8 Reasons You Should Go on a River Cruise

From interesting destinations to high-quality experiences, here are eight reasons to book a river cruise right now.

It’s springtime in the Balkans, and I watch the trees unfurl their leaves while plying the Danube on a 10-day Viking River cruise from Bucharest, Romania; to Budapest, Hungary. The shoreline is forever in view as we gracefully glide past small villages and the occasional riverside castle. Each day, the Jarl pauses long enough for us to explore a new port-of-call, sometimes an obscure medieval town with an unknown name and other times a capital city rebuilding its glory in this former war-torn region of southeastern Europe. The area’s history comes to life each day on this floating leisure classroom.

Like the water that pours into the Danube’s locks, slowly lifting the ship to a new level, river cruising is on the rise. From interesting destinations to high-quality experiences, here are eight reasons to book a river cruise right now in any part of the world.

viking cruise ship beyla in port

More Time in Port

Unlike ocean sailing, which is primarily about the onboard experience, river cruising focuses on the very places you’ve traveled so far to get to. According to Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor-in-chief of SmarterTravel’s sister site Cruise Critic, “River cruises are destination-centric, and the ship is a backdrop. It’s like a boutique hotel that moves with you so you don’t have to pack and unpack.”

Most days on my Passage to Eastern Europe cruise, the Viking Longship set sail in the evenings during dinner service and continued moving along until it reached the next port the following morning. It docked right in town and passengers could either join a shore excursion—usually a combined bus-and-walking tour of the town and nearby sights—or wander off on their own.

Of the trip’s 10 days, just one full day was spent on the water, though sightseeing remained on the agenda. Not only did we get to fully enjoy the ship’s amenities (such as basking on the sun deck and having drinks delivered to our favorite reading nooks), but we also had front-row tickets in what felt like a mobile theater. Our program director, Cornelia, narrated our passage through Serbia and Romania’s famed Iron Gates, a dramatic transit between 1,600-foot cliffs with a glimpse of the larger-than-life rock sculpture of Decebalus, king of the Dacians. (Scroll down to watch this epic experience).


What to Wear on a River Cruise:

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SmarterTravel contributors occasionally accept free or subsidized travel in exchange for our unbiased opinions. We never accept compensation in exchange for a positive review.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this article.


Watch: The Jarl’s transit through the Iron Gates locks

By Anne Banas

Anne's stories have appeared on USA Today, Yahoo Travel, The Huffington Post, ABC News,, and other major publications.

When it comes to travel and lifestyle, Anne is most passionate about local cuisine and culture, as well as sustainability, and she especially enjoys traveling to Europe, the U.K., the Caribbean, remote islands, and even her own backyard.

When she's not at the office, she's usually visiting local farms, gardening, taking food photos, or developing recipes in her "test kitchen."

In 2012, she graduated with high honors in the Professional Pastry Program at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, and was granted the Jean Creveux (MOF) Award for outstanding skill with sugar.

Anne received her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, and studied abroad at Trinity College, Oxford University. She's an active member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW).

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