Best River Cruises 2019 - Cruise International

Best River Cruises 2019

By Deborah Stone | 5 Sep 2018

A river cruise gives you a unique perspective of a destination, with constantly changing scenery and lots of opportunities to get off and explore. We asked the experts to select their favourite river cruise itineraries for the year ahead

Saone river through Lyon. The Saone is a tributary of the Rhône river

The Rhône

Chosen by Giles Hawke, CEO of Avalon Waterways

The south of France is a joy to explore when you’re cruising down the Rhône. Most river ships sail from Arles, the capital of Provence, on the edge of the Carmague National Park, which is famous for its wild white horses and flamingos. On the journey to Lyon, regarded as France’s gastronomic capital, and with stunning architecture, ships call at Avignon where you can still see the four remaining arches of the medieval stone bridge made famous by the children’s song Sur Le Pont d’Avignon. Avalon Waterways has bicycles for its guests to borrow, and will run an Active Discovery programme on its 2019 Rhône river cruises. This includes cycling or hiking through the Camargue National Park and canoeing through the Gorges de l’Ardéche. “This river cruise gives our guests the option to join a guided sightseeing tour through a chocolate box French town, take a painting workshop à la Vincent van Gogh or even enjoy a canoe trip down the spectacular canyons of the Rhône,” says Giles Hawke, CEO of Avalon Waterways.

Getting there: Avalon Waterways’ Active Discovery On The Rhone cruise starts from £2,447pp, two sharing, including return flights, transfers, wine and beer at meals, wifi, gratuities, excursions and private home pick-up departing 6 August 2019 (0330 058 8243;

The Ganges

Chosen by Chris Townson, Managing Director of Uniworld

India’s sacred river is an important part of everyday life for the people who live close to its banks and there’s always something to see, as well as fascinating excursions such as a visit to Mother Teresa’s former home in Kolkata. Most Ganges cruises leave from India’s second largest city, formerly known as Calcutta, where there is still a flavour of colonial architecture from the British Raj. Several cruise companies offer Ganges itineraries but Uniworld’s cruise includes a land tour of India’s Golden Triangle, taking in extraordinary sights such as Delhi’s Red Fort, Agra’s Taj Mahal and Jaipur’s Maharajah’s City Palace. The seven-day cruise that follows is not only fascinating but also the perfect relaxation holiday with a difference, says Uniworld Managing Director, Chris Townson. “There is an overriding feeling of spirituality and wellbeing on this cruise, with sunrise yoga on the deck, floating lamp ceremonies, henna painting, sari dressing and more. There is also a fitness centre and small spa on board so guests can treat themselves to individual treatments.”

Getting there: Uniworld’s 13-day India’s Golden Triangle & The Sacred Ganges starts from £7,379pp, two sharing, departing 21 February 2019, including seven days on Ganges Voyager II, excursions, transfers and on-trip transportation, plus hotel accommodation (; 0808 301 2561).

Porto, Portugal old town cityscape on the Douro River with traditional Rabelo boats.

The Douro

Chosen by David Winterton, Global Brand Curator of Emerald Waterways

River cruises on the River Douro have opened up northern Portugal to tourists as well as over the border into Spain’s interior region. Less than a decade ago, little was known about Portugal’s “golden river” except that it was used to transport port and wine for export. Exploring the historic streets of the UNESCO-listed Oporto, with wine and port tasting in its medieval Ribeira district by the river remains a must-do excursion, but cruise lines are also introducing more innovative activities. Emerald Waterways, for instance, has a guided tour of Spain’s ancient university city Salamanca on the Douro that takes in tapas bars and live music in buzzing bars. “If you are feeling energetic EmeraldACTIVE gives you the chance to venture out onto the waters on a canoe, where an expert guide will teach you the ropes and lead the way,” says the company’s Global Brand Curator, David Winterton. “Additionally, you can indulge in some relaxation time and take part in an EmeraldACTIVE onboard yoga class to help you unwind.”

Getting there: Emerald Waterways’ Secrets Of The Douro cruise starts from £1,845pp, two sharing, including return flights, transfers, wine and beer at meals, gratuities and excursions. Departs 27 July 2019 (0330 058 8243;

The Danube

Chosen by Jane Atkins, Managing Director of Shearings Holidays

Europe’s second longest river flows from the Black Forest in southwest Germany to the Black Sea in Romania, travelling through six countries along the way. Among the lesser-known places to visit along the Danube is Kalocsa in the Hungarian plains, with its impressive Baroque architecture. Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, is even more fascinating and its Museum of Yugoslavia explains how several Balkan states were united in a Communist alliance after the Second World War. Constanta on the Black Sea, Romania’s oldest city and main port, also seems to be from another world. Most Danube river cruises this far south usually include excursions to Romania’s capital Bucharest, where the Palace of Parliament has marbled rooms andgold-encrusted décor. Shearings Holidays offers a two-week cruise along this route and Managing Director Jane Atkins describes it as one of the most exciting river cruises the company offers. “This is a cruise where you get to see so much more than just one country. It is popular with those who want to really immerse themselves in the heart of Europe. A highlight of the trip is sailing through Europe’s largest river gorge – the spectacular Iron Gate – an amazing experience, and the chance to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pecs in Hungary.”

