what is the best season to take a river cruise

When is the best time to take a river cruise in Europe

Discover the perfect time of year to book a river cruise with our complete guide on when best to visit Europe’s beautiful waterways, from the Rhine and the Danube to the Rhône and the Douro.

Europe’s rivers provide an altogether different experience depending on the time of year you travel. Sightseeing, sun-seeking or getting in the festive spirit; our guide can help you plan when to book a river cruise and what you can expect from every destination as we move through the seasons.

what is the best time to take river cruise

Use the links below to navigate to your destination or river of choice or read on for the full guide.


Northern Europe

If you’re planning a river cruise on the Rhine, Main or Danube rivers in northern Europe, or the Seine River in northern France, you can expect a different experience depending on the time of year. In the warmer months, these region’s cosmopolitan towns and cities are brought to life thanks to their vibrant café culture and inviting squares and plazas, while the colder months bring festive charm in abundance.

Here’s our guide on the best time to take a river cruise on the Rhine, Main, Seine and Upper Danube, and what you can expect through all four seasons.

when is the best time to take a river cruise

The best time of year to book a Rhine, Main, Seine or Danube river cruise – Spring

Spring is undoubtedly best times to book a river cruise in northern Europe, particularly for destinations like the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and northern France. March, April and May mean rising temperatures and longer days – creating the perfect conditions for sightseeing. Here are a few other reasons why spring is a wonderful time to enjoy a river cruise in northern Europe:

  • You can visit the Keukenhof Gardens – The Netherlands’ iconic floral showcase is at its best in spring, with millions of tulips and blooms delighting visitors. Learn more about how you can experience the joy of Keukenhof with Scenic.
  • Warmer weather for alfresco living on-board – Spring usually brings temperatures in the mid-to-high teens across northern Europe; plenty warm enough for enjoying the very best of your Scenic Space-Ship. Our open-air Sun Decks are perfect for catching some much-needed rays while drinking in fine views of the river.
  • Experience iconic cities at their very best – Amsterdam, Cologne, Nuremberg, Paris, Vienna; these wonderful European cities are perhaps at their peak in spring. Savour the lauded café culture of Amsterdam and Paris, as well as the historic highlights of Bavaria, without breaking a sweat or enduring the frosts of winter.
  • It’s one of the best times to explore by Scenic e-bike – Whether independently with the Scenic Tailormade system or as part of a guided excursion, taking a Scenic e-bike for a spin is one of the best ways to experience the destinations of northern Europe. All our Space-Ships give you the option to take a bike out with you for the day – perfect for experiencing Amsterdam like a local or savouring the beauty of the Wachau Valley in northern Austria.
what is the best time to get a river cruise

Other times to travel

That’s not to say northern Europe is any less extraordinary at other times of the year. There are also many highlights of visiting this fascinating, beautiful region in the summer, autumn and winter.

  • Summer – Expect warm and sunny days in northern Europe during the summer months, with temperatures regularly reaching the high twenties and early thirties. An ideal time for enjoying the very best of alfresco living, you can look forward to fine dining in the open-air, sun-seeking in local parks and unforgettable Scenic Enrich and Scenic Freechoice encounters.
  • Autumn – Arguably the prettiest time of year to enjoy a river cruise, autumn brings a new level of seasonal beauty to northern Europe. There are a few finer sights than the Black Forest in all its autumnal majesty, while local food in Paris is elevated with the arrival of harvest produce.
  • Winter – The arrival of winter can only mean one thing: Christmas is in the air. It’s undeniable what a magical time of year December is for enjoying a river cruise in northern Europe, with destinations such as Nuremberg, Würzburg and Regensburg transformed by the approaching festive season. Learn more about our special Christmas market river cruises.

Central and Eastern Europe (Danube)

As with the north of the continent, central and eastern Europe offers a different proposition depending on the season. However, temperatures generally remain milder in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Romania during the winter months, while summers bring warmer temperatures and drier days – perfect for those who want to combine cultural immersion with blissful sun-seeking on the waters of the Danube.

