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15 Reasons River Cruises Are Europe’s Best-Kept Secret

On a river cruise, you can unpack once in a comfortable floating apartment while the wonders of destinations such as Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, and Spain roll by your window on wave-free waters (so no seasickness, score!). Best of all, there's a river cruise for every taste, interest, and pocketbook.

Stunning SceneryCourtesy Emerald Waterways

Stunning scenery

Although it's a given that you'll be able to spy Europe outside your longship's stateroom window, there are certain views in Europe that you can only get on a river cruise. One great example: The castles along the Rhine river gorge in Germany. On a stretch of 40 miles, the river is flanked on both sides with 40 castles, a UNESCO World Heritage site with more castles than any other spot in the world. (Look for Rhine River itineraries in Germany for this special stunner).

MassageCourtesy Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

Relaxation

The calm river waters are probably already sending you into a state of relaxation, but for extra pampering, you'll also want to try out onboard massage and beauty treatments on AmaWaterways, Scenic, UniWorld, Avalon, and Viking ships; wine bars; hot tubs; heated pools; and yoga classes on select ships.

Durnstein Wine TastingCourtesy AmaWaterways

Special interests and skill workshops

Want to learn how to take great photos? Want to tour a vineyard with a winemaker? Always wanted to try your hand at painting? River cruises offer special interest activities and itineraries for no extra cost.

For example, on EmeraldPLUS Programs offer Portuguese tile painting workshops on their Secrets of the Douro, and on the Highlights of Netherlands and Beauty of Belgium cruise (also known as the "Tulip Cruise"), you can try painting clogs after a visit to Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam. Uniworld offers Floating Paint and Wine Workshops on four different European itineraries.

AmaWaterways offers special Wine Cruises with Wine Hosts from Le Vigne Winery in Paso Robles, California, and Wolffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaphack, New York, among several others.

On Scenic's National Geographic cruises, a Nat Geo expert will give talks throughout the week and join guests on shore excursions, and a Nat Geo photographer will also help guests hone their photography skills so you get pro photos of your journey.

Music on River CruiseCourtesy Tauck

Music all around

Some of the greatest musical traditions in the world originated in the cultural capitals of Europe. On a river cruise, there are myriad opportunities to enjoy classic sounds in their home territory, when musicians and dancers come aboard for special evenings in port. According to Cruise Critic, Crystal River Cruises will hold Signature Events during upcoming cruises with musical performances in iconic destinations such as Vienna's Belvedere Palace and Rudesheim's Monastery Eberbach.

Check out this vacation guide based on your personality.

Friends on River CruiseCourtesy Emerald Waterways

Forging friendships

With an average ship carrying fewer than 200 people, river cruises' small sizes mean you'll have an opportunity to easily meet your fellow cruisers in a way you wouldn't while staying in multiple hotels on a European trip. You'll automatically have things in common—the ship, the itinerary—and things to discuss each day since you'll be exploring the same ports. Depending on which cruise line you chose, you may also end up with a chance to meet Europeans on lines such as Croisi, which is popular with Europeans, or travelers from all over the world on Emerald or Scenic, perhaps even gaining new inspiration for your next river cruise.

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