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Cycle, Paddle, and Hike Through Europe on an Active River Cruise

Europe Cycling Cruises
by Sarah Kuta Oct 19, 2023

Standing astride a bike on a sunny morning in Austria, I waved goodbye to the AmaSonata, the river cruise ship I’d been on for the last few days, as it continued sailing west on the Danube River.

“There’s no going back now, “ I thought to myself. I tightened the strap of my bike helmet, slung my daypack over both shoulders, and pushed off.

Following a local guide, our small group of passengers from AmaWaterways’ “Melodies of the Danube” river cruise began pedaling through the scenery of Austria’s Wachau Valley. Brimming with vineyards, castles, and gorgeous vistas and views, the valley is one of the most beautiful stretches of the entire Danube. Because of this, it’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

For the next few hours, we followed the river as it snaked through the countryside, riding on paved bike paths, cobblestone streets, and modern roads. Our group stopped periodically to snap pictures and catch our breath, but otherwise, we maintained a pretty quick pace.

waichu valley crycle european river cruising

Photo: starmaro/Shutterstock

After a roughly 15-mile ride, we met back up with the ship at the next port. Hungry and tired from the morning’s exercise, I didn’t even bother changing out of my shorts and t-shirt before joining the remaining passengers, who’d instead enjoyed a quiet morning of scenic sailing onboard the ship, for lunch.

This port-to-port cycling excursion is one example of the many ways travelers can stay active on a European river cruise. Though these trips have long had a reputation for being relatively sedentary, that’s changing. River cruise lines are increasingly attempting to convince travelers who like to keep moving to join them on board. On modern European river cruises, you might do yoga before breakfast, hike to a historic fortress before lunch, and play pickleball before dinner.

Here’s what to know about the trend toward activity-focused European river cruises.

Mix-and-match daily excursions

mix and match kayak tour european river cruising france

Photo: rui vale sousa/Shutterstock

River cruising is an easy, stress-free way to travel. You only have to unpack once, you get to enjoy fine dining at every meal, and you can let someone else plan all the activities while you travel from city to city. You’ll awake in a new European city most mornings, and explore them on guided tours.

Those factors are what initially made European river cruises popular, and they’re still all true. However, these days, guests can add a wide range of adventurous activity options at every port, like bike rides through national parks, invigorating vineyard hikes, guided kayaking adventures, and everything in between. Guests are able to choose different activities each day, allowing for a fully active adventure or rest days alternated with exploration.

That’s also the premise of Avalon Waterways’ “Active & Discovery” cruises, first launched in 2017 on the Danube River. The brand has since added them to many major European waterways.

When I took an Active & Discovery Moselle River cruise with Avalon Waterways, I hiked through vineyards one day, and toured a mustard mill the next. I casually sipped beers at a 350-year-old brewery one afternoon, then braved the streets of Frankfurt on a bike the following morning. Each evening, I returned to the ship in time to freshen up, enjoy a cocktail, and tuck in for a multi-course dinner. It was an ideal blend of soft adventure, culture, and relaxation.

You can stay active, even without guided tours


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Fortunately, these active offerings are not limited to organized shore excursions. Many European river cruises, including many from AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Uniworld, Tauck, and Emerald, now have bikes on board. Guests can borrow them and explore cities on their own while the ships are docked. Many ships even offer an e-bike option for gentler rides.

On most active European river cruises, the ships themselves are also designed to appeal to guests who like to keep moving. Daily yoga classes are common, and many ships have dedicated activity staff to lead pilates, cardio, dance, and other group fitness classes. Some vessels also have small gyms. And occasionally, you’ll find a ship with even more unique features. The AmaMagna, for example, has a full-sized pickleball court on its top deck. And don’t worry about disrupting other guests’ peace and quiet – there aren’t any staterooms below it.

Soft adventure is more common, but ultra-active trips are growing

european river cruising - active cyclists in germany

Photo: nnattalli/Shutterstock

Most active European river cruises focus on soft adventure, which generally means lower-risk activities that require minimal athletic or technical skill. That means almost anyone can participate in most of the adventures; you don’t need to be a weekly road biker or have ever picked up a kayak paddle before. But some European river cruises are beginning to offer slightly more advanced excursions.

AmaWaterways works with BackRoads to offer European river cruises focused on distance cycling, with daily rides tailored for beginners (with rides as short as 10 miles) up to experts (50+ miles per day). Uniworld offers similar cycling trips in collaboration with Butterfield & Robinson.

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