With instant access to some of the world’s most sought-after cities and iconic destinations just a step off onto the bank away, it’s not difficult to see why river cruising is becoming increasingly popular each year.
Well liked by couples for the romantic destinations and intimate, boutique hotel experience, single cruisers looking to meet like-minded people, and art-lovers, foodies and history buffs looking to delve deep into each port of call and enriching excursions- there truly is a river cruise for everyone.
River Cruise Lines
No matter what you're looking for, there's a river cruise line perfectly suited to your needs and interests. From exploring the Mekong in Southeast Asia or taking a traditional steamboat voyage down the Mississippi to travelling down the iconic Nile or discovering the history of European waterways, each cruise line has something different to offer. What's more, while the coronavirus pandemic may have had an impact on the river cruise industry, read our blog to stay up to date on the resumption of itineraries.
Emerald Waterways | Saga | Wendy Wu | Fred. Olsen | Ama Waterways | Riviera Travel | Scenic | Avalon Waterways | Uniworld | Discover Egypt | Crystal | Pandaw | Amadeus | TUI | APTouring | Great Rail Journeys | American Queen Steamboat Company | CroisiEurope
- Emerald Waterways-cruising the historic waterways of Europe and as far afield as the Mekong is Southeast Asia, Emerald Waterways offers the perfect mix of luxury, peaceful river cruising and itineraries that take in cities rich in culture. What's more, Emerald waterways are proud to welcome all LGBT cruise guests, with many itineraries coinciding with iconic gay events around Europe, such as the Prague Queer Eye Festival.
- Saga- specifically for the over 50s, Saga river cruises provide all-inclusive river cruising as standard with shore excursions that can be as active or as relaxed as you need them to be.
- Wendy Wu- if you're looking for a Mekong river cruise, look no further than Wendy Wu Tours. With years of experience taking guests on journeys of discovery in Southeast Asia, you'll be shown around by some of the most experienced guides in the industry to give you a truly insightful and immersive experience.
- Fred.Olsen- for those wanting a European river cruise, Fred. Olsen offer a distinctly British cruise experience on all the continent’s most iconic waterways including the Rhine and Danube. Thanks to their smaller ship, you can be guaranteed attentive, personalised service throughout your cruise.
- AmaWaterways- expect luxury from the moment you step onboard with Ama. As you travel down the iconic rivers of Asia, Africa and Europe you'll be treated to high-quality food and expert service onboard spacious, comfortable ships.
- Riviera Travel- thanks to Riviera Travel, not only will you get to explore Europe's most famous waterways in luxury, you'll also be guaranteed authentic experiences due to shore excursions led by experts who bring each and every destination to life at a relaxing pace.
- Scenic- for luxury, all-inclusive river cruising which means you don't have to worry about a thing once you step onboard, Scenic River Cruises are the perfect cruise line. What's more, the flexible shore excursions mean you can explore each port of call however you'd like to.
- Avalon Waterways- for a river cruise that lets you decide what you want to do and when, Avalon Waterways is the way forward. With freedom when it comes to dining times and shore excursions, you can make sure that your journey perfectly meets your needs.
- Uniworld- with Uniworld river cruises, your time on the ship will be just as memorable as the shore excursions along some of the world's greatest waterways. Thanks to their beautifully appointed ships complete with five-star cuisine, fitness facilities and onboard entertainment, you'll travel in the utmost style and comfort. In addition, U by Uniworld’s ‘The A’ and ‘The B’ are two ships dedicated to younger cruisers.
- Discover Egypt- no river is more iconic than the Nile which traces the history of Egypt since ancient times. For affordable, comfortable cruises that show off the best sites along the way, choose Discover Egypt for a cruise back in time with all your modern comforts.
- Crystal -all-inclusive, luxury river cruising through Europe is at the heart of what Crystal River Cruises do. Onboard you'll find exemplary food, service and entertainment, while your time ashore can be made even more special with customisable excursions including extended stays in your favourite destinations.
- Pandaw- for excursions off the beaten track to remote locations, the specially designed Pandaw cruise line ships means your river cruise in Southeast Asia is both luxurious and unique.
