A river runs through it: the 10 best cities in Europe to see from a boat or a bridge

Making the most of the water is still the fastest way to the centre of some great cities. Harriet O'Brien reports

1 The Seine, Paris

Integral to the sublime romance of Paris, the Seine curves through 10 of the city's 20 arrondissements, its banks dotted with some of the most famous landmarks of Europe. It was both to celebrate and protect this glorious waterway, with its elegant bridges and beautiful buildings, that the stretch between the Eiffel Tower in the west and Saint-Chapelle and Notre Dame cathedral in the east was added to Unesco's World Heritage list in 1991. From Easter to All Saints' Day (1 November) the city's river shuttle is in operation here, offering one of the finest ways to see this supremely stylish city. It's not a journey for those in a hurry, the leisurely trip takes about an hour and a half, although with a day pass (costing €11, about £7.85) you can hop on and off at any of the eight stops, including the Musée d'Orsay, Saint-Germain-des-Pres and the Louvre (for more information on the half-hourly service, call Batobus 00 331 44 11 33 99; www.batobus.com). This summer, for the third year, the Paris Plage has been created. The beach, complete with imported sand and deckchairs, is situated between the pont Notre-Dame and the pont d'Arcole, while a 28m swimming pool has been installed near the pont Marie.

Getting there: Among a number of travel companies providing good-value Paris packages, VFB Holidays (01242 240310; www.vfbholidays.co.uk) organises two-night breaks from £174 per person covering transport to the city by air or Eurostar, b&b hotel accommodation and a Paris museum pass. From 14 October, the company is offering special trips to see the exhibition Turner, Whistler and Monet: Impressionist Visions (featuring views of the Seine and the Thames) from £149 for two nights. It also arranges five-day cruises on the Seine from Paris to Honfleur and back.

2 The Neva, St Petersburg

An imperial masterpiece, St Petersburg remains very much the dream and vision of Tsar Peter I (later dubbed "the Great"). In the early 18th century he orchestrated the construction of this purpose-built capital on the banks of the river Neva, draining the surrounding swamps into a network of canals in the process. The result is still a jawdropping fusion of water and architecture, with magnificent panoramas of pillared mansions intensified through reflections. To view the city from its watery thoroughfares is to take in its true glory. From May to October riverboat tours depart from a number of piers including Anichkov Bridge at the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and Fontanka river, Ploshchad Dekabristov, near the bronze equestrian statue of Peter, and Griboedov Canal near Nevsky Prospekt metro station - for details see www.infoservices.com/stpete/98.htm.

Getting there: Steppes East (01285 651010; www.steppeseast.co.uk) organises luxury four-night trips to the city from £1,395 per person including flights from Heathrow, b&b accommodation at the sumptuous Astoria Hotel and entrance to a number of the city's most magnificent sights - such as the Peter and Paul fortress, the Grand Palace at Peterhof (accessible by hydrofoil) and the Yussupov Palace. Less costly accommodation can be arranged at a number of St Petersburg's stylish new b&bs, and the company also offers an elegant apartment on the Fontanka canal. This sleeps up to six people and costs £100 per person per night (for a minimum of four) including breakfast, a driver and a cook.

3 The Ljubljana, Ljubljana

A stroll along the gently bustling banks of Ljubljana river in Slovenia's capital presents a superb prospect of the atmospheric Old Town which is billed as "the new Prague". Lined with bars, cafés and restaurants, the river offers wonderful vistas of Baroque and Art Nouveau mansions interspersed with overhanging trees and foliage. There are graceful bridges to amble across, intriguing alleys to explore and a seemingly endless choice of churches and impressive galleries and museums to visit. In the summer and early autumn boat tours operate from Ribji trg pier near Ljubljana's Triple Bridge - for more details contact the Slovenian tourist office in Royston, Hertfordshire (0870-225 5305) or visit www.ljubljana.si.

