How to choose a river cruise

The Rhine? Rhône? Danube? Douro? With so many rivers to choose from, this guide makes it easier to pick which one is right for you.

What to know before you book?

If you’re new to river cruising, there are a few things to note before you book. A river cruise is very different from an ocean cruise; in fact, it’s probably more similar to a city break, with lots more sightseeing, exploring and mingling with locals. Take a look at some of the need-to-knows about river cruising below.

You’ll be on land almost every day

There’s plenty of opportunities 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

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 immersive guided experiences and tours 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

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.

Dining experiences designed to take you there

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 an Emerald Waterways Star-Ship.

Researching the rivers can help before you book

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.

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 cruises and 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 example itinerary, and what type of holiday it’s best suited for...


Passing through 10 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.

• Remarkable cities – Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, Belgrade; the list of cities you can encounter on the Danube goes on and on, so can tick many world-renowned destinations off your travel hitlist.

If you like…

Iconic capital cities, historic architecture and rich cultural traditions. From Austria to Romania, the German border to the Black Sea, the Danube showcases the natural and manmade wonders of Europe, providing the ultimate passage through some of the continent’s most fascinating and inspiring regions.


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

• Fairy-tale castles, vast in number – the banks of the Rhine are lined with castles, forts and ruins, providing a romantic, ethereal backdrop to your journey.

• Folklore and enchantment – from the Black Forest to the Rhine Valley, this beautiful corner of Germany is steeped in folklore, inspired by the historic tales of the Brothers Grimm.

• Soaking up Germanic viticulture – the Rhine and Moselle are world-renowned for their wine, their terraced slopes cultivating grapes since the Roman Age. Taste your way across the region, from steely Rieslings to refreshing Müller-Thurgau.

If you like...

Lush countryside, idyllic fairy-tale-style buildings and Roman influence without compare. The Rhine’s iconic expanse rewards the curious traveller with historic exploration and centuries of winemaking heritage, as well as some of the most spectacular river’s edge scenery in all of Europe.


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 UNESCO World Heritage-listed Bishops’ 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

• Marvelling at the charm of medieval Germany – the Main is a gateway to the historic towns and cities of Bavaria, whose timber-framed buildings and unique customs provide plenty of cultural intrigue.

• Soaking up Bavaria’s iconic beer culture – The traditional taverns and biergartens of Bavaria have long been a must-see for beer lovers, and you’ll enjoy a sup or two as part of a Main river cruise.

• Remarkable heritage architecture – From Bishops’ Residenz to Bamberg’s ancient town hall, you’ll encounter remarkable heritage architecture every day of your Main river journey.

If you like...

Beautiful countryside, dotted with ancient towns and villages steeped in medieval history, as well as some of Germany’s finest heritage architecture. Beer lovers, too, can rejoice in Bavaria’s spirited drinking traditions, while nature-seekers can take advantage of the Main’s rural backwaters and tranquil vistas.


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’, Lyon’s bouchons and boulangeries provide some of the best eating in all of France.

• Exploring unbelievable wine regions – including Burgundy and Beaujolais, home to a variety of the world’s best vintages. Wine lover or not, a visit to the vineyards of the Rhône Valley will have you head over heels for the grape.

• Remarkable heritage architecture – from Avignon with its inimitable Palais des Papes to the beautifully-preserved Roman buildings of Arles, the Rhône showcases some of France’s finest historic architecture.

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.


The rusty golden rooftops and sunlit vineyards will offer the perfect accompaniment to your river cruise down the stunning Douro. Leaving the pastel-coloured metropolis of Porto, navigate a path through the country’s mesmerising countryside. Terraced vineyards rise from the river banks, historic landmarks dot distant horizons and charismatic townships lay undiscovered, hidden in the rural hillsides.

Best for

• Tasting world-famous wine – Is there a better place to taste a world renowned glass of wine or port than on the premises in which its life began?

• Warm weather sailing – Purpose-built to suit the warm Portuguese climate, Emerald Radiance's plentiful open-air spaces provide the perfect vantage point from which to enjoy the passing scenery or a cold drink.

• Unforgettable scenery – Elegantly sail through the sublime Douro Valley, where endless beauty seemingly stretches on forever and terraced vineyards rise from the river banks.

If you like...

Delving deeper into undiscovered, historical landmarks of a country's lifeline, the Douro is dotted with charming hillside townships that are waiting to be discovered.


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 Southeast Asia’s most revered sights – from the world-celebrated Ha Long Bay to the majestic Temples of Angkor, our Mekong river cruise itineraries showcase the natural and manmade wonders of Vietnam and Cambodia in all their splendour.

• Experiencing traditional local customs – Local life in Vietnam and Cambodia is much different from our own, and you’ll get to grips with the traditions of people and place as part of immersive daily shore excursions, including a visit to a local school and a trip to the floating markets of Cái Be.

• Feeling intoxicated by the great cities of Vietnam and Cambodia – From Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, a Mekong river cruise sees you alight in some of the most colourful and vibrant metropolises in Southeast Asia, where colonial history, bustling markets and wonderful street food promise a warm welcome.

