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A Guide to River Cruising for Art Lovers

  • Find the best galleries and museums along European and Russian rivers
  • Art from France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Russia and Spain
  • Add a little extra culture to your river cruise

by Sue Bryant

River cruising is made for art lovers. Just about any voyage you choose will take you through cities where world-famous museums house legendary works, not to mention artists’ houses and studios, and landscapes that inspired great painters such as Monet, Cézanne and Van Gogh. You might even want to pack a sketch pad to create your own masterpiece. Here are some ideas to inspire art fans.

  • Riviera Travel’s eight-day The Seine, Paris and Normandy cruise is surely as good as it gets for art appreciation. It would take days to do the big galleries of Paris, from the Louvre to the Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Georges Pompidou, so you can maximise your time by planning ahead and booking tickets in advance for all of these. What’s beyond the French capital, though, is just as fascinating. Sailing through the bucolic landscapes of Normandy, you’ll reach Rouen, where Monet obsessively sketched and painted the cathedral from a garret opposite, and Giverny, where you can visit his house and garden and see the famous lily pond and Japanese bridge. There’s also a trip to the exquisitely pretty port of Honfleur, where the light inspired its most famous son, Eugène Boudin, a contemporary of Monet’s, to paint the fishing harbour, lined to this day with pastel-coloured houses. The Musée Eugène Boudin, housed in a 19th Century chapel, displays some of his work.
  • Vienna arguably rivals Paris for its incredible art scene. Two of the top museums, the Leopold Museum and the contemporary Mumok, are housed in the city’s Museums Quartier, the former stable blocks of the Hofburg Palace, now a buzzing arts and cultural centre with outdoor seating and dining all summer. There are works by Warhol, Picasso and Yoko Ono in the Mumok, while the Leopold Museum focuses on Viennese Art Nouveau and houses the world’s largest collection of Egon Schiele. The big daddy of Viennese art, however, is the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum), crammed with masterpieces by Bruegel, Raphael, Vermeer, Rubens and Tintoretto. Riviera Travel’s eight-day The Blue Danube river cruise, and 15-day Cruise the Heart of Europe spend a day in Vienna so you’ll have ample chance to visit one of these world-class collections. The sun-drenched landscapes of Provence are famous as the inspiration for Cézanne, Picasso and Van Gogh.
  • Our eight-day Burgundy, the River Rhône and Provence cruise spends a day in Arles, where there are tributes to Van Gogh everywhere, from the Quai du Rhône, featured in his famous ‘Starry Night’ painting to the Café Van Gogh, immortalised in ‘Café Terrace at Night’. At the city’s Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, there are changing exhibitions of work inspired by the Dutch artist. Meanwhile, a whole new contemporary arts centre is under development in Arles, its centrepiece a dramatically twisting, aluminium-clad tower by Frank Gehry, which has completely changed the skyline; you’ll see it taking shape if you visit in 2019.
  • There’s more Van Gogh in Amsterdam, starting point for our five-day Amsterdam Kinderdijk and the Dutch Bulbfields river cruise. Here, the Van Gogh Museum houses the world’s largest collection of the artist’s work – more than 200 paintings and 500 drawings. This is one you might want to book in advance, as it’s hugely popular. The same goes for the nearby Rijksmuseum, one of the world’s most famous collections, featuring a staggering 7,500 pieces from the 17th century to the present day, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch its star attraction. If you haven’t visited for a few years, it’s worth seeing the Rijksmuseum anew, following a recent multimillion Euro, 10-year renovation.
  • Fans of Rubens should consider our eight-day Bruges, Medieval Flanders, Amsterdam and the Dutch Bulbfields cruise, as it gives you a day in Antwerp, with a chance to visit the beautiful Rubenshuis, built in 1611 as a home and studio for the artist. There’s a dazzling collection of 17th Century art here, as well as several works by Rubens himself. You’ll find more vast Rubens canvases in the Royal Museum of Fine Art – and other works in the fascinating Museum Plantin-Moretus, a medieval building displaying the world’s oldest printing press as well as the family art collection of Jan Moretus, a friend of the artist.
  • Budapest may not be as iconic as Paris or St Petersburg when it comes to art but the National Gallery in Buda Castle contains an impressive collection of Hungarian masterpieces – and provides an insight into the country’s history, through art. For something unconventional, you could always make the short journey to the city’s Memento Park, where 42 statues from the Communist era are displayed, including vast effigies of Lenin and Marx. Several of Riviera Travel’s cruises visit Budapest, including the 15-day Budapest to the Black Sea voyage and the week-long Blue Danube river cruise.
  • Riviera Travel’s eight-day Rhine Cruise to Switzerland ends (or begins) in Basel, where you could just squeeze in a visit to the Kunstmuseum Basel, acknowledged as Switzerland’s most important collection and recently renovated with the addition of a new, modernist wing. The list of star attractions is endless, with work by Holbein, Rousseau, Picasso, Gauguin, Chagall and Warhol, so plan in advance what you want to see.
  • When you explore the gorgeous old city of Salamanca as part of our eight-day Douro, Porto and Salamanca cruise, you’ll be busy gazing up at the two massive cathedrals or gasping at the beauty of the 12th Century university, one of the world’s oldest. But fans of Art Nouveau and Art Deco might want to make a detour to Casa Lis, housing a wonderful collection of paintings, sculpture, glasswork, jewellery and figurines from the Nouveau and Deco periods. The building itself is fabulous, in curvy Modernista style, light shimmering through the dazzling stained glass. Allow time to browse the gift shop for unusual, arty jewellery and presents.
  • Russia, of course, has its own world-class art scene. Our 12-day A Russian Odyssey, taking you through the network of waterways connecting Moscow and St Petersburg, provides an opportunity to visit some legendary museums. There are two days in Moscow, where the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts houses a huge collection of Impressionist work, not least an entire room dedicated to Monet. During three days in St Petersburg, a guided visit of the magnificent Hermitage is included. More than three million pieces are housed in the white, gold and mint-green Winter Palace, among them the exquisite, jewelled Fabergé eggs and pieces by Da Vinci, Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

There is so much to explore and discover on a river cruise, including a beautiful selection of art and galleries. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sue Bryantsue bryant bio

Sue Bryant is an award-winning journalist specialising in (and addicted to) cruising. She is cruise editor of The Sunday Times and also contributes to magazines and websites worldwide, including Sunday Times Travel Magazine, World of Cruising, Cruise Passenger (Australia), Porthole (USA) and Sue lives in London but is often travelling, exploring the world’s rivers and oceans. She has sailed on more than 100 ships over the last 15 years.