A river cruise is an amazing way to see Europe, since so much of the history of this continent has revolved around its rivers. As the primary mode for transportation and travel for many hundreds of years, some of the most beautiful towns and cities are located along the banks of these rivers.

This orientation towards waterways is also what prompted the creation of the Main-Danube Canal. This impressive feat of engineering crosses the European Continental Divide, connecting fifteen countries between the North Sea and the Black Sea in the process. Although the motivation for building this canal was based on trade, it also opened the door to incredible possibilities for river cruises that navigate the whole of Europe.

Here’s a brief history of this important engineering achievement:

The history of the Main-Danube Canal dates back to the time of Charlamagne, the 8th and 9th century emperor who presided over much of Western Europe. He dreamed of a way to traverse all of Europe via boat, and attempted to accomplish this by building a trench from the Rhine River to the Danube. Without more advanced technology this project failed due to heavy rains and subsequent floods.

The next, more successful attempt at this project was undertaken by King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who sanctioned the construction of the Ludwig-Danube-Main Canal between Bamberg and Kelheim during the mid-1800s. This canal, which utilized a system of 101 locks, remained operational until it was damaged during WWII and officially decommissioned in the 1950s. In the 1990s, as trade began to pick up across Europe, rebuilding the canal became a necessity. This updated waterway was completed in 1992. It features a system of 16 canal locks, is 106 miles long, and transports boats to an altitude of over 1,300 feet above sea level, a spot marked by a distinct concrete landmark.

The secret to the Main-Danube Canal’s success is the lock system. These locks allow boats to ascend or descend what is essentially a series of watery steps. The locks themselves are quite tight, just under forty feet across, and boats must sit within them as they fill or empty themselves of water before moving into the next section of the canal. This makes going through locks a truly unique experience, and for this reason any river cruise you take that navigates the Main-Danube Canal will do so during the day.

There are lots of different river cruise itineraries that incorporate this incredible feat of engineering. Many involve portions of the Rhine River, the Main River (which is a tributary of the Rhine), and the Danube River. Given the amount of ground you will cover on these voyages, they typically take multiple weeks. If you have the time to dedicate to a trip like this, the time will be well spent, as a sail on these rivers will allow you to experience the varied cultures, beautiful landscapes, and incredible destinations throughout Europe.

If you are thinking about taking a River Cruise in Europe, let me know and I will help you find the perfect itinerary for you!

Contact Kira

Kira GartnerKira Gartner is the owner of Blue Sky Destinations, a boutique travel agency specializing in river cruises, luxury expedition cruises and customized European vacations. For years she has helped curious travelers plan vacations that allow them to unwind, reconnect, and immerse themselves fully in a destination. Reach out to her for a free consultation - and let her start designing your dream vacation!