The window of opportunity to experience river cruises has just become a whole lot wider. So when is the best time to take a river cruise?

Once it was spring sailing on the popular Amsterdam-to-Budapest route kicking off in March, April and May; summer sailing on the Seine and the twinkling Christmas markets on the Danube or the Rhine.

Now you can also opt for an autumn sailing on the Nile River.

Traditionally, spring and autumn are the optimal times to do a river cruise, with fewer tourists, cooler temperatures and lower prices. And almost everything is still open and easier to see without having to battle the crowds.

Weather alert

River cruising is weather dependent and water levels too high or too low can make or break a river ship’s itinerary. While the typical river cruise season is from May to October, there are usually fewer options in the depths of the winter months, especially after the festive season. Shorter days and very cold winters make it more difficult to enjoy outdoor activities and explore destinations on foot – especially during the months of January and February in Europe.

On the other hand, if you want to explore Asia, the best time to go on a Mekong cruise is from November to February when the weather is cooler and drier.

If you are thinking of a Mississippi River cruise, the weather in New Orleans during summer gets very hot and uncomfortable. The best time to go on a Viking River cruise on the lower Mississippi River is in April and May or September and October.

Nowadays you go on a river cruise whenever and wherever you choose to travel. It all depends on what type of river you like to experience and in which part of the world.

Cityscape of Arles, southern France. Tiled roofs of buildings, Arles Amphitheatre and Rhone River visible from above.
Explore Arles, southern France with its tiled roofs, amphitheatre along the Rhone River.

When should I take a river cruise in Europe?

When Europe gets out of the dark and dismal doldrums of winter and its springtime again, everything wakes up. It’s also the best time to see windmills and endless rows of amazing-coloured tulips in Holland and Belgium.

From March to May, the region’s gardens and fields are bursting with blooms and swathed in vibrant varieties of tulips. It’s one of the best times to embark on a river cruise and explore splendid spring scenery.

Because it’s not quite peak season, cruise prices are usually lower during spring. And you may get a good deal. However, while temperatures are mild, spring weather can be unpredictable. And unfortunately, you might experience spring rains and windy days. 

As the weather warms up and the sun sets late in the evening, it is time to discover attractive vineyards and lavender fields in summer. From Paris to Provence and Beaujolais to Burgundy, soak up France’s best sights as you cruise along the Seine and Rhone Rivers.

The festive season lights of historic Vienna.
Ring in the New Year in Vienna then wander Salzburg during the best time to take a river cruise.

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways has a 15-day Grand France itinerary from Paris to Arles where you can enjoy wine, cheese, and drinking in the gorgeous views as you sail on the Seine. You will stop in the most charming and historic parts of France.

In Vernon, you can bike or go on a guided tour of Claude Monet’s stunning gardens at Giverny. You can also visit the historic Normandy Landing Beaches. And in Rouen, you can visit the Gothic Rouen Cathedral. And when you are back in Paris, you can take in the iconic sights of the Louvre Museum and the Arc de Triomphe.


Luxury boutique line Uniworld has an 8-day Venice and the Jewels of Veneto cruise. On this itinerary you will uncover the enchanting beauty and breathtaking history of Venice and Northern Italy. You can also explore the waterfront shops and peaceful canals and visit Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello.


As temperatures drop and autumn approaches, it is the best time to explore Egypt and sail the mesmerising Nile River. Viking has a 12-day Pharaohs & Pyramids cruise from October 4-15, 2024. On this itinerary, you can see the pyramids while riding a camel – or explore the Temple of Karnak’s 136 soaring pillars and visit Queen Nefertiti’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. 

Festive season highlights

When the year draws to a close, you can experience Europe’s dazzling holiday season with a festive river cruise to see the magical Christmas markets on the Danube.

Uniworld has a 13-day to celebrate Christmas and New Year cruise departing on 22 December this year from Nuremberg to Budapest. The itinerary sails across Germany, Austria and Hungary along the shimmering Danube. You will explore charming old-world villages and Gothic cathedrals.

You can escape the hassle of the holiday season as you relax on the luxurious ship and celebrate Christmas Eve in medieval Regensburg and ring in the New Year in Vienna – then wander through the locations from the Sound of Music in Salzburg and warm up with rum-laced coffee.

Child in tulip flower field with windmill in Holland. Little Dutch girl in traditional national costume, dress and hat, with flower basket. Kid in tulips fields in the Netherlands at wind mill.
Explore the colour of the Netherlands including traditional Dutch culture and its famous tulip fields.