Getting there: Shearings’s 17-day Spectacular Danube to the Black Sea cruise starts at £2,464pp, two sharing, including return coach travel, two nights in a hotel and some excursions, departing 4 September 2018 (01942 415482;

Vernon, a commune in the department of Eure in the Normandy region in northern France

The Seine

Chosen by Steve Williams, UK Managing Director of Amadeus River Cruises

The short hop across to France by plane or train is one of the many reasons why a round-trip cruise from Paris down the Seine will always be popular with British holidaymakers. Most cruise lines will include a full day in the French capital but a real revelation for many is the medieval city of Rouen, where Claude Monet painted its majestic cathedral. The Seine is popular for art lovers, with copies of Monet’s paintings on display at his home in Giverny, and at Auvers-sur-Oise, you can walk in the footsteps of famous painters, including Vincent van Gogh.

“We try really hard to get to the heart of each town and village we visit as part of this cruise, taking guests to places such as Auberge Ravoux, where Vincent Van Gogh lived and painted close to 80 canvases,” says Amadeus River Cruises’ UK Managing Director, Steve Williams.

The Normandy Landings beaches are also popular, “Omaha Beach, the American Military Cemetery in Colleville and the remains of the artificial harbour in Arromanches can all be experienced.”

Getting there: Amadeus River Cruises’ La Belle France cruise starts from £1,129pp, two sharing, cruise only, including wine and beer at meals, departs 23 October 2019 (0800 035 6411;

The Dnieper

Chosen by Wendy Atkin-Smith, UK Managing Director of Viking Cruises

Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, is one of Europe’s oldest cities. Its trading history with north Europe and Scandinavia reaches back to the Vikings and it’s the starting point for increasingly popular cruises along the Dnieper River to the Black Sea. Highlights include the Monastery of Caves, a complex of domed churches and museums dating back to 1051, and UNESCO-listed St Sophia Cathedral. The river flows through Cossack settlements such as Kremenchug in Ukraine, which was settled in the 16th and 17th centuries, while Dnipro, a former fortress settlement, has both Cossack and Russian influences. It is one of the more unusual river cruises offered by Viking River Cruises, says Wendy Atkin-Smith, UK Managing Director of Viking Cruises, who adds: “Our 11-day itinerary travels through the heart of the Ukraine as it journeys down to the Odessa steps. This little-known and often unexplored country is rich in history, with many colourful folk, traditions, lively metropolises and fortresses to experience.”

Getting there: Viking River Cruises’ 11-day Kiev to the Black Sea cruise starts from £3,295pp, based on two sharing, including return flights, transfers, all excursions and gratuities, departing 6 June 2019 (0208 780 7998;

Spasskaya tower of the Kremlin, Red Square, Moscow

The Volga

Chosen by Colin Downing, UK Managing Director of Scenic

Our fascination for Russia, its compelling history and extraordinary architecture, has been piqued, thanks to the buzz created by the hugely successful and exciting FIFA World Cup, earlier this summer. Most Russian waterways river cruises run between picturesque St Petersburg and the capital Moscow, allowing plenty of time to see the major attractions such as St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum and Moscow’s famous Red Square with the iconic multi-domed roof of St Basil’s Cathedral, consecrated in 1561.

But the towns and countryside between these two great cities have their own unique attractions, such as the midnight sun setting across the vast Lake Ladoga, says Colin Downing, UK Managing Director of Scenic.

“I’ve just returned from this cruise and was struck by how friendly and welcoming the Russian people are and how fascinating the history and culture is,” he says.
“There are many Scenic Enrich visits to iconic landmarks, historic palaces, museums, even meetings with cosmonauts and, of course, some vodka tasting for the more active.
It is a real once in a lifetime cruise for culture seekers and one of the best ways to travel through Russia.”

Getting there: Scenic’s 15-day Jewels of Russia cruise starts from £4,645pp, two sharing, including return flights, transfers and excursions, departing 21 July 2019 (0808 231 5195;