A city break is a perfect chance to get away for a short break and immerse yourself in vibrant cities and live like a local for a few days. They are a great way to extend your weekend or sample a little taste of somewhere new and exciting.

What if we told you a river cruise is an excellent way to merge multiple city breaks into one, more often a much less than it would cost you to plan many breaks yourself?

Read on to see how the two compare in value and see which wins overall – a river cruise or city breaks?

The destination is the first thing we decide about a holiday, often the motivation behind planning a holiday in the first place.

River cruise

With a river cruise, you can enjoy visiting multiple destinations in one trip, often spending a day in port to explore at your own pace or take part in selected excursions.

The benefit of a river cruise is that, despite travelling to many destinations, you will only need to unpack once! Your room travels with you on a river cruise, so each day you get to explore a new destination you’re always returning to your familiar and comfortable home on-board.

As you meander along the river during your sailing, you also get the chance to see destinations from a totally new and unique perspective. Exploring Portugal through the sweeping vineyards of the Douro Valley or encountering many of the castles dotted along the Rhine River as you sail through Germany – sometimes this is often the best parts of a river cruise and what really makes it a memorable experience.

Bridge over the river Rhine - Cologne, Germany

City break

To organise a city break to the same level as a river cruise, you would be required to book multiple separate city breaks to experience a similar holiday. A river cruise can visit five cities in one itinerary, which would mean you would be required to book five separate hotels as well as organising your travel between each. This can end up making for a stressful experience and not the relaxing break you want as you pack and unpack in each new destination and work out the best ways to travel through each city.

Verdict

Planning a city break yourself offers more control over where you stay and how long for, as well as navigation from each destination, however, it’s a lot to organise that can make your holiday experience stressful and much less relaxing while you’re there as you never truly settle in one place. A river cruise allows you to settle into a comfortable stateroom which is yours for the duration of your itinerary, as well as visiting much of the same destinations you would pick for a city break.

Both city breaks and river cruises offer accommodation to suit all budgets and styles – from hostels and hotels just outside the city to river cruise staterooms with panoramic windows or balconies.

River cruise

A river cruise ship holds an average of 190 passengers, each of which has a choice of window, French balcony (or Juliet balcony), balcony and suite. All passengers on a river cruise get a window view, which is great for the passing views and stunning scenery on offer.

When you book your river cruise, you have the freedom to pick of these room types to best suit your needs, including options such as single cabins, interconnecting staterooms or accessible cabins. This also includes choosing the deck and even room number, so you know exactly where you’re staying on-board the ship – ideal for those who want to be near the dining venue or close to the spa!

Within your accommodation, you often get a Queen-size bed which can be converted to two twins, plenty of storage space, a sofa, chairs and a television with channels and movies on demand with some cruise lines. Some ships also include WiFi in the cruise fares, meaning you can stay connected while you sail.

Dolce Suite on-board AmaWaterways

City break

With a city break, your accommodation is typically quite basic unless you pay a bit more for a more stylish room. You don’t get as much choice as do with a river cruise, as this depends on your selected hotel –  some might not have suite-like rooms or even balconies. In terms of selecting your room number, this is a wholly automated process so if you’re next to a noisy hall or large dining venue, you’re stuck there!

As for what’s in your room, you get much the same as you do in your river cruise stateroom – but don’t get comfy, you will be packing up and leaving for your next destination in a few days.

Verdict

Accommodation during a city break is simple and easy to book but comes with its limitations. If you’re holidaying at a certain time of year, your choice could be dire and mean you might have to stay out of the city a little. You also don’t get the same flexibility with your room type or location, as well as having to pack up and leave each time to you head to a new destination. Accommodation on a river cruise is much more welcoming, as it not only travels with you on your trip but also provides a comfortable place to rest your head before exploring the centre of each destination as you dock.

Travelling to your initial destination, or between, often raises questions about how you will get there – do you need flights? What about a hire car? Where can you catch public transport from?

River cruise

Most river cruise lines include flights in the cruise fare, which often come hand-in-hand with transfers from the airport to your ship. This means that you can look forward to a river cruise which is hassle-free, knowing that all of your travel is taken care of from start to end.

When you alight the ship in your ports, you’re often right in the heart of your destination so there isn’t much need for transfers. However, should you have booked an excursion, then coaches are arranged if you need to head out of the central port location.

Crystal River Cruises - Crystal Bach

City break

With a city break, every aspect of your travel needs to be arranged by yourself. Your flights from home, as well as any to you multiple destinations, will need to be booked well in advance to secure your times and dates, as well as lower prices. If you arrange any trips while you’re in your cities, then you will need to consider if you need a hire car or take public transport to the destination.

