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News > March 2017 > 50 Wonderful Sights and Experiences Along Europe’s Rivers

50 Wonderful Sights and Experiences Along Europe’s Rivers

The great rivers of Europe showcase the continent in all its splendour, revealing lands of enriching culture and inspiring natural wonder. From the iconic passageways of the Rhine and the Danube to the languid waterways of France; these beautiful rivers criss-cross some of the world’s most esteemed destinations, providing seamless passage for the ultimate European adventure.

Whether you’ve travelled these waters once, twice or never before, each new journey unearths new and exciting experiences — so you’re always guaranteed an unforgettable trip. The question is, where might you find the very best cultural highlights and experiences in Europe?

To help inspire your next river journey, here, we compile 50 wonderful sights and experiences along the rivers of Europe — from the mighty Danube to the sun-drenched Douro.

The Danube

Twisting and turning through the heart of the continent, the Danube flows through 10 countries, including Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia — carving a course through historic capitals and regions of untold natural wonder.

Here are some of the incredible experiences you can look forward to on the Danube.

1. Spanish Riding School, Vienna

Since 1565, the Spanish Riding School of Vienna has been Europe’s crucible of classical horsemanship; an elegant haute école (high school) training arena which is home to the world-famous Lipizzan stallions.

Here, travel writer Jane Archer shares her experience of visiting Vienna’s famous school of horsemanship:

Hands up all who remember the 1960s TV programme White Horses. I can’t recall any of the stories but I am sure that show must have been the reason I always wanted to see the white Lipizzaner stallions for real – an ambition I finally realised on a visit to Vienna during a Scenic cruise on the Danube. In subsequent visits, I have toured their stables, watched them training and even managed to see a show. Like the TV show, the trips will stay with me forever.”

2. Devín Castle, Bratislava

Listed in our guide to 14 of Europe’s finest castles, Devín Castle is one of the most fascinating historic monuments within the charming Slovakian capital of Bratislava. The heritage of this magnificent former fortress makes it a haunting and evocative sight, with much of the remains dating back to the 9th century. The castle overlooks the Danube on the fringes of the city, so even if you don’t get chance to visit it in the flesh, you may be able to spot it as your Scenic Space-Ship glides by.

3. The Wachau Valley, Austria

Of all the beauty spots the Danube graces on its way to the Black Sea, the Wachau Valley, Austria, is the most captivating. Known for its fertile rolling hills, lush vineyards and palatial fortresses, the valley affords spirit-lifting vistas at every turn, and experiencing it by water is truly one of the highlights of a Danube river cruise.

4. Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest

With its rich heritage and enchanting architecture, Budapest is one of the most popular stops for those travelling the Danube. Telegraph travel writer, Lynn Houghton, agrees, sharing this sentiment about the so-called queen of the river:

“The first river cruise I ever booked was on the Danube River and, without a doubt, Budapest was the star of the show. The UNESCO World Heritage Castle Quarter on the Buda side was fascinating for its historical relevance but it was the gorgeous Hungarian Parliament Building that took my breath away. With its glistening white stucco being reflected in the deep blue water and its 314ft-high dome dominating the skyline, seeing this made an impression on me that I will never forget.”

5. Passau Sight-seeing Tour, Germany

Located on the German-Austrian border, the wonderful old city of Passau is often a surprise highlight for those travelling the Danube. Affectionately known as the city of three rivers, Passau enjoys a unique location at the confluence of the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers, with the waterways shaping the city’s ancient town plan. Above all else, Passau is renowned for its wonderfully preserved baroque architecture, examples of which can be found across the city. and the imposing 13th-century fortresses, Veste Oberhaus.

6. Palais Liechtenstein, Vienna

Palais Liechtenstein is a baroque palace in the heart of Vienna, located just steps from the prestigious Burgtheater and Volksgarten. Showcasing the finest in baroque-period opulence inside and out, this wonderful city palace was once home to the celebrated Liechtenstein family, and is bedecked in design elements which hark back to its 17th-century origins.

Our Palais Liechtenstein Scenic Enrich experience always proves popular among our passengers, as this testimonial from Anne Bebby demonstrates:

Scenic organised for us to visit the beautiful Palais Liechtenstein for a concert of Mozart and Strauss. We felt very privileged to be spending the evening in such a beautiful and historic place.”

