5 Port Cities Worth Visiting During Your European River Cruise

Immerse yourself in these charming European port cities on your next Europe river cruise vacation

Explore Europe with a river cruise vacation. It’s a convenient way to immerse yourself in Old World charms. Newer river ships have the added bonus of offering onboard enrichment activities. As well as relaxing sanctuaries, and impeccable dining options.  In some cases, many cruisers choose to spend their entire vacation on the ship rather than off it. It’s tempting to spend your port days enjoying these onboard luxuries. These are European port cities whose culture, history, and unique infrastructure warrant a visit.

1. Lyon

River cruise at Saone River, Lyon

Source: Shutterstock. Saone River in Lyon, France

A slightly smaller, yet charming version of its larger Parisian counterpart, Lyon is a vibrant European port city that is quickly gaining prominence as the French food capital. But, there’s more to Lyon than its gastronomic delights. Here, you can stroll down the cobbled streets of the quaint “Vieux Lyon” lined with fragrant flower shops, cute cafes, and historic buildings, like the Cathédrale Saint Jean Baptiste de Lyon. You might even stumble on one of the furtive “traboules,” which are covered passageways snuggled between streets that were originally used by silk weavers. Or, you can take the funicular to the top of Fourviere Hill, where you can soak in the incredible panoramas of the city and visit the Basilique Notre Dame and the Roman Ampitheater.

Search Europe river cruises

2. Heidelberg

The Karl Theodor Bridge, the old bridge of Heidelberg

Source: Corbis. Theodor Bridge Gate in Heidelberg

Heidelberg is one of the most romantic port cities in Europe, brimming with vibrant alleyways, a lively university population, and a picturesque location right on the Neckar River. Housing medieval treasures, art galleries, popular chain stores, and specialized shops and boutiques, Heidelberg has long been a getaway for philosophers and poets, and historians and romantics alike. During your day of exploring, wander down the Hauptstrasse, Heidelberg’s main road, to take in the many shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants, where you can try some authentic German schnitzel and sausage. Afterward, visit the Heidelberg Castle to soak in the incredible views over the Old Town. Or, you can take on Heidelberg’s famous walking path: Philosopher’s Way. During this stroll, you’ll walk towards the Neckar River and over the iconic Old Bridge, where you’ll be rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the castle and the Old Town down below.

Search Europe river cruises

3. Prague

River Cruise in Vitava River

Source: Shutterstock. Prague, Czech Republic

Often referred to affectionately as the “City of a Hundred Spires,” Prague is home to centuries worth of well-preserved architecture, remarkable history, and a distinctive culture. When you visit this popular river port city, take the time to walk across the pedestrian-only Charles Bridge, a well-known Prague landmark featuring bronze statues and spectacular views from all directions. Another celebrated landmark is Prague Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest ancient castle in the world. As you wander around the cobblestone alleyways of the castle complex, take a moment to marvel at the Gothic-style architecture of the St. Vitus Cathedral. From the castle, you can make your way to the Old Town, passing by the Prague Orloj (the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world), where you can glimpse some remarkable buildings built in an architectural style that’s distinctively Czech. Or, you can take a boat ride along the Venetian-like waterways along the Mala Strana neighborhood to Kampa Island, where you can sail languidly alongside the swans before heading back to your ship.

Search river cruises departing from Prague

4. Budapest

Chain Bridge and the Pest Side

Source: Corbis. Budapest, Hungary.

Visitors to Budapest are treated to more than just breathtaking views across the Danube. This charming port city also boasts an incredible culinary scene, a combination of historical and modern architecture, and a handful of UNESCO World Heritage sites, all of which can be easily explored on foot. Historically, the Hungarian capital came as a result of a merger between two distinct cities: the hilly and residential Buda on the west of the Danube, and the flat and populous Pest to the east. These two districts each have something unique to offer visitors, and during your day excursion, it would behoove you to spend some time in both. In Buda, take a funicular to reach Buda Castle for beautiful panoramic views of the city, wander around the verdant and tranquil Margaret Island where you can see medieval ruins, or take a stroll on the Chain Bridge to reach the Pest side of the city. In Pest, you can soak in the Szechenyi Thermal Bath (which is said to have healing powers), behold the majestic Hungarian Parliament Building, or simply sit back in a café at Deak Ferenc Square to soak up the vibrant atmosphere.

Search river cruises departing from Budapest

5. Vienna

Vienna city tour at night, Stephansplatz

Source: Shutterstock. Stephasplatz, Vienna

Famous for its Baroque cityscape, imperial palaces, coffee house culture, and long lineage of musical masterpieces, Vienna is regularly ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world, and if your Europe river cruise includes a port of call in this remarkable city, you’ll understand why. The heart of Vienna is situated within the grand boulevard known as the Ring Road, where you’ll find the Academy of Fine Arts, the Austrian Parliament Building, the ornate State Opera House, and the popular Naschmarkt. Vienna is also quite an artistic city; the popular MuseumsQuartier is home to a wide range of museums and art installations, and it remains one of the largest art and culture complexes in the world. Vienna has much to offer, and luckily, there are a few river cruise lines – such as Uniworld – offer overnight stays, so you can have more time to discover this majestic city.

Search river cruises departing from Vienna

A Europe river cruise allows you to truly experience the history and culture of a region, in a short period of time. While it can be tempting to stay onboard rather than exploring the different ports of call, there are a handful of European port cities that are worth exploring. The cultural traditions, remarkable architecture, and unique history of Lyon, Heidelberg, Prague, Budapest and Vienna are what make these cities unlike any other. These cities are certainly worth a visit on your next Europe river cruise vacation.

Search River Cruises

Prev Must-Try Walking and Segway Tours on Vacation
Next Scenic Bird Watching Destinations Ranked