- Amadeus- offering first-class service, exquisite cuisine and 5-star hotel-inspired onboard luxury, Amadeus river cruises also have a programme of shore excursions which cater to every guest's interests from wine tasting to city adventures.
- TUI- with TUI River Cruises you experience the wonders of some of Europe's greatest waterways, including the Danube and the Rhine on adult-only, contemporary ships complete with elegant cabins from which you can enjoy the incredible landscapes passing by.
- APTouring- boasting the same level of comfort as a boutique hotel, a river cruise with APT is something special from beginning to end. As you travel along the world's most beautiful waterways, expect immersive shore excursions as well as the freedom to explore on your own terms, alongside delicious cuisine, stylish social spaces and expert service from morning to evening.
- Great Rail Journeys- with the opportunity to enjoy a cruise on a comfortable, elegant ship, a Great Rail Journeys river cruise is made even more special as it incorporates an impressive railway journey across mainland Europe such as through the Swiss Alps or via Eurostar.
- American Queen Steamboat Cruise- the Mississippi river is one of the most famous waterways in the world, and what better way to explore it than with American Queen Steamboat Company. Onboard an authentic steamboat, you can enjoy a cruise that's perfect for nature and history lovers alike.
- CroisiEurope- with decades of experience under their belt, CroisiEurope offer a classic river cruise experience along waterways such as the Douro and Seine, as well as quaint French canal barges, featuring gourmet dining, friendly crew and excursions taking you to the heart of each destination.
River Cruise Destinations
Instead of tender ports and transfers, river cruise ships are able to sail right into the heart of the destination. This means no tender boats or coach transfers, simply walk off your floating boutique hotel and onto the streets of iconic European cities or African safari reserve.
There is a surprising variety of choice when it comes to river cruising destinations on the world's great rivers with itineraries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and even North and South America.
- Europe: The Danube, Rhine, French Waterways, Douro, Po, Elbe, Main, Moselle
- Asia: The Mekong, Irrawaddy, Yangtze, Ganges
- Africa: The Nile, Chobe, Zambezi
- Russia: St Petersburg to Moscow
- North America: The Mississippi
- South America: The Amazon
Best River Cruise Itineraries
Danube River Cruise Destinations
Passau, Regensburg, Linz, Melk, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest
A Danube river cruise is the best and easiest way to see a myriad of European capital cities and idyllic towns in one fantastic experience. On the Danube you’ll find a new culture, language and cuisine almost every day as you cruise from the Rhine-Danube Canal down the Upper Danube through the Wachau Valley and Iron Gates to the Lower Danube and the Black Sea beyond.
|Destination||Danube River Overview||Highlights|
|Passau||Nicknamed “the city of three rivers” due to it being where the Ilz and Inn join the Danube, Passau offers a chocolate-box view of Germany in the flesh.||Trying fresh gingerbread treats |
Exploring the quaint old town
|Linz||Once of the few occupied cities to survive intact after WWII, Linz boasts a beautiful market square, castle and botanical gardens to explore.||Linz Castle |
|Melk||Famous for its Benedictine abbey and wine production, Melk is a quintessentially Austrian stop along the UNESCO Wachau Valley.||Schallaburg Castle |
|Vienna||Famous for waltzes, opera houses and cafes serving delicious cakes, Vienna is a grand city of architecture, cuisine and culture.||Schönbrunn Palace |
Vienna Opera House
|Bratislava||Small enough to see all the sights in a single day, post-communist architecture meets fairytale medieval streets in Slovakia’s capital city.||UFO bar above the SNP bridge. |
|Budapest||As an overnight stop-off point, you can enjoy all the delights Buda and Pest have to offer day and night. Explore Buda Castle during the day before relaxing in a spa and heading out to find some hidden ruin bars.||Thermal spas |
|Belgrade||Explore Belgrade’s ancient fortress, and its picturesque surroundings, as well as the city centre and pretty main square.||Belgrade Fortress|
Rhine River Cruise Destinations
Amsterdam, Cologne, Rudesheim, Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Basel
Cruising from Amsterdam down to Basel through iconic cities and quaint towns picked straight from a Grimm’s’ fairytale of castles, forests, mountains and even wine country, a Rhine river cruise is especially magical during the Christmas period for the seasonal Christmas markets.
