The Rivers of Europe: An Immersive Cultural Experience

Inspiration Travel



For decades, cruise ships have been known for size and extravagance—and rightly so. Mega-ships sail beloved routes in the Caribbean and along the coast of Alaska. Passengers love the attractive amenities, specialty restaurants, pools and spas and the onboard entertainment of ocean cruising. There’s a reason the most popular itineraries in the industry take place on these floating resorts.

But for a growing number of cruise aficionados, small is the new big. In recent years, river cruises have become the fastest-growing segment of the cruise industry. Instead of Caribbean beaches, river cruisers visit quaint European villages. Rather than massive Alaskan glaciers, ships pass by sprawling vineyards and stately castles.

Luxury Reinvented

Whether you’re a veteran cruiser or someone who has yet to take the plunge, the appeal of a river cruise is hard to resist. While the smaller size of these vessels has created the misconception that they’re less luxurious than ocean liners, it’s more a matter of perspective. The dining rooms are less grand, and there may be only three decks compared to 15, but luxury on a river cruise is found in unexpected details. These sleekly designed ships are filled with high-end touches, stunning art and exquisite service. Virtually all cabins include balconies allowing all passengers to take in gorgeous views from the moment they wake to the time they fall asleep. The low profile of a river ship gives a much more immersive experience related to the landscape. And the small frame of these vessels (typically holding no more than 200 passengers) create a more intimate atmosphere.

As fabulous as the onboard experience is, the draw of a river cruise is less about the ship itself and more about the surrounding scenery and unforgettable destinations. You’ll wake up most every morning in the middle of a small town or village after a serene overnight journey. You can explore these quaint locations by foot or bicycle or enjoy one of the many small group shore excursions. For a typical European river cruise, your day will bring castle tours, cathedral visits and opportunities to sample delicious French cuisine or German bakeries. River cruises are ideal for culture seekers and history buffs.

While riverboat tours sail all over the world, from the Nile River to the Yangtze in China, some of the most popular river cruises explore the historic waterways of Europe. Here are three of our favorites:

The Rhine

A top choice for travelers seeking a well-rounded introduction to the history of the Reformation, a cruise down the Rhine takes you through the heart of Germany. At 776 miles in length, the Rhine flows through Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands, potentially taking cruisers through multiple geographic regions and diverse landscapes.

For Believers, the German portion of the Rhine offers a particularly meaningful itinerary since it passes through villages that played a central role in the life of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Luther lived, studied and preached here in the 16th century. From the work of biblical translators to Luther’s passionate defense of Scripture and salvation, the events that took place along the Rhine 500 years ago transformed Europe—and continue to impact our faith today.

On either shore, you’ll pass rolling green hills lined with vineyards. Storybook castles rise above the water, looking out over medieval villages like Rudesheim, Cologne and Strasbourg. Walking tours of your ports won’t just introduce you to the religious history and culture of this fascinating region, but will inform your faith and renew your passion for God’s Word.

The Danube

Discover the inspiration behind the classic waltz by Johann Strauss as you sail through some of the most stunning landscapes in all of Europe. More than 1,700 miles long, the Danube flows from Germany’s Black Forest into the Black Sea. It winds through Austria, Hungary and Croatia. One of the most popular itineraries sails through Passau, Germany, near the Austrian border, then ends amid the fascinating art and architecture of Budapest.

While the Rhine is known as the homeland of Martin Luther, the Danube also has significant ties to this period of religious upheaval. Nuremberg’s printing houses were central to the spread of the ideas of the Reformation, and in 1525, the city became home to two of the first Protestant churches in Germany. To the southeast, Vienna is home to one of three existing first-edition copies of Luther’s published 95 Theses.

Other highlights of the Danube include the grand palaces of Vienna and the gorgeous hillsides and monasteries of the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site west of the city. You’ll also travel through the familiar landscapes of Salzburg, where The Sound of Music was filmed. Many river cruise lines carry bicycles on-board and allow passengers to use them in port. You’ll want to take advantage of this along the Danube, which includes plentiful bike-friendly ports. Enjoying Christian fellowship and memorable conversations along the Danube, you’ll realize why it’s known as the “Queen of Europe’s Rivers.” If this sounds intriguing, check out our Reformation cruise with Alistair Begg this summer!

The Seine

Flowing through the heart of France—and some of the most decisive battles of World War II— Seine River cruises typically begin or end in Paris. Many cruisers take advantage of this by scheduling extra days before or after their cruise to enjoy sightseeing in the “City of Lights.” Almost 500 miles long, the Seine bends through the scenic Normandy coast, taking passengers into historic Rouen and the cemeteries and battle sites of D-Day, including Omaha Beach.

Along with World War II history, you’ll be introduced to lovely gardens and idyllic villages, including Les Andelys, home to Richard the Lionheart’s 12th century Château Gaillard, and the gardens of Vernon and Conflans. You’ll enjoy panoramic seaside views at Honfleur Harbor, which inspired so many impressionist painters. Over the course of just a few days, a cruise along the Seine inspires both patriotism and wonder as you travel this breathtaking waterway. Consider joining Oliver North on his Freedom Cruise to the beaches of Normandy!

Multiple countries. Fascinating destinations. World-class cities and picturesque landscapes. More and more travelers are discovering why a river cruise is the best way to see Europe. Have you been on a river cruise? Is it a travel dream of yours to go on one? Join us on the awe-inspiring continent of Europe for a multi-dimensional approach to history you’ll never forget.