities for the kids. The all-inclusive cruises bundle shore excursions, meals, gratuities, and beer and wine at dinner – plus, there's premium service and top-rated accommodations onboard. On the Danube River cruise, the ship visits four countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The cruise also includes bike rides along the river, a visit to Durnstein castle, and a Hungarian cowboy show. 

Check out our other reviews of the best cruises for kids you can book today.

Best Canal Cruise: Croisi Europe Cruises

Croisi Europe Cruises

Courtesy of Croisi Europe Cruises

  • Sails from: Strasbourg
  • Duration: 6 nights
  • Ship Name: MS Madeline
  • Itinerary: Waltenheim (Wingersheim), Saverne, Lutzelbourg, Xouaxange, LaGarde, Strasbourg

Travelers who want to go deeper into the waterways of Europe can explore the intricate canal systems on a small, luxury barge cruise. The 22-passenger, MS Madeline was built in 2014 and sails along the waters of the Marne-Rhine Canal in Northeastern France. Departing and returning to the picturesque town of Strasbourg, where there's plenty to see and do, the elegant barge will visit small villages along the canal with six excursions included in the fare, ranging from culinary tastings, a tour of the Lutzelbourg Castle, and a walk through the hops fields in Wingersheim. Onboard, passengers dine on fine French specialties, enjoy cocktail hours and gala dinners, and relax in the window-lined lounge and bar or soak in the hot tub. 

Longest Cruise: Emerald Waterways

Emerald Waterways

Courtesy of Emerald Waterways

  • Sails from: Moscow
  • Duration: 12 nights
  • Ship Name: MS Rossia
  • Itinerary: Moscow; Uglich; Yaroslavl; Gortisy; Kizhi; Mandrogi; St. Petersburg, Russia 

Europe’s longest river, the Volga, flows from the Valdai Hills northeast of Moscow through Russia to the Caspian Sea. Emerald Waterways’ 224-passenger MS Rossia was built to navigate the waters of Russia, including the Volga and the neighboring Moskva River – which are connected through a canal. Staterooms feature hotel-style beds and large picture windows, and the top deck has lounge chairs for soaking in the views. Beer, wine, and soft drinks are covered in the cruise fare, plus transfers to and from the airport, gratuities, and nine guided shore excursions, such as an open-air Museum of Architecture in Kizhi Island and a tour of the Kremlin in Moscow. 

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best cruise lines.

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