Fancy a river cruise, but not sure which? Here's our brief, whistle-stop guide to some of the world's greatest waterways to sail on...From the mighty Mekong, old favourites such as the great Danube and the Rhine, to rising stars such as the Irrawaddy and the Douro, and off-the-beaten track adventures on the Brahmaputra.
Indochina’s longest river, the mighty Mekong is the beating heart of Southeast Asia, winding 3,000 miles from China, through Burma and into Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. There are two routes to choose: the more adventurous, less frequently travelled Upper Mekong, where northern Thailand converges with Burma and Laos, characterised by lush jungle, mountains shrouded by mist, hill tribes and rice paddies, and the alluring cultural treasure troves of Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos; and the more popular Lower Mekong, where travellers discover the delights of Vietnam and Cambodia, particularly Ho Chi Minh City and, of course, the iconic Angkor Wat.
One of the most popular river cruises, at 1,700 miles the Danube is Europe’s second-longest river, flowing through much of Eastern and Central Europe. Its popularity is partly due to some of the culturally and historically rich destinations which lie on its banks: Belgrade, Budapest, Vienna, Linz, Bratislava, and Regensburg, to name but a few. Sailing along the Wachau Valley is one of the river’s most picturesque stretches, although half-timbered villages, castle-topped hillsides are never far from its river banks. The best time to take a Danube cruise is between May and September, sailing downstream from Germany if on a one-way cruise; as a fast-moving river, travelling upstream takes more time.
Threading its way from the southeastern Swiss Alps in the Graubünden canton and meandering 766miles through Liechtenstein Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands, the Rhine passes Alpine slopes, rolling vineyards, fairytale castles, the famous Black Forest, and windmills and swathes of tulips in the Dutch lowlands. The UNESCO-listed Rhine Gorge is a famously scenic stretch of river, renowned for the legendary Lorelei Rock, where sirens were said to have lured sailors to their deaths. Divided into three regions: Lower, Middle and Upper, with the world’s densest concentration of medieval castles the Middle is perhaps the most popular section, although you’ll find each section is steeped in history.
Flowing through Tibet, India and Bangladesh, on a course just shy of 2,000 miles, the stretch of the river in Assam – known for its tea - makes for a memorable river cruise experience, way off the beaten track. This is an unique adventure river cruise on the world’s fastest-moving waterway, where the landscape changes by the hour: sandbanks come and go and water levels visibly rise and fall, and the river is not navigable at night. Highlights of a Brahmaputra river cruise include visiting rural villages seemingly untouched by time – many of which have never met tourists – vast tea plantations, and Kaziranga National Park, best known for its population of Great One Horned Rhinoceros. During the monsoon months of June to September, the river becomes unnavigable as the river swells from 6.2miles wide to over 18!
Steeply terraced vineyards and quaint sleepy villages make for part of the Douro’s dramatic and picturesque scenery, alluring charm, and increasing popularity. An UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Douro is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of Port wine, and is a rich, winegrowing area. The so-called ‘Golden Valley’ offers sun-drenched riverside bliss, complete with unique cities and cosy quintas, bringing all the charm of Spain and Portugal, from Spanish Castille and Salamanca to charmingly sleepy Portuguese villages and the grand, unique historic treasures of Oporto.
From the glaciers of China’s western Qinghai Province, weaving across central China and on to Shanghai, where it joins the East China Sea, at nearly 4,000 miles the Yangtze is the world’s longest river within a single country. The most popular river cruises take passengers from Chongqing – briefly China’s capital during the Second World War but perhaps better known nowadays for its zoo and Panda Breeding Research Centre – and Yichang. This route takes in such highlights as the Three Gorges and the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydro-electric power station, and a fascinating range of shore excursions. The months of April, May, September and October are best for cruising the Yangtze.
Europe’s longest river flows from central Russia into the Caspian Sea, and is widely considered to be Russia’s national river. It pumps through eleven of Russia’s twenty largest cities, including the capital, Moscow, and the former Imperial capital of St Petersburg. Popular river cruises sail between these two great cities, taking in such destinations as Yaroslavl, the ‘heart of the golden ring’ and the fascinating Kizki Island, while the other popular choice for cruising on the Volga takes passengers south from Moscow to the Black of Caspian Sea.
An exotic river cruise experience if ever there was one, cruising the mighty Amazon, you’ll sail through the world’s richest rainforest which positively pulsates with bird calls, squawking monkeys and buzzing insects, looking out for rare pink river dolphins, turtles, caiman, and giant otters on the river itself. For an Amazon river cruise, there are two gateways: Manaus in Brazil, the most popular, and Iquitos in Peru, which is substantially narrower, with remote, eco-diverse tributaries, and on average an Iquitos Amazon cruise accommodates only a dozen or so passengers.
At 4,258 miles, the Nile is considered to be the world’s longest river. The lifeblood of the ancient Egyptian kingdom, the Nile is most commonly associated with Egypt but in fact flows through ten other countries, including Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania. A Nile river cruise, however, will take you back in time through 5,000 years of ancient Egyptian history, past palm-tree lined river banks, drifting sand dunes, and timeless farming scenes, to some of the greatest treasures of the ancient world: Abu Simbel, and the four great statues guarding the temple of Rameses II, the legendary Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, and the hieroglyph-covered temple complexes of Karnak and Luxor. Another, more recent, highlight of a Nile river cruise is the Aswan High Dam.
The Irrawaddy (sometimes called the Ayerwaddy) is becoming increasingly popular as Burma (or Myanmar), the new hot spot, opens up more to tourism. Flowing relatively straight north to south through Burma, the Irrawaddy is Burma’s largest river and its most important commercial waterway, and is sometimes referred to as ‘The Road to Mandalay’, after Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem. River life is vibrant, from rare Irrawaddy dolphins to locals producing candy from the sap of toddy palm trees, and the landscape along the riverbanks is dotted with charming villages and thousands of pagodas and stupas, particularly across the plains of Bagan. Popular cruises sail between Mandalay and Yangon (Rangoon), and the best time of year would be between November and March.
Closely associated in popular culture with Mark Twain and his fictional creation, Huckleberry Finn, and strategically significant during the American Civil War – the Union victory of the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863 was pivotal to the Union’s ultimate victory – the Mississippi is rich with both culture and history. Flowing from Minnesota to Louisiana, the Mississippi flows through the Midwest down to the Deep South. A Mississippi river cruise offers a distinctively charming experience reminiscent of the grandeur of the steamboat era, with traditional paddlewheelers. Some of the most popular Mississippi cruises sail in the Deep South between St. Louis or Memphis and New Orleans, cities with a rich musical heritage.
Flowing 482 miles from the rich winelands of Burgundy, through the heart of the city of love, Paris, and northwards into the orchards, wooded hills and historic towns of Normandy, the Seine has captured the imagination of artists for centuries, its landscapes inspiring the likes of Monet and Cezanne, Courbet and Boudin, and Seine river cruises continue to delight with their Gallic charm, from the vineyards of Burgundy, the dazzling allure of Paris and its world-famous landmarks, to the chocolate box quaintness and Gothic majesty of Rouen, and the picturesque fishing village of Honfleur.
If you're interested in river cruising, contact one of our dedicated river cruise specialists for an informative chat or to arrange your dream river cruise holiday
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