River Ships & Barges

The main ways to cruise on the rivers and waterways in Europe include river ships and barges. In either case, the floating vessel is your home for the duration of the trip and becomes the point from which everything happens, basically, your means of transport, portable hotel, and restaurant. Shore excursions and sightseeing are organized by the company in charge of the vessel and are either conducted by a select member or members of the crew, such as the tour guide and specialist, or local tourist agencies and experts in the port cities, villages, or monuments.

River Ships

River ships navigate on the major rivers, lakes, and large canals of Europe, Russia, and the Nile. They cover considerable distances, sometimes continuing to navigate during the night, allowing passengers the possibility to see a great deal of the country or countries they are visiting. The atmosphere on a river ship is comfortable, relaxed, and magical. River ships are more intimate than ocean going vessels, and thereby more attractive for those who prefer to travel in smaller numbers. River cruises allowing passengers an opportunity to participate in a variety of different pleasurable activities, interesting itineraries. Most river cruises are sold as full-board.

Ranging from 3 to 4 levels in size, river ships are rather low and long, often up to 230 feet, and accommodate from 60 to 250 passengers. There are a selection of common rooms open to everyone, usually including at least one lounge, dining room, viewing deck, bar, and shop, open at different times of the day or night for your convenience. The viewing and lounging deck or decks have ample seating available in the way of tables and chairs, benches, and lounge chairs. There is always a section on deck, which is protected from direct sun and rain, for your cruising pleasure. Sometimes there is a bar on deck, but whether or not this is the case, it is always possible to have a drink on deck and the crew are very helpful and accommodating to this end. Typically there will be games available on deck, such as table tennis or shuffleboard, so you can entertain yourself as you admire the passing scenery.


A barge cruise is an opportunity to explore ‘off-the-beaten-path’ destinations in a comfortable and cozy atmosphere. They are ultimately relaxing and allow you to unwind, live life at a slower pace, and leave the cares and pressure of the world far, far behind. Barges, or pèniches, operate on the rivers, canals, and waterways of Europe, specifically Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, and the British Isles, with France being undoubtedly the most popular destination. They are essentially small or mid-size floating hotels or B & Bs, travelling shorter distances than river ships at a slower and more leisurely pace.

Within the barge category, there are river barges and canal barges. River barges are the larger of the two and can accommodate up to 50 passengers, cruising on the larger canals and some rivers of Europe. Canal barges generally accommodate from 2 to 18 passengers (usually fewer than 12 and very rarely up to 24). Many vessels are converted commercial barges, boasting a very real commercial and transportation past, and others are newly constructed barges with the express purpose of becoming floating B & Bs. Some are family owned and operated; others belong to a fleet of boats belonging to one company, operating in different regions or countries.

Cruises are typically six nights, with a champagne reception, a cabin with private bathroom, all meals, an excellent selection of wine with lunch and dinner, beverages and often an open bar. Transfers from the airport or railway station are included, as well as daily sightseeing excursions. There is usually a viewing deck or terrace, the size of which depends on the layout of the barge, where passengers can admire the scenery and relax, and chairs and tables with umbrellas are available for your comfort. Additionally, there are usually bicycles available for your use and other activities, such as hot-air ballooning, horse riding, golf, or tennis, can be arranged for an extra fee.

River Boats

Cruises on certain rivers of Europe might also take place on a river boat, which tend to fall somewhere in between a river ship and a barge in size and style. River boats can accommodate from 50 to 150 guests, and the cruising atmosphere is typically more traditional and formal, like a river ship, while retaining a quaint and comfortable ambiance, like a barge.