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European Cruises: When to Go? Best times of the year to cruise Europe

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Best Times to Take Northern Europe Cruises

As in North America, the season for cruising northern Europe is the months from April through October. The weather is warm, becoming hot in July and August. Flowers are blooming, days grow longer the farther north you travel, and at night temperatures only dip to a cool breeze. Particularly in the Baltic region, summers are short and sweet, lasting from June to August. Travelers to Europe can view landscapes ablaze with spring colors beginning in May; however, they generally turn brown come October. The high season for travel is June through August; also keep in mind that August is traditionally the European holiday month, so crowds swell during this time. To avoid crowds and experience cooler temperatures, consider traveling in the shoulder months of May and September. By mid-October, the climate is cooling considerably, bringing rain and eventually snow to many regions of northern Europe.

Soft light glows over the canals of Copenhagen
Soft light glows over the canals of Copenhagen

Best Times to Take Mediterranean Cruises

Mediterranean Europe: one of the most culturally rich and exotic destinations in the world, from the ancient stone villages and sunny beaches of Portugal to the mystical eastern flair of Turkey. Whether you’re seeking stunning landscapes, splendid cuisine, or a new cultural experience, there’s something for everyone on a Mediterranean cruise.

Summer is the high travel season in the Mediterranean. The weather is hot and sunny, the water is warm, and millions of people flock to the coast to soak up the sun and take a break from routine. The best time to take a Mediterranean cruise, however, is in the spring (May-June) or fall (September-October). Temperatures are comfortably warm, the sun is bright, and the crowds are far, far fewer than in July and August. During the spring months, the flowers are blooming and the landscape is verdant, while autumn days are mild and clear before the winter rains.

Soak in the Mediterranean sea
Soak in the Mediterranean sea

Those wanting to travel earlier in the season can visit some of the more southern destinations as well as the larger Mediterranean islands. Cyprus and Malta are lovely in April, with warm days and pleasant nights. Late March through April is also an ideal time to visit Morocco, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, and Turkey.

While the cultural experience of a Mediterranean cruise is one of the prime highlights, those looking for wildlife will not be disappointed. A variety of marine life plies the Mediterranean waters, including swordfish, tuna, dolphins, and even a few white sharks. Loggerhead turtles and endangered monk seals can be found along the coasts of Albania, Greece, and Turkey. Birdlife is also plentiful. Portugal, Spain and Morocco have populations of storks, flamingos, pelicans, spoonbills, and egrets, while golden eagles and giant black vultures can be found in Greece, and Albania and Montenegro are home to the rare white pelican. Montenegro also boasts 27-mile-long Lake Skadar, which is the largest bird sanctuary in all of Europe. Turkey may be one of the best places to see birdlife, as 250 bird species migrate through the country each spring and fall on their way between Africa and Europe.

Best Times to Take European River Cruises

The European River cruising season runs from March through December, though the best time to take a river cruise in Europe is during the late spring (April-May) or early fall (September-October).

There are many rivers to choose from when cruising Europe including the Rhine in central and northern Europe, the Danube bisecting central and eastern Europe, and the Douro, Seine, and Rhone Rivers in addition to the Bordeaux region in Western Europe. And while they cover thousands of miles of the continent and cross through many countries, their location around the same latitudes tends to keep the temperatures and climate relatively similar on all of them. 

Romantic evening light on the Rhine
Romantic evening light on the Rhine

A summer cruise, between the months of June and August, promises bright, sunny weather and warm temperatures, perfect for appreciating the scenic landscapes of Europe and participating in all of the staple activities, like walking tours, hiking & biking, or even just soaking in the sun on the deck of the boat. For some, the summer may be too hot and too crowded with travelers.

Popular alternatives are the shoulder months during the spring and fall seasons. Since this isn't typically the busy season, it's easier to find discounts, and there are even some specialty tours like the tulip cruises of the Netherlands as the springtime flowers bloom into their vibrant colors. The fall season holds its own delights as the trees change colors before winter. 

Take a ride on the ferris wheel or take a stroll through the Christmas Market
Take a ride on the ferris wheel or take a stroll through the Christmas Market

December cruises of the traditional European Christmas markets on the Danube and Rhine Rivers are increasingly popular, if not for the warm weather but rather for the opportunities to see the central countries of Europe adorned in centuries-old holiday decorations. These Christmas markets are vibrant celebrations that attract people hoping to see more of the cultural side of Europe on their cruise. 

After December, most river cruises (especially in northern and eastern Europe) are closed for the season while the frigid, windy temperatures freeze the European backcountry before they start again in late March and April as the snow and ice begins to thaw in the mountains filling the rivers with fresh flows of water.

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An autumn view across the Vltava river to old town Prague



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