Getting there: British Airways (0870-850 9850, www.ba.com) and easyJet (0871-750 0100; www.easyJet.com) fly to Ljubljana's airport at Brnik, 17 miles (27km) north-west of the city, from where buses leave hourly for the 45-minute journey into town. Here there is, as yet, a fairly slim choice of hotels - with high prices that are no guarantee of comfort or service (although otherwise costs in Ljubljana are very reasonable). The four-star Grand Union at Miklosiceva 1 (00 386 1 308 1270; www.gh-union.si) offers the closest approximation to luxury. Prices for double rooms at this Art Nouveau hotel start at €177 (about £126) per night with breakfast.

4 The Dnepr, Kiev

The Dnepr river flows from Russia into Belarus, and then cuts a great swathe through Ukraine and its capital, Kiev. River trips provide a striking perspective of this city, founded in the 5th century and, despite wars, fires and invasions, still containing some of the architectural treasures of the region. On one side the golden domes of the stunning Caves monastery at Pechersk rise above the foliage while the stupendous statue of Mother Ukraine glints on the horizon. On the opposite bank, great slabs of Soviet-style apartment blocks serve as monumental reminders of the recent past. Private boats can be hired from the central river station.

Getting there: Tourism in Kiev is as yet fairly undeveloped and language barriers can be frustrating so it is best to arrange travel here with a specialist to the region: Regent Holidays (0117-921 1711; www.regent-holidays.co.uk), for example, offers packages to Kiev and can advise on further guidance and contacts. The company organises three-night breaks from £349 per person including flights from London Gatwick airport and b&b accommodation at the new River Hotel Dneprovskiy, a well-appointed riverboat moored near the Podil district, a stroll or short funicular ride from the city centre.

5 The Vltava, Prague

The Czech Republic's longest river, the Vltava, cuts through the centre of this stunning city of turrets, spires and domes. The views from Karluv Most, or Charles Bridge, are famously breathtaking but even more so is a trip along the city's magnificent waterway, with the cream and golden hues of elegant baroque buildings mirrored on the surface. Tours, from hour-long trips to evening excursions with dinner, depart year round from Cechuv Bridge - for more information see prague.city-discovery.com/ or contact the Czech Tourist office (020-7631 0427; www.visitczechia.cz).

Getting there: The city's seemingly boundless popularity is evident from the number of airlines travelling there from across the UK: Prague is served by Czech Airlines (0870 444 3747; www.czechairlines.co.uk), easyJet (0871-750 0100; www.easyJet.com), Bmibaby (0870-264 2229; www.bmibaby.com), Jet2 (0870-737 8282; www.jet2.com) and British Airways (0870-850 9850; www.ba.com). With crowds descending all year round, hotel availability tends to be sparse - and expensive. For a good mid-range option try U Tri Bubnu, or the Three Drums (00 420 224 214 855; www.utribubnu.cz), a 15th-century townhouse close to the Old Town Square. Double rooms cost from €132 (about £94) per night including breakfast.

6 The Ill, Strasbourg

The principal city of France's Alsace region was strategically founded by the Romans on an island in the river Ill, close to its confluence with the Rhine on what is now the border with Germany. For all Strasbourg's current bureaucratic associations as the seat of the Council of Europe, its historic heart is a picturesque place of Gothic churches, gables, ancient battlements and atmospheric bridges. These are best seen either by strolling the banks of the Ill or joining a bâteau mouche tour, operating throughout the year from the landing stage of the Palais Rohan. For more details call the main tourist office (00 33 3 8852 2828; www.ot-strasbourg.fr).

Getting there: Rail Bookers (0870-730 0720; www.railbookers.com) offers three-night breaks at the Strasbourg Hilton Hotel from £276 per person. The price includes b&b accommodation and return train travel from Waterloo station in London via Paris, France.

