7 of the best river cruise highlights, according to the experts

From marvelling at the Mekong to soaking up history on the Mississippi, travel industry experts share their favourite river cruise moments with Jeannine Williamson

1. History on the Danube

Sharon Trigg

Sharon Trigg, reservations manager, Mundy Cruising

“On the beautiful stretch of the Danube between Vienna and Budapest, there’s so much to see, but our highlight was a day spent in the Wachau Valley. We started with a walking tour of colourful Durnstein, with its pretty little houses, medieval ruins and amazing history – King Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned here.

Then we carried on to a national treasure, Melk Abbey. Built in the 1700s, the baroque-style Benedictine abbey contains the remains of several members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. The views from the abbey’s balcony are amazing, and our clear view of the Danube as the sun set seemed surreal. Our tour ended with a wine tasting.”

Book it: Riverside Luxury Cruises’ four-night Pearls of the Danube break starts from £1,417.

2. Ancient Egyptian sites

Laura Wilson

Laura Wilson, head of business development, Fred Holidays

“My Nile cruise experience has stayed vivid in my memory as a standout, amazing holiday. Although the cruise offered a chance to explore numerous captivating historical and cultural sites, I was pleasantly surprised by the tranquillity of the sailing itself.

Most of the sightseeing occurred in the morning, avoiding the midday sun and allowing for a relaxing afternoon by the onboard pool as we admired the scenery. It was a mix of exploration and relaxation.

The Valley of the Kings and Temple of Isis were highlights, but what really stuck with me was the passion and expertise of our guides and Egyptologists. Their insights into the fascinating history and significance of the temples, sites and tombs we visited made the experience truly unforgettable.”

Book it: A seven-night Highlights of the Nile sailing starts at £1,995.

Douro Valley

3. Douro port

Karen Newman

Karen Newman, cruise director, APT Travelmarvel

“The rich food and wine traditions of the Douro Valley make cruising in northern Portugal a must for aspiring gourmands. My favourite experience by far is taking guests to a quinta, where they can learn all about port and why it is the source of such national pride for the Portuguese. The Douro is the birthplace of this delicious fortified wine, which has been made here for more than 2,000 years.

As our guests explore one of the most beautiful wine estates, it is fascinating to hear about the long‑protected production techniques that make port so delicious, direct from the artisans that create it. And the tastings, paired with delicious cheeses and other local delicacies, are highlights in their own right!”

Book it: A seven‑night Douro Discovery itinerary starts at £1,895.

4. Christmas markets on the Rhine

Lizzie Adamson Brown

Lizzie Adamson‑Brown, personal travel designer, Designer Travel

“Arriving at Strasbourg’s Christmas markets, we were enchanted by the majestic Gothic cathedral that set the stage for a captivating experience in this city, with its half-timbered medieval architecture and canals. Navigating through stalls adorned with twinkling lights, the air was filled with the aromas of roasted chestnuts, cinnamon-dusted pastries, gingerbread and gluhwein.

Snow-covered stalls embellished with colourful garlands showcased ornaments and wooden toys, while carols echoed through the air, enhancing the festive ambience. The Christmas Markets on the Rhine cruise is a journey that immerses you in the true spirit of Christmas, where sights, smells, tastes and sounds blend seamlessly into a magical experience.”

Book it: A seven-night Christmas Markets on the Rhine sailing starts at £2,049.

Mekong Cruise
Buddhist temple on the Mekong

5. Monasteries on the Mekong

Jamie Loizou 2

Jamie Loizou, managing director, AmaWaterways

“Visiting Oudong, Cambodia’s former royal capital from the early 17th century, was truly memorable and a highlight of our Mekong cruise. It’s a place of pilgrimage for Cambodians, and among the beautiful temples is a huge monastery where we experienced a Buddhist blessing ceremony.

As our ship AmaDara moored midstream for most of our ports of call, travelling ashore by longboat past the fishermen and the stilted houses was an experience in itself. Seeing the life along the Mekong, the markets, the children jumping in and out of the water and the importance of the river to daily life was remarkable. This was all brought to life by our fantastic guides who imparted their expert local knowledge.”

Book it: A seven-night Charms of the Mekong sailing costs from £1,513.

6. Wine on the Rhone

Jenny Cookman

Jenny Cookman, Travel Counsellors

“‘The best wine in the world is the wine you like,’ pronounced our wine expert from the Hermitage region on the Rhone as we sampled her delicious produce. The steady climb through thriving vineyards in anticipation of our wine tasting was worth the energy.

We listened to stories about the estate and wine production, and mouth‑watering fresh bread and scrumptious local cheese completed the experience. River cruises that travel through famous wine‑producing areas will often include a tasting and wine pairings with meals. Themed options will focus on wine, with more tours and tastings and a dedicated expert on board.”

Book it: A seven‑night Burgundy and Provence itinerary starts at £2,699.

Douro Valley river cruise
Uniworld’s Catherine

7. Safari cruise in southern Africa

Clare Dudley

Clare Dudley, managing director, Ponders Travel

“CroisiEurope’s Southern Africa safari cruise was a life-changing experience, yet hardly anyone knows about it. We travelled on small boats on the Chobe River searching for wildlife – which we found everywhere. We then spent three days on board the 16-passenger Zimbabwean Dream, sailing on Lake Kariba.

It was so special, as we were the only people there. On small-boat and 4×4 safaris, we got close-up views of elephants, as well as hippos, crocodiles, buffalos, antelopes, baboons and the most beautiful birds. I felt at one with nature – and we, in turn, respected where we were at all times. I have never been on a trip like it and, because I loved it so much, I am planning to do an escorted departure in 2025.”

Book it: An eight-day Southern Africa Safari-Cruise starts at £5,544.

PICTURE: Pam Mclean

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