7. Sound of Music Experience, Salzburg

The enchanting alpine city of Salzburg is not only strikingly beautiful and prime for cultural exploration — it’s famous as the setting for the timeless blockbuster, the Sound of Music. As a Scenic guest, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the backdrop to this iconic 60’s film. This experience proves a highlight for many Scenic passengers, including Mr and Mrs Yates, who had this to say about the event:

“The experience we’ll treasure forever is the Sound of Music event held in the Swiss Alps during a visit to Salzburg. With authentic food, drink and entertainment, this was an experience we’ll never forget and it was an absolute joy to be a part of.”

8. Benedictine Abbey, Melk

First founded in 1089, the Benedictine Melk Abbey is among the finest historic sites of the Danube, recognisable for miles around thanks to its extraordinary baroque architecture. An afternoon spent exploring this wonderful grand abbey and its adjoining library is one of the highlights of the Danube’s stint in Austria, particularly when you factor in the 360° panoramic views offered from its tallest tower.

9. A Guided Tour of Historic Dürnstein, Austria

Victoria Wallman, product and content coordinator here at Scenic, fondly remembers her time spent exploring the medieval streets of Dürnstein, a historic town set on the banks of the Danube in Lower Austria. Awash with historic buildings and overlooked by an ancient castle (where Richard the Lionheart was once imprisoned), this wonderful heritage town holds many secrets.

10. Shoes on the Danube Bank, Budapest

This beautifully poignant memorial, which comprises of hundreds of shoes on the edge of the Danube, was commissioned in memory of those murdered by Hungary’s Arrow Cross militiamen during WWII. The symbolism of the abandoned shoes is particularly affecting, given that the victims of the massacre were ordered to remove their footwear before being shot, with their bodies falling into the river.

The Rhine

Like the Danube, the Rhine steers a course through the very heart of Europe, bisecting the continent from south to north as it makes its way from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea. On the way, this mighty river journeys through an incredible array of cultural destinations and scenic beauty spots, making it one of Europe’s most coveted river cruise routes.

Here, we list 10 unforgettable experiences you can enjoy on the great Rhine River.

11. The Famous Christmas Markets of Germany

Cruise expert, Jason Leppert, is fanatical about German Christmas markets, which take place in wonderful destinations along the Rhine during the wintertime — from Regensburg to Rüdesheim.

“Experiencing European Christmas markets along the rivers in the winter is magical. The sights, the sounds and the smells are all enchanting as you peruse the open-air stalls and purchase festive wares from local vendors as live musicians play on. Before long, the scent of holiday treats will have you wanting to taste your way through, enjoying everything from hearty sausages to warming mulled wines.”

12. Black Forest Hike, Germany

Enchanting and mystical, the Black Forest of Germany is undoubtedly a place everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Join Scenic for a Rhine river cruise, and you’ll be given the chance to take a guided hike through this beautiful and expansive woodland, discovering more about its unique heritage and wonderful myths and legends.

13. Vondelpark’s Rose-Ringed Parakeets, Amsterdam

As one of the greenest cities in Europe, Amsterdam boasts a vast number of tranquil green spaces where locals and tourists can escape the city’s hubbub, the most popular and central of these being Vondelpark. Recently, the park has seen an influx of rare rose-ringed parakeets, and spotting these beautiful birds has become a favourite pastime for amateur twitchers.

14. Wine tasting in the Alsace, Strasbourg

Despite sitting within the French border, the historic Alsace region of France has a distinct German flavour, owing to its proximity to the world-famous Rhineland. The region is dotted with historic towns and villages, and is famous for its wine, particularly its German Riesling and French Pinot Noir.

15. Discover the Seafaring Charms of Hoorn, The Netherlands

The Rhine Delta covers vast swathes of the Dutch east coast, making it possible to explore much of the region by water. One of the highlights of this quaint corner of Europe is Hoorn, a charming lakeside town north of Amsterdam, which is famous as the former home of the Dutch East India Company, one of the world’s most powerful 17th-century trading companies.

16. Heidelberg Castle, Mannheim

During a visit to Mannheim, you’ll visit the historic university town of Heidelberg, one of the most beautiful of the Rhineland. With its cluster of medieval buildings rising away from the river’s edge, the town is as picture-postcard beautiful as it is fascinating. If you can tear yourself away from the historic town centre, we’d recommend a visit to Heidelberg Castle, one of the finest Renaissance-era structures in northern Europe.

17. Ride the Winzerexpress Mini Train, Rüdesheim

There’s only one way to experience the historic beauty of Rüdesheim, and that’s with a scenic ride on the charming Winzerexpress mini train. Winding its way through the town, this delightful passenger road train offers commanding views as it climbs into the surrounding hillsides, making it a great way to see the sights.

