River Cruising: When Is the Best Time to Go?


Take a River Cruise And See a Whole Lot More

By Chris Dawson

The rich cultural history of Europe is on full display all along its many river banks.

For many, a European river cruise through these diverse cultures and eras is the best way to travel.

There are very few opportunities to get to see this many different countries in the space of just a week or ten days. If you like variety and seeing a different place each day, a river cruise is just what you need!

Instead of flying, renting a car in a large (and often unfamiliar) city, and finding comfort as well as affordable accommodations—some travelers prefer to leave the driving to the Captain of the ship.

Because rivers are too shallow and small for the largest cruise ships, river cruises involve easier boarding (and unloading in ports), fewer crowds and get you closer to the sights along the banks.

The pretty tulips blooms are an enjoyable site to see by bike.
Tulip blooms in Holland.

Peak Times

Obviously, summer. Mid-June through August marks the peak of the river cruise travel season. The weather is warm, sunny (even in the UK) and the kids are out of school. Peak season brings the largest crowds and the highest package prices.

On most river cruise ships, they have bicycles that passengers can borrow to explore the countryside.
On most river cruise ships, they have bicycles that passengers can borrow to explore the countryside.

Today, cruise lines like Avalon Waterways are beefing up the offerings on land to complement the cruise experience. For example, with help from their Avalon Adventure Host, travelers can check out a bike from the ship for a scenic ride through town.

Or they can grab a Nordic walking stick and hike to a hillside vineyard or castle. Whether they’re looking for a kayaking excursion on the river or a complimentary fitness class on the Sky Deck, Avalon’s new Adventure Host can make it happen.

But there are alternatives to peak season travel—many travelers know the ‘shoulder seasons’ provide excellent alternatives to the peak season.

Shoulder Seasons

Shoulder seasons occur on either side of the peak season—from April through mid-June and September through mid-November. A river cruise during these times allows the traveler to experience the beauty of these spectacular waterways with fewer crowds, fewer children, and fewer dollars spent.

Let’s take a look at some of what you can expect on one of these cruises during the shoulder seasons as well as peak season options.

Spring on the Rhine

Take a trip along the Rhine in early spring and you’ll be treated to the tulip bloom one of the more beautiful sights you will ever encounter. Along the way, you will also see Amsterdam—a modern-day city that retains its old-world charm. Amsterdam still has thousands of historical buildings among its beautiful canal streets.

Rotterdam is a city famous for its dramatic architecture.
Rotterdam is a city famous for its dramatic architecture.

In addition to Amsterdam, travelers will also see the windmills of Kinderdijk, the modern city of Rotterdam, and the stunning floral display seen in Utrecht.

Rotterdam is overlooked compared to its big brother Amsterdam, but the city’s dramatic architecture and immigrant heritage, as well as a first-rate Mariner’s Museum, makes it worth a stop.

Summer on the Thames

When people think of the Thames—people first think of London. Along the London banks of the Thames, cruisers will see iconic places such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London.

old lady having tea in the PBS TV show, Downton Abbey.
You can even visit the shooting location for Downton Abbey on a Thames cruise.

But there’s more to the Thames than just London. In addition, travelers will also enjoy ports of call between London and Oxford that feature the 11th century Windsor Castle as well as a visit to Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame.

Waltzing on the Danube in October

Combining comfortable weather, shoulder-season pricing, and a spectacular itinerary, a Danube river cruise in October can’t be beaten.

A Christmas market in Germany.
A Christmas market in Germany.

Travelers will spend their time in such beautiful locations as Budapest (Hungary), Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Slovakia), Passau (Germany) and Prague (Czech Republic). You will see some of the oldest cities in Europe—some (Passau and Linz, Austria) date back more than 2000 years. A relatively young (900-year-old) monastery awaits you at the Benedictine Abbey in Melk.

If you visit some of these cities in late fall, you’ll also be able to visit the many Christmas markets that are set up in the center of the cities throughout the holiday season.

Along with hand-crafted gifts, you’ll find a bevy of unique foods and seasonal drinks that are nothing like what we find in the US. A Christmas market is always an adventure!

Chris DawsonCombine the history with the spectacular sights and the relaxed pace—a Danube river cruise won’t disappoint you.

Chris Dawson is a frequent river cruiser who lives in Cambridge, England.

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