Solo River Cruise in Europe

Many travellers have preconceived notions of cruising, but the experience of sailing between sea ports is poles apart from freshwater journeys. River vessels typically accommodate less than 200 passengers, making for a more intimate and social experience. And it’s their smaller size that allows them to do things differently than the larger liners.

Then there are the journeys themselves. With less ground to cover, river cruises often allow for more time at shore. And while ocean liners are often too big to dock in central ports, that’s not true of river ships. Generally, you’ll disembark in the center of town, meaning there is little time wasted traveling to and from the vessel. Another bonus? The riverbank is typically in view, so even when you’re in transit, there’s always some shoreside scenes to keep you entertained.

And for travellers less keen on flying, it’s possible to minimise time in the air or, in some cases, even eliminate the need to fly altogether. A Rhine cruise from Strasbourg, for example, can be reached by the Eurostar and TGV rail.

Another Side of Europe

In recent decades, the proliferation of low-cost air travel sparked a huge increase in European holidays among Brits. Fast forward to the present day and many travellers may feel they’ve done Europe to death. But it’s time to think again: cruises traveling along the major, and not-so-major, rivers of the continent offer a more leisurely way to explore, providing access to cities, towns and sights that many fly-in travellers simply soar over.

A cruise along the Seine River won’t just take you to Paris or Versailles, but will likely also make stops at lesser-visited ports. You might get to stop at Honfleur, a picturesque Norman harbour town full of haphazardly constructed 18th-century houses, all tilting and wonky yet wonderfully pretty. Meanwhile, a voyage through the Bordeaux region won’t just include wine country standards, but will also take you to under-the-radar wine country villages such as Bourg Sur Gironde and Libourne.


The Rhine River Cruise in Switzerland

The Rhine River, which starts high in the Swiss Alps and flows through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands before emptying into the North Sea, is one of Europe’s most impressive waterways. There are countless sailing routes to choose from, with longer itineraries incorporating detours down the Moselle and Main tributaries, or even along the Danube River.

If you’re looking for a city break alternative, opt for a shorter cruise from Strasbourg. From here, drift along the UNESCO-listed section of the Rhine between Rüdesheim and Koblenz, which is blessed with incredible scenery. Every turn of the waterway reveals a new hilltop castle or a quaint hamlet clinging to forested slopes. At the narrowest point, you’ll pass the Lorelei, a large craggy rock. According to local lore, sirens sat atop the Lorelei and courted the attention of passing sailors causing them to crash.

Guadalquivir River Cruise in Spain

Sun-soaked and lightly trafficked except for fishing boats, Spain’s Guadalquivir River is prime cruising turf. It flows through the Andalucian capital of Seville and offers easy access to many of southern Spain’s must-see sights. A short sail through the Guadalquivir estuary into the Atlantic Ocean will take you to the ancient, salt-weathered port city of Cádiz, while shore excursions can bring you to many of southern Spain’s classic attractions. Wander the one-time capital of Islamic Iberia, Córdoba, and explore Granada’s magnificent Alhambra, a vast fortified palace complex built by the Moorish rulers of the Iberian peninsula.

Douro River Cruise in Portugal

Snaking through north Portugal, the Douro River cruise cuts through the heart of what we think is one of Europe’s most under-appreciated wine regions. Cruises here generally start and end in Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, and the home of the famous fortified port wine. With a voyage along the Douro River, you can expect to squeeze in quite a bit of wine tasting, as well as discovering the many historic sights. Climb the 600 or so azulejo-covered steps of the Nossa Senhora dos Remédios church, tour the meticulously manicured gardens of Casa de Mateus and stroll the maze-like centre of medieval Guimarães.