Olympic itineraries, archery and the latest craze of pickleball are among the newest active options onboard river cruises, adding to the prevalence of hiking, cycling and kayaking in European ports.

With increasingly younger passengers, solo travellers and families discovering the joys of river cruising, companies are fulfilling their demands for sports and exercise beyond the traditionally slow-paced walking tours.

A woman plays pickleball on the deck of AmaMagna.
Having fun with the new active options onboard river cruises such as pickleball on AmaMagna.


While much of the Seine in Paris will be closed for events, Scenic cruise guests can get a taste of what it will be like on a round trip from Paris, just weeks before the French capital city welcomes the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Scenic’s eight-day cruises, start and finish in Paris, with calls at Cornflans, Rouen, Hornfleur, Caudebec-En-Cauz, Vernon, and Le Roche Guyon.

While European Waterways aren’t running specific Olympic cruise itineraries, they are a great option for those who wish to combine their trip to the games with some French sightseeing. A European Waterways cruise is a great choice for a pre- or post-Olympics experience with cruises close to Paris and Bordeaux. Travellers can even charter a barge to combine a cruise with an Olympic event in the same week.

Free pick-up from Paris by private chauffeured minibus is available as part of their all-inclusive offerings, hotel barges Renaissance, L’Art de Vivre and La Belle Epoque. The eight-passenger Renaissance cruises France’s oldest canal, the Canal de Briare, in Western Burgundy. The eight-passenger L’Art de Vivre, meanwhile, offers an immersive cruise through Frances’ historic region of Burgundy.

In contrast, the 12-passenger La Belle Epoque treats guests to the best of Northern Burgundy, excursions include a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Abbaye de Fontenay, a private tasting of Chablis wines at the Domaine Laroche, and a visit to the Château de Commarin.

The eight-passenger Renaissance cruises France’s oldest canal.
The eight-passenger Renaissance cruises France’s oldest canal.


Tennis fans can charter European Waterways’ Magna Carta on the River Thames, while the company makes arrangements for guests to play at the Windsor Lawn Tennis Club, the Royal Berkshire or the Lensbury. You can try your luck booking a barge for the week of Wimbledon or the French Open. In Burgundy, L’Art de Vivre allows the opportunity to play tennis on a ‘red dirt’ surface in Auxerre.


Golf cruises, always among the most popular sport-themed options, are offered by several lines. Scenic offers golf excursions through its Scenic Freechoice program, while Uniworld guests can play golf in France as part of its Paris & Normandy itineraries. On Amadeus, choose from four itineraries: the Seine in Northern France, the Rhône and Saône, the majestic Danube or the mighty Rhine for four rounds of 18-hole golf at a championship club, accompanied by an experienced golf expert and tour leader. Viking and Emerald ships have putting greens on the sundeck for you to practice your skills. 


A combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, pickleball is played with paddles and a plastic ball with holes. AmaWaterways’ AmaMagna has installed a pickleball court, while Amadeus River Cruises’ Amadeus Silver III has two courts on the top deck. Amadeus has also launched pickleball-themed itineraries on the Danube River, hosted by Hungarian champion Zoltan Bohm, where guests can play at pickleball clubs in Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava.


Cycling is a great way to get around when on river port stops.

APT, Travelmarvel, Scenic, Emerald, Avalon Waterways, Tauck and Uniworld carry bicycles aboard their vessels, and they are free of charge to borrow for cycling along the riverside paths in ports in Europe. Other cruise lines partner with local bike hire companies to offer guided cycling excursions, with some providing e-bikes that are particularly handy for the occasional uphill climb.


Avalon’s Active & Discovery themed itineraries have the most varied activities for sporty people. One of the more unusual options is an archery lesson, suitable for beginners. In addition, guests can explore an ice cave, help a farmer in his apricot orchard, or descend into an underground salt mine.

Various sports 

Avalon also offers hiking, cycling, kayaking and running excursions, accompanied by a dedicated activity host. Highlights include kayaking on the quieter tributaries of French rivers, mountain hikes to wineries and castles in Germany, and bike tours to historic sights and city attractions. 

Emerald Cruises is another great choice for these physically active tours, and the ships also boast onboard activities such as Pilates, yoga and aqua aerobics. Passengers can hike Budapest’s Buda Hill district, canoe along Portugal’s Douro River, or take a four-hour bike ride between Austria’s Melk and Durnstein ports on the Danube River, stopping at a pub and a Benedictine abbey.

People practising yoga on an emerald cruise ship
Being active doesn’t necessarily mean exhausting.