When it comes to planning a river cruise, choosing the right river is more important than you think. One of river cruising’s most appealing attributes is the riverside scenery that surrounds you between ports and your choice of itinerary should depend on what you want to see along the way. For example, a cruise through Holland during tulip season will be filled with beautiful blooms and scenic cities whilst you’re ashore, but generally flat embankments mean that you’ll see little in the way of rolling hills, dramatic gorges or palatial castles when sailing between ports.
European river cruises are usually a week long, with more exotic Asian itineraries spanning longer periods. Unlike traditional ocean cruising, a river cruise sees you spend less time on the water and more time exploring ashore, so you can expect a packed sightseeing schedule that sometimes takes in several ports in a single day.
The world’s rivers all offer something completely unique and our guide will give you a little more information on just some of the port highlights you can expect, when you book a river cruise through some of the most popular regions in Europe and Asia.
Travelling through six countries and meandering for 766 miles, the Rhine is Europe’s favourite waterway. Steep riverbanks offer scenery that could have come straight out of the storybooks, with historic towns, painted windmills and lush greenery along every mile. You will find new beauty around every bend, not least along the Middle Rhine; a UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing 40 miles of dramatic scenery. Make sure you have your camera to hand as you cruise through the fascinating Rhine Gorge, passing countless castles and rolling Riesling vineyards as you go.
From winding alleyways lined with wine taverns to fabled cathedrals, dense woodlands and Middle Age market squares, the towns and cities dotted along the Rhine are equally as intriguing as the scenery.
The Douro travels over 200km from north-eastern Spain through northern Portugal, finding its outlet in Porto. Along the way, you will journey through the heart of the Alto Duoro wine region, where you can sample some of the finer things in life. Famed for its port wine, the Douro region is a pleasure to explore. Many start in Lisbon, a city that combines a cosmopolitan centre with a maze of Old Town streets, whilst the picturesque Portuguese town of Régua promises port wine tastings on sprawling country estates. Take a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Salamanca, home to some of Spain’s most beautiful sights and considered a living museum of the Middle Ages.
With dramatic gorges, whitewashed chapels, palatial terracotta villas and of course, endless food and wine, the Douro is irresistible.
At almost 2000 miles long the Danube is the longest river in the European Union and the second longest on the continent. Divided into upper, middle and lower basins, the Danube is breathtaking throughout its length, unveiling a world of art, music, heritage and culture along its banks.
A voyage along the majestic Danube will take you to proud cities that once upon a time played home to powerful empires. Discover the Hungarian capital of Budapest, also rightfully known as the “Pearl of the Danube”, or indulge a love of classical arts in Vienna. You’ll pass castle ruins teetering on the banks of Durnstein and explore Passau – known as the ‘Three Rivers City’ due to its unique location where the Danube, Inn and Ilz rivers meet. Course through Croatia and on to Serbia, before venturing towards the Romanian capital of Bucharest; a vibrant city with a reputation as the “Paris of the East”.
Artists and romantics will fall in love with La Seine; the most romantic river in the world. See Paris from a new perspective, with the Louvre Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral and Eiffel Tower all rising into view from your cosy abode on the water. Visit the provincial home towns of art’s greatest masters, including the Giverny residence of Impressionist Claude Monet, where the inspiration behind his work is clear to see. Medieval Rouen is a must-visit, as are the famous abbeys of Normandy. Take the time to reflect and pay homage on the historic Normandy Beaches, before exploring beautiful Norman towns and rural villages.
The Irrawaddy flows south through Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and into the Andaman Sea, making these fascinating areas more accessible than ever to visitors. Spanning 1350 miles and not yet overrun by the machine of mass tourism, the Irrawaddy River will reveal a land that time has all but forgotten. Connecting the cities of Mandalay, Bagan and Yangon in an unforgettable voyage, your time here will take you through a rich and varied milieu of golden palaces, ancient Buddhist temples, undulating rice paddies, jungle clad riverbanks, floating markets and traditional fishing villages rising up from the water on wooden stilts. Those in search of adventure, education and culture will find all they desire along the Irrawaddy.
The Mekong River is one of the greatest river systems in the world, flowing over 3,050 miles through six countries: China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. A cruise along the Mekong reveals a continent of contrasts, as the vast waterway winds through thriving cities, rural communities, serene villages and riverbanks unveiling an altogether different way of life to the one we are used to.
In Cambodia, the Mekong River is the perfect gateway for exploration of the Angkor Wat region; a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to the magnificent Khmer temple ruins of Angkor. Built in the jungle of Siem Reap and often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, Angkor Wat boasts an extensive array of ornate 12th century stone structures and is one Asia’s most important archaeological sites.
The middle reaches of China’s longest river are dominated by one of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders, the Three Gorges. Densely forested cliffs soar vertically alongside the river, a roaring expanse of water that has been calmed into a tranquil passage by the creation of the Three Gorges Dam; the largest dam in the world and a marvel of modern engineering.
From the banks of the Yangtze you will be perfectly positioned to explore an array of the country’s most incredible cities. The Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City are just two of the attractions that have put Beijing on the map. A visit to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors in Xian is a must, as is time spent amidst the hustle and bustle of cutting-edge Shanghai.