Viking Cruise Lines
Viking Cruise Lines

Europe’s small ships, both river cruises and canal barges, offer large variety

European cruising can at times mean slightly crowded ocean liners and a bus drive to get to the promised port. But now, two new ways to cruise through
Europe have sailed into the spotlight. Travelers are increasingly choosing to set sail on Europe’s smaller ships, whether river or canal-barge cruises.

River cruises, which host around 200 passengers, sail on the famed inland waterways that gave birth to some of Europe’s greatest cities. Think the Danube, Rhine, Seine, and Moselle. Walk off the ship and immediately become immersed in historic destinations. Sailing between ports, castles, and vineyards adds to the spectacular scenery.

Viking Cruise Lines
Buoyed by a surge of popularity, river cruise companies such as Viking River Cruises ( are introducing brand-new ships each year which offer all of the expected luxuries of mega ocean liners as well as an Aquavit Terrace, an herb garden, and Wi-Fi. What’s more, most amenities are included.

With only a handful of guests, canal-barge cruising is known for highly personalized service, as your crew usually owns the barge as well. “The owners are your hosts; they take pride in the quality of the barge,” says Jean-Francois Dabrowski, owner of France Cruises (, which offers river and barge cruises throughout Europe. “Your experience is exceptionally important to them.”

These small vessels easily dock alongside the canal, ideal for catering to travelers who spot a winery or great walking path and desire a spontaneous visit during their sailing. As you float along narrow, shallow waterways that slice through the countryside, your destinations are usually little-known towns that typically don’t make it into travel guidebooks.

The barge’s chef will cater to the whims of the passengers and often shops for food daily in the small villages along the route. Decadent meals and local wines are among the most anticipated highlights of barge cruising. Work off the calories by biking alongside the canal and hopping back onboard a few miles downstream, a possible feat as barges glide slowly at around 5 mph. Even charter an entire barge for your travels if you wish to retain the utmost privacy.
River and canal-barge cruises might indeed provide distinctive experiences, but each promises to facilitate luxuriously personalized travels so you can encounter Europe’s grandeur through a small vessel.


-You and about 200 other passengers

-You‘ll sail on vast waterways

-Youll arrive at historic destinations

-You get all the big-ship amenities

-Your crew runs the ship

-You‘ll eat fancy food


-You and a handful of 
other guests

-You‘ll sail on narrow waterways

-You‘ll arrive at little-known destinations

-You get personalized service

-Your crew owns the barge

-You‘ll eat mostly local food (which can be fancy)

The Esperance barge, owned by France Cruises, creates an intimate, personalized and one-of-a-kind experience as you encounter Europe's hidden gems.
J. Daniel Jenkins