18. Cologne Cathedral

Standing over 500ft tall and visible for miles around, Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Europe, and one of the most iconic religious buildings of the Western World. This incredible building has stood tall over the historic streets of Cologne since the 13th century, even surviving attacks from the ground and the air.

19. Experience the World Heritage-listed Rhine Gorge

Succumb to the captivating landscapes of the Rhine Gorge — where towering, craggy cliffs rise to meet dense pine forests; ancient medieval castles emerge around every meander; and Riesling grapevines grow in neat, terraced rows right at the water’s edge.

20. An Evening of Classical Music at Rastatt Palace

Rastatt Palace, or Residenzschloss Rastatt as it’s known in Germany, is a Baroque schloss situated in the town of Rastatt, in the Upper Rhine Plain region. The palace was designed and built by the Italian architect, Domenico Egidio Rossi, in 1700, making it the oldest baroque-style building of the Rhineland. It’s here, where Scenic guests can enjoy an evening of classical music as part of Scenic Enrich.

Rhône

Fertile vineyards, fragrant lavender fields and captivating riverside towns — welcome to the Rhône, one of the great icons of France. This renowned passageway flows from the Swiss Alps to the Mediterranean, weaving a languid trail through Burgundy, Beaujolais and Provence before spilling into the warm waters of the Mediterranean.

Here are some of the incredible experiences that await on the timeless waters of the Rhône.

21. Experience the Enchanting Villages of Provence

As your Scenic Space-Ship negotiates the tranquil ebb of the Rhône through the famous landscapes of Provence, you’ll be given the opportunity to alight your ship and explore some of the charming towns and villages. Here, previous Scenic passengers, Mr and Mrs Drury, list some of the wonderful villages they encountered during their time on board Scenic Emerald:

The all-inclusive tours included natural beauty spots as well as visits to several villages and landmarks, including Les Baux, Saints Marie de lar Mer and the vineyard of Chateauneuf de Pape. The history and heritage of these places was inspiring, and it was nice to see many buildings in their original condition.”

22. Palais des Papes, Avignon

Steeped in history and beautifully preserved, the great Palais des Papes in Avignon was a historic seat of the Roman papacy, and housed several popes during the 14th century. As a Scenic guest, you’ll enjoy an exclusive evening concert and banquet in this dramatic heritage building.

23. Experience the Thrill of a Traditional French Can-Can, Lyon

Get set for a fun-filled extravaganza as you attend a traditional French can-can in Lyon. This wonderful evening of entertainment comes to you as part of our new Scenic Rouge experience, in which you’ll discover the thrill of French cabaret beneath a big-top in one of France’s most beautiful cities.

24. Visit the Renowned Culinary School of Paul Bocuse, Lyon

Discover why Lyon is regarded as the world’s ‘gourmet capital’ with a visit to the renowned Culinary School of Paul Bocuse, where you can try your hand at authentic French cookery. With three Michelin stars to his name, Paul Bocuse is one of France’s most distinguished chefs — and the perfect person to impart some of the secrets of French gourmet.

25. Enjoy the View at Tournon Castle

The beautiful renaissance town of Tournon on the banks of the Rhône is crowned by the medieval ramparts of Tournon Castle, whose position at the top of a craggy bluff offers a captivating outlook. It’s here, on the castle’s sun-drenched terrace, where you’ll enjoy an afternoon aperitif — enjoying the 360° vistas which stretch out beyond the shadow of the castle.

26. Hike the Famed Saint-Joseph Vineyard

Covering a steep terraced outcrop high above the river, the Saint-Joseph Vineyard is a historic winery whose vines grow in thin, dry soil — ideal for producing overripe grapes that lend themselves perfectly to dry chardonnay and hefty pinot noirs. If you’re feeling active, it’s possible to enjoy a scenic hike around this sloping winery, and, of course, your efforts will be rewarded with a personal wine tasting.

27. Visit the Fragrant Lavender Museum, Viviers

Known as the Musée de la Lavande in French, this wonderful heritage centre showcases the fascinating stories of the lavender producers and distillers of southern France, and the museum also features an expansive gift shop where you can buy authentic Provence lavender products that are renowned for their medicinal properties.

28. Sample the Wines at the Celebrated Châteauneuf-du-Pape 

Few wineries in the world are as instantly recognisable and universally beloved as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This prestigious Côtes du Rhône vineyard has produced wine since the 11th century, and many of its original wine stores and cellars are still in use today. With Scenic, you’ll visit this legendary French vineyard for an informative wine tasting hosted by an expert sommelier, who will guide you through the tasting process, helping you savour every last drop of your preferred vintage.

29. Visit the Saint-Paul de Mausole Monastery

During the early 20th century, when this picturesque former monastery was being used as an asylum, it housed none other than Vincent van Gogh. Indeed, the Impressionist painter was so inspired by the rolling lavender fields and historic aspect of the site, many of his most famous works allude to his time here. Today, the monastery has barely changed since Van Gogh graced its halls — making it feel like you’re stepping directly into one of the great master’s works.

30. Explore the Roman Relics of Arles

Affectionately known as the capital of Provence, Arles is a beautiful heritage city located close to the Camargue National Park, which forms part of the Rhône Delta. Above all else, the city is renowned for its Roman and Romanesque Monuments district, which houses an incredible collection of Roman monuments and buildings including the Arles Amphitheatre, the Roman theatre, the Cryptoporticus and the Thermes of Constantine.

Seine

The Seine River drifts through the beautiful landscapes of northern France, passing culture-rich cities and areas of unfathomable history and heritage. From the legacy of Joan of Arc to the poignant battlefields of the Somme; the vibrant tapestry of French history plays out wonderfully on the banks of this serene passageway, offering up a myriad of cultural highlights from the boulevards of Paris to the beaches of Normandy.

31. Visit the Somme Battlefields, Rouen

Sophie Pearson, a reservations consultant here at Scenic, found a visit to the Somme battlefields to be one of the highlights of her recent Seine river cruise. Describing it as an “emotional and poignant day”, Sophie experienced the battlefields themselves, before visiting the moving Thiepval Memorial.

32. Alabaster Coastal Walk, Caudebec-en-Caux

The limestone cliffs of the Alabaster Coast are a wonderful contrast to the White Cliffs of Dover, which lie just over 20 miles away across the Channel. Here, you’ll enjoy a bracing coastal walk, before visiting the charming seascape town of Etretat, one of the scenic jewels of the Normandy Coast.

33. Trace the Heritage of the Impressionist Masters, Honfleur

With its elegant harbour and proximity to the spectacular Normandy Coast, it’s small wonder the commune of Honfleur so inspired the Impressionist painters of the 19th century. Monet, Boudin, Courbet and Jongkind all lived and worked in this charming French town, later forming the École de Honfleur (Honfleur school), which is still recognised today.

34. Discover the Poignant History of the D-Day Landings, Normandy Coast

As charming as it is today, the Normandy Coast was the site of one of the most significant conflicts in world history, the D-Day landings. You’ll walk the sands of Omaha Beach, where thousands of allied troops gave their lives, before visiting the Normandy Cemetery, which is home to some 9,387 graves.

35. Take a Cycling Tour to the Charming Village of Villequier

If you enjoy staying active during your holidays, why not join a cycling tour to the charming village of Villequier, which lies directly on the banks of the Seine a few miles from Caudebec-en-Caux. Passing charming French scenery along the river’s edge, this is the perfect way to explore more of this wonderful region.

36. Explore the Iconic Landmarks of Paris

Of course, exploring the wonderful boulevards of Paris is one of the great highlights of a Seine river cruise. From the Eiffel Tower to the Champs-Élysées, the great city of light is awash with iconic landmarks and cultural distractions — the perfect place to spend a full day of leisurely exploration and discovery.

37. Discover the Medieval Charm of Conflans

Despite lying just 15 miles from the centre of Paris, the medieval commune of Conflans feels a world away from the vibrant bustle of the French capital. This beautiful historic city can trace its origins back to the Romans, and is awash with fascinating medieval architecture. Spend the morning exploring its many highlights in the company of an expert guide, including the Musée de la Batellerie, Château du Prieuré and Le Pointil.

38. Unearth the History of Joan of Arc in Rouen

The ancient city of Rouen has fascinating ties to Joan of Arc, one of France’s most iconic historical figures. In 1431, Joan was imprisoned at the castle of Rouen (parts of which still exist today), and later executed in the city’s Vieux-Marché. A guided tour of this beautiful city can help you trace the final steps of this legendary heroine.

39. Sample Regional Cider on the Calvados Route

The Calvados Route is a famous scenic drive taking in some of Normandy’s most picturesque landscapes. Along the route are several regional cider farms, where you can stop off to sample the thirst-quenching favourites, and find out more about the history of cider production in the region.

40. Visit the Seine Museum

Keen to find out more about the fascinating history of the river you’re travelling on? The Seine Museum offers a number of exhibits detailing the history and significance of the Seine River — from its time as an important Roman trading route to its present-day use as a turning point for ocean-faring ships.