|Destination||Rhine River Overview||Highlights|
|Amsterdam||Famous for its cafes, cute bridges over pretty canals, vibrant atmosphere and turbulent history.|| |
Anne Frank’s House
The Old Red Light District
|Cologne||Dominated by the grand cathedral and synonymous with Eau de Cologne, ‘Koln’ is famous for its historic perfumeries.|| |
In the heart of Germany’s most prolific wine region, nestled in a dramatic valley surrounded slopes of vineyards.
Riding the cable car up to the Niederwald Monument.
Walking along the quint drosselgasse.
A popular excursion thanks to the city’s picturesque castle perched high above the pretty streets and funicular train.
The capital of the Alsace region and many aspects of the EU Parliament, Strasbourg is a picturesque city where French and German culture and history intertwine.
Strasbourg Cathedral’s stained-glass windows.
Trying Tarte flambée.
Exploring the fairytale old town by boat.
Beautiful medieval Swiss city full of pretty buildings and open-air markets. Famous for fondue and the tomb of Erasmus.
Watch the locals enjoy a bracing swim downstream
The cathedral and market square
Douro River Cruise Destinations
Porto, Regua, Pinoa, Salamanca
The Douro River is the hidden jewel of Portugal and a must for any fan of sunshine while sampling some of Europe’s quality wines. As well as the delights of Portugal, a highlight of the Douro has to be the excursion to Salamanca, Spain, for tapas and flamenco.
|Destination||Douro River Overview||Highlights|
|Porto||Portugal’s second city dubbed the city of bridges, famous for its twisting alleys of steep steps. Here, a fado show is a must along with trying the local delicacy of francesinhas, and buying a few famous local tiles and towels as the perfect souvenir.||Taking the cable car up to the iconic Dom Luis I Bridge. |
Taking in the panoramic views of the city from Clerigos Tower.
Riding the classic trams
|Regua||A fine example of Portugal’s wine-making villages and towns throughout the Douro valley.||Famous for its port vineyards|
|Pinhoa||Quaint village that’s great to explore and soak up the rustic atmosphere||Sampling the locally-produced wine|
|Salamanca||Known as the city of gold due to its ancient architecture and possessing one of Europe’s most beautiful plazas. Trying the cheap tapas, wine and beer around the iconic plaza de Salamanca is a must.||Watching the Flamenco show while enjoying the finest examples of Spanish cuisine in a local restaurant.|
Po River Cruise Destinations
Milan, Ferrara, Polesella, Chioggia, Taglio di Po, Bologna, Venice
The Po River is a must for anyone wanting to discover the sights of northern Italy, stopping off in classy Milan, Bologna and gorgeous examples of Italian architecture, culture and cuisine along the way to Venice.
|Destination||Po River Overview||Highlights|
|Milan||The capital of fashion, full of shops to browse and cafés to people watch||Seeing the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci at the Santa Maria delle Grazie Monastery.|
|Venice||World-famous for its canals, piazzas and gondolas. Venice is the ultimate city of romance.||Taking a gondola around the canals |
St Marks’ Square
|Bologna||A vibrant student city, famous for its medieval piazza, beautiful arched walkways and local cuisine. Proudly posseting the oldest university in Europe, the story of Bologna is told via its streets and buildings.||Trying the world-famous tagliatelle al ragu. |
Sampling local tradespeople’s wares in Quadrilatero Quarter
|Ferrara||A must-see UNESCO city full of medieval churches and architecture, as well as art and history museums.||Browsing the medieval shopping arcade in the shadow of the cathedral. |
Exploring Estense Castle.
|Chioggia||Like Venice but smaller and quieter with cafes, churches and shops full of character.||Wandering the charming narrow streets and canal.|
Seine, Loire, Dordogne and Garonne, Moselle, Rhone and Saone
With gorgeous countryside and vineyards, quaint villages and cities packed full of culture and cuisine like nowhere else, the waterways of France are a serene portal to the delights of this magnificent country.
|Seine||Discover the medieval towns of Honfleur and Rouen, the majesty of Versailles, the romance of Paris and the story of Normandy’s iconic beaches all with picturesque river bank and pretty villages in between.||The Eiffel tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Normandy Landing Beaches and Versailles|
|Loire||Famous for its grand chateaux and regional wines, the Loire is a perfect river cruise destination for those in love with cuisine, history and architecture.||Wine tasting in Château de Brissac. |
The chateaux of Chenonceau and Chambord.
