A European river cruise is a relaxing way to enjoy the charms of Europe. You can leave behind the seasick bags, crumpled maps and long bus journeys. Unpack once and cruise in comfort across Europe while you float along the Danube River from Rousse in Bulgaria, then the Main, Rhine and Moselle rivers all the way to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
A menu of quality European food and wine changes daily to reflect each country cruised through. European river cruises usually last seven days but stringing two or more cruises back-to-back is fast becoming popular.
Black Sea Cruise (Rousse to Budapest)
I begin my trip in Istanbul where Byzantine and Ottoman history have left a legacy of dreamy mosques and beautiful churches. There are grand palaces and vibrant souks.
There’s so much to see in Istanbul: the marbled courtyards of the Topkapi Palace, the majestic Blue Mosque, ancient Roman Hippodrome and Aya Sofya (which has been a cathedral, a mosque and a museum).
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a warren of shops and selling all kinds of things from Turkish delight to handmade soaps and Turkish carpets. Keep an eye out for those insistant carpet salesman and don’t believe anything they tell you unless, of course, you’re keen on shipping home an overpriced carpet.
From Istanbul, we travel by bus to Bulgaria where there’s an overnight stay in Nessebur, a Bulgarian seaside town by the Black Sea, and a walk around historic Veliko Turnavo before arriving at the MS Amalegro in Rousse.
European River Cruise
My stateroom is my travelling hotel room for the next two weeks. It has a French balcony, individually controlled air-conditioning, a queen-sized bed, cosy sitting area, a writing desk and chair.
There are luxurious touches like thick white bathrobes, nice toiletries and bedtime chocolates. There’s an infotainment system with a monitor, keyboard with internet access, English language TV stations and a selection of movies and music.
The ship’s indoor and outdoor common areas include a sun deck with 360° views, main and rear lounges, fitness centre, beauty salon, library, 24-hour front desk, on-board shop and restaurant.
A European river cruise is definitely one of the most comfortable ways to see difficult-to-reach destinations, especially so in Eastern Europe. And the ship is far more luxurious than many hotels available in some of the destinations we visit.
The ship docks in Giurgiu for our first excursion where we travel to Bucharest, Romania’s capital, by bus. Each day brings us to a new town or city.
From wandering through the shops in Novi Sad in Serbia to watching a play in Vidin’s ancient fort in Bulgaria, each excursion is unique.
Vukovar in Croatia was completely devastated in the 1991 Battle of Vukovar; here our guides have captivating personal tales of war time experiences.
One highlight is cruising through the Iron Gates, where the Danube flows through narrows gorges as the river winds between the Carpathian Mountains and the Balkan Mountains, with Serbia on one bank and Romania on the other.
Budapest to Nuremberg
It’s easy to see why Budapest is a favourite city to start or end a European river cruise.
The historic World Heritage castle precinct on the hilly Buda bank offers a picture-postcard view of the Pest side with its graceful Neo Classical and Art Nouveau architecture.
From tasting cakes to taking a dip at a historic thermal bath, there’s plenty to see and do.
From Budapest, the ship meanders along the river through four countries – Hungary, Slovak Republic, Austria and Germany.
Austria offers some of Europe’s most stunning scenery. Autumn is a magical time to cruise through Austria’s Wachau Valley past forests of spun gold and burnt ochre. The countryside is bursting with Baroque abbeys, medieval fortresses, vineyards, villages, bike trails and country lanes.
I sip hot chocolate in Bratislava one day and shop in Vienna the next, cycle through medieval cobblestone villages and gaze at Gothic churches.
Cruising in Europe is full of memorable moments. A highlight of this European river cruise is tasting schnapps in Durnstein while contemplating the fate of Richard the Lion Heart, who was a prisoner there in 1193.
Another memorable moment is munching on sausages and drinking beer at Germany’s oldest sausage kitchen in Regensburg.
Yet another memorable moment is the Main Danube Canal, which was completed in 1992. It’s 171km waterway linking the Rhine River to the Danube River. The canal enables ships to sail from the Rhine delta (in the Netherlands) to the Danube delta (in Romania), from the North Sea to the Black Sea.
Travelling through the locks where the water levels rise or fall is an experience in itself. At the flick of a switch, the ship’s bridge automatically lowers so the vessel can pass beneath the overhead bridges.
Nuremberg to Amsterdam
World War II history is the theme in Nuremberg. Hitler chose the city as the site for his annual Nazi party rallies. It later became the famous location for the Nuremberg Trials.
One of the benefits of river cruising is the intimate boats offer the chance to make and bond with many new friends.
Although my European river cruise ends in Nuremberg, my new friends continue cruising through Germany to marvel at fairytale castles, medieval UNESCO World Heritage Bamberg (famous for its smoky-tasting rauchbier), Wurzburg’s regal splendour, wonderful glassworks in Wertheim and Cologne famous cathedral.
Amsterdam is another main cruising destination. It’s easy to fall in love with tranquil canals that ring the centre, curvaceous bridges, rows of gabled buildings and its snug cafés and bars.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Korean Air and APT Touring
APT has several luxury river cruises in Europe.
If you’re wondering where else to go cruising, how about heading to Amazon Peru.