The Best Times of Year to Visit Europe for a River Cruise

The Rhine in winter? Douro in summer? Danube in spring? So many places, so many choices. Let us help plan your dream trip to Europe with a guide to the best times to book. 

Choosing when to book a European river cruise can feel like a difficult task. With warmer, longer days, the spring and summer months may seem like the obvious choice. But that would mean overlooking the splendor and charm of fall, as well as the festive enchantment of winter.

If you’re having trouble deciding when and where to travel on a European river cruise, we’ve put together a helpful guide on the best times of year to plan your visit. Focusing on four areas, including northern Europe, central and eastern Europe, southern France, and Portugal, this guide can help you figure out when to book based on the experience you want.

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Northern Europe

The countries and destinations of northern Europe are transformed by the changing seasons. Depending on when you travel, your experience will be wholly different, with the colder months bringing festive charm and the chance to savor incredible museums and attractions, and the summer months ideal for enjoying the very best of European café culture and alfresco living.

With this in mind, here’s our guide to the best times to book a river cruise in northern Europe, either on the Rhine, Main, Upper Danube and Seine rivers.

The Best Time to Visit Northern Europe: Spring

traditional dutch windmills

The spring months of March, April and May bring warmer weather and longer days to northern Europe. Average temperatures range from around 60°F to 70°F, providing the ideal conditions for sightseeing.

Here are some good reasons to book a European river cruise in spring:

• See famous cities at their best – Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne, Vienna; all these wonderful cities are at their best in spring. Not too hot, not too cold, it’s the perfect time to pound the pavement, take in the sights and enjoy sitting outside in a terraced café.

• See the Keukenhof Gardens – On a Rhine river cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to see the majestic Keukenhof Gardens, the largest floral showcase in Europe. These beautiful landscaped gardens come to life in mid-April, so it’s well worth planning a visit at this time of year if you have a passion for horticulture.

• Explore via Scenic e-bike – See sights like the Wachau Valley or travel like a local in places like Amsterdam with a Scenic e-bike. Spring is ideal for a ride on our power-assisted bicycles, which help you see Europe like never before.

The Best of the Rest

birdseye view of austria

To be fair, it doesn’t matter what time of year you visit northern Europe, because every season has its perks and highlights. Below, we take a look at what you can expect on the Rhine, Danube, Main and Seine at other times of the year.

Summer – Balmy temperatures and long days make summer an excellent time of year to visit Europe, especially if you’re something of a sun worshipper. See cities like Paris, Passau and Antwerp at their most exciting, as locals swap staying in for making the most of the terraced cafés and beautiful city parks.

Fall – One thing’s for sure if you decide to book a European river cruise in the fall: exceptional beauty. With the season bringing a kaleidoscope of color, destinations like the Wachau Valley, Rhine Gorge and the Black Forest are totally transformed. Cameras at the ready.

Winter – The coldest season may seem like a daring time of year to visit northern Europe, but you shouldn’t overlook one significant perk of planning a trip in winter: Christmas. Destinations like Würzburg, Heidelberg, Nuremberg and Vienna are transformed by the festive season, with Christmas markets providing an enchanting draw for visitors.

Central and Eastern Europe

As with the northern half of the continent, central and eastern Europe enjoys a varied and changeable climate, so your experience will differ depending on when you decide to book. That said, temperatures are generally milder here throughout the year, and warm up the further south you travel on the waters of the Danube.

Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Romania are a joy to visit at any time of the year, but here’s our pick of the best time of year to book a Danube river cruise to central and eastern Europe.

The Best Time to Visit Central and Eastern Europe: Summer

image of thermal baths

Summer’s warmth is a great companion as you explore the enigmatic landscapes and cities of central and eastern Europe. From the verdant plains of Hungary to the natural oasis of the Danube Delta at the mouth of the Black Sea, expect beautiful surroundings and memorable urban discovery with a Danube river break during the warmest time of the year.

Here are a few highlights to look forward to:

Soak in the baths of Budapest – Make like a local during your visit to the Hungarian capital with a soak in one of the city’s open-air baths. The Szechenyi Baths is a popular spot to cool off and relax on warm days, and its architecture is well worth a look.

See Croatia at its best – Croatia is revered for its natural beauty, with much of the country given over to national parks and reserves. In summer, these lands are at their greenest and most inspiring; savor the very best scenery during a guided bike ride through Osijek’s countryside.

Hike to Belogradchik Fortress – Consider yourself an active traveler? Then a guided hike to Belogradchik Fortress should provide the leg stretch you need. Steeped in history and surrounded by nothing but rolling hills, Belogradchik perfectly highlights the isolated and remote beauty of the east.

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rock sculpture decebalus

Don’t be put off visiting central and eastern Europe at other times of the year; through spring, fall and winter, the region has much to satisfy the curious traveler. Take a look at what you can expect during the other three seasons.

