a body of water with a mountain in the background

16 Emerald Waterways Excursions That Will Show You the Best of Europe


From the fertile vineyards of southern France to the imposing fortresses of the Rhineland, the colourful quintas of rural Portugal to the time-forgotten villages of Bulgaria, Europe boasts some of the world’s most iconic destinations – and you’ll experience the very best of them with a river cruise from Emerald Waterways.

Join us on the waters of Europe, and look forward to unforgettable experiences in every destination. Our itineraries are designed and curated to showcase the highlights of the continent, immersing you in local cultures, art, customs and traditions, for an enriching and inspiring river journey.

best river excursions

We introduce the wonders of Europe through a collection of carefully-selected excursions, each categorised by their level of activity. We call these special experiences EmeraldPLUS and EmeraldACTIVE, and even better, with us they are all included in the price of your holiday.

To help inspire your next Emerald Waterways river cruise, here we present 16 EmeraldPLUS and EmeraldACTIVE excursions which will show you the best of Europe – from the Danube to the Douro.

Danube

EMERALDACTIVE

Guided cycling tour along the Danube between Melk and Dürnstein

Pedal beside the Danube between Melk and Dürnstein in the company of an experienced guide, and marvel at the breath-taking vistas of the acclaimed Wachau Valley wine region of northern Austria. This 20-mile route takes place on a dedicated cycle path, which runs alongside the Danube and occasionally dips away into nearby villages and beauty spots.

Dürnstein

Beginning at the illustrious Melk Abbey, the ride follows the Danube north through the low-lying lands of Wachau, where terraced vine slopes and soaring mountains provide a stunning backdrop. As you near Dürnstein, you’ll catch a glimpse of the town’s ancient castle, which sits on a crest on the northern bank of the river. The ride lasts for around three hours, and reveals some of the Danube’s most captivating landscapes, as well as Austria’s finest landmarks.

Available on our 8-Day Danube Explorer River Cruise.

Hike to Belogradchik

Setting forth from the Bulgarian town of Vidin, this invigorating hike takes you through the foothills of the Balkans to the scenic town of Belogradchik, home to the impressive Belogradchik Rocks and its adjoining medieval fortress. With cloud-topped peaks stretching to the horizon, it’s difficult to believe you’re still in Europe as you hike deeper into the exquisite Balkans. The Belogradchik Rocks, massive limestone tors which dot the landscape around the town, only add to that enchantment, and you’ll soon be caught up in the drama of the landscape. Bypassing Magura Cave with its beautiful prehistoric paintings, you’ll reach Belogradchik, where there’s time for refreshments, Bulgarian style.

Belogradchik

Available on our 9-Day Enchantment of Eastern Europe River Cruise.

EMERALDPLUS

Home-hosted coffee and cake with a Slovakian family

Slovakia is a warm and welcoming country, and after exploring the country’s up-and-coming capital, Bratislava, you’re invited to enjoy coffee and cake in the home of a local family. Exclusive to Emerald Waterways, this intimate encounter is your chance to find out more about local life in Slovakia, from its culture and heritage to its inimitable customs and traditions. This unique excursion affords local insight few travellers are lucky enough to enjoy, as well the opportunity to sample traditional Slovakian cake, which is known for its rich, bold flavour. The welcoming nature of Slovakian people gives whole new meaning to the phrase ‘arrive as strangers, leave as friends’.

slovakina family

Available on our 11-Day Classic Prague & Danube Delights River Cruise.

Visit to Puszta Horse Farm for a performance by Magyar horsemen

In the traditional Hungarian town of Kalocsa, which is famous for its paprika production, you’re invited to visit a local Puszta Horse Farm for an afternoon of equestrian entertainment and performance. The Hungarians are renowned for their horsemanship, and nowhere is this more evident than the Puszta Horse Farm of Kalocsa. Here, you’ll trace Hungary’s legacy of Magyar horseplay and equine skill, passed down through the generations in the country’s rural villages. Tour the site and acquaint yourself with the fine Hungarian horses, before taking your seat for an exhilarating performance of horse-riding tricks from some of the site’s finest horsemen.

