If you haven't tried a European river cruise yet, here are the big three 'starter' cruises we're certain will get you hooked on river cruise travel.
The Rhine River
Route: Rhine River cruises span at least four countries: usually the Netherlands or sometimes Belgium at one end, then through Germany and France to Basel, Switzerland at the other end. They cover a lot of cultural and scenic ground in a week or two.
Highlights: The Rhine River may be the granddaddy of European river cruises. As far back as the 19th century, tourists took cruises to see the most outstanding feature of this river: a stretch of the Rhine where there are 40 castles in 40 miles. Most are in or on the banks of the river – best viewed from the water. In a cozy chair on the top deck of your cruise ship. With a bottle of wine.
Beyond the castles, who can resist the excitement of Amsterdam, diamond shopping and the sexy modern trends in Belgium, or the dark and intimidating cathedral in Cologne? This route also takes you to the vineyards around Rudesheim on the banks of the Rhine, home to famous Riesling wines.
The Danube River
Route: The Danube is the most popular European river cruise itinerary, flowing between several countries for nearly 2000 miles. Itineraries often start pre-cruise in Prague or even Amsterdam, then on the ship through some combination of Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, even Romania.
Highlights: Many itineraries include the most trendy central European cities: Prague, Vienna, Budapest, even the lesser known, surprisingly fascinating Bratislava. Outside these major cultural centers, scenic countryside is punctuated by medieval towns and picture perfect monasteries. There's a different wurst (sausage) and a different beer in every town, you can make a study of them!
The Danube also sails through one of our favorite places: the Wachau Valley. Some call it 'the Tuscany of Austria', with colourful towns and exquisite wines (famous for its Grüner Veltliner and Riesling) and vineyards you can explore by cycling tours.
The Rhone River
Route: Unlike the other two 'starter' European river cruises, this route stays in just one country: France. The itinerary is actually a combo of the Rhone and the Saone, from Arles in the heart of Provence in the south, to France's culinary capital of Lyon and the Beaujolais region north of Lyon, often with a pre or post cruise extension in Paris via a brief high-speed train ride.
Highlights: This river cruise itinerary not only gives you the opportunity for a pre or post cruise extension in the legendary South of France, it also makes its way through some of the most legendary wine regions of a legendary wine destination. Take a look at a wine map of France; wine regions follow the rivers the entire length of the Rhone/Saone. (Many of Europe's most famous wines developed in the ideal conditions provided by the river banks.) Itineraries deliver you to the doorsteps of great houses of Cotes de Provence, Chateauneuf du Pape, Cotes du Rhone, Beaujolais, and other celebrated French wines.
Other highlights include the breathtaking Roman amphitheatre in Arles, the bridge of the famous song in Avignon, the pinnacle of French cuisine in Lyon, and oh, and did we mention the wine?