Flowing from one historic European capital to the next, through picturesque countryside and taking the same path as Emperors, Kings, and Queens a millennium before, the waterway is a great way to see Europe.
There are so many incredible rivers in Europe, but a few stand out as being of the most importance.
The 8 Famous Rivers in Europe
Grab your hat and a seat on the boat for an idyllic riverboat cruise down some famous and lesser-known rivers that cut through the vast European countryside.
1. The Seine
Length: 485 miles / 780 km
Route: Northwest of Dijon, France, to the English Channel at Le Havre
Number one on our list of the most famous rivers in Europe is none other than the Seine. Without the Seine, there would be no Paris because the Seine was a trading route connecting the English Channel to Dijon for trade. The little riverside village of “Parisii” grew because of this trading route to become the largest city in the world by the 12th century.
The Seine was named after Sequana, the Roman goddess of the river, to commemorate the union of art, history, and the passion of the French people. If you travel to Paris during summer, you will see the banks of the Seine transformed into sandy beaches and palm trees. If you cruise down the river, you will pass by famous monuments and museums such as the Louvre Museum, Eiffel Tower, and Place de la Concorde.
Road Scholar offers a brand new educational tour that includes cruises down the Seine called, The Art and History of France: A Barge Voyage on the Yonne and Seine.
2. Dutch Waterways
Length: 528 miles / 850 km
Route: The Netherlands to the North Sea
The Netherlands’ small rivers, canals, and inland seas make up the Dutch Waterways. Along the river are iconic sights like the 19 authentic windmills and the world’s largest display of flowers.
The famous canals of Amsterdam were mainly built between 1585 and 1665. Back then, they were polluted and caused the entire city to stink. Since then, the waterways have been cleaned up, and in 2010 UNESCO recognized Amsterdam’s inner canal ring as a World Heritage Site.
Road Scholar has an incredible 16-day trip to Holland and Belgium, seeing the landscape by barge and bike. Barge along scenic rivers and canals and cycle past windmills and through picturesque villages.
3. Rhône River
Length: 505 miles / 813 km
Route: The Swiss Alps to the Mediterranean Sea
The Provencal lavender fields are in full bloom along the Rhône River during the summer months. Then, in September, the grape harvest begins, and winemakers get busy. Before the railroads and highways were built, the Rhône served as an inland trade and transportation route, connecting the cities of Arles, Avignon, Valence, Vienne, and Lyon to the Mediterranean ports.
Take a French art voyage through Paris, the Rhône, and the French Riviera on a 14-day Road Scholar educational tour. Learn about the famous artists of France aboard a riverboat down the Rhône, a perfect tour for seniors.
4. The Loire River
Length: 634 miles / 1,020 km
Route: Southern Massif Central to the Atlantic Ocean
The Loire is the longest river in France, named after the charming region in the center of France called Loire Valley. In 16th century France, the Loire Valley became popular among French royalty.
The river was used to move goods, and the cities on its banks were busy ports. When the river began to experience traffic in the 17th and 18th centuries, canal links were built connecting the Loire with the Seine to get products to Paris.
Today, cruising the Loire River is a lovely way to see the French countryside and experience the famous wine regions of central France.
5. The Elbe
Length: 724 miles / 1,165 km
Route: From the Czech Republic through Germany to the North Sea
The Elbe River in the Czech Republic is one of the main rivers in central Europe; one-third flows through the Czech Republic and two-thirds through Germany. The Elbe and its connecting waterways carry travelers to Central Europe's treasured cities, including Hamburg, Prague, and Berlin.
6. The Rhine
Length: 766 miles / 1,233 km
Route: The Swiss Alps to the Netherlands
The beautiful Rhine is the third-longest river in Europe, winding its way down from the high peaks of the Swiss Alps, flowing northward through six historical countries and picture-perfect countryside to Amsterdam and out to the North Sea. The Rhine is also the most famous river in Europe for its essential part in trading since the Roman Empire, serving as a water superhighway for trade in Austria, Switzerland, France, Holland, and Switzerland. Part of the Rhine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it flows through medieval castles that dot the riverbank.
Take a Road Scholar educational tour through Germany on the romantic Rhine River to see the monuments and culture of Germany.
7. The Douro
Length: 556 miles / 895 km
Route: Spain through Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean
Taking a trip down the Douro River is the perfect way to discover hillside villages and vineyards of grapes ready to be turned into wine. The Douro is considered one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, flowing past several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the Douro River Valley, the oldest demarcated wine region in the world.
Take a 15-day educational tour of Spain and Portugal to get a taste of the beauty and history of UNESCO Heritage Sites, Gothic cathedrals, Moorish palaces, and picturesque villages.
8. The Danube
Length: 1,783 miles / 2,870 km
Route: Germany’s Black Forest to the Black Sea
The Danube River is the second-longest river in Europe and, at one time, was the impenetrable northern edge of the Roman Empire. The river originates from a spring in the southern part of Germany's Black Forest to the Black Sea, passing through 10 countries and world-famous cities.
Sail on the Danube River through the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, and Hungary to study their fascinating political and cultural histories with local experts on the 10-day Road Scholar tour.
Road Scholar in Europe
At Road Scholar, we have a wide range of educational tours that allow you to experience the great continent, from Western Europe to Eastern Europe, including many adventures down the famous rivers. So whether you’re looking for a river cruise or a hiking adventure, Road Scholar has your trips planned for you, as well as tips for traveling to Europe.
Enroll with Road Scholar today for travelers who love to learn.