How to choose a river cruise

With many rivers to choose from, this guide makes it easier to pick the one which is right for you.

With a variety of itineraries and considerations to account for, choosing a specific river cruise may appear daunting initially, but that’s why we’re here. In this part of the guide, we’ll offer advice on what to know before you decide, as well as summing up the highlights and major destinations that adorn the banks of the rivers we navigate

What to know before you book

You'll be on land almost every day

how to plan river cruise

There’s plenty of opportunity to step onto dry land and explore new cultures as part of a river cruise; perfect if you’re keen to explore. For those excited about the opportunity to experience new destinations, it’s important to make sure you pack comfortable walking shoes and sufficient clothing for different weather conditions. 

Many ports offer a variety of excursions

how to choose a river cruise

To get the very most out of every day on a river cruise, we’d suggest researching the daily excursions available, as well as the highlights of the regions, cities and towns you are visiting. From EmeraldPLUS and EmeraldACTIVE experiences to solo exploration, Emerald Waterways gives you great freedom to explore new places at your own pace, on your own route.

Some itineraries feature mini city breaks

how to choose a river cruise

If you’d like to pair the opportunity to explore multiple destinations and cultures, with the chance to experience a beautiful city break – some river cruise itineraries feature a short stay at the start or end of a trip. For example, our Secrets of the Douro & Lisbon itinerary features three days in Portugal’s capital before flying home; or Classic Prague & Danube Delights, which boasts three nights in the stunning Czech capital before embarkation.  

A dining experience like never before

how to choose a river cruise

Since your meals are included in the price, we’ve made it our mission to bring you the finest foods and culinary experiences you can find. Tailored to the path you travel, the food awaiting you is locally-sourced, seasonal fare packed with diverse flavours that delight your taste buds at any time of day. A true highlight of your time on-board Emerald Waterways.

Research your rivers

Whatever your passions, there’s a river ready for everyone’s taste. Be sure to consult our website and brochures for more information. If you’re a wine connoisseur, then the Rhône is for you. Prefer to explore new cultures? Our Rhine itineraries are hand-crafted to enrich the mind. And for those with a taste for the exotic, sailing along the Mekong turns your holiday into a far-flung adventure.

The Sun Deck may not be accessible every day

Our open-air Sun Decks are always popular with guests. Unfortunately, however, there are some days when we have to close it off. This occurs when the Star-Ship passes under a low bridge, forcing us to lower the wheelhouse and side railings on the Sun Deck. It is not safe for guests to be on the Sun Deck without the side railings in place, so we must prevent access.

Side-by-side docking can occur when in port

Sometimes, when arriving in port, our Star-Ship will be forced to dock alongside another ship. Guests can still alight the ship, via the ship we’re docked alongside. This can cause minor inconveniences, and will inhibit port-side views for guests choosing to stay on-board. 

Which river cruise should you pick?

The variety of Emerald Waterways river cruise itineraries means there’s an adventure to suit everyone, whatever your tastes and interests may be. The wonderful tours we offer showcase the enigmatic, unique, and picturesque qualities of some of the world’s most iconic waters, so whatever river cruise you choose, their distinct personalities will inspire awe and wonder from start to finish.

Here, we’ll run through the highlights of each river, an ideal itinerary, and what type of holiday it’s best suited for...
Danube
Passing through 10 different countries, more than any other river in the world, the Danube is the lifeblood at the heart of Europe’s most elegant and awe-inspiring cities. Along its winding expanse, you’ll encounter Budapest’s alluring beauty, Vienna’s inspiring culture, and the veiled charms of Bratislava. With no two days ever alike, a journey on the Danube is one for those looking to experience the culture and importance of some of the continent’s most iconic cities.

Best for

  • Taking a trip back in time: some of the architecture dotted along the Danube is over 1,000 years old.
  • Uncovering the evolution of European culture: from Melk Abbey to Austria’s winemaking heritage, a sense of history’s influence over the Danube unveils itself instantly.

If you like...

Iconic capital cities, historical architecture, and rich, significant cultures? The Danube does all three exceptionally well.