Magyar horsemen

Available on our 9-Day Enchantment of Eastern Europe River Cruise

Rhine and Main

EMERALDACTIVE

Guided hike to Wertheim Castle

In the medieval town of Wertheim, whose glass-blowing heritage dates back several centuries, opt for our special scenic hike to the summit of Wertheim Castle, the crown jewel of this charming Germanic town. The walk features a steep incline over rough cobblestones, so it’s not suitable for all travellers. Those who are up to the challenge, however, will enjoy far-reaching views over the Main and the surrounding landscape – a prize worthy of the walk. On the way up, your experienced guide will offer fascinating insight into the local area, while the castle’s café is the ideal place to stop for refreshments and to drink in the views before the walk back down.

Wertheim Castle

Walking tour of a charming Black Forest village

Few destinations arouse such curiosity and wonder as Germany’s fairy-tale Black Forest. After a tour of the open-air Vogtsbauernhof Museum, which exhibits life from the 16th century, you’ll hike through the dense forestland in the company of a local guide, who will regale your group with some of the Forest’s finest folk stories and myths. Passing through enchanting landscapes which inspired the Brothers Grimm, you’ll spend the day hiking in and around a traditional Black Forest village, whose half-timbered houses and quaint, cobblestones streets are typical of the region. During your visit, there’s time for refreshments in a local café before the enchanting walk back through the maze of ancient trees.

Black Forest village

Available on our 8-Day Jewels of the Rhine River Cruise.

EMERALDPLUS

Traditional Bavarian music in Regensburg

After a wonderful day spent amid the medieval cobblestones of Regensburg, return to your Emerald Waterways Star-Ship for an evening of traditional Bavarian music, played live on-board for your exclusive enjoyment. Bavarian folk music is characterised by its joviality and charm, with a blend of accordion, hurdy-gurdy and yodelling coming together to create a distinctly Germanic sound. Bavarian folk music has been enjoyed for centuries, and the Heimatschutz movement of the 19th century ensured that the region’s unique music and culture were preserved for future generations to enjoy. This performance by local musicians captures the timeless appeal of Bavarian music – the perfect way to end another wonderful day on the Rhine.

Regensburg

Available on our 15-day Splendours of Europe River Cruise.

Canal boat tour in Strasbourg

After your Star-Ship docks in the town of Kehl, you’ll be transferred by coach to the beautiful French city of Strasbourg, the ancient capital of the captivating Alsace region of France. Here, enjoy a wonderful tour of the city’s canal network by ‘Batorama’, passing by some of the most renowned landmarks of the Alsatian capital, including the famous Petite France, the tanners’ quarter, Vauban dam, the Covered Bridges, and the Neustadt imperial quarter, which boasts some of the city’s most prized architecture and the illustrious seat of the European Parliament. Marvel at the timber-framed buildings, pretty bridges and quaint squares of this enthralling French city, before spending the rest of the day exploring it at your leisure.

Strasbourg

Available on our 8-Day Majestic Rhine River Cruise.

Rhône

EMERALDACTIVE

Cycling tour from Tournus to Macon

Experience the easy pleasure of France’s Burgundy wine region with this active cycle ride between the attractive commune of Tournus and the small Saône-et-Loire city of Macon. Follow the languid flow of the Saône River south on a steady 19-mile cycle, while the terraced winery slopes and fragrant lavender fields of Burgundy unravel on either side of the river. Accompanied by an experienced local cycle guide, you’ll learn about the region’s wine-making heritage and make regular stops to enjoy the views. The ride takes place on a dedicated cycle path on the side of the river, meaning flat, easy ground that isn’t too testing on the legs, but still provides an invigorating day-trip for those feeling energetic.

Tournus

Guided walk through the vineyards of Tournon

No visit to Burgundy would be complete without visiting one of the region’s esteemed and historic vineyards, and your day will be spent in the renowned viticulture centre of Tain l’Hermitage, one of southern France’s most celebrated wine-making centres. Here, enjoy a brisk hike through the vineyards in the company of a local guide, who will offer fascinating insight into the wine-making culture of Burgundy. The sloping terrain makes this hike reasonably challenging, but in return ramblers will enjoy enriching views, wonderful scents, and the opportunity to get up close to the famous grapevines which make Burgundy wines so irresistible.

