7 Rhine River Cruises for Every Type of Traveler

Whether you love the idea of sailing past dozens of castles and forts or are eager to explore one of Europe’s more underrated wine regions, there’s a Rhine River cruise for you.

8 Rhine River Cruises for Every Type of Traveler

A cruise down the Rhine River remains one of the most popular vacation options for travelers looking to get a taste of central Europe.

Courtesy of Avalon Waterways

One of the world’s great rivers, the Rhine, marks a storied stretch of winding waterway that spans 765 miles and six nations—Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France, and the Netherlands—from the Swiss Alps on to the North Sea. European river cruise itineraries here most commonly glide through four of these countries in one whirlwind week, on regular runs between Basel, Switzerland, and Amsterdam, with stops in France and Germany along the way.

It’s a romantic route marked by the region’s legendary castles and half-timbered houses, hillside vineyards, and fairy-tale Black Forest landscapes—along with a pass through the dramatic Rhine Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Apart from all that surface beauty, cruising the Rhine affords an immersive contextual understanding about how this ancient highway and trade route—pivotal since ancient Roman times through to today—has contributed to the history, culture, and economic development of greater Europe. The Rhine is one of the busiest and most economically important waterways in Europe, and your journey will also take you past hulking factories and stacks of shipping containers for a behind-the-scenes look at how essential goods are transported across the continent.

A Rhine River cruise provides seamless door-to-door delivery to the attractions of bigger cities like Basel, Strasbourg, Cologne, and Amsterdam, as well as access to less-visited but entirely worthy destinations such as Koblenz and Rüdesheim in Germany, where you’ll get your fill of castles, churches, museums, and wineries—all from the comfort of your floating hotel with accommodations, meals, and guided excursions included.

In 2022, the Rhine River experienced one of the worst droughts in recent history—some parts of the river in Germany dropped to below 16 inches of water in key navigational areas. The drought affected the flow of cargo and river cruise ships. While ships are still sailing, keep in mind that low water levels may affect river cruise itineraries by shortening the amount of time that passengers have in port when ships are forced to sail at a slower pace.

Nevertheless, river cruise companies have seen a major rebound in demand since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Rhine river cruises are still among the most popular sailing itineraries in Europe. Here, we present seven of the best Rhine River cruises (in no particular order) for every type of experience, whether it’s food, family adventure, wine—or something else—that floats your (river)boat.

Amawaterways Cologne, Germany

AmaWaterway’s “Captivating Rhine” itinerary runs from Amsterdam to Basel, while its “Enchanting Rhine” cruise runs in the opposite direction.

Photo by Bjoern Wylezich/Shutterstock

AmaWaterways: Captivating Rhine

Cost: From $3,000 per person
Days: 8 days
Departure Port: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Final Port: Basel, Switzerland (AmaWaterways’ Enchanting Rhine Cruise runs from Basel to Amsterdam and is the same itinerary, just in the opposite direction)

The seven-night “Captivating Rhine Cruise” sails between Amsterdam and Basel, with stops in Germany (Cologne, Rüdesheim, Ludwigshafen, and Breisach) and France (Strasbourg)—it’s a paradise for wine lovers. Itineraries include wineries, vineyards, and cellars: Hike through the vineyards of the winemaking town of Rüdesheim; visit the “Great Vat,” an 18th-century, 49,000-gallon wine barrel in Heidelberg; or taste the famous white wines of Alsace in Riquewihr. Some notable varieties to sample include riesling, which is known as the “queen of the grapes” along the Middle Rhine, while red wine drinkers will enjoy Germany’s full-bodied and velvety spätburgunder (known as pinot noir in France and made using the same grapes).

However, there are plenty of other things to do on this cruise for those who want to experience the culture of the towns along the route or hope to stay active on vacation. AmaWaterways has several cruise excursions available for each port on its itinerary, including gentle walking tours with local guides and bike tours through the gorgeous central European countryside. (Tip: Don’t miss the bike tour of Strasbourg, which explores the charming city’s modern role as one of the de facto capitals of the European Union, as well as its historic Alsatian identity with a well-informed local guide and leisurely 10-mile ride.)

Viking Rhine River Cruise

Viking regularly travels up and down the Rhine with its line of over 40, nearly identical sister ships.

Photo by Shutterstock

Viking: Paris to the Swiss Alps

Cost: From $3,299 per person
Days: 12 days
Departure Port: Paris, France
Final Port: Zürich, Switzerland

Viking, which bills itself as “the thinking person’s cruise,” is a major player on the Rhine, where it operates more than 40 riverboats—nearly identical sister ships with a capacity for 190 guests. Of particular interest to history buffs is its “Paris to the Swiss Alps” cruise tour, a four-nation trip that bookends a seven-night sailing on the Moselle (a Rhine tributary) and Rhine with a two-night, hotel-based stay in both Paris and Zurich. After taking a coach from Paris, guests visit Luxembourg en route to Trier, Germany, the embarkation point for a voyage that stops in Bernkastel, Cochem, Koblenz, Mainz, and Speyer in Germany, as well as Strasbourg, France. The cruise ends in Basel before continuing on by ground transfer to Zurich.

The itinerary is loaded with history-rich excursions. Among the highlights is the American Cemetery where more than 5,000 World War II soldiers repose in Luxembourg; a tour of relics of Roman baths, an amphitheater, and city gates at Trier; a visit to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz to explore the history of the printing press; a stroll through the palace and gardens of Versailles in France; and Germany’s historic university city, Heidelberg.

Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt, Germany, was the birthplace of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who penned the play Faust.