The Machines de l'île in Nantes
|Dordogne and Garonne||Discover Bordeaux’s famous wine region and picturesque villages before exploring the city’s UNESCO centre.||Wine tasting in idyllic local vineyards and sampling freshly-made Canelé |
Touring the Place de la Bourse
Montélimar nougat factory tour
|Moselle||Often included in popular Rhine river cruises, From Koblenz to Metz via Luxembourg.||Riding the cable car over the river at Koblenz |
Exploring medieval Luxembourg City.
|Rhone and Saone||Famous for wine and cheese, Burgundy and Provence are renowned as France’s top region for cuisine. Along the way is Lyon, France’s third largest city, where the rivers split and Avignon, famous for its picturesque palace and ancient building.||Explore the Palace of the Popes in Avignon. |
View Vincent van Gogh’s most famous pieces in Arles.
Retro train ride through gorgeous scenery in Tournon.
Worldwide River Cruises
For the more adventurous traveller, there are plenty of long-haul river cruise destinations to discover too!
Taking in quaint villages and the vast Lake Ladoga between Saint Petersburg and Moscow, these scenic waterways are a great way to see the vast expanses of Russia between the highlights of the country’s two grand cities. Most popular from May to October thanks to the pleasant weather and long hours of sunlight, you’ll get to stop off and see all that Russia has to offer when it comes to culture, cuisine, architecture and history stopping of at such highlights as Goritsy and Uglich.
For the more intrepid river cruiser the Ganges is a fantastic option to delve deep into the colourful cultures of India. Often included with a cruise and stay package to the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, the Ganges also lets you explore wonders such as the iconic Taj Mahal, Calcutta and Delhi city.
A river cruise taking in the highlights of Cambodia and Vietnam via a river cruise along the mighty Mekong is surely the best way to see highlights of Southeast Asia such as Ho Chi Minh, Siem Reap and the vast temple of Angkor Wat and Phnom Penh. Often on a classically colonial river ship harking back to times gone by, your vessel matches the destination perfectly whether stopping at a vast city hub, a quiet local village or atmospheric jungles sweeping the banks of the Mekong.
China’s famous Yangtze River is the perfect way to dive deep into China as part of a cruise and stay river cruise package. Along the way, you’ll get to take in Beijing and Shanghai as well as fascinating stops such as the Three Gorges Dam, Wuhan and Jingzhou.
Sail down the majestic Nile River for stunning views of the Pyramids, Sphinx and local wildlife. With fantastic shore excursion led by expert guides, a river cruise in Egypt is truly a voyage back in time to unlock treasures every budding archaeologist dreams of. Along the way you’ll get to explore Cairo, discover the world-famous Valley of the Kings and Queens and take in vibrant Aswan.
Discover the charm of the USA’s most famous river as made iconic by the works of Mark Twain on a classic paddle steamer. From colourful cities such as New Orleans to historic plantations and sleepy towns of the old South, the Mississippi is a grand as it is vast.
River Cruising Compared to Ocean Cruising
With only 150 guests on average, river cruise ships are intimate and friendly. With a sociable atmosphere, river cruises are a fantastic way to meet like-minded people and ideal for solo passengers looking to meet and mingle during meals, organised activities and excursions. By the end of your cruise you’ll have made good friends with your fellow passengers but also have space to relax if you want some ‘me time’.
Ports of Call
river cruising is like a road trip of city breaks without having to drive and your own portable boutique hotel. All you need to do each day is hop off the river ship and you’re right in the heart of one of Europe’s iconic cities. Take the free walking tour with the line’s local expert guide or go off on your own on one of the complimentary city bikes onboard.
