If you’re new to the European river cruising scene, the sheer amount of cities, towns and villages visited within a single weeklong itinerary can seem rather daunting. Travellers want to know how to maximize their time — and what to see. If you only have a day in Vienna, do you go to the theatre, take in a museum, or spend some time doing relatively little in one of the city’s many cafes?
Fortunately, when we travel to Europe, there are five things we always try to do that improve our experience — and can improve yours on your next river cruise, making those choices a little easier.
1. Read & Research
The first reason seems basic, but we do it before every trip: Read about and research every single port of call on our river cruise itinerary. This doesn’t have to be the sort of tedious research that people used to have to do on a microfiche in a library. Instead, launch your browser — the internet has made research a lot of fun.
Take Google Earth, for instance. You can use it to locate your hotel, river cruise ship dock, or any other location and virtually “walk” through almost any city before you get there. We always do this before visiting a new city; it’s amazing how quickly you can get your bearings when you’re there in real life after having “been there” before.
It’s also worthwhile to look up some of the cities and towns along your way. Find out what makes them tick, or what makes them special. This can help you get a better idea of how you want to spend your time when you’re actually there; leaving you more time to enjoy and less time to worry.
2. Watch Movies
It sounds like an odd thing to do (particularly as so many movies aren’t actually filmed in the cities they’re set in), but watching a movie can help get you excited about seeing a particular place. A few even do a great job at highlighting the city itself, like the 2008 dark comedy In Bruges; or the 1997 drama Ronin, which was filmed in Paris, Arles and Nice.
3. Lose Yourself
This applies particularly for the small towns you’ll visit along the way: Throw away the map and instead just wander the streets. This goes for towns like Durnstein, Austria, where you can never really get lost, even though there are numerous streets, paths and trails. Explore and discover. The fact that you set off with no plan can make exploring these small towns and villages all the more fun.
4. Eat Ashore
Possibly the most important advice we can give is to make sure to sample the local specialties. Have a stroopwaffel in Amsterdam, or a glass of lager in Bavaria. Get the bratwurst mit sauerkraut in Passau, or relax with a café melange in Vienna. Your tastebuds will thank you.
We can’t do disconnect because when we cruise we’re working. But you can. Unfortunately, we see too many other people who are also working when they should be enjoying what they paid for, a vacation. They’re glued to their iPhones, iPads and computers. Our advice: Turn everything off and enjoy the brilliant silence of sailing down Europe’s waterways. Except, perhaps for the iPhone — it’s always nice to post a photo or two of you enjoying your way along the river.