Ask a handful of people when the best time of the year to go on a river cruise in Europe is and you’ll get a host of different answers. Some travelers tolerate summer crowds in return for warm weather and outdoor festivals, others prefer cooler climates and autumn foliage. But in our experience, sailing in May and September enhances the experience for a number of reasons: the crowds are light, the weather is typically comfortable and water levels are adequate for cruising.
Cruise in May and September to avoid the summer crowds. June, July and August are peak river cruising months. Visitors flock to Europe while children are off from school and the weather is warm. What’s even better? Pricing in the shoulder months is often lower.
The weather in Europe during May and September is ideal. Typically, you can expect day time highs in the mid to upper 60°F and nights in the mid 50°F. It’s a good idea to layer clothes so you can adjust as the temperature fluctuates and the sun comes out. Sail in May and experience the beautiful spring flowers and longer daylight hours.
Ideal Water Levels
April, May and June carry the risk of flooding rivers due to melting snow and spring rains. When water levels are high, boats are unable to pass under low lying bridges. Wait until August and water levels could be too low, especially during dry summers. So, while we love sailing in May, if you want to err on the side of caution when it comes to water levels, September is the best month to sail, and you may even experience the beginning of autumn foliage.
To further break down the best time to go on a river cruise in Europe, let’s look at individual itineraries.
Main, Rhine, and Danube Rivers
Sailing Amsterdam in May brings a bounty of colors as the Dutch tulips are in full bloom. For holiday markets and festive celebrations, consider sailing in December, and if you want to be sure of water adequate water levels, sail in September when water levels are typically perfect.
Easter is a great time to sail the Rhine as local markets feature beautiful wooden decorations, vibrant colored eggs, and exquisite fresh flowers. The Rhine in the fall often brings food and wine festival, so if you’re looking for an epicurean adventure sail in September. Early spring may bring the risk of flooding from the melting snow, so opt for late April and May if this is a concern.
Originating in the Black Forest, the Danube is the only major European river flowing west to east. With the summer months drawing large crowds and spring bringing the risk of rain and flooding, the best time to cruise the Danube is September and October. Reliable water levels, fewer crowds, and lower prices make early fall ideal. But for those looking for an immersive holiday experience, the Danube in December brings the magic of Christmas alive with festive markets and decorations.