It may be one of the oldest forms of travel – linking countries and providing historic trading arteries – but today more and more people are discovering the joys of river cruising for pleasure. Rarely carrying more than 300 passengers, river cruising is an intimate and informal experience, offering a window on the world.

The Nile

For centuries taking a boat down the Nile was the only way to travel through Egypt and today, it’s an atmospheric introduction to the country and its history.

Over the last 10 years a new breed of luxury boats has been introduced with modern facilities like WiFi access and small on-board spas. The most typical cruise is for seven nights, following the Luxor to Aswan and return route and most include visits to all the main sites, such as the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Kom Ombo.

Days, interspersed with sightseeing, float by at a leisurely pace and meals feature Egyptian cuisine, with dinner often followed by belly dancing. If you’re looking for an Agatha Christie-style experience opt for the high-end boats.

Nile river and delta from space
Is it for you?
Great for culture vultures who want to see Upper Egypt without the hassle of going it alone.

When to go
Avoid the hottest months from June to September when temperatures can soar to 42°C/107°F.

Must-see shore excursion
Edfu Temple, built by Cleopatra’s father, is the country’s second largest temple.

What to take
A sun hat and plenty of suncreen for sightsightseeing. Ladies should be prepared to cover up; Egypt is a Muslim country.

What to try
Ful medames, made with slow-cooked fava beans, olive oil and lemon juice, topped with hard-boiled egg, is often eaten at breakfast.

What to buy
Leather goods, brass and copperware, hand-loomed cotton, spices and papyrus paintings are all good buys. Be prepared to haggle.

Book it
African Safari Club’s seven-night Nile River Cruise from Luxor to Aswan on the five-star MS Da Vinci costs from £449 per person. The price includes flights from the UK, transfers, full-board accommodation and 10 excursions. The currency used on board is the Egyptian pound.

Visit www.africansafariclub.com

The Rhine

Starting in the Alps and winding 900 miles through four countries to the North Sea, the Rhine is Europe’s most popular river for cruising. No other river abounds in more myths and legends than the ‘Father Rhine’. The rugged cliffs, forested hills and green valleys that hug its banks have long inspired artists, poets and musicians, and, in the 19th century, it became a symbol of romanticism.

If time is limited the Middle Rhine Valley is an enduring favourite. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the route meanders through one of the most famous of Germany’s 13 wine-growing regions and the stretch between Cologne and Mainz is particularly breathtaking.

Many itineraries will include visits to Heidelberg, home to Germany’s oldest university and the red sandstone ruins of an imposing castle overlooking the Neckar River. Perched high on a promontory, 700-year-old Marksburg Castle is also notable as the only castle on the Middle Rhine to have survived intact. All in all, there are 40 castles along a 37-mile stretch of river.

Is it for you?
Couples of all ages will enjoy this romantic cruise route.

When to go
Although it’s a year-round destination, Spring and Autumn are the best times to cruise as it can get very busy in summer.

Must-see shore excursion
Picture postcard Rüdesheim, with its cobbled streets lined with restaurants and wood-framed houses, is one of Germany’s top tourist attractions.

What to take
A guide book telling you the history of the castles and plenty of spare camera batteries, film or memory cards – the Rhine is a non-stop photo opportunity.

What to try
Drink in the local atmosphere by stopping at a riverside tavern to sample wines from the Middle Rhine wine region, stretching between Bingen and Bonn and particularly noted for its aromatic, fruity Riesling wines.

What to buy
Beer steins, wood carvings, jewellery and, of course, wine.

Book it
German-owned Premicon Line’s five-star superior floating hotel the Premicon Queen has a five-night full-board ‘Rhine Romanticism and the Mountains of Switzerland’ cruise from Cologne to Basel, or the same route in reverse, from €1,190 per person, excluding flights, or €1,705 with one night’s half-board hotel accommodation on the day of arrival and transfers. On-board facilities include a wellness centre with a whirlpool, fitness equipment and spa treatments, available at extra cost. Premicon also offers exclusive shore excursions from private wine tastings to mountaintop helicopter flights. Pre- and post-cruise land-based extensions can be arranged. The on-board currency is the euro.