7 The Danube, Vienna

The Danube slices this wedding cake of a city into unequal halves. The old town and most of the historic sights are south of the river, with the Danube Canal, which branches off from the main waterway, forming one of the borders of the ancient centre. While the sumptuous Schloss Schönbrunn, the sublime latticework of the Stephansdom church and other splendours of Austria's most famously romantic city are best viewed on foot, a number of river boat companies offer musical evening cruises and day trips along the Danube Canal and the river. The most celebrated of these is DDSG, or Blue Danube Shipping Company, (00 43 1 588 800; www.ddsg-blue-danube.at) whose one-day excursions take in views of Vienna as well as the Danube valley.

Getting there: Among several specialist tour operators offering cultural breaks to Vienna, Kirker Holidays (020-7231 3333; www.kirkerholidays.com) arranges three-night trips from £445 per person (until November), covering flights, transfers, b&b accommodation at the four-star K+K Palais and sightseeing guide. The company can also organise half-day cruises on the Danube from £35 per person.

8 The Rhône, Lyon

Ancient capital of Gaul, 19th-century centre of silk weaving, and now considered the gastronomic heart of France, Lyon sits at the confluence of the Rhône and the Soane. Conventionally tourists home in on the architectural riches of the central district and, for gourmet sightseeing at the least, stroll down the rue Mercière on Presqu'île. But for a fine outlook of the cityscape, take a ride on Lyon's rivers. Snaking through the town along both the Rhône and the Soane, you glide beneath at least 20 of the city's bridges, gazing up at the imposing cathedral of Saint-Jean and at the dramatic Fourvière Basilica, and passing great sweeps of Renaissance facades. Tours are operated throughout the year by Navig'inter (00 33 4 78 42 96 81, www.naviginter.fr).

Getting there: Inntravel (01653 617906; www.inntravel.co.uk) offers two-night breaks to Lyon from £232 per person until the end of September. The price includes flights from Heathrow or Gatwick and b&b hotel accommodation at the elegant Libertel Carlton in the heart of the city. Rail travel from Waterloo via Lille can also be arranged, and raised the price to £299.

9 The Thames, London

With the redevelopment of Bankside, the opening of the London Eye and the completion of the 183-mile (294km) Thames Path (which runs from the source of the river in Gloucestershire to the Thames Barrier in Docklands), Londoners have finally rediscovered the waterway that was once the great thoroughfare of their city. But for years tourists needed no such inducements and appreciated that the Thames offers wonderful panoramas and perspectives of some of London's finest and most historic sights. During the 1990s about two million visitors a year took cruises on this great waterway. The majority of these services operate between piers at Waterloo or Westminster and Greenwich, providing spirited commentary on the capital's architectural glories and its mercantile past as the boats sail slowly past such landmarks as the Houses of Parliament, the Globe Theatre, St Paul's and the Tower of London. One-way trips, lasting about an hour, cost £6.60 (children £3.30) on City Cruises (020-7740 0400; www.citycruises.com) and Thames River Services (020-7930 4097; www.westminsterpier.co.uk)

Getting there: For more information on London sights and transport contact Visit London (020-7234 5800; www.visitlondon.com). Details of the Thames Path are available from the National Trails Office (01865 810224; www.nationaltrails.gov.uk).

10 The Moselle, Trier

Once known as "the second Rome", Trier was founded on the banks of the Moselle in 16BC. For centuries Germany's oldest city remained one of the great political and cultural power centres of Europe, its fortunes faltering after Viking invasions in the 800s. By today's standards Trier is a small and compact place. Its Roman and medieval glories are best explored on foot before taking a soothing trip along the Moselle to view the historic city banks and meander on to sleepy villages surrounded by rich wine country. From Easter to October boats depart daily from the city docks at Zurlauben embankment for a four-hour trip to Bernkastel, passing vineyards, churches and semi-ruined fortresses - for more details contact Trier's tourist office (00 49 651 978080; www.trier.de).

Getting there: Moswin's Germany (0116-271 9922; www.moswin.com) offers short breaks to Trier from £285 per person including flights from Stansted to Frankfurt with transfers to the city and three nights' b&b at the centrally located Ramada-Treff hotel.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn