UK river passenger numbers saw record figures last year with 166,900 passengers taking a river cruise, an 11 percent increase on 2015
By the end of 2016, 18 new river cruise ships will have joined the 170 ships that already cruise the world’s rivers, followed by another four in 2017.
Europe remains the most popular region accounting for 87 per cent of river cruises taken by UK passengers, and the Danube is becoming one of our most popular rivers, thanks to its major attractions such as Budapest, Vienna and several Austrian and German wine destinations.
Luxury brand, Crystal Cruises chose the Danube to launch its first river cruise product, Crystal Mozart. The 154-guest capacity vessel, is the largest afloat on the Danube, and made its maiden voyage in
July 2016. The first out of five of Crystal Cruises’ new river ships.
Europe’s other shining stars, including our most popular European river the Rhine, as well as the Rhône, known for their enchanting castles, medieval towns and dramatic landscapes.
From the North Sea to the mountains of Switzerland, the Rhine passes through not only a rich variety of countries but also a wealth of river scenes. Sail from the canals of Amsterdam to Basel, crossing Germany and France.
One of cruising’s great experience is the Rhine Gorge, lined with castles and fortress ruins, and home to the Lorelei, a huge rock protruding as the river almost doubles back on itself. The delights include Heidelberg, where you visit the red-walled castle with its Great Vat (a 49,000-gallon wine cask) and Cologne with its Gothic cathedral.
Glide past the medieval town of Dürnstein, the Danube curving behind and in front, hazy hills of the Wachau Valley giving way to hazier mountains, and you could be in another age, with nothing other than the sleek ship to break the spell.
And one of river cruising’s iconic scenes is the Parliament Building in Budapest, the start or finish of most Danube cruises, many of which concentrate on the stretch to Nuremberg in Germany. The section features Vienna with its elegant centre. You also pass through Regensburg, one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities, and Bratislava, capital of Slovakia.
A glorious river that flows majestically from the Alps to the Med, passing some of the planet’s best vineyards. Many cruises start in Lyon, then sail north to Chalon-sur-Saône, a pretty town snuggled in the Burgundy wine region, before doubling back to call at Mâcon, gateway to the Beaujolais.
Tournon is dominated first by the 16th-century castle and Roman ruins, and then by the craggy face of the Massif Central, France’s third largest mountain range. From here the scenery becomes ever more sun-drenched, with lavender-filled landscapes, before reaching Avignon, a dazzlingly historic town. The final stretch takes you through the wilds of the Camargue to Arles, where the gem is the Roman amphitheatre.
A placid journey through central Europe across the eastern regions of Germany and through the Czech Republic. In the former, cruises usually start in Wittenberg (an easy drive from Berlin, which is usually included in any holiday) and in the latter finish in the medieval city of Prague, docking in the heart of things.
The journey, much of it through pleasing farmland and rolling hills, passes through Dresden with its many ornate buildings. There are also the towering rock formations of the Saxon Switzerland region, with a visit to the spa town of Bad Schandau. From the Bastei (bastion), a rock tower formed by water a million years ago, there are stunning views back down the river.
Sail through the world of Claude Monet, whose works often featured the riverside town of Vernon, as well as his gardens at Giverny. This is an elegant river that will take you from Paris to within a brushstroke of the North Sea and back again.
Cycle to Giverny, walk up to Château Gaillard, the 12th-century stronghold of Richard the Lionheart. Dock in the city of Rouen, where the Gothic Notre-Dame cathedral was another Monet subject. From here the river curves between hilltop châteaux, farms, pretty villages and rocky bluffs. Near the sea, there’s the chance to see the Normandy beaches and the medieval port of Honfleur.
From the military might of the Kremlin to the beauties of the Winter Palace, Moscow to St Petersburg, Russia is like no other country. From classical cities to peasants in far-flung fields, the sheer scope and space is riveting, like scenes from an 18th-century novel. Cruising here links St Petersburg and Moscow via the Volga and the Svir, as well as the Volga Baltic Canal.
The waterways regularly spill out into sea-like lakes – Lake Onega, White Lake and more. On the former, is the picture book island of Kizhi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to ancient wooden buildings from across the vast country. On the latter is Goritsy, a village and the Kirillo-Belozersky (St Cyril) Monastery.
The cruise takes you from one city centre to the other with breathtaking sights every day. Excursions include, in Moscow, a visit to the Museum of Cosmonautics with the chance to meet a cosmonaut, and, in St Petersburg, a private ballet concert at the Palace of Prince Vladimir.
From the time it rises in Spain and drops steadily through the fertile valleys of both Spain and Portugal, the Douro is a river like no other. The scenery has a rare beauty, hills dropping steeply down to the water, lined with row upon row of stone terraces for the sweeps of vineyards.
As well as wine, this is port country. The sun-drenched setting is home to ancient, red-roofed towns, quiet villages and little farms. Tours take you to the wine houses, the quintas, such as the grand Quinta do Seixo for tastings. Marvel at Mateus Palace, the historic house pictured on the shapely wine bottles. And take a tour to the ancient town of Salamanca.