Visit www.premiconqueen.de/eng

The Yangtze

The great Yangtze River rises in the Tibet Plateau and flows east across the entire width of China until it empties into the East China Sea near Shanghai. It bisects the country and has historically marked the division between north and south China. A typical cruise will be paired with a land stay and itineraries range from three-night cruises, usually Chongqing to Yichang, with longer options continuing east to Shanghai.

The most dramatic part of the river is the 150-mile Three Gorges region and a tour of the dam – 610ft high and running 1.3 miles from bank to bank – gives passengers the opportunity to marvel at the world’s largest engineering project.

On a river cruise passengers can visit Jingdezhen, birthplace of China’s world-famous porcelain industry. The Ceramic History Museum houses an amazing collection of more than 5,000 items and nearby are kiln workshops where visitors can watch craftsmen at work and pick up a souvenir or two.

Is it for you?
If you want a stress-free introduction to China, including city breaks in Beijing and Shanghai, then yes.

When to go
Spring, April to May, and autumn, September to October.

Must-see shore excursion
The dramatic 12-story red Shibaozhai Temple, 180 miles downstream from Chongqing is described as the Pearl on the Yangtze. Legend has it that the higher you ascend, the more your prayers will be answered.

What to take
Appropriate clothes to visit places of worship and other religious sites as shorts and strappy T-shirts are a no-no. Sturdy walking shoes are a must.

What to try
Peking duck, first cooked for the Emperor of China in the 13th century Yuan Dynasty and prized for its crispy skin.

What to buy
Silk and silk clothing, intricate embroidery, jade carvings and tea, which comes in hundreds of varieties.

Book it
Viking River Cruises offers an 18-day itinerary, China’s Cultural Delights, featuring a Yangtze cruise between Chongqing and Nanjing from £2,965 per person, including flights and transfers from the UK, or £2,165 for travellers making their own flight arrangements. The price includes 10 nightsfull-board accommodation aboard the five-star Viking Century Sun, hotel accommodation in Shanghai and Beijing and 17 guided tours. On-board currency is the Chinese renminbi.

Visit Viking River Cruises

The Volga

Russia is the world’s largest country and the Volga is the largest river in Europe, with 20 of Russia’s largest cities, including the capital Moscow, situated in the Volga basin. Size-wise it’s undeniably awesome, but the good news is that Moscow and St Petersburg are in the accessible west and closest to mainland Europe, perfectly placed for a river cruise – plus, cruise companies will also organise necessary paperwork and visas.

The starting point for many cruises is Moscow, where passengers can discover famous sites such as Red Square. From here cruise north and visit the enchanting Golden Ring cities of Uglich, Kostroma and Yaroslavl. Cruises then continue along the Volga-Baltic Waterways.

The final port of call on this route is stunning St Petersburg which ranks alongside Paris and Rome as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Built on more than 45 islands, connected by 300 plus bridges, it’s easy to see why Russia’s second largest city is also described as the ‘Venice of the north’.

Is it for you?
Adventurous travellers who have always wanted to sign a postcard ‘from Russia with love’.

When to go
The main river cruise season is May to September, when temperatures top 20°C/68°F in June, July and August.

Must-see shore excursion
Moscow’s Armory Museum, the oldest museum in Russia, houses a fabulous collection of royal treasures, including the world famous Fabergé eggs.

What to take
A waterproof jacket and umbrella – St Petersburg can be rainy at any time of year.

What to try
Drinking vodka, or ‘little water’, Russian style – chilled and neat.

What to buy
Brightly-painted matrioshka or nesting dolls, and colourful scarves and shawls.

Book it
AMA Waterways’ 12-day Russian Waterways itinerary from Moscow to St Petersburg, or the same route in reverse, starts from $4,099 per person, with flights from New York, or $2,899 per person cruise only (UK from £1,656). The price includes full-board accommodation on MS Tolstoy, daily sightseeing, a home visit and meal with Russian family in Uglich and ballet performance in St Petersburg. On-board currency is the US dollar.

Visit AMA Waterways

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