If you want a relaxed holiday, centred on culture and cuisine, with scenery forever surrounding you, river cruising might just be for you.

While thinking of cruise ships generally paints an image of behemoth floating cities, river cruising is a slower-paced, more intimate experience. While river cruising happens all around the world, currently dominating the market are destinations such as Europe, Asia, the Nile in Egypt and the Mississippi in America.

Due to the closer proximity to land, voyages on river cruise ships generally have a more immersive focus than ocean cruising, allowing more time in destinations and a higher port-to-days sailing ratio.

River cruising is generally less about theme nights and dodgem cars and more about engaging in authentic local activities, dabbling in regional cuisine and learning about the culture of the countries you sail through.

There generally won’t be as much to do as you might have on a cruise ship, but you will have more time for shore activities, and generally plenty of active options such as hiking or cycling tours. Having said this, many new river cruise ships do boast swimming pools, wellness centres, spas, bars and more.

You can also generally expect sailing with the top river cruise lines, such as Uniworld, Viking, Avalon Waterways and Scenic, to be a luxurious experience. You’ll feel like you’re in a floating luxury hotel, submerged in a top-deck pool as the beautiful views of whatever region you chose are on full display.

Cooking onboard river ships is part of their unique programs
Cooking onboard river ships is part of their unique programs

It’s also a faraway world from the thousands of passengers that fill the big cruise ships, for example, Viking river ships carry 190 passengers, with most major lines coming in at around 100-200 passengers when sailing full capacity.

Luxury meets the intimacy of a smaller ship when it comes to dining on a luxury river cruise ship. For example, Avalon Waterways has multiple dining venues on its vessels, focusing on local produce and premium-quality ingredients, meaning even when you’re on the ship, you’re still immersed in the culture beyond.

Most river cruises will have shore excursions that include not just local dining, but also a contextual and cultural background. A Scenic river cruise through Europe could have you trying truffles in countryside France, sipping smoked beer in Bamberg or tasting freshly prepared artisan olives in Avignon.

Guests can explore hundreds of ports and small towns on a river ship
Guests can explore hundreds of ports and small towns on a river ship

While Europe is currently where most heads turn when they’re dreaming of a river cruise, Asia and particularly the Mekong continues to grow in popularity. Cruising with a line such as Uniworld on the Mekong can see you relaxing on the picture-perfect beaches of Ha Long Bay, walking through the royal city of Angkor Thom, experiencing the captivating blend of cultures in Phnom Penh and so much more.

Cruising down the Nile also continues to increase in popularity, Travelmarvel offers a Nile River Highlights itinerary that will take you home having seen all the temples, pyramids and Egyptian history and scenery you could hope to see.

Meanwhile, whether you want to wind back the clock to some of the birthplaces of jazz and soul with stops in New Orleans and Memphis, swing your hips in Nashville or retrace the footsteps of Mark Twain in Missouri, there’s always plenty of history, culture and scenery waiting on the Mississippi.

Also useful to know is that River Cruise Lines love an early-bird offer. If you can get ahead on your travel planning and start sussing out some cruises from late 2023 onwards, you’ll find a myriad of specials and promotions.

Hot tip: Many river cruise lines offer great flight deals. With cheap flights next to impossible to lock down at the moment, getting your flights through a river-cruise line can save you significantly and make the cruise fare itself more valuable.