Verdict

For exploring hassle-free and enjoying smooth travels, a river cruise is a much better option. It offers flights and transfers with most cruise lines, all of which are covered in the cost of your cruise!

Food can often be one of the motivations behind our travelling wanderlust. Longing to sample sangria in Spain? Mouth-watering at the thought of ice cream in Italy? Food is one of the things that we sample lots of when we get away, but which offers better value – a land or a cruise holiday?

River cruise

There are usually two or three dining venues on your river cruise ship, offering casual dining as well as a focus on regional wines and local ingredients to make you feel truly immersed in your destinations. Breakfast buffets are expansive, with a range of hot and cold items; lunch is generally a three-course meal and dinner is four-courses. Menus feature regional specialities which reflect the cuisine of each itinerary, alongside familiar dishes if you’re not feeling adventurous.

River cruising is also very relaxed, so there aren’t any strict dress codes for dining meaning you can enjoy a more casual experience while still enjoying a high-level of fine dining. Many river cruises also offer themed cruises around food and wine – AmaWaterways has a wide selection of wine cruises along a number of rivers and Avalon Waterways has beer tasting sailings around Europe.

As for dietary requirements and healthy eating, river cruise lines are implementing more and more options for fresh and locally-sourced ingredients. Avalon Fresh offers healthy local dishes in main menus aboard Avalon Waterways; while there are many cookery classes so you can try your hand at your favourite dishes at home.

Guests at the dinner table - Scenic River Cruises

City break

For the same level of immersive food experiences or quality of dining, you would need to source visits to local restaurants or make a reservation at a fine-dining restaurant – even a Michelin-star venue when compared to some cruise lines. However, a city break offers more flexibility with your menu options and dining choices, it also incurs additional costs for your trip that you will always need to budget for.

Verdict

For quality food, local ingredients and consistent service with dining, a river cruise is your better option. A city break offers you the chance to pick and choose where and when you dine, but you can still opt for this when you’re in port if you fancy an authentic, local dining venue for a change. However, aboard a river cruise, you can enjoy fresh and healthy choices as well as regional wines, meaning your experience is immersive and reflective of the ports you visit – and isn’t that what travelling is all about?

One of the other ways to explore during a getaway is what you get up to during your time away. Activities vary from walking tours to wine tasting, whether these are booked during your river cruise or by yourself during a city break.

River cruise

Excursions during a river cruise are often included in your cruise fare, offering the chance to enjoy in-depth experiences at no additional cost. Due to the capacity of river cruise ships, excursions are usually held in small, intimately-sized groups and include immersive experiences such as bike tours through Austria’s Wachau Valley or truffle hunting in Bordeaux.

Some tours might come with an additional fee, but these are more specialised such as cooking demonstrations and classes; specific historical events; or a choice of curated, luxury excursions that go above and beyond.

You don’t need to pick a shore excursion in order to explore the destination, you can opt to do this yourself if you want. This means you get the best of both worlds – with either wandering along the cobblestone streets of local towns or following a local guide on a scheduled tour, whichever suits you!

Couple on a river cruise excursion

City break

With a city break, you will need to organise all activities yourself. This involves researching what is good for you and your group; within budget; within timescales etc. If you’re planning a few city breaks in one, the activities will need to be organised effectively in order to meet with your itinerary of travel, as well as your budget overall. Though a city break offers you the chance to pick and choose what activities suit you and your group, each of these need to be considered to match your budget and preferences – meaning it can be quite limiting!

Verdict

With a river cruise, there is a breadth of choices for excursions and activities. Mobility is one of the things cruise lines rank their excursions by, so if you’re going to struggle walking or cycling, you can opt for the slower-paced activities. Most of these are also included in your cruise fare, with the exception of luxury activities which can incur additional fees, but overall you can still explore the cities hassle- and fee-free!

Your evenings are shaped with the range of entertainment on offer, whether that’s with your river cruise or at your hotel. One of the important aspects is that you enjoy every moment and create last memories, making entertainment an important factor for your getaway, but which offers the best value – a city break or a river cruise?

River cruise

All river cruises have a selection of bars and lounges to enjoy a tipple or two before bed, help yourself to a selection of hot drinks, and catch up with friends. It’s also here that you can enjoy a medley of entertainment. Viking River Cruises offers a breadth of cultural enrichment to enjoy on-board from guest lecturers, port talks, classical and regional musicians, and cooking and craft demonstrations.