Tournon

EMERALDPLUS

Regional wine tasting

Seamlessly following on from your stimulating vineyard hike comes the chance to taste some of the region’s finest wines back on-board your Emerald Waterways Star-Ship. An expert local sommelier will be on hand to introduce each wine, offering tasting notes on each of the vintages on offer. Sampling the local produce is one of the great joys of a river cruise through southern France, and this session will awaken your palate to the wonderful flavours of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chablis, and Rosé wine grape varieties.

wine tasting

Provençal dinner prepared by a local chef

After a day spent exploring the enriching city of Avignon, whose historic centre is dominated by the imposing stonework monolith of the ancient Palais des Papes, you can look forward to returning to your Star-Ship for an authentic Provençal dinner expertly prepared by a popular local chef. Savour a tempting menu of regional eats inspired by the fertile landscapes of Provençe and the Mediterranean, whose influence has permeated the cuisine of the Rhône River over centuries. Enjoy wonderful local dishes such as Daube, a beef stew of red wine, vegetables, garlic and gnocchi; tapenade, an olive-based dip incorporating anchovies, capers and garlic; and ratatouille, arguably Provençe’s most famous culinary export.

All of these French river cruise excursions are available as part of our wonderful 8-Day Sensations of Southern France River Cruise.

Douro

EMERALDACTIVE

A hike through the vineyards of Pinhão

As you cruise into the majestic World Heritage-listed Douro Valley, the revered port wine grapevines of northern Portugal are revealed on the terraced hillsides of this enthralling landscape. Here, in the spectacular surroundings of Pinhão and Vega de Terron, you’re invited on an unforgettable hike through local vineyards, where a guide will introduce the different grape varieties used to produce the Douro’s world-renowned port. Marvel at the intoxicating scenery as you weave in and out of the terraced rows of vines, hiking to the summit of the valley where you can savour truly extraordinary views.

Pinhão

Côa Valley guided canoeing experience

Not only is the Côa Valley one of Portugal’s most archaeologically significant regions, it’s also the ideal place to take to the waters and enjoy an unforgettable canoeing experience, with a truly stunning backdrop. With the help and tuition of local canoeing expert, you’ll climb on-board your own vessel and set a course on the tranquil waters of the Côa River, which cuts an easy swathe through the serene and remote landscape. Even those new to canoeing will quickly find their feet while taking part in this wonderful pastime, which offers a relaxing and energising way to start your day.

Côa Valley

EMERALDPLUS

Portuguese mosaic tile-painting lesson

Northern Portugal is renowned for its mosaics and tilework, with examples on display in many of the region’s historic churches and quintas. As you cruise through the beautiful Douro Valley, you can enjoy an exclusive mosaic tile-painting lesson on-board, under the tuition of a local expert. After learning traditional mosaic painting and design techniques, you’ll be given your own Portuguese clay tile on which to work, which you’re then welcome to take home as a souvenir of your trip. Mosaic tile-painting takes skill and patience, but is also wonderfully therapeutic, and gives great insight into the pace of life still observed in northern Portugal.

mosaic tile-painting

Rural dinner at Quinta da Pacheca in Pocinho

The lands of northern Portugal are dotted with dusty homesteads called quintas, which have existed in the mountains of the Douro region for centuries. These farmhouses are often found on port wine estates and vineyards, and have become intrinsically linked to the rural charm of the Portuguese north. During a port call in Pocinho, you’ll savour a wonderful Portuguese meal at Quinta da Pacheca, an intimate boutique hotel which serves up an array of traditional dishes of the Douro region in its simple kitchen. Enjoy fine food, delicious wine and great company as you experience the colour, spice and vibrancy of Portuguese fare – a dining experience you’re sure to never forget.

Quinta da Pacheca

All of these Portuguese river cruise excursions are available as part of our wonderful 8-Day Secrets of the Douro River Cruise.

The wonders of Europe are yours to discover with Emerald Waterways. To browse our full collection of award-winning river cruises, visit the homepage or call us today on 0808 250 7632.