The Parliament building along the Danube in Budapest Hungary

10 Tips for Your First European River Cruise (Updated 2022)

This story was created in partnership with: CroisiEurope 

If you’ve never been on a river cruise before, we’re guessing you have a few questions about this increasingly popular style of travel.

Maybe you’re curious to know how it compares to ocean cruising, or perhaps you’re looking for advice on how to make your overall experience that much better.

Don’t worry — once you’re onboard, you’ll quickly discover why so many people fall in love with river cruising. While you’re waiting for your departure date to arrive, however, you can refer to this guide to ensure you know what to expect on your maiden voyage.

Here are ten of the top tips you need to know for your first European river cruise.

Buildings along the Seine River in Paris at sunset
Discover iconic cities like Paris on a river cruise | © Skeeve/Pixabay

1. Remember that river cruising is different from ocean cruising

While river cruising and ocean cruising share some similarities, these two travel styles differ in many ways. River cruise ships are considerably smaller (typically accommodating no more than 200 passengers), and the overall experience is much more personalised and intimate than you’d find on an ocean-going mega-ship. 

Another thing to note is that river cruises focus on the destinations rather than the ships themselves. You’ll likely be visiting a new port every day, which means you can pack a whole lot of sightseeing into one trip. 

Arguably the best thing about booking a river cruise is that just about everything is built into your fare. CroisiEurope river cruises, in particular, are packaged to include wine and beer, soft drinks, coffee, tea, and WiFi, so there’s no need to worry about racking up a hefty onboard bill.

2. Try not to overpack

Storage space is at a premium on river cruise staterooms, so it’s important to pack smart.

Pack for comfort first and foremost (river cruises typically have a very relaxed dress code), and choose outfits that can easily be mixed and matched.

You’ll need to be prepared for a variety of situations and weather conditions (a light waterproof jacket and comfortable walking shoes are definitely essential!), but you can always take advantage of your ship’s laundry service in order to cut back on the number of items you bring.

A river cruise ship docked in a city along the Danube
The Danube is a great destination for your first river cruise | © Falco/Pixabay

3. Don’t feel obligated to do it all 

There’s no doubt river cruising is one of the best ways to discover several new destinations in a week or two, but like on any holiday, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to see and do everything!

It’s certainly tempting to pack your schedule to the brim when your itinerary is filled with so many exciting ports of call, but constantly being on the go is a surefire way to leave yourself feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

Everything on your daily itinerary is optional (apart from the port departure time, of course!), so if you’re not interested in a particular tour, take the time to stay on the ship and relax or head off to explore at your own pace. 

You might feel like wandering around on your own for the entirety of the trip, or maybe you’d prefer to join most of the guided excursions — both options are totally fine, and the choice is always yours.

4. Read up on your destinations ahead of time

The great thing about booking a river cruise holiday with CrioisiEurope is that their state-of-the-art ships allow you to reach destinations that are inaccessible to ocean liners and larger ships.

If you’re heading on a cruise along the Danube, for example, you can expect to moor right in the heart of cities like Budapest and Vienna, often only a short walk or quick bus ride from the most iconic attractions and places of interest.

With all that extra time to explore, you’ll want to ensure you’re making the most of every moment! The easiest way to maximise your time on land is to research your destinations in advance. Grab a guidebook and take note of all the top things you absolutely don’t want to miss.

Also, be sure to check how long you’ll be docked in each port and what excursions are on offer to get a better idea of the best way to spend your time there.

Several 20 and 50 Euro notes
Remember to get local currency prior to your trip | © Markus Spiske/Unsplash

5. Bring local currency

If you’re visiting several countries on your river cruise, it’s worthwhile to get some local currency before you depart for your trip.

Most countries in Europe accept the Euro, but destinations like Hungary and the Czech Republic have their own respective currencies, so having a small amount of those on hand will save you some hassle when you arrive.

Here’s an idea of the currencies you’ll need if your river cruise visits the following countries:

  • Denmark (Danish Krone)
  • Romania (Romanian Leu)
  • Hungary (Hungarian Forint)
  • Czech Republic (Czech Koruna)
  • Croatia (Croatian Kuna)
  • Bulgaria (Bulgarian Lev)
  • Poland (Polish Zloty)

6. Don’t be surprised if you feel like a member of family onboard

You’ve likely heard that river cruises are notorious for having a friendly, sociable atmosphere, but you might be surprised at just how welcome you’ll feel throughout your holiday. 

With less than 200 passengers onboard, it’s not uncommon for the crew to greet you by name and memorise how you take your coffee after meeting you only once or twice. The level of personalisation is second to none on a river cruise, so get ready to feel like a member of the family from the get-go.

The facade of Schönbrunn Palace against a purple sky at dusk in Vienna, Austria
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna | © Arthur V/Unsplash

7. Take advantage of the local guides and crew members

The best way to experience a new place is through the eyes of a local, and when you’re on a river cruise, you can glean tips and advice from plenty of in-the-know locals — whether it’s a professional guide or one of the friendly crew members you see every day.

With a high guest-to-crew ratio, you can get to know the staff and leverage their recommendations to ensure you make the most of your trip.

8. Arrive at least a day or two ahead of time

Seasoned river cruisers know it’s best to arrive at least a day before your departure date. This way, you’ll have time to shake off the jet lag, recover after a long day of travel, and adjust to your new time zone. Getting a goodnight’s sleep is essential to feeling rested and re-energised for embarkation day.

Plus, if you’re departing from a city like Budapest or Vienna, arriving early will give you more time to explore and take in all the superb sights!

The Parliament building along the Danube in Budapest Hungary
Prepare to be wowed by the grand architecture in Budapest | © Dan Novac/Unsplash

9. Go with the flow

Since weather conditions and water levels can affect your itinerary (river ships can’t fit under bridges during periods of heavy rain or flooding), you’ll want to keep an open mind and remain flexible throughout your holiday.

Weather disruptions can certainly be frustrating, but you needn’t worry about it affecting your trip: CrioiseEurope’s cruise directors are highly experienced and adept at organising alternative arrangements so you never miss a thing.

10. Know that it will be hard to go back to “normal” life

Waking up to a different breathtaking landscape and dream destination every day is undoubtedly one of the best aspects of river cruising — and it’s something you’ll miss once your holiday is over. 

Thankfully, you can bring that feeling of excitement and discovery home with you by stocking up on souvenirs at each port of call. Having a keepsake from the destinations you visit is one of the best ways to preserve all those special moments from your river cruise vacation.

A river cruise ship cruising along the Danube with Bratislava Castle in the background
Enjoy stunning views like this from your stateroom | © LNL LNL/Pixabay

If you’re ready to book your first river cruise, CroisiEurope is the perfect choice. Not only does this industry-leading company offer top-of-the-line ships and excellent value for money, but it also boasts the largest selection of destinations and itineraries in Europe, from classic rivers like the Danube and the Rhine to lesser-visited locales such as the Douro and the Garonne.

Explore our full range of CroisiEurope cruises and start planning your dream holiday today!

Ashley is a Content Editor at TourRadar. When she’s not writing, travelling, or obsessively checking flight prices on Skyscanner, you can find her attempting to fine-tune her photography skills or watching a shark documentary.

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