Here’s our guide on the best time to take a river cruise on the Danube, and what you can expect throughout the year.

what is the best time to book a cruise

The best time of year to book a Danube river cruise – Summer

Those who love their holidays with a dose of warm weather will love central and eastern Europe during the summer months. From the lush beauty of Croatia to the French-influenced boulevards of Bucharest; central and eastern Europe is a joy at this time of year – with balmy temperatures and long days helping you make the very most of your time on the mighty Danube.

Here’s why you should book a river cruise on the Danube during the summer months:

  • Experience Croatia at its very best – Croatia has steadily cemented its place as one of Europe’s must-see summer destinations, and for good reason. In the leafy city of Osijek, you’ll get a taste for the country’s rich history and local traditions, as well as pleasant summer temperatures, which bring the country’s abundant flora to life.
  • Cruise through the majestic Iron Gates while topping up your tan – One of the signature water-borne events of a Danube river cruise is passing through the inimitable Iron Gates, easily one of the most iconic natural features of central and eastern Europe. In the summer months, this experience is elevated by the fact that you can drink in the views while topping up your tan, with a front-row seat courtesy of the Scenic Sun Deck.
  • Enjoy incredible Scenic Freechoice experiences – The enigmatic landscapes and destinations of eastern Europe make for some unforgettable excursions, including an active walk to Silistra Fort and a guided tour of the Byzantine gem of Veliko Tarnovo.
what is the best time to take a river cruise

Other times to travel

When all is said and done, central and eastern Europe are a joy to travel through at any time of year, with unspoilt destinations and rich traditions providing an immersive experience throughout all four seasons. Here’s what to expect when travelling at other times of the year:

  • Spring – Temperatures climb more steeply here in the spring months, so you can expect high teens and early twenties any time after March. Rainfall can be quite prevalent in spring, so make sure you pack appropriate clothing.
  • Autumn – Even in September and October, temperatures remain pleasant throughout much of central and eastern Europe, so this is our second choice for the best time to visit. Expect some truly delicious local produce at this time of year, too, particularly during a special dining event with a local family in Osijek.
  • Winter – Winter adds something special to the landscapes and destinations of eastern Europe, with Belgrade, Bratislava and Bucharest appearing as they might have done during the Cold War. There’s also no shortage of festive fun in the air if you travel pre-Christmas, with special markets and local customs and traditions to mark the season.

Southern France (Rhône, Saône)

The climate of the River Rhône is amongst the most changeable on the continent, influenced as it is by the adjacent French Alps and the southerly Mediterranean. However, for much of its passage through southern France, warm temperatures are guaranteed – making it tricky to decide on the best time to go.

Below is an idea of when’s best to plan a river cruise in the south of France.

best time to go on a river cruise

By a hair, autumn is our pick for the best time of year to cruise the iconic River Rhône. In September and October, it’s still possible to enjoy balmy temperatures and sunlit days, without the fierce height-of-summer heat. Autumn also sees Provence at its most productive, with vineyards laden with fruit ready for the press.

Discover other reasons why you should book a river cruise in southern France in autumn.

  • You can savour the history of Avignon and Arles without the intense heat – The cities of Avignon and Arles are simply too rich in history to miss the opportunity for in-depth sightseeing, so the cooler days of autumn mean you can immerse in Roman and Romanesque heritage without succumbing to the Mediterranean heat. Don’t miss Avignon’s Palais des Pape and Arles’ incredible Roman amphitheatre.
  • Experience the magic of harvest time on a local vineyard – September to October is the busiest period for Provence’s vineyards, with the season’s plump grapes ready for cultivating. All our Rhône river cruise itineraries feature at least one winery excursion, so you can experience the wonders of a vineyard in full momentum.
  • Savour breath-taking Provençal sunsets – Everyone knows that September is the best month for sunsets, and where better to savour a whole week of them than Provence? From the comfort of the Scenic Sun Deck, gaze in wonder as the sun dips beneath a horizon of sunflowers, grapevines and medieval villages, marking the end of another memorable day on the river.
what is the best time to take a river cruise

Other times to travel

If you’re considering a river cruise to the south of France at a different time of year, you’re in luck. The lands of the Rhône truly are wonderful whenever you visit, with each passing season offering a different experience of one of Europe’s most beloved regions.

