There’s a unique style of travel that’s taking Europe by storm right now, and that’s river cruises.

Record numbers of American travelers are booking river cruises in Europe, causing river cruise companies to launch new ships, add new routes, and expand the cruising season to accommodate a growing number of passengers.

River cruises on cruise lines such as Viking River Cruises, Avalon Waterways, and AmaWaterways take passengers down Europe’s most scenic rivers like the Danube, the Rhine, the Seine, the Elbe, and more.

According to U.S. travel advisors who attended ASTA’s River Cruise Expo in Amsterdam this March, River Cruising is bigger than ever!

Here’s why river cruises have become more popular than ever for exploring Europe.

Smaller Than Regular Cruise Ships

When you think of cruises, you might be picturing the mega-ships that commonly set sail in the Caribbean and Mexico with thousands of passengers onboard.

However, river cruises are totally different!

Large Cruise Ship

River cruise ships are much smaller and more intimate than regular cruise ships.

Whereas an ocean cruise ship might accommodate as many as 6,000 guests, most river cruise ships have a maximum capacity of a couple hundred guests.

This makes a huge difference! You can actually get to know your fellow passengers on a river cruise.

Most river cruise ships also lack as many amenities as ocean liners—you won’t find multiple swimming pools, a spa, a casino, a theater, or multiple restaurants onboard a river cruise, for example.

The focus is more on exploring the destinations you visit rather than lounging around on the boat.

Viking River Cruise

Extreme Convenience

Another reason European river cruises are becoming so popular is because of how convenient they are!

You can visit multiple destinations in Europe without having to worry about any of the logistics yourself.

For example, on a Danube river cruise, you might visit a dozen different destinations in Germany, Austria, and Hungary over the course of two weeks.

On your own, this would require a ton of planning — hotel reservations, train bookings, organizing activities, and more.

But on a river cruise, you don’t have to worry about a thing.

Porto Portugal River Cruise Ship

River cruise boats are essentially like floating boutique hotels.

You just show up and only have to unpack your things once, and then each day, your floating hotel arrives in a new destination.

Surprisingly Good Value

One thing about European river cruises is that they don’t come cheap.

However, they can offer surprisingly good value if you price out the cost of an independent trip versus a river cruise.

Especially in destinations that are very expensive to travel independently, like Switzerland or Austria, a river cruise can be a good deal.

Vienna Christmas Market

River cruise lines also tend to offer more inclusions than typical cruises.

Like a regular cruise, all your meals are included on a river cruise.

But most river cruise lines also offer beer, wine, and soda for free as well, as opposed to creating an upcharge for it.

Some cruise lines, like Viking River Cruises, also offer one free tour in each destination, with additional tours and activities available to book for a fee.

Half Timbered Houses In Nuremberg, Germany, Europe

Expanded Season For Travel

Since river cruises have become increasingly popular recently, many cruise lines are expanding their offerings beyond the traditional summer season.

You can now take a river cruise through the Netherlands during tulip season in the spring and see all of the colorful blossoms up close and personal, or hit up all the best European Christmas markets on a cruise in December.

landscape with tulips and windmills in the Netherlands

Since summer is the hottest and most crowded time of year to visit Europe, many travelers are opting to visit in the spring, fall, or winter instead.

And with a longer river cruise season, this is very easy to do!

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