Main
how to choose a river cruise
Connecting the Danube to the Rhine, the Main’s provincial charm and Germanic splendour unearths a wealth of European history along its 237-mile stretch. Ancient towns like Bamberg and Miltenberg reveal a world long forgotten, while Wertheim Castle and the World Heritage-listed Residenz offer cultural delights that stay with you long after your river cruise ends. A journey through Bavaria lets you experience the region’s distinctly refreshing culture and mentality, from its folksy food and wine regions, to its proudly welcoming spirit.

Best for

  • Awe-inspiring views of breath-taking castles, vast in number.
  • Experiencing a real-life Brothers Grimm tale, complete with half-timbered houses.

If you like...

Lush countryside, idyllic fairy tale-style buildings and Roman influence without compare. The Rhine’s iconic expanse houses many a treat to satisfy your wanderlust.
Rhine
Beginning in the heart of Amsterdam, and coursing through the fairy-tale wonder of West Germany, the Rhine is a splendour-filled experience. Nestled amongst the medieval towns and Roman influence sits the beautiful city of Cologne, home to the delightful Kölner Dom. Complete with recreated 16th-century villages, inspiring architecture and lush vineyards, the Rhine has something for everyone.

Best for

  • Awe-inspiring views of breath-taking castles, vast in number
  • Experiencing a real-life Brothers Grimm tale, complete with half-timbered houses

If you like...

Lush countryside, idyllic fairy tale-style buildings and Roman influence without compare.The Rhine’s iconic expanse houses offer many a treat to satisfy your wanderlust.
how to choose a river cruise
Rhône
how to choose a river cruise
For budding foodies and culinary connoisseurs, your time on the Rhône lets you experience Lyon, France’s food capital, in all its gastronomic glory. Tempered by a pure, tranquil way of life where a glass of wine is never turned down, the bends of this beautiful river are furnished with vast acres of vineyards, a rich vein of Roman ruins and the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere, a hilltop wonder that inspires and delights in equal measure.

Best for

  • Sampling the culinary delights of Lyon, the unofficial ‘food capital of the world’.
  • Exploring unbelievable wine regions, including Burgundy and Beaujolais, home to a variety of the world’s best vintages.

If you like...

Indulgent, world-famous food, majestic historical sights and a tipple or two against wonderful, picturesque scenery. The Rhône offers a vast array of delights that pique the senses the instant you set sail
Douro
The birthplace of Portugal as we know it today, the Douro lines some of Europe’s most picturesque countryside, running through the middle of vast stretches of vineyards, provincial villages and beautiful fields of green. Step back in time to ancient Salamanca, embrace the region’s wine heritage at the Douro Museum, and taste its wares at Vila Nova de Gaia.

Best for: 

  • Luxuriating in beautiful stretches of countryside.
  • Immersing yourself in a storied wine-producing region.

If you like...

Ancient cities of untouched beauty, the odd glass of Port (or two), and towns marked by rustic simplicity: A tour of the Douro is resplendent with refreshingly easy-going charm.   
Mekong
how to choose a river cruise
For an invigorating, enriching adventure, the expanse of the Mekong and its rejuvenating heritage delights with every turn. Exotic and immersive, the world’s 12th-longest river passes close to the mysterious Cu Chi Tunnels, Cái Be’s vivid floating markets, and the historic Phnom Penh Killing Fields. Life here is rich and vibrant, and you’ll be afforded a taste of its customs and perspectives – traditions that have been shaped over a thousand years of local life – the second your cruise starts.

Best for

  • Treating yourself to some of Asia’s most revered sights.
  • Experiencing traditional customs like the locals.
 

If you like...

Exploring vivid and vibrant worlds and culture, bustling metropolises and a historical 1,000-year heritage. Sail along the Mekong for a taste of something different.
The first timer's guide to river cruises
River cruises vs. ocean cruises
Why is a river cruise great value?
How to choose a river cruise
What to pack for a river cruise
Meet your Emerald Waterways team
Adventure awaits with EmeraldPLUS
Guest testimonials
Further reading