Photo by Shutterstock

Avalon Waterways: Active & Discovery on the Rhine

Cost: From $2,849 per person
Days: 8 days
Departure Port: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Final Port: Frankfurt, Germany

The Avalon Waterways “Active & Discovery on the Rhine” itinerary incorporates an array of customizable excursion options that emphasize physical activity. Choose from guided tours like kayaking the canals of Amsterdam, hiking through the Netherland’s De Hoge Veluwe National Park (140,000 acres and home to red deer, wild boars, and pine martens), jogging while sightseeing in Cologne, or biking through Düsseldorf. Or set out on your own in ports with loaner bikes and Nordic walking sticks on hand. The river cruise operator also offers a series of “discovery” excursions, hands-on, interactive experiences that often focus on culture and cuisine.

Adventures by Disney

Cost: From $5,399 per adult; from $4,899 per child
Days: 8 days
Departure Port: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Final Port: Basel, Switzerland

River cruise lines have long catered to the over-50 crowd, but the industry has been shaking things up in recent years with the emergence of several family-friendly river itineraries. Leading the charge is the six-year-old partnership between Disney (via its Adventures by Disney tour operating arm) and AmaWaterways; their seven-night Rhine River itineraries unfold aboard two ships, the 156-guest AmaLucia and the AmaSiena. Both riverboats include rare connecting staterooms and suites, designed with families in mind, and fun onboard activities like cooking classes, karaoke nights, and swimming in the heated pool.

Sailing between Amsterdam and Basel, the ship stops in France (at Strasbourg) and Germany (at Mannheim, Rüdesheim, and Cologne) en route. Excursion highlights—all led by up to eight Disney-trained “Adventure Guides”—include a “Black Forest adventure” outing, where you can choose between an alpine toboggan run or a zipline ride and hike to Germany’s highest waterfalls at Triberg Waterfalls; a visit to a chocolate museum in Cologne; horseback riding in Riquewihr (the French village that inspired Beauty and the Beast); an indoor winter park in Neuss, Germany (for a sledding or tubing adventure, no matter the season); and the Rhine requisite and fun-for-all-ages Heidelberg Castle tour and Amsterdam canal cruise. Note that itineraries are suggested for kids ages eight and up, and a minimum age of four years old applies.

Strasbourg, France Christmas

European river cruises are especially popular around the holiday season when Christmas markets are in business.

Photo by ecstk22/Shutterstock

Scenic: Christmas on the Rhine

Cost: $4,195
Days: 8 days
Departure Port: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Final Port: Nuremberg, Germany

Scenic Cruise’s “Christmas on the Rhine” takes the best parts of a typical Rhine river cruise and sprinkles in a little holiday magic. Taking place just once a year from December 21 to 28, this cruise sails during Christmas—a memorable way to observe the holiday. The journey begins in Amsterdam, where guests are invited to take a river canal tour or visit the nearby towns of Alkmaar and Schermerhorn, home to windmills that date back to the 16th century. Then the ship will wind its way through Cologne, Rüdesheim, Würzburg, and Bamberg before finally ending in Nuremberg. There are plenty of places in each port to soak up the festive European atmosphere, while making time to pick up a Christmas-themed trinket or two in either Amsterdam or Cologne, Germany.

Netherlands Tulips

The moist, but well-drained soil of the Netherlands provides the perfect growing conditions for tulips.

Photo by Travelpixs/Shutterstock

Uniworld: Tulips and Windmills

Cost: $4,699
Days: 10 days
Departure Port: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Final Port: Antwerp, Belgium

Uniworld’s “Tulip and Windmills” cruise begins on the Rhine, but then veers to the west toward Belgium. While in the Netherlands, travelers can look forward to skipping through acres of tulips at Keukenhof Gardens and getting up close and personal with Kinderdijk’s 19 UNESCO-protected windmills that have guarded the low country from rising sea levels for centuries. Guests will also get to visit small, charming Dutch towns, such as Enkhuizen, Hoorn, and Veere, and take in the dazzling skyline of Rotterdam. Art fans will be sure to especially enjoy this itinerary, which features stops at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo (which houses nearly 100 works by Van Gogh) plus a tour through the world-renowned Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which has been nicknamed the “home of the Dutch masters.” Once in Belgium, visitors can take in Ghent’s world-renowned architecture on a walking tour and learn about the UNESCO World Heritage site Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. Be sure to munch on those Dutch and Belgian pastries when you can.

Swiss Alps Train

Tauck’s Rhine Enchantment intinerary combines two appealing modes of transportation: cruising and trains.

Photo by Gaspar Janos/Shutterstock

Tauck: Rhine Enchantment, Amsterdam to Milan

Cost: $6,400
Days: 11 days
Departure Port: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Final Port: Milan, Italy

OK, I know what you’re thinking: There are no waterways that directly connect Amsterdam with Milan. Tauck’s “Rhine Enchantment” itinerary combines arguably two of the most popular modes of leisure transportation in Europe: cruise ships and rail. After sailing from Amsterdam to Basel (with stops in places like Düsseldorf and Heidelberg), guests will take a train along a stunning route through the Alps to Milan. The cost of the trip includes three nights at the Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan during the Italian leg of the journey, a private boat ride on Lake Como, and a gala evening at a baroque palace situated along the Rhine near Wiesbaden, Germany.

This article was first published on June 10, 2019. It was updated on August 19, 2022.

Modern-day explorer, perpetual seeker, and diligent travel scribe Elissa Garay has traveled to and reported on nearly 60 countries around the globe.
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