There are many ways to travel between cities in Europe, but let's be honest, racing through a crowded airport or train station is less than desirable. You could also rent a car, but then you have to contend with traffic congestion. Gliding across the continent on a river boat cruise, however, offers an appealing alternative.

If you've cruised before, but you sailed alongside several thousand passengers, you're in for a treat on a European river cruise . You'll find a mere fraction of the passengers aboard and a wealth of opportunities to learn about and explore more of Europe than you ever expected.

Here are five reasons a European river cruise is just about the best way to ensure an enjoyable trip across Europe.

1. Learn Through Historic and Educational Opportunities

Thanks to the more intimate nature of river cruises, you have more opportunity to home in on seasonal or historical interests, like springtime Tulips in Holland or World War II history in France. Over one to two weeks, you can sink deep into the culture and history and bring onboard educational lectures to life during guided walks and at-your-own-pace free time built into your voyage.

Experts lead discussions at historically significant sites and share unique perspectives on storied events. On a French river cruise to the D-Day beaches, one day you'll learn about World War II discoveries, like nylon and penicillin, and the next day you’ll marvel at firsthand stories from a photographer who was on the ground capturing some of the most iconic D-Day images.

Road Scholar Recommends: The Seine: D-Day Beaches to Paris

2. Enjoy an Intimate Setting

A river boat is decidedly different than cruising aboard mega-ships that carry upwards of 4,000 passengers. Rather, a river cruise is far more intimate, rarely sailing with more than 150. You'll never feel over-crowded, which can sometimes happen on big cruise ships, especially at meal times when mega-ship buffet lines are a mile long.

With fewer travelers on board a river cruise, you also have more opportunities to get to know fellow scholars. You'll regularly see the same new friends attending onboard lectures as you learn how Dresden rose from the ashes of WWII aboard a river cruise along the Elbe River, or hear about Europe’s fascinating architectural transformations on a Rhine riverboat voyage. Those same friends will join you on expert-led walking excursions to historical sites and marvel with you at local attractions along the way.

Road Scholar Recommends: Timeless River: Germany & the Czech Republic on the Storied Elbe

3. See the Best Landmarks and Activities Europe Offers

Planning an entire travel experience on your own can be exhausting. You want to make sure you see the highlights, but also learn about the history and authentic culture in your destination. Fortunately, river cruises provide an itinerary that includes all the must-sees, must-dos and more so you can actually enjoy yourself, all with knowledgeable local instructors ensuring you never miss a cultural highlight or important tidbit of history that could enhance your understanding and enjoyment of the region you’re exploring.

For example, a river cruise through France's Bordeaux region cherry-picks the best experiences in the area. You’ll savor every bite of the local cuisine, while expert-led discussions ensure you understand the region’s historic role within the European wine trade. You’ll meet gregarious locals ready to share their stories on guided walks, attend carefully selected wine tastings, enjoy little-known panoramic drives, and participate in hands-on explorations of aromatic vineyards. No guidebook can compare to having a knowledgeable local shepherding you through France’s most memorable moments.

Road Scholar Recommends: A Feast for the Senses: Wine, Food and History in Bordeaux

4. Participate in Family-Friendly, Hands-on Experiences

We all want to spend quality time with our grandchildren, preferably engaging in activities that don't include Fortnite or Pokemon GO. Fortunately, it's easy to entice kids to set aside their tablets and smartphones when they learn they can take a pasta-making class in Italy, create traditional Carnival masks, and ride a chair lift for scenic views of the Italian Alps.

Kids and teens don't want to be on their devices all day (or so we hear), but they do want you to suggest activities to do together. That's what makes river cruises designed for grandparents traveling with grandchildren so wonderful. Just board with your grandchild and local experts lead you through hands-on activities and experiences so much fun that no one will even realize they’re also educational. Even better, there are other kids and teens on board, too.

Road Scholar Recommends: The Magic of Italy: Verona & Venice with your Grandchild

5. Admire the Unique Perspective on Europe's Best Destinations

One of the most rewarding aspects of a river cruise is that you can see less-traveled regions of Europe. It's also far more relaxing than racing through a bustling airport or train station to make it to your next destination. On a river cruise, simply settle in and watch the scenery go by as you sail from port to port.

You can also easily explore storybook villages and valleys tucked away in the river regions, like those you'll see on a sail on a Portugal river cruise. As you float between ports on the Douro River, you'll sample wines in small towns with viticulturists and even visit a local family to learn about their family estate-produced wine and their role in the growth of the coastal city of Porto.

Road Scholar Recommends: Belo Portugal: Wine, History and Landscapes Along the Douro River

Ready to set sail on an educational European river cruise? Join our newsletter for travel inspiration and more information about Road Scholar voyages.

Related Products or Services:
Belo Portugal: Wine, History and Landscapes Along the Douro River
French Art Voyage: Paris, the Rhône and the French Riviera
Flamenco & Fortresses: Spain's Great River With Your Grandchild

Related Links:
Ushering in a New Age of Grandparent Travel
Welcome to France! Road Scholar's Destination of the Year in 2019
Road Scholar's Top 10 Favorite Ships for Learning at Sea

About the Author
JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President of Program Development, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states. JoAnn's extensive travel industry experience informs her expert insight on everything from where to find the world's most charming streets to must-see hidden gems across the globe.


Get our e-newsletter!

Stay in the loop on our new blogs, special offers, new adventures and more.