Emerald Waterways invites guests to watch local performances in the traditional style of ports visited on your itinerary, including Bavarian bands or Hungarian dancing – the perfect way to celebrate native cultures. Throughout many cruise lines, there are also quizzes, crew shows and more events planned to keep you entertained throughout your stay.

When your ship is docked in port overnight, this also means that you can head into the city and come and go as you please, making the night completely your own. If a ship does have restrictions as to when you need to be back on-board, these times will be displayed on-board for you.

Emerald Waterways - EmeraldEXPLORER Loyalty Club

City break

When staying within a city, entertainment such as live music, quizzes and a general buzz is quite easy to find. You can head to a local bar to meet with locals or head to a show for immersive entertainment. However, each of these incurs costs to your trip meaning you might need to work out which is the best option for you during your time away. With a city break, you do have the freedom to choose what time of entertainment is on offer and select something to suit you – but costs and time need to be considered to fit with your timescales and budget.

Verdict

Entertainment is mostly covered during your river cruise. You can enjoy evening events, live performances and even night-time excursions with some cruise lines to fully enjoy the evenings to their fullest. If you did want to explore the cities on your own at night, this is definitely something you can do when you’re docked overnight, an event which is becoming more and more popular with river cruising.

Service is something everyone remembers from their time away – whether good or bad. It can make you want to return to your destination or rule it out of all future travelling depending on how well received your service is. If you’re choosing between a river cruise and a city break, which comes out top for service?

River cruise

There are some luxury river cruise lines which offer a premium-level of service to a tee. These include Uniworld, Scenic, Viking and APT and Crystal. These cruise lines offers a quality of service similar to what you would find in a 5* hotel – offering sumptuous accommodation, contemporary facilities, world-class food and immersive excursions.

Some of these cruise lines include butler service to passengers, including services such as shoe-shining, concierge services, restocking your minibar, packing and unpacking, arranging in-room drinks, and even running a bath in the top suites! Butlers for Uniworld are trained at the Ivor Spencer Butler School to the standards required by Buckingham Palace, so you can expect excellent service on-board.

As for service around the ship, expect a wholly personalised experience as staff learn your name and favourite drink, as well as ensuring you feel comfortable at all times and have all you require on-board.

City break

For this same level of service with a city break, you would need to be staying at your destinations top hotels and dining at their luxury restaurants in order to match it. Butler service and elegant indulgences are easy to come by with a river cruise, but when you’re planning your own trips you will need to be paying an additional premium for this service just in your hotel.

Verdict

For service, a river cruise is the definite choice. Staff are trained to the highest standards, make you feel at home and ensure you’re as content as you can be throughout your whole stay. With a hotel of the same level, this is just during your stay there – unless you opt to dine in top restaurants – whereas with a river cruise it’s throughout the whole of your trip. From excursions, entertainment, accommodation, dining and transfers – the service is consistently premium for luxury river cruise lines.

So which is better value?

Florence, Italy - Europe

There is our comparison, which one do you think comes out on top? Both offer their advantages and have their own pros and cons, but you will know yourself which is the better option for you.

To make it a little clearer, we have outlined the basic inclusions below, to show the value you get with either:

River cruise City break
Destination INCLUDED – See multiple destinations in one trip £££ – Arrange your city breaks yourself
Accommodation INCLUDED -Choice of staterooms including suites £££ – Hotel in each of your chosen cities
Travel INCLUDED – Flights, transfers and shuttles £££ – Arrange flights, hire car, public transport etc. yourself
Dining INCLUDED – All complimentary dining, drinks and snacks £££ – Self-catered from breakfast to dinner
Activities INCLUDED – Complimentary excursions, tours and daytime activities £££ – Arrange your own activities in each city
Entertainment INCLUDED – Local entertainment, shows and events £££ – Arrange your own entertainment in each city

Though this doesn’t factor in costs such as additional excursions, it’s clear to see the level of value you get with a river cruise when compared to a city break.

When you see the whole inclusions, it offers peace of mind that you won’t be at risk of price fluctuations or missing out on seats for your plane, it’s all packaged together.

Book your river cruise today

When you take all of the above into consideration, we believe there is a clear winner for your next getaway!

But don’t let us tell you – take a look at our river cruise deals by clicking the button below and finding your perfect sailing today.

If you have any further questions, or would like to make a booking, call our Cruise Concierge team on 0800 197 0854 for expert advice on river cruises and a chance to make a booking for your next river cruise.

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About Emma Smith

Emma has more than six years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for over a year. She loves learning of new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in diary for 2020! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.