10 of the best river cruises

1 The Nile, Egypt

If you only take one river cruise in your life, it should be this route, sailing along the Nile between Luxor and Aswan. It’s worth it just for the temples at Luxor and nearby Karnak, Tutankhamun’s tomb at the Valley of the Kings, and Nefertari’s tomb in the Valley of the Queens. But there’s more: from Luxor most cruise ships sail to Edfu for the temple dedicated to falcon-headed god Horus, then on to Kom Ombo temple, dedicated to crocodile god Sobek. And at colourful Aswan you can take a trip to the Aswan High Dam and the temple of Philae, or fly to Abu Simbel’s temples. To get the most out of the country, combine a Nile cruise with a few days in Cairo to see the Pyramids at Giza and the Egyptian Museum.

nile cruise

2 Volga River, Russia

Moscow and St Petersburg are Russia’s must-do destinations for river cruises, and you can see both by cruising along the Volga River and other rivers, lakes and waterways which connect the two cities. Highlights along the route include: Uglich, Russia’s second oldest city; ancient Yaroslavl, with its 13th century churches; Goritza, a typical Russian village; Kizhi, with its amazing 22-cupola wooden church, and Mondraga village, home to the Vodka Museum.

russian river cruise

3 The Yangtze, China

Many UK-based travel companies offer Yangtze River cruises as part of a wider tour of China’s sights, often starting with several nights in Shanghai before flying to Wuhan and transferring to the Yangtze hub of Yichang. The Three Gorges – Xiling, Wuxia and Qutang – are the cruise highlight, with stops at the enormous Three Gorges Dam and Chongqing, home to lively markets. Longer cruises include: Nanjing, the ancient capital of several dynasties; historic Huangshan; Wuhan where you can visit Chairman Mao’s Villa and Yichang, surrounded by forests and mountains.

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4 The Danube, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany

At 1,800 miles, the Danube flows through eight countries from its source in Germany to the Black Sea, with one of its most rewarding stretches starting at the historic Hungarian capital of Budapest. These cultural Baltic cruises through European history includes Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, and Austria’s principal cities, Vienna and Salzburg. The countryside is also outstanding, including the Wachau Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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5 The Amazon, Brazil

There are many ways to navigate the world’s largest river, but by far the most comfortable is by cruise ship. Itineraries usually call at the picturesque city of Santarem, where the River Tapajós meets the Amazon. Other colourful destinations include Parintins known for its Boi-Bumbá folklore festival every June; the wooden village of Boca de Valeria, and Manaus, the State of Amazonas capital.

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6 The Rhine, Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland

There are plenty of options for sightseeing along the 900 miles of Europe’s most popular cruising river. You’ll see fairytale castles and medieval towns, as well as big-hitters such as Basle’s cobbled old city, Strasbourg’s fabulous mix of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, the half-timbered houses in historic Mainz, the neoclassical palace and Roman basilica at Koblenz (where the Rhine meets its cruising partner, the River Mosel), and Cologne’s UNESCO World Heritage gothic cathedral. You’ll also have access to Dutch cities such as Arnhem and Amsterdam.

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7 The Mekong, Vietnam, Cambodia

Mekong River and Delta cruises usually begin with a few nights in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), a hectic urban sprawl which retains its elegant French colonial heart. The mystical Mekong offers an enticing mix of Buddhist shrines, colonial towns and floating markets. Many cruises cross into Cambodia where you can visit the capital, Phnom Penh, and the major temples of Angkor Wat by the town of Siem Reap.

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8 The Rhône, France

Navigating France’s mightiest river is a favourite for wine aficionados and foodies. A cruise through Burgundy and Provence gives you the chance to visit vineyards (think Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape), explore Lyon – the gourmet capital of France – and enjoy historic towns such as the fortified city of Avignon and the Roman ruins in Arles. The countryside is equally superb: its fields of lavender and sunflowers were an inspiration for artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, and as the river drains into the Mediterranean you’ll see the famous white horses of the Camargue.

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9 The Mississippi, USA

A trip along Ol’ Man River from Memphis to New Orleans reveals an impressive slice of the United States’ cultural and historic richness. You’ll see Elvis Presley’s Memphis, Civil War sites such as Helena and Vicksburg, and the Southern belle towns of Natchez and St Francisville with their beautiful antebellum houses. Baton Rouge is the spiritual home of folksy Cajun music and spicy Cajun food and then there’s jazz-soaked New Orleans, now recovering much of its nightly Mardi Gras atmosphere

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10 The Douro, Spain, Portugal

Often overlooked, this beautiful river meanders through peaceful villages and towns, through gorges and past vineyards and tranquil almond orchards. The cultural highlights include Salamanca, an ancient Spanish university city fought over by Hannibal the Great, and Porto, Portugal’s elegantly historic second city and the home of port wine. En route you can stop at Peso da Régua and Pinhão, in the heart of Portuguese wine country, or visit market towns, castles and country homes such as the 18th century Casa de Mateus Palace.

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