Travel & Adventure

Best European River Cruises In 2024: Uniworld vs Viking vs Avalon vs AmaWaterways

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River cruise down Seine in Paris with Eiffel tower
You’d be surprised at how many companies provide cruises through the beautiful rivers in Europe.

Is traveling to Europe a dream trip, but the thought of scheduling, language barriers, and countless other factors keeping you from taking the plunge? Ditch the stress and see all Europe offers through creative means: a luxury river cruise.

Touring Europe via its inland waterways is one of the unique ways to explore cities, quaint towns, and scenic landscapes without the hassle of choosing your hotels, itineraries, car rentals, restaurants, and more.

How Do River Cruises Differ From Ocean Cruises?

European river cruises primarily attract older passengers in their 50s and 60s. Some cruise lines are geared toward people in their 40s, and a few lines offer cruises for families with kids. European river cruises cost more, starting at around $250 per day.

The environment aboard a river cruise feels very relaxed, and itineraries focus on culturally-centered experiences vs. what you get with big ocean liners. Since river vessels are much smaller, there aren’t as many dining options and onboard activities compared to ocean liners. Plus, the nightlife is tame; think small lounges and bars compared to the Broadway shows, casinos, and nightclubs of ocean cruises.

What Are The Best European River Cruises

Below are our European river cruise reviews, including our top three picks (and one honorable mention). When choosing our top cruise lines, we’ve considered the following factors:

  • cabins and facilities
  • destinations
  • food and drink services
  • itineraries and excursions
  • value

Each company offers unique features, so keep that in mind when choosing the river cruise that’s right for you.

Winner: Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection Review

Uniworld river cruise logo

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Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is the perfect European river cruise if you enjoy pampering while on vacation. From opulent decor and accommodations to all-inclusive packages boasting in-suite butlers, scheduled airport transfers, onboard and onshore gratuity, and upscale dining with unlimited drinks, Uniworld will satisfy your inner child who needs occasional spoiling. Old-world, European-style luxury is the heart of Uniworld, and it delivers it well.

5 Key Features

  1. Offer 40 unique cruise itineraries
  2. Cruise lengths range from 8 to 25 days
  3. Average of 120 passengers on each cruise (largest boat accommodates 164)
  4. Offers eight family-friendly cruises throughout central Europe that include special programming for travelers of all ages
  5. Rivers: Danube, Main, Moselle, Rhine, Rhône, and Saône; France’s Dordogne, Garonne, and Seine; Portugal and Spain’s Douro; and Italy’s Venice Lagoon
  • Most excursions are included in the cruise price (some exclusive optional excursions incur a fee)
  • Fleet of bikes on the ship for free use on shore excursions
  • Unlimited liquor, wine, beer, and sodas included
  • In-suite personal butlers and room service
  • Port charges, gratuity included
  • Cruises to more countries than many other top lines (Italy, for one)
  • Among the most expensive cruises
  • Some may consider opulent decor on the gaudy side
  • Staterooms are smaller than some other luxury cruise lines

Runner-Up: Avalon Waterways Review

Avalon waterways logo

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Avalon Waterways has various cruises, ranging from three to four days (geared toward 40-somethings) up to 20+ days (geared toward mid-50s and older). What sets Avalon apart? It has some of the most spacious staterooms compared to other cruise lines at an average of 200 square feet. These suite rooms also feature floor-to-ceiling retractable windows, giving you a gorgeous panoramic, veranda-like experience while lounging in bed.

You also get free Wi-Fi, satellite tv, and minibars in select staterooms, and their stateroom bathrooms are well-designed and spacious for a riverboat. What’s missing? Compared to other fleets, the amenities aren’t as luxurious, i.e., no massage parlor, swimming pool, or personal butler. And you’ll have to choose a different cruise line to travel to Spain or Italy.

5 Key Features

  1. Offers dozens of different cruises each year
  2. Cruises range anywhere from 8 to 26 days
  3. Average number of passengers on each cruise is 100 (capacity is 164 passengers)
  4. Allow children over eight years of age, but focus on adult clientele. There are no special activities or arrangements for children aboard ships
  5. Rivers: Danube, Main, Moselle, Rhine, Rhône, Saône, and Seine; Portugal’s Douro
  • Generally less expensive than AmaWaterways and Uniworld
  • Among the largest staterooms of any fleet
  • A wide variety of cruise durations and destinations
  • Most excursions are included in the cruise price (some optional excursions are an added fee)
  • Among the most flexible dining times and venues (room service available for breakfast)
  • Not all port charges are included in the cruise price
  • No cruises into Spain or Italy
  • No bikes on ships (they do partner with bike rental companies at some ports, but you won’t be able to bike at every port)
  • Liquor, wine, beer, and sodas are not included 24/7 (only at lunch and dinner)

