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7 of the best river cruises around the world for 2024

Take a tour of the world’s most famous waterways on your next holiday

Chris Wilson
Thursday 16 May 2024 13:10
The Mekong flows through six countries, including Thailand
The Mekong flows through six countries, including Thailand (Getty Images)

A cruise holiday isn’t always about setting sail across vast oceans. For an alternative type of break on the water, winding your way inland might sound similar but it’s a vastly different experience.

From crossing deep into the untouched areas of the Amazon rainforest to exploring some of Europe’s finest cities, the river cruise experience is one that allows tourists to get to grips with the history, culture and tradition of a destination in a slow, immersive fashion.

This could be in the form of sampling Creole cuisine in Mississippi or discovering historic sites in Vietnam, but whatever it is, there’s plenty of choice across Europe, Asia, South America and North America.

Read on for a selection of the best cruises, from the Mississippi to the Mekong.

The Danube

The Danube rises in the mountains of Germany’s Black Forest (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Europe’s second longest river – and arguably its most famous – river takes you through amazing capital cities and host of charming towns, as well as plenty of scenic countryside in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. Cruises along the Danube can vary from a handful of days to almost three weeks, giving you time to explore the elegance of cities like Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava or Belgrade.

Emerald Cruises lets you see the best of the Danube with the addition of a hefty dose of traditional German culture in Munich. Leaving the Bavarian capital, you’ll travel to Passau before a quick cross-border trip to the Unesco-listed Czech city of Cesky Krumlov. Vienna is the next city, replete with opulent architecture, before a quick overnight stay in Bratislava on the sixth night. Guided tours and hikes around the castle are included, before you get three nights to explore Budapest, the Hungarian capital that is blessed with picturesque buildings, relaxed thermal baths and a buzzing nightlife scene. 

From £1,999pp, including nine nights’ accommodation, full board, tours of Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest and airport transfers. Departing 7 May 2024 to 20 October 2024.

Read more on Europe travel:

The Amazon

The Amazon basin has an area of around 2.7 million square miles (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

This famous river runs for over 4,000 miles throughout South America and is a major part of the eponymous rainforest, one of the most biodiverse and important natural areas on the planet. A river cruise remains the best way to reach deeper into the jungle, with many cruises beginning in the northern Brazilian city of Manaus or in the Peruvian city of Lima.

Start in Peru’s enchanting capital with the Peruvian Rivers and Rainforest Discovery cruise from Uniworld. You’ll fly to Iquitos, the largest city in the Amazon as your next stop, before delving into some of the most remote areas in the world as you take to the waters. From here, nature takes centre stage, with a variety of experiences – including jungle walks and kayaking on a lake – added to the enjoyment of natural features such as giant lilies, towering barrigona trees and around 10 per cent of the world’s known animal species.

From £8,799pp, including 10 nights’ accommodation, full board, return flights from London, domestic flights and various excursions. Departing regularly from 17 January until 6 November 2024.

The Nile

The Nile starts in the Mediterranean and runs through as far south as Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Start in Cairo and make your way down to Aswan over a few days (though many shorter routes operate between Aswan and Luxor only). For a relaxing way to take in riverside scenery and some of Egypt’s most important historical sites, a river cruise is the ideal choice.

AP Touring’s Egypt Discovery trip takes you on a round trip from Cairo. You’ll cross thousands of years of history, starting with West Bank the Valley of the Kings, before a short flight to Aswan to explore Abu Simbel and a sighting of the landmark Pyramids of Giza near the Egyptian capital. The scenery along the route is exceptional, too, with palm trees, green spaces and mini oases dotted in between the yellow-hued rock.

From £6,995pp, including 12 nights’ accommodation, 30 meals (including unlimited local beer and wine) return flights from London Heathrow, domestic flights within Egypt and activities in each of the 10 destinations. Departing regularly from September 2024 to April 2025.

