When To Travel On A River Cruise

'When should I travel on a river cruise?' ... 'Is there a better time of year to take a river cruise?' ... These are both questions that we're asked regularly from first time river cruisers! And in short, it depends which river and where you'd like to visit!

Water levels effect the river cruise season

It may seem obvious to some, but not everybody is aware of just how weather dependent some river cruise itineraries are! Before you travel on a river cruise we think that you should be aware that changes can be made to your itinerary due to unforeseen weather conditions.

Because of the nature of a river cruise, navigating under low bridges and through tight lochs, river ships are built with restricted heights and widths. A few inches too wide and a river ship would struggle to fit in some of the necessary lochs, likewise if a ship was built to high it wouldn’t be able to pass under low bridges.

What about when the water level rises?

River cruise operators have to monitor water levels closely! The ships are built to measurements based on average water levels, giving leeway for only small changes in water levels. When the water level becomes too high there are stretches of the rivers that river ships cannot navigate because it is no longer possible to sail under the bridges.

And of course as well as high tides, low tides can also cause changes to an itinerary; when water levels become too low there is a high chance that the river ship will become grounded.

Please don’t be alarmed, most river cruises run efficiently. River cruise operators only sail on the rivers during ideal seasons when the river flow is favourable & if there is a change in itinerary, your cruise director and the staff will be prepared… if the river becomes completely unnavigable your tour will most likely continue by coach or other means of transport (but this is the worst case scenario).

Where to visit in Spring

Spring is one of the most popular times to take a river cruise, particularly around the Dutch Waterways on a Tulip Time Cruise. March to April is the best time of year to visit the well-known Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam – the bulb fields are blossoming in colour as far as the eye can see!

Keukenhof Gardens Spring

Of course that’s not the only river cruise perfect for spring time, there are other choices available; a Seine River cruise is favourable in spring time, particularly from Paris to Normandy – the perfect City Break. And if neither of the previous sound enticing, why not opt for a cruise along the Rhone, France’s legendary wine growing region is particularly beautiful during spring!

Where to visit in Summer (May-September)

Central Europe’s Rivers (the Danube, Rhine, Main, Moselle and the Elbe) are considered the most favourable during the summer. This is for the best tidal conditions and river flow… not to mention the warmer weather – perfect for visiting medieval towns and majestic castles and of course for sitting on top deck, relaxing with a glass of wine and admiring the beautiful scenery. Check out one of our recent Danube River Cruise offers here.

Marksburg Castle on the Rhine

If you’re looking to explore the Scottish Islands and Lochs? July to October is considered the best time… mostly to make the most of Scotland’s warmer months!

Fancy travelling further afield? June is peak time to sail the river Chobe (although October is their drier season) and June to November is ideal for a river cruise along the Amazon!

Where to visit in Autumn

If you would like to cruise along the Yangtze River in China, early Autumn-September is considered the best time of year – mainly because at alternative times in the year it can be extremely humid and unbearable!

Yangtze Chongqing

Perhaps China isn’t really for you…. How about the USA? Columbia River and Snake River as well as the Upper Mississippi is similarly bless with autumnal hues.

And if you’re looking to stay closer to home, consider a Po river cruise… the weather here is still warm in Autumn PLUS Venice is quieter at this time of year.

Where to visit in Winter

Not every holiday has to be a summer holiday! Especially if you’re looking for a festive cruise!

Vienna Christmas Markets

Christmas is a great time for taking a river cruise, more specifically a European River Cruise because the Christmas markets go up and cities are lit with Christmas lights. In order to see the Christmas Markets it is best to travel between 24th November and 24th December… our river cruise experts will help you choose the ideal cruise for yourself!


Come Back Soon. Jess Nuttall - RiverCruising.co.uk