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River Cruising Through the Seasons

Friday 11th February 2022

The rivers of Europe offer something different for every season. Experience the colourful first blooms in spring, take advantage of the light nights and festival atmosphere of summer, enjoy beautiful autumnal hues or savour the delights of the traditional festive markets, you’ll find there’s always a good time of year to river cruise.

Here are our top reasons to choose each season and some of our favourite European rivers to cruise at that time of year.

Why is spring a good time for river cruising?

Spring is a beautiful time of year to travel as everything awakens on the riverbanks, things feel fresh and alive, and summer is on the horizon. March and early April are often the least expensive months to cruise as it is the start of the tourist season for many of the towns and cities you visit. If you prefer sightseeing when places are a little quieter, or are simply looking to keep the costs down, this is the perfect time to travel. The only real downside of cruising in spring is that the weather can be a little unpredictable! We recommend packing layered clothing, so you’re covered for all possibilities.

Springtime Bloom in Paris Tulip Time Cruises

Which destinations are best for river cruising in spring?

Cruises through Holland and Belgium - Often referred to as ‘Tulip Time Cruises’ they sail between mid-March and mid-May when the tulips are blooming and the fields are a riot of colour. Cruising part of the Rhine as well as the picturesque Dutch and Belgian waterways, these itineraries often start and end in Amsterdam, so are convenient to get to. Visit fascinating Dutch cities, famous for cheese, beer and pottery, and the medieval cities of Antwerp and Bruges in Belgium. Don’t miss the amazing displays of flowers at Keukenhof Gardens!

The Seine - As spring arrives in northern France so do the colourful landscapes and blooming gardens, and what better place to be than cruising the Seine, admiring the spectacular scenery that inspired Impressionist painters? Itineraries often spend a few nights in the glittering city of Paris which is perfect for exploring at this time of year, as many of the outdoor café terraces re-open and the cherry blossom decorates the parks a beautiful shade of pink.

Why is summer a good time for river cruising?

Alongside the (hopefully!) beautiful weather and warmer temperatures, one of the biggest benefits of a summer river cruise is the light evenings and longer days. Enjoy al-fresco dining on your ship, evening drinks on the sun deck taking in the stunning surroundings, or an after-dinner stroll along the riverbank. Many towns and cities in Europe host outdoor festivals and events in summer, which create a wonderful atmosphere.

During the peak summer months of July and August, temperatures in Europe can get quite high and can be a little too warm for some. Our advice if you don’t like the heat is to stick to the early and late summer months (May, June, or early September), but be warned that these are the most popular times and cruises get full very quickly, so make sure you book early to avoid disappointment.

River Cruising in Summer Colourful Provence in Summer

Which destinations are best for river cruising in summer?

The Rhone - A cruise in the South of France in summer promises warm temperatures and sun-drenched landscapes. Cruise between mid-June and mid-August when the lavender and sunflowers are in full bloom, painting the landscape in beautiful violet and yellow colours. As well as visiting the historic cities of Lyon, Arles and Avignon, cruises on the Rhone are perfect for food and wine lovers, with plenty of opportunities to taste France’s in-season culinary delights or visit one of the many vineyards the area is famed for.

The Rhine - Cruising through the Middle Rhine Valley with its fairy-tale castles and never-ending wine terraces is beautiful at any time of year but enjoying a glass of ice-cold Riesling on the sun deck against a backdrop of blue skies is definitely special! Many Rhineland cities and towns hold festivals in the summer months, including the famous ‘Rhine in Flames’ fireworks displays which happen on specific dates from May through to September.

Why is autumn a good time for river cruising?

Autumn is arguably the most picturesque time of year to river cruise in Europe. The leaves in the vineyards that dominate the river landscapes are turning from lush greens to beautiful rich reds, orange, and gold. Cities and towns are less crowded than the summer months and the temperature and weather are great for exploring.

The grape harvest of late summer and early autumn makes this a perfect time to visit the vineyards and wineries that are often offered as shore excursions. It is also an excellent time to sample some of the seasonal foods on offer at one of the many local farmers markets.

River Cruising in Autumn Beautiful Autumnal Colours

Which destinations are best for river cruising in autumn?

The Douro - The Douro River in Portugal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is famed for its port wines and undulating landscapes offering spectacular scenery at every corner. Autumn sees the arrival of the much-anticipated grape harvest and is a particularly nice time to cruise as the summer heat subsides, making it more comfortable for sightseeing. The valley is a hive of activity and an ever-changing palette of autumnal colours.

Bordeaux - Offering colourful foliage and pleasant temperatures, the Bordeaux region in France is a good choice for autumn. Famed around the world for its wines, the cities and towns really come alive at harvest time or ‘la vendange’, with their wine festivals which often include local music, food, and wine tastings. St Emilion in particular is well noted for having one of the best harvest festivals.

Why is winter a good time for river cruising?

From late November the iconic traditional Christmas markets begin in many European cities and towns, so this is a great time to cruise on the Rhine and Danube. Each country has its own festive style so cruising on the Rhine and Danube gives you the opportunity to sample multiple different countries on one trip and indulge in their delicious festive foods and drinks! The temperature is colder but this adds to the charm of a winter cruise, and there’s plenty of Gluhwein or hot chocolate to keep you warm whilst out exploring.

River ships are cosy and warm, with large windows so you can admire the frozen winter landscapes from the comfort of your floating hotel. There is something quite special about a river ship decorated for festive season. Many companies also offer Christmas and New Year cruises, so if you fancy celebrating the season in style then this is a super option.

Festive Markets in Winter Strasbourg Festive Markets

Which destinations are best for river cruising in autumn?

The Rhine - Germany is famed for its traditional Christmas Markets. A cruise along the Rhine at wintertime not only gives the opportunity to visit the Christkindlmarkt in Cologne, but also in many of the smaller Rhineland towns such as Koblenz, Rudesheim and Speyer. Many of the Rhine itineraries also visit Strasbourg in the Alsace region of France, known as ‘The Capital of Christmas’ and home to one of the oldest Christmas Markets in France. Time to swap the Gluwhein for Vin Chaud!

The Danube - Cruise on the Danube and visit some incredible cities at wintertime including Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Regensburg, Passau and Nuremberg. Experience the scenic Wachau Valley’s picturesque winter riverscape and discover regional and local festive specialities and traditions as you visit the Christmas Markets in a whole host of different countries.

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