If you like...

Exploring vivid and vibrant worlds and culture, bustling metropolises and 1,000-year heritage. Sail along the Mekong for a taste of something different.

Why is a river cruise great value?

With amazing extras and unrivalled luxury, an Emerald Waterways river cruise guarantees exceptional value.

With Emerald Waterways there is so much included in the price of your river cruise, offering you great value for money – with tips, selected drinks, food, excursions and transportation, all in the price of the journey.

Given the wealth of inclusions you’ll receive as part of an Emerald Waterways river cruise, you’ll soon appreciate just what excellent value our river cruises are. With very little need to bring additional spending money, and all excursions and activities included in the total price, you can relax and enjoy your time without worrying about overspending.

See our world of exceptional EmeraldVALUE

To demonstrate the incredible value you can expect from an Emerald Waterways river cruise, we’ve put together a visual guide comparing our offering to that of a typical ocean cruise. We’ll help to break down the costs you’ll encounter during your time on the water, and show you why Emerald Waterways river cruising is superb value for money.

It's all in the inclusions

It’s quite exceptional what our river cruise packages include. As a guest on-board one of our deluxe Star-Ships, you’ll enjoy:

• Complimentary Wi-Fi

• All port charges and taxes taken care of

• Daily excursions and events

• Return flights from a choice of UK airports

• All travel and transfers

• Tips and gratuities taken care of

• Full board dining and complimentary meal-time drinks

• Additional entertainment

We’re committed to making river cruising as care-free, straightforward and low-cost as possible. We strive to offer so much more on an Emerald Waterways river cruise. On-board our Star-Ships, relaxing to the fullest should be the only thing on your mind, so we offer a huge selection of luxurious extras and wonderful perks included in the price.

Relaxation starts the second you set foot on-board your Emerald Waterways Star-Ship. You’ll find our ships furnished with stunning comforts – the perfect place to retreat to after your day of discovery.

Once the sun has set, a new world of merriment opens up, as you enjoy after-dinner delights such as Hungarian folk dancing and Bavarian band performances, as well as our well-stocked Horizon Bar & Lounge. A pop-up cinema also adds to the enchantment, meaning there’s never a dull moment during your time on-board.

Further Reading

Keen to find out more about Emerald Waterways and our selection of amazing river cruises? Here is a selection of guides for further reading.

We hope that our in-depth guide for those new to river cruising provides the information and help you need to make the right choice when it comes to your maiden river journey. However, if you’re still looking for more information and inspiration, we’re all too happy to provide it.

Below, we’ve handpicked and highlighted a wealth of further reading guides and articles that can help you plan and prepare for your first river cruise. So, whether you’re looking for a little inspiration or need that final nudge towards making a booking, take a look at some of the help and resources that can guide you towards planning your debut river cruise.

The Emerald Waterways blog

We’re passionate about travel, culture and discovery here at Emerald Waterways, and our blog reflects this. With everything from guides on European architecture to articles focusing on the food and drink of France, Portugal, Germany and beyond, you’ll find something that piques your interest and gets you itching to expand your horizons overseas.

Click here to visit the Emerald Waterways blog and discover something you love.

Our in-depth city and river guides

Destinations are at the heart of our river cruise offering, and we pride ourselves on showcasing the very best of local life in the cities, towns and municipalities our Star-Ships visit on the waters of Europe. To ensure you get the very most from your time on the continent’s rivers, we have a wealth of in-depth destination guides that provide essential tips and inspiration on the rivers and cities of Europe – so you can plan your time perfectly and get the most from every day of your river journey.

Take a look at our collection of river and city guides here.

Further reading and press coverage

Still not convinced? Check out this article on what makes an Emerald Waterways river cruise so special. All our amenities and features are lovingly laid out in a handy infographic that’s sure to drum up some inspiration. Thinking of going solo on a River Cruise? No problem, it’s not just for couples, as this great little article illustrates.

If you’ve decided on the Danube, then you must take a trip to Budapest’s legendary thermal baths. Something of a rite of passage for visitors and an essential part of the locals’ everyday life, you have to give it a try while you’re here.

Stuck for where to go? Finding the place that’s right for you can be tough with so much choice. Consider looking at these four European foodie destinations to whet the adventure appetite if foreign delicacies are your thing. For more provincial fare, stop off by this list of the best food markets in Europe for more gastro-inspiration.

For something a bit more far-flung, treat yourself to the cultural highlights of the Mekong river. A truly awe-inspiring region that’s rich in thousand-year-old history, vivid and vibrant life and unbelievably good cuisine.

If you liked the sound of EmeraldPLUS, then for more active guests, EmeraldACTIVE affords you the chance to explore further afield in more unique ways. We’re continually adding new excursions and experiences to the mix, from guided bicycle rides to a canoe expedition on the Douro, these physical experiences help to put your destinations in a new perspective.

For more information about what you get as part of your river cruise, head over to our Emerald Experience section. Everything from what’s included, detailed information about our suites, excursions, tipping, no-fly options and much more can be found here.

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