Messing about on the river is one of the finer ways to enjoy some of Europe’s most scenic views and there are no shortage of opportunities to cast off and gently sail through the countryside, or even join a luxury cruise through some of Europe’s biggest cities. From our personal favourites to feedback collected from our travel network here’s a selection of some of the best and most beautiful river cruise journeys to take in Europe (in no particular order)...
1. The Rhine – one of the major European rivers which is also gorgeous
The Rhine is one of the most famously beautiful rivers in Europe. Beginning in Grisons in the Swiss Alps it flows through Germany before finally joining the North Sea in Holland. It’s a popular route for luxury river cruises but it’s popular for a reason.
In Germany sail past the Black Forest region, gorgeous Cologne and a number of postcard-pretty castles. In Holland admire the famous waterways and windmills and when you stop in France take a day trip to the pretty half-timber city of Strasbourg.
2. The River Seine – one of the longest rivers in France which cuts for Paris
There are plenty of enjoyable river cruises in France but one of the most romantic has to be the Seine which flows through Northern France.
To see the river in style, explore Paris and then hop on a luxury boat to follow in the path of Claude Monet and discover France’s Norman countryside. Here you’ll find the historic Normandy beaches, the medieval architecture of Rouen and the gorgeous gardens of Giverny, which features in Monet’s most famous painting.
3. Gauja River, Latvia – the only large river of Latvia that begins and ends its flow in Latvia
Not too long ago, Latvia was voted the most beautiful country in the world (by an online poll conducted by First Choice holidays) and it also happens to be one of our favourite travel destinations. A true pearl of the Baltics, it’s filled with deep green forested landscapes where the scent of pine forests linger.
The countryside is spectacularly unspoilt, and if you opt for a trip down the Gauja River highlights include the 13th-century ruins of Turaida Castle, where mighty sandstone cliffs rise above the river and the Gauja National Park where bears and dog wolves roam.
4. Loire River – the beautiful Loire is the longest river in France and the 171st longest in the world
Over 1000kms long, the Loire is France’s longest river and has something for everyone. With UNESCO world heritage status, it winds its way through vineyards, gorgeous countryside, tiny medieval towns and some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country.
The Loire Valley area offers some superb boating opportunities, with châteaux and cathedrals, the vineyards of Sancerre, and the ancient fortified town of Decize, with its 7th century Merovingian crypt.
5. Douro River, Portugal – the highest-flow river of the Iberian Peninsula
This part of Portugal is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe. The tourist masses stay away but this is definitely a good thing. The river meanders through the city of Porto into the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, passing through unspoilt and outstanding beautiful scenery on the way.
Expect steep terraced vineyards, postcard-pretty villages and tranquil almond orchards. Definitely one for the vinophiles.
6. Danube River – the second-longest river in Europe
Passing through nine countries in total, this is the second-longest river in Europe. It begins at the Black Forest in Germany, before eventually emptying into the Black Sea via Romania and Ukraine, passing miles of beautiful landscapes and architecture along the way.
One of the most talked-about stretches starts at historic Budapest and flows through the Baltic countries. Other highlights include Austria’s Wachau Valley and the elegant capital Vienna.
7. River Shannon, Ireland – a pretty river which is the longest in Ireland
Separating the west from the east and the south, the River Shannon is the Emerald Isle’s longest and most beautiful river. With famously friendly locals and plenty of rolling greenery, lakes, and the odd ancient Celtic monastery or two, it one of the underrated tourist destinations in Europe.
Hire a boat or join a more organised river cruise to really make the most of the views. Just make sure you stop at one of the many traditional pubs to enjoy a pint of Guinness or two.
You may also like our other post on the beautiful places to visit in Ireland.
8. River Po – the longest river in Italy has very beautiful scenery
This is another river route for the romantics, the River Po is Italy’s longest river, starting in the Cottian Alps and eventually emptying out into the Adriatic Sea.
It takes you past some very beautiful scenery including the city of Verona (made famous by Romeo and Juliet), many traditional Italian towns and Italy’s famously spell-binding Venice lagoon.
9. Dordogne River – a river in south-central and southwest France which offers stunning scenery
This is easily one of the most beautiful areas of France and the River Dordogne is definitely a big part of the draw. Running through south-central and southwest France the scenery is seriously spectacular with pretty traditional houses clinging to steep cliffs and the odd chateau or two.
The most attractive stretch of the river is arguably from Tremolat to la Roque Gageac – here it passes four of the country’s most beautiful villages.
10. Norfolk Broads – an area of outstanding natural beauty in the UK
A network of winding rivers and lakes, the Norfolk Broads are one of Europe’s most popular waterways, attracting over seven million visitors a year. With 200 square kilometres of navigable tidal rivers and broads (lakes), the Broads are a boating haven, and along with the Suffolk broads is Britain’s largest protected wetland area.
There is plenty to see and do, including birdwatching, walking, and cycling. Hire a boat on the Broads and gently motor between moorings, stopping for a pint in one of the many atmospheric pubs and restaurants that are dotted along the river banks.