The Rhine

The Rhine is the busiest waterway in Europe (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Exploring this land of castles and fairytales is a worthwhile European trip, with tours often starting in the pretty Dutch capital of Amsterdam and weaving across the German and French countryside, with the route broken up by cities such as Cologne, Dusseldorf and Strasbourg. Many of the towns located on the banks of the Rhine, such as Koblenz, are incredibly picturesque, with a range of medieval castles and natural sites like the Black Forest also featuring.

Ama Waterways provide a seven-night cruise that runs from Basel to Amsterdam. Get your cultural fix at either end of your trip in either of these two cities, before admiring the vistas around the Rhine Valley, the medieval castles that loom over towns like Heidelberg and the timber-framed buildings that line the streets of Riquewihr and Strasbourg. Stops in both Freiburg and Dusseldorf are also included, as well as an optional excursion to Cologne.

From £2,399pp, including seven nights’ accommodation, full board and tours in each destination. Departing regularly between 18 February and 28 December 2024.

The Douro

The Douro Valley is supposedly the oldest demarcated wine-growing region in the world (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The views around the Douro Valley are some of the best in Portugal, whether you’re sitting by the banks in Porto or admiring the verdant hills and vineyards around Pinhao. This region, well-known for its port production, has cruises lasting roughly one week that usually begin and end in Porto – where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean – with a brief crossing over into Spain and Salamanca.

The Riviera Travel package offers an affordable eight-day Douro option starting and ending in Porto, with two nights to explore Portugal’s magnificent second city (and to go on a guided tour of a well-known port producer). Days three and four take you to sleepy Castelo de Rodrigo and the historic Spanish city of Salamanca (with guided tours and time to explore at your leisure) before traversing the cascading vineyards of the valley on your way back to Porto via the beautiful Peso de Regua (and a local wine tasting).

From £1,599pp, including seven nights’ accommodation, full board, flights from a London airport, one excursion one each day and airport transfers. Departing regularly from 7 April 2024.

The Mississippi

At least 260 species of fish – 25 per cent of all fish species in North America – live in the Mississippi River (Getty Images)

Discovering the Deep South is often done by car, but with new routes recently from Viking Cruises, exploring Louisiana, Mississippi, Minnesota and Tennessee has never been more idyllic. The famed cities of New Orleans and Memphis can bookend your tour, with lesser-known locations such as Baton Rouge, Natchez and Darrow making up the other stops.

Opt for Viking’s ‘Heart of the Delta’ cruise to if you really want to immerse yourself in the Deep South. The cruise begins with a few days exploring the French influences and Creole cuisine of New Orleans, before moving on to Baton Rouge – a haven of Creole and Cajun culture – and then onto Natchez, the oldest city on the river. You’ll travel through other towns on the Mississippi – complete with walking tours or excursions to the Atchafalaya Swamp basin – before reaching Memphis, the atmospheric home of blues music.

From £6,545pp, including 12 nights’ accommodation, full board, return flights from London and one excursion per destination. Departing weekly from March 7 until 13 June, with additional departures on 7 November and 13 November.

The Mekong

The Mekong River is also known as the “Mother of Water” (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Mekong flows through a host of Asia’s most fascinating countries, including Vietnam, Thailand, China and Cambodia. Most cruises only take in parts of Vietnam and Cambodia, though this mix of floating fishing villages, traditional markets and the two capitals of Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh will be enough for most travellers. With Avalon Waterways, you’ll combine energetic, modern cities with some of the most vibrant culture in Asia and a history that is equal parts sobering and fascinating.

It starts in Siem Reap, site of the Angkor Wat temple, before moving on to the Cambodian capital, where you can learn about the dictatorship of Pol Pot and visit several must-see landmarks. After this, Vietnam beckons, with a visit to the dizzying Ho Chi Minh City to see its admirable architecture. Visits to markets, old Vietnam War tunnels, temples and cooking classes are dotted in between these city trips for good measure, with stops at characterful towns like Vinh Long, too.

From £4,229pp, including seven nights’ accommodation, full board and activities on each day of the trip. Departing regularly from 15 January to 11 March and from 12 August to 2 December 2024.

Read more: Best hotels in Europe: Where to stay for a city, beach or retreat break

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