  • Spring – Emerging sunflower and lavender fields are reason alone to plan a Rhône river cruise in the months of spring. Temperatures begin to warm up from March in this part of the world, though you can expect them to dip slightly during your time on the Saône to the north of Lyon.
  • Summer – Provence in full bloom truly is a sight to behold during the summer months, while the allure of the Mediterranean makes this season a dream for sun-worshippers. Be advised, however, that temperatures can hit some real highs during this time.
  • Winter – The south of France loses none of its charm and romance during the winter. In fact, it is perhaps heightened, as a drop in tourist numbers means you can often have ancient alleyways and scenic beauty spots all to yourself.

Portugal (Douro)

Portugal has long been paradise-found for sun lovers, with pristine Atlantic beaches providing the ultimate coastal retreat. But, as the beautiful lands of the Douro demonstrate, there’s more to this Iberian gem than sun and surf, and you can experience the country’s rich history and traditions any time of the year.

when is the best time to take a river cruise

The best time to book a Douro river cruise – Summer

While the Douro Valley is a must whatever the time of year, summer is still our pick of the best time to plan a visit. The blazing Portuguese sun suits the rugged landscapes of the river to a tee, and gives you the opportunity to combine cultural discovery with lazy afternoons sunning yourself on-board your Scenic Space-Ship.

Here are some more reasons why you should consider a summer escape to the Douro River.

  • You can see the Douro’s legendary vineyards in all their glory – The Douro Valley is world-renowned for its port wine, with terraced vineyards stretching the length of the river. The intense summer heat is responsible for maturing grapes to the point where they’re ready for cultivating into port, and you’ll have the chance to visit a vineyard as part of a Scenic Freechoice excursion in Pinhão.
  • Make the most of your time on the Scenic Azure – The Scenic Azure was purpose-built for cruising the Douro River, and we think it’s the perfect way to experience this untouched and sun-soaked region. The ship is complete with an open-air swimming pool and sun lounge area where you can work on your tan, while the Scenic Sun Deck also features an alfresco bar area for light lunches and afternoon tipples with a view.
  • Enjoy Portugal’s beautiful cities at their very best – Lisbon and Porto were built to be enjoyed in the sunshine. These history-laden cities are perfect for strolling, with outdoor cafés, majestic piazzas and waterfront views making them ripe for a summer city break. You can experience Porto on all our Douro river cruises, while a visit to Lisbon is available on select extended itineraries, including Unforgettable Douro with Lisbon.
when is the best time to take a river cruise

Other times to travel

Truth is, the Douro is a pleasure throughout all four seasons with warm temperatures and plenty of sunshine throughout the year. Here’s our take on what you can expect in northern Portugal from spring to winter.

  • Spring – Warm, dry days make Portugal a great choice for a relatively rain-free spring getaway. Destinations like Porto and Salamanca won’t hit their busiest until the summer holidays, making for truly immersive sightseeing without the crowds.
  • Autumn – The autumn months are our second pick for the best time to visit the Douro. Temperatures usually stay in the mid-twenties until well into October, while, like Provence, the vineyards will also be at their busiest and most charming.
  • Winter – If you’re looking to escape to some sunshine in the wintertime, the Douro is a great option. Though not as warm as destinations further south, temperatures remain quite mild and there will be plenty of sunny days. And, if you travel pre-Christmas, you’ll be privy to the region’s unique festive customs and traditions.

So there you have it, our complete guide on the times of year to book a Scenic river cruise. For more information and advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our helpful reservations specialists on 0808 149 2440.