Some say the best European cruise is the riverboat journey from Amsterdam to Budapest. Certainly, this is one of the most popular.
These small cruise ships are designed to give passengers the ultimate experience in luxury and comfort, as you travel in true style through four countries. You will enjoy the finest in culture, food and wine as you wend your way along the Rhine, the Main and the Danube.
Let's take a closer look at this particular European riverboat cruise... where it starts and finishes, and some of the stops along the way.
You can either begin your journey in Amsterdam or Budapest. It's totally your choice which direction you want to travel in.
If you start in Amsterdam, you may like to spend a couple of days getting to know this unique city. Take a canal boat to appreciate the front facades of the architecture. Soak up the charm of its bridges, bicycles and museums.
From here, your Europe cruise will elegantly meander out of Holland, through Germany, Austria and into Hungary. You will be pampered all the way.
It's easy to understand why many consider this to be the best European cruise.
As your riverboat weaves its way along the Rhine, you will gaze on each bank at quaint villages, fairytale castles and hillsides laden with vineyards and fruit trees.
In ports of call, you'll be enchanted by cobblestone streets, local culture, beautiful art, and historical sites.
In the Rhine Gorge at Sankt Goarshausen, you'll view the famous Lorelei rock. This is a statue of a mythical mermaid, standing 132 metres high, at the narrowest part of the Rhine. It is said that she mesmerized sailors with her song and led them to be washed onto the rocks. The legend is still powerful to this day, and has continued to draw visitors to this well known bend in the river.
Is the Blue Danube partly responsible for this being regarded as the best European cruise? You can see where Strauss got his inspiration for his waltz of the same name...
Above is the village of Duernstein, in the Wachau valley, about 80 km outside Vienna. It is famous for its monastery, vineyards, fruit trees and charming inns.
When I was posted with the Australian Embassy in Vienna, I used to ride my bicycle through this picturesque valley, picking apricots straight from the branches, at the peak of their ripeness. This is how an apricot was meant to taste -- as if straight from the Garden of Eden!
It is also the site of a castle ruin where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned, and much of the village is steeped in the folklore of this history, dating back to the middle ages. There is even a quaint "gasthof" (bed & breakfast) named after the king's minstrel who rescued him from the tower.
Any time of year is wonderful in Europe, because each season has its own distinct traditions and delights. Having lived in Vienna for 8 years, I can vouch for the unique enjoyment and "flavour" of each individual month.
Vienna, of course, is one of the ports of call along this lovely European riverboat cruise. You'll get to visit some of the key city sights and drink in some of its immense musical legacy. Above is a photo of the grounds of Schoenbrunn Palace.
I must say I am partial to the autumn and spring in Europe. Either of these seasons would be my own personal recommendation for your European cruise. September and October are great months to experience the autumn harvest and the game season.
April and May are beautiful, especially if you love spring flowers and walks in the woods. Then again, Summer has its own pleasures, with sunny days, cool evenings and long twilights.
As your European cruise comes to a close, you'll see the imposing grandeur of the Buda castle on one bank of the Danube as it flows through Budapest. This is your end destination (or departure point).
On the same side of the river -- also in the castle district -- is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever visited. The Matthias Church, in front of the Fisherman's Bastion. The stain-glass windows are something to behold.
The "Pest" side of the Danube is flat and more sprawling. This is where the larger part of the city's population is located. More bustling and work-a-day.
Only you can decide. But by now I hope you are inspired to see for yourself.
While you're in this part of the world, you may like to continue your journey a little further, by train or car, and visit the third major city of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.... Prague.
Prague is one of my favourite cities in Central Europe. Having first been there back in the mid 80's, during the Cold War, it was a real contrast to then visit again in the early 90's after the Berlin Wall had come down. My next visit in more recent times had yet another flavour. There is now a new level of sophistication and modernity, but the city still retains the magnificence of the Art Nouveau architecture and culture. A true feast for the eyes as you look upwards at the facades of the buildings.
Here, you'll see the castle overlooking the city. For lovers of the writer Kafka or the artist Mucha, it's a must-visit. This would be a perfect way to wrap up your European riverboat cruise.
P.S. One last photo .... Prague and its magical castle by night...
If you have been on a European riverboat cruise, we'd love to hear your experience. Inspire others with your story :)