River Cruises

River cruises: Asia vs. Europe

Which will you choose?

Published on 25 Nov 2022

For many, a river cruise is a dream holiday. With all the comforts of home, your intimate river cruise ship is your haven for a journey across your chosen continent, cutting through the heart of some of the world’s most beautiful countries. It’s fair to say, though, that Asia river cruises and Europe river cruises are two very different experiences. If you’ve always dreamed of travelling to Southeast Asia but also want to explore the cities of Europe, how do you choose between the two? Here, we chat with several cruise and travel experts to help you decide.

Asia river cruises

Perfect for: An adventure through jungles and mountains, experiencing a unique culture and authentic South East Asian cuisine. 

Example highlights: Ho Chi Minh City, Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and floating markets. 

If you’ve always wanted to explore Asia, a river cruise is an excellent way to do so. The smaller ships can weave along iconic rivers such as the Mekong and China’s Yangtze River, allowing you to get up close and personal with the destinations. Best of all, river cruises can take you closer to the heart of Asia, allowing you to experience sights like the floating markets of the Mekong, as well as visit the bustling Ho Chi Minh City all in one holiday. 

Mekong River

“We love Southeast Asia,” exclaims Brian and Noelle from Wandering On. “The people are amazing, the culture is so interesting and the food, oh, the food! On top of that, it’s home to some beautiful scenery, beaches, and wildlife, has some amazing dive sites, surf spots and everything from epic cities to tiny, remote villages. 

“The Mekong River is beautiful. It’s a hive of activity and it’s such an incredible experience to see the people living, quite literally, on the water. The Mekong provides a way of life for many of the locals and touring the area allows you a small window into their world. We loved the interactions we had with the locals, people-watching and, of course, you have to try the elephant fish if you visit.” 

We also spoke with Dan and Audrey from Uncornered Market, and they told us, “We travelled several sections of the Mekong during our time in Southeast Asia but the most memorable was travelling to Cambodia from Vietnam. What is remarkable about the river is not only its length and size that goes through the whole of the region and several countries but also the incredible diversity of life and activity of all kinds along this river. 

“For example, one of the highlights of our boat trip along the Mekong was the floating market in Cai Rang that was bustling with energy and action. Everything that you would normally see in a regular weekly market - fruit, vegetables, fish, household goods, street food etc. was transferred over to small boats that zipped around. And people bring their goods along the river from villages far away. It’s colourful, buzzing and a lot of fun to experience.” 

Yangtze River

Sail along the third-longest river in the world past jungles, futuristic structures and ancient temples. This scenic river cruise route passes the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, the Three Gorges Dam, which is remarkably set amongst a backdrop of forest-covered mountains. Expect to wake up to misty mountain views and be prepared to delve into the heart of China. For a true taste of China, a Yangtze River cruise might just be what you’re looking for. 

Europe river cruises

Perfect for: City breaks, visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites and sampling traditional European cuisine.

Example highlights: Eiffel Tower, Wachau Valley wine country and opera in Vienna. 

River cruises are the perfect way to see the cities of Europe. On one itinerary, you can see experience opera in Vienna, bathe in the thermal baths of Budapest and see world-class architecture in Bratislava on the Danube River. Or see the gothic architecture of Cologne and visit the Swiss city of Basel on a Rhine River cruise. If you’re seeking warmth, a Douro River cruise will lead you to the vibrant city of Porto in Portugal and the magnificent Douro Valley, renowned for its vineyards. 

“I have done a number of European river cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Loire and Seine with a range of companies,” Gary from Tips For Travellers told us. “I have an Asia river cruise high on my to-do list but still feel I have not seen enough of European rivers that are so close or tried the different companies and ways of cruising European rivers yet.”

We asked Gary why Europe river cruises appeal to him, “The immersion into a relatively small stretch of the country as the ships cover relatively short distances, compared to ocean cruises and you have time to soak in, see, experience and explore the region in some depth. The pace is slow enough to enable this but fast enough to ensure you see and experience a good cross-section and range of the territory. 

“As much of the history and development of the European countries are so linked and entwined to the rivers that weave through them, you get to touch, see and learn about the history and culture that is so tied to the river. And this can all be done with only unpacking and packing once, being guided by someone who knows the territory so well (as the ships in the season usually do the same route constantly so they know what is best to see and do) and all without having to plan or worry about navigating the language and culture as the river cruise company guides you through all of that. Plus, you know you have a comfortable room and great food and wine, all linked and drawn from the region.” 

How to choose your cruise

River cruises offer a completely unique experience to venture into the heart of countries and continents. But if you’ve never embarked on a river cruise before, it may be worth trying a short break closer to home to see what you think. Unlike ocean cruises, river cruise ships are small and intimate. There is less to do onboard than on your traditional ocean cruiser liner, however, you will have the opportunity to stop at numerous towns and cities along the way and take in the scenery up close as you travel. 

Gary recommends, “Start with the European rivers on your doorstep. Explore major rivers like the Danube and Rhine and then experiment with the others. Try different cruise lines to find out which approach and style works best for you before, then spend and invest in going long haul to explore Asia. The cost is much greater and by then, you will know you like river cruising and who you would like to entrust with your time and money to take you to Asia.” 

Reading time: 7 mins
Divider Crest Logo

Related Blog Posts