Douro

The sun-drenched flow of the Douro River cuts a course through Portugal’s mountainous north, passing fertile wine regions, towering forests and ancient cities ripe for cultural exploration. From Porto to Salamanca, here we list some of the incredible sights and experiences of the Douro.

41. Visit Palácio da Bolsa, Porto

With its sumptuous neoclassical design, the Palácio da Bolsa is the elegant jewel in Porto’s crown — which is no mean feat in a city renowned for its captivating architecture. Built in the 19th century, this World Heritage-listed palace is located in the Infante D. Henrique Square, steps from the 13th-century St Francis Church of Porto.

42. Sample Local Sparkling Wine at Quinta Aveleda, Entre-os-Rios

The Douro Valley is awash with vineyards, many of which produce the region’s signature port wine. However, sparkling wines are also a popular Douro export, and they don’t come finer than those produced at Quinta Aveleda. With Scenic, you’ll enjoy a private wine sampling overseen by an expert sommelier, before taking a stroll through the property’s incredible gardens.

43. Visit the Esteemed Mateus Palace, Regua

Portugal’s history as a major seafaring nation led to the building of hundreds of impressive baroque-style palaces, many of which still dot the country to this day. Mateus Palace is one such baroque masterpiece, tucked away in a scenic position near the town of Lamego. Explore the palace and its wonderful grounds, before calling at the private cellar door to sample the estate’s delicious rosé wines.

44. Enjoy cruising the Douro’s Vinhateiro Wine Region

From the comfort of your ship, Scenic Azure, you’ll savour a full day of relaxing cruising through the spectacular Vinhateiro wine region. Famous for its port wines, this dramatic wine region boasts thousands of acres of sloping, terraced vineyards, which stretch from the river’s edge to the highest slopes of the valley. Have your camera at the ready as you glide through this inspiring region.

45. Marvel at the Prehistoric Art of the Côa Valley

First discovered in the 1990s, the Prehistoric Rock-Art Site of the Côa Valley is a fascinating open-air archaeological site which boasts engraved rock drawings dating back to 22,000BC.  During a visit to the valley, you’ll have the opportunity to get up close to these incredible carvings, whilst also exploring the beautiful surrounding landscapes.

46. Take a Trip Back to Yesteryear in Provesende, Pinhão

The heritage village of Provesende is one of the most beautiful and fascinating of the Douro Valley, affording visitors a sense of what life was like in the region centuries ago. Wander the atmospheric streets, stopping off to sample regional fare at the local bakery and bar, before visiting the church for a special recital. Your visit ends with a wine tasting at the manor house of Morgadio da Calçada.

47. Experience a Guided Tour of Beautiful Salamanca

The spectacular Spanish university city of Salamanca is yours to discover as part of an expert-led guided tour. You’ll visit some of the World Heritage-listed city’s most esteemed landmarks, including La Plaza Mayor, Capilla de la Vera Cruz and, of course, the beautiful and ancient university.

48. Acquaint Yourself with Portugal’s Rich Fishing Heritage, Afurada Village

Meet the fishermen of Afurada village, a historic commune on the outskirts of Porto which has a long fishing and seafaring legacy. As the proud local fishermen return to port with their day’s catch, you can hear their tales of the sea in a nearby taberna, accompanied by fine wine and authentic regional fare.

49.  Sample Port Wine at the Prestigious Burmester Cellars, Porto

Porto has long been associated with the Portuguese port wine trade, with the city even taking its name from this celebrated drink. During the 18th century, port wine was so popular that special buildings were built all over Porto to store the produce before it could be exported. The Burmester Cellars was one such cellar, though it has now been converted into a charming restaurant, where guests can sample the local offering.

50. Pay a Visit to the Palatial Ducal Palace, Entre-os-Rios

The enchanting city of Guimarães was home to the first King of Portugal, and is dominated by the inimitable Ducal Palace, a vast medieval structure at the heart of the city. Explore this magnificent former royal residence, and discover more about the fascinating lineage of the Portuguese dynasty.

Travel the timeless waterways of Europe with Scenic, and you’ll encounter some of the continent’s most authentic and unforgettable sights, sounds and experiences. Click here to browse our complete collection of European river cruises, or call us today on 0808 271 3507 to start planning your next getaway.

About the author

 by Laura Barlow-Edwards
by Laura Barlow-Edwards

Laura is Scenic's Digital Marketing Exec. She loves travel; her first river cruise was on the Danube, and she fell in love with Budapest at first sight. In her free time, Laura is usually reading, travel blogging, or planning her next adventure.

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