- Find the best European rivers to cruise during summer and which of our top 5 summer itineraries is right for you
- Learn why summer is an ideal time for a river cruise and perfect for first-timers and solo travellers
- Discover the must-see attractions, exciting experiences, historical sites and vibrant cities
Summer is a wonderful time to explore Europe’s beautiful waterways. Azure-blue skies, warm temperatures, and sun-drenched days that stretch into late evening provide a delightful backdrop to sightseeing some of the remarkable cities and towns that line the Rhine, Douro, Danube, and Rhône rivers.
Why go on a European river cruise in summer?
European river cruises in summer are ideal for first-timers and solo travellers. The chance to wander through a sunlit plaza in Porto or sample alfresco dining in Vienna while making new friends is a joy. For first-timers, an afternoon spent unwinding on the sun deck while drifting past remarkable sights such as the Douro river’s terraced vineyards is a leisurely delight. The only question is, which summer cruise will you choose?
Top 5 summer cruises to take in 2020
We’ve rounded up five of the best summer river cruises to take in 2020 to help you decide, with something for everyone – from sunseekers and those looking to relax to explorers looking to discover the heart of historic Europe from the comfort of a luxury cruise.
The 550-mile Douro river is delightful in summer, with an abundance of sights to discover under balmy skies. Summer cruises start in Porto – its vibrant waterfront is a haven of outdoor cafés, while traditional crafts, antiques, and ceramics shops line its medieval lanes. Be sure to visit either the Cálem, Sandeman or Ferreira cellars for a port-tasting session.
A leisurely sail upstream allows for an exploration of the Douro valley and its glorious vineyard terraces – a view best enjoyed sipping a chilled glass of vinho verde during the warm summer evenings. Sunseekers can relax on comfortable loungers, or take a dip in the sun deck pool to cool off.
Those looking for a little more activity won’t be disappointed. Exploring the 12th century walled village of Castelo Rodrigo provides unforgettable views over the surrounding rolling hills, which are best seen on bright, sunny days. A visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Salamanca is a chance to enjoy the spectacle of a flamenco show. People-watching in Plaza Mayor is also popular – its colonnaded walkways provide ample shade from which to watch others stroll by.
From a visit to Mateus Palace Gardens with its landscaped gardens to gazing on the painted ceramic tiles of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remedies in Lamego – also home to Portugal’s famous Raposeira sparkling wine – summer sees the Douro at its best.
Sailing downstream from Cologne and disembarking at Basel, a summer Rhine cruise to Switzerland includes ports of call best enjoyed in summer, including Koblenz, the dramatic Rhine Gorge, the Black Forest, Strasbourg, Lucerne, and the Bernese Oberland. The longer days and warmer temperatures of Northern Europe create the perfect cruise for sightseeing, while luxurious sun decks provide a place to read, play chess, and watch as you drift past enchanting towns and villages.
The longer days allow for packed itineraries and exploring on foot. While in Koblenz, stroll medieval streets of the old town and take advantage of the warm weather with an evening wander along the riverside promenade to the Deutsches Eck where the Rhine meets the Moselle.
Sailing through the Rhine Gorge is a highlight on day 3, with towering outcrops soaring over 600 feet high, adding to the drama of the river. A walking tour of nearby Rüdesheim is ideal in summer, taking in 13th-century Niederburg Castle. As the Rhine meanders into France, stopping at Strasbourg, seek shade in its charming multi-towered Ponts Couverts, and relax with a crisp Riesling in an outdoor Alsatian café.
The cool of the Black Forest makes a concluding contrast to the sun-drenched landscape. For many travellers, a cruise highlight is the Bernese Oberland – an alpine jewel with the breathtaking views of the Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch mountains. In summer their peaks are still snowcapped.
Central and Eastern Europe make for an incredible cruise during the summer months. From Vienna’s sophisticated elegance and beautiful boulevards to the incredible views from Castle Hill in Budapest, all spectacular under summer skies.
Sailing from Hungary to Austria via Slovakia and back to Budapest, there is so much to pack into an incredible eight days. The Esztergom Basilica is a tour that offers shade from the sun and is steeped in history, including one of the world’s largest altarpieces. For panoramic photo opportunities, visit Bratialava’s 17th-century castle with its unparalleled views over the Danube.
A highlight of any summer river cruise is lunch at Melk Abbey. Explore its richly decorated library and view its 214-yard-long Emperor’s Gallery. In Linz, head to the Old Town square and gaze on the pastel-coloured facades of the buildings. Keen gardeners can take an alternative excursion to Salzburg on an air-conditioned coach to marvel at the formal gardens of Mirabell Palace. Vienna, too, is a true summer destination. A trip on the city’s famous Ferris wheel is charming in good weather, while an evening can be spent relaxing onboard your river cruise ship enjoying a classical recital.
A cruise through Hungary, Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria during summer is stunning. The season brings a cruise of contrasts, with vast wetlands, spectacular rock formations, and romantic cities competing for attention.
With so much to see and do, it can be hard to pick out particular highlights – though travelling through the Iron Gates Gorge and its 83-mile stretch of valleys in summer is on many a bucket list. Gaze on the 130-foot tall rock relief of Romanian hero Decebalus; bright summer days make for fantastic photo opportunities. If you need a break from the hot weather, head to the Bow Deck for some deliciously cooling ice cream.
Bucharest in summer has plenty to offer. Nicknamed ‘Little Paris’, its tree-lined boulevards offer plenty of shade, or head inside for a guided tour of the 1,100 room Palace of the Parliament. The mid-point of the cruise is the Danube Delta that leads to the Black Sea. In the summer the delta teems with wildlife – over 3,500 animal and fish species and over 1,700 types of plant combine for a remarkable ecosystem. A stroll around Novi Sad – known as the ‘Athens of Serbia’ – is a must, as is an after-dinner sampling of Bermet, a dessert wine characterised by its aromatic sweetness.
In summer, Provence in full bloom is truly a sight to behold. The Rhône river is wonderful for sunseekers, with the sun-drenched landscape providing an idyllic setting as you drift past vibrantly lush hillsides and through the rugged beauty of the Ardéche Gorges to medieval Avignon. En route, you’ll pass the 2,000-year-old Pont du Gard – one of the wonders of Europe – surrounded by pine and cypress-covered hills. Make sure you have your camera ready.
There are plenty of cities and medieval discoveries to make on this cruise. Lyon is particularly lovely to explore in summer. Its covered traboulse – narrow passageways – offer plenty of shade while you discover the city’s rich history. Sample some of the incredible dishes on offer – Lyon is home to 20 Michelin-starred restaurants. Burgandy’s wine capital – Beaune – is a short cruise away, and a cooling tour of a wine cellar is a must. Avignon is a historic highlight – its magnificent Pope’s Palace is the largest Gothic palace in the world and worth a tour. For shade seekers, head to the Provençal square for plenty of charming cafés from which to reflect on your memorable cruise.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.