It’s common to have an ‘all-inclusive’ style package when river cruising with all meals and drinks (especially at mealtimes), tips and excursions all included in your fare, although it does vary slightly by line.
Simple but elegant, one of the understated highlights of river cruising is cuisine both on your ship and off. On a river cruise chefs are able to take just that little bit of extra care that goes a long way what with having dozens of diners as opposed to hundreds. Usually there’s only one available dining venue for each meal, with a breakfast and lunch buffet followed by a sit-down dinner each evening. However, there’s no shortage of variety with river cruising as each day brings a new menu of locally sourced, fresh meals to choose from with fine wines and beers to accompany. In addition, at each port you’ll also find a great variety of local treats to sample, especially on the ever-popular wine and cuisine themed cruises.
On many river cruise lines a normal stateroom will feel more like an Ocean cruise ship’s suite in comparison. Every cabin on a river cruise has a great view out to the scenic banks of the river right from your bed. With no interior staterooms, river cruise ships boast sliding French doors or panoramic balconies for everyone. You’ll also find a bit more room than in an ocean cruise ships standard cabin, making your room your personal private haven to sit back and watch the gorgeous views drift past.
Themed River Cruises
As you are able to delve deeper into the hidden gems of every river cruise destination, themed cruises are a fantastic option. Not only do you get to pursue your passions but also meet like-minded people and local experts, both during onboard talks and workshops, and ashore during excursions, for an enriching holiday experience like no other.
Popular themed river cruises include:
- Christmas markets
Wine cruises are especially popular along Portugal’s Douro as well as the Rhine where you will find the quaint town of Rudesheim and its famous drosselgasse. For cuisine, the waterways of France are unrivalled for rustic delicacies along the Rhone and Loire- boasting fine wines themselves to match.
For Christmas market cruises the Rhine and Danube are a must. There’s no greater place to get a dose of nostalgic Christmas spirit than in one of central Europe’s idyllic medieval towns and cities, ideal for delicious cakes, warming drinks and handcrafted gifts to take home.
The Douro is also a fantastic destination for getting out in the open air enjoying the gorgeous weather and scenery at some of the best golf courses in Europe along the way. Meanwhile, along African rivers such as the Chobe and Zambezi you can tick off your bucket list with a wonderful safari adventure.
A river cruise down the vast Mississippi, meanwhile, is ideal for those looking to find out all about the American civil war, the old south and the famous Mark Twain. History enthusiasts will also enjoy the Rhine and Danube for their long historical tours from archaeological sites to medieval towns, the Normandy beaches and world-famous museums of Europe and art of St Petersburg.
When to River Cruise
Whether you like warm or cold weather, there’s a time of year perfect for a river cruise.
Before the weather gets unbearably hot, the spring is the best time of year to take in the wonders of Africa. Take in the Pyramids of Giza with a tranquil sailing down the Nile or track the migrating herds of wildlife returning from the dry season along the Chobe and Zambezi rivers on an unforgettably immersive safari themed cruise.
The summer is the best time to sample the delights of Europe’s finest vineyards along the Loire, Douro or Rhine. With expert guides and extended time ashore to explore a river cruise in the summer is perfect way to sample the idyllic vineyards’ vintages, history and gorgeous scenery.
As the temperatures cool in the humid south and the leaves turn bourbon gold to cover the ground, the Mississippi never looks better than in the autumn. Take the world-famous Mississippi river to discover the history, culture and people of the south, as made famous by legendary writer Mark Twain. Even better, take in the sights of New York as part of a tailor-made cruise and stay package and see the variety the USA has to offer in full.
Winter is the time of year when the ever-popular Rhine and Danube Rivers are at their most beautiful. A chain of capital cities and quaint medieval villages make these arteries of European culture and history come alive as the snow falls and Europe’s famous Christmas markets pop up in town squares all along the banks. Peruse the beautiful hand-crafted gifts, try a traditional cake and warm up with a piping hot chocolate or mulled wine. Meanwhile, on the Ganges, February sees cool temperatures and pleasant weather.