Spring – Wildflowers, rising temperatures and longer days make spring our second favorite time to visit eastern and central Europe. You’ll experience places like Budapest without the summer crowds, while enjoying excellent walking opportunities in Croatia and Romania.

Fall – Temperatures remain fairly high in central and eastern Europe during the fall months. What’s more, this is an excellent time to take advantage of seasonal produce, with markets from Budapest to Bucharest bursting with local flavors and specialties.

• Winter – Eastern Europe is an enigmatic and enchanting place to visit during the winter months, with cities like Bratislava, Belgrade and Bucharest taking on a steely charm reminiscent of the Cold War. Christmas is big business in this corner of Europe, too, so expect festive fairs and markets aplenty.

Southern France (Rhône and Saône)

Seamless passage through the iconic landscapes of southern France; that’s the draw of a Rhône river cruise. Traveling through Burgundy, Provence and the Cote d’Azur is one of life’s great pleasures any time of year, with exceptional natural beauty and fascinating heritage destinations to explore and discover.

Take a look at our pick of the best times to visit southern France below.

The Best Time to Visit Southern France: Fall

purple lavender field valensole

With warm temperatures late into October and some of the world’s greatest sunsets to be enjoyed throughout the season, fall is our pick of the best time of year to visit the South of France on a Rhône river cruise. Here are a few reasons why:

Experience harvest time on the vineyard – In early autumn, the vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône hang heavy with fruit, ready for the press. A vineyard tour in Mâcon or Tournon provides the ultimate experience for wine buffs.

Explore Arles and Avignon without the crowds – The South of France is a busy place during the summer months, but things start to get quieter in the fall. This means that world-renowned destinations such as Avignon and Arles are easier to negotiate, with fewer people standing between you and revered heritage highlights like the Palais des Papes and the Roman and Romanesque Monuments of Arles.

The sunsets of Provence – Words simply don’t do justice to the beauty of Provence’s fall sunsets. As the sun dips beneath vineyards and fields teeming with lavender and sunflowers, the view is one you’ll treasure for a lifetime.

The Best of the Rest

sunrise avignon bridge

From Arles to Lyon, the course of the Rhône promises unforgettable moments whatever the season.

Spring – Sunshine, lavender buds and busy vineyards characterize southern France in the spring months. Temperatures start to climb here as early as February, so you can expect balmy days with plenty of sunshine.

Summer – The Mediterranean brings blissful warmth to the Rhône Valley during the summer months, so you can make the most of alfresco living as you journey from Lyon through the vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône.

Winter – There’s something special about southern France in the wintertime. With a drop in tourist numbers, the region feels at its most authentic, while the snug boulangeries and bouchons of Lyon promise wonderful eating.

Portugal

Portugal has long been held as the perfect summer destination, with exceptional beaches and welcoming locals making it an obvious choice for holidaying families and sunseekers. But there’s more to this Iberian nation than sun, sea and sand, and a Douro river cruise illustrates this point perfectly.

Here, we take a look at the best time to book a Douro river cruise.

The Best Time to Book a Douro River Cruise: Summer

vineyards on douro river

That’s right, summer is our favorite time to visit the Douro region, though all four seasons do bring their own highlights. There’s no denying the blissful comfort of the Portuguese sunshine as you drift through the Douro Valley, alighting in historic towns which cling to the steep, terraced slopes of the region’s legendary vineyards.

Enjoy Porto and Lisbon – Portugal’s foremost cities, Porto and Lisbon, are a joy to visit during the summer, each offering parks, plazas and outdoor eateries that help you make the most of the sunshine.

Savor the vineyards of the Douro Valley – There is so much to see and do in the Douro Valley, but exploring the region’s iconic wineries should be at the top of your list. Drenched in the summer sun, these ancient wine slopes are the perfect backdrop to a tasting of the region’s delectable port and sparkling wines.

Unforgettable downtime on board – Our Douro river ship, the Scenic Azure, was built with the Portuguese sunshine in mind. Offering a swimming pool, rooftop bar and sunbathing area, this intimate Scenic Space-Ship helps you make the most of the weather as you take in the captivating beauty of the Douro landscape.

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porto portugal

Whenever you choose to visit the Douro, good times are guaranteed. Here is what you can expect from the region at other times of the year.

Spring – Rising temperatures and blooming landscapes make spring an excellent time to visit northern Portugal. Those with culture on their agenda can spend their days seeking out the Douro’s Baroque highlights, including Mateus Palace and the Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios.

Fall – With the vineyards fit to burst with ripe fruit, fall is perfect for tasting your way through the Douro Valley. Temperatures remain warm in northern Portugal well into October, so it’s great for enjoying some fine weather out of season.

Winter – Mild temperatures make the Douro an excellent choice for those hoping for a little sunshine during their European river cruise. What’s more, travel before Christmas, and you can make the most of Portugal’s historic festive traditions.

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We hope this guide helps you plan your perfect European river cruise. For more help, advice and inspiration, visit the Scenic homepage or call our friendly team on 855 430 4464.