One of my favourite things about river cruising is discovering destinations you’ve never heard of. It might be a little village on the Seine River where Richard the Lionheart built a fine castle or sleepy Dürnstein on the Danube where the Russians and French did battle during the Napoleonic wars. Cruise the Rhine and you’ll discover a grand monument towering above little Rudesheim that commemorates the unification of Germany in 1871.
Amazing experiences come thick and fast on any and every river cruise. I’ve been blessed by monks in Cambodia while cruising the Mekong River, watched the sunset over the U-Bein Bridge near Amapura on a voyage of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar and seen chanting Hare Krishna disciples while sailing the Ganges River in India.
Wine lovers can indulge in tours and tastings in the world-famous vineyards of Provence and Burgundy on cruises along the Rhône River in France. Stay on that river to discover why the popes settled in France in the 1300s and visit the magnificent Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct. I went there on an Emerald cruise and it was breathtaking.
Head to Austria and you find that, much like the hills in the famous film, the Danube is alive with the sound of music. River cruise lines offer exclusive Mozart and Strauss concerts in Vienna (they are sometimes included, sometimes an optional extra) and you can visit Mozart’s home, now a museum, on excursions to Salzburg, where The Sound of Music was filmed.
And then there is the Douro, with gorgeous Porto at one end and beautiful Salamanca at the other. Book one of Uniworld’s Douro sailings and you can add a few nights in Madrid at the start or end of the trip. They even throw in a tour of the Prado museum, dinner with foot-stomping flamenco and a trip to Toledo.
10 reasons to book a river cruise
If that isn’t enough to persuade you to take to the rivers, here are 10 reasons to sail on one of the world’s great waterways:
- So much is included: Fares include all food, daily excursions, drinks with lunch and dinner, gratuities and Wi-Fi. APT Cruising, Scenic River Cruises and Uniworld River Cruises even serve free drinks around the clock.
- Small and friendly: River ships in Europe hold an average 150 passengers; in Asia, the vessels are even smaller. What with open seating in the restaurant, allowing you to meet different people over dinner each night, it’s about as friendly as it gets.
- It’s so easy: Just get on board, unpack and relax as your floating hotel takes you through the heart of Europe or Asia, stopping every day so you can go ashore and explore grand cities and medieval towns, see world-class museums and art galleries and sample fabulous local food and wine.
- Get into shape: Worried that it all sounds a bit too sedate? River cruise lines also offer bike tours, hiking trips and even kayaking in a range of different ports.
- Watch the world go by: Castle spotting in Germnay’s Rhine Gorge and the gorgeous scenery along the Wachau Valley in Austria are always highlights but there’s plenty more to see as you sail from one port of call to another.
- A room with a view: All cabins on river ships face outwards. Most new vessels have large panoramic windows that open to allow the sunshine in but for a treat you can’t beat a balcony.
- No need to fly: Take a Eurostar train from London through the Channel Tunnel and in no time at all you can connect to a local high-speed rail network to join your river cruise. Departures from Amsterdam, Paris or Lyon are ideal as you can be there in a few hours but if time is no object, you can take the train all the way to Budapest or Vienna.
- The world is your oyster: There are some great European river cruises but why not try further afield? There are exotic journeys on the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam, the Yangtze in China, the Ganges in India and the Irrawaddy in Myanmar.
- It’s smooth sailing: Worried about the motion of the ocean? You don’t have to be on a river cruise as there are never any rough seas to contend with.
- Modern living: Modern river cruise ships are spectacular with beautiful decor, large suites, balconies, speciality restaurants and even swimming pools and cinemas.