3rd Place: AmaWaterways Review

Ama waterways logo

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AMaWaterways primarily caters to affluent, mature North American passengers looking for a personalized, relaxing, and cultural experience. AmaWaterways is considered one of the more upscale lines in Europe. The river cruise line started in 2002 and has grown exponentially. In 2012, it added many higher-end boats that feature spacious twin balcony staterooms with free Wi-Fi and Infotainment systems, a heated pool with swim-up bar service, complimentary wine and beer with lunch and dinner, several dining venues with regional cuisine, expansive sundecks, a massage and beauty salon and more.

5 Key Features

  1. 35 different cruises are offered each year
  2. Voyages range from 7 to 50 days—the majority are 7 to 14 days in length
  3. Ships accommodate 164 passengers
  4. Allow guests over the age of 4
  5. Rivers: Danube, Main, Moselle, Rhine, Rhône, Saône, and Seine; Portugal’s Douro
  • All on-shore excursions are included in the cruise price
  • Each boat has 20+ bicycles to explore at ports
  • Most port charges are included
  • Good dining and entertainment options on board
  • Spacious, modern staterooms—most with French balconies
  • Pricier than Viking and Avalon cruise lines
  • Fewer cruise choices than some other lines
  • No cruises into Italy
  • No room service or in-room stocked minibar
  • Wine, beer, and sodas are not included 24/7 (only at lunch and dinner)

Honorable Mention

Although Viking River Cruises didn’t make it into our top three picks, it’s worth looking into. After all, Viking created almost all of the consumer interest in this category thanks to its advertising! Read our review to see why you should consider them too.

Viking River Cruises Review

Viking River Cruises logo

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Viking is the most well-known cruise line brand for North Americans, running ocean liners and scenic river cruises worldwide. Its European river cruises are among the most affordable, but it’s more “Americanized” than many other European river cruise lines we’ve reviewed here. Viking’s river cruise ships are larger (190 passengers) and don’t focus on personalized service as much, but that’s not to say they aren’t a travel treat—it just depends on the experience you’re looking for!

5 Key Features

  1. Offers 27 different cruises
  2. Cruises last from 8 to 23 days
  3. Most ships accommodate 190 passengers
  4. All guests must be 18 years or older
  5. Rivers: Danube, Douro, Elbe, Main, Moselle, Rhine, Rhône, and Seine
  • More affordable than many comparable cruise lines
  • Modern accommodations, with many options for staterooms, suites, and more deluxe rooms
  • More nightly entertainment than many other European cruise lines
  • Shore excursions included in the cruise fare
  • Dining options are more varied, including al fresco dining
  • Travels to fewer locations than our top picks
  • No bicycles on board (but they do partner with some ports for bicycle rentals)
  • Alcoholic beverages and sodas not included (except at lunch and dinner)
  • No cruises into Italy

Want A Holiday River Cruise To Remember?

Among the most popular European cruises are their Christmas market cruises. Although the weather is cold, Europe’s Christmas markets are something to behold (beyond anything we have in the U.S.). Check out Viking River Cruises’ video to see how magical these markets can be. It makes you long for cold weather!

All Aboard Cruising?

River cruising is the easiest way to see the parts of Europe you’ve always dreamed of visiting. And there are more options than ever. River cruising is the fastest-growing segment of the travel industry, and your possibilities continue to grow in Europe and worldwide.

If you’re interested in a more traditional cruise on the ocean, check out our review of the best cruise lines.

Which cruise provider are you leaning towards? Let us know in the comments!

Sally Jones

While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s graduate school for journalism and public relations, Sally began a long career researching and writing about hard-to-understand topics, such as insurance and finance. Her additional experience in marketing, fundraising, public relations and financial planning at various foundations and nonprofit organizations over the years has given her the practical tools to inform consumers about making the smartest business and personal financial decisions. Her work has appeared in many notable media outlets, including The Washington Post, Entrepreneur, People, Forbes, Huffington Post, and more. Speaking of smart living — growing up in the (at-the-time) per-capita murder capital of the U.S. (Richmond, VA) taught her a thing or two about the need for personal and home safety. Sally stays on top of all the latest gadgets and services to protect her and her teenage daughters from potential predators and thieves. And she brings this knowledge to every article she writes.
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