River cruising is a popular alternative to an ocean cruise and offers a more intimate holiday experience due to the smaller size of the ships, which generally accommodate between 100 and 200 passengers. In recent years demand has increased for river cruising so operators have responded by building more luxurious ships and adding additional interesting destinations to their itineraries.
A river cruise takes you right into the heart of towns and villages along your route, allowing you more time to explore the cultural hot spots along the way. As you gently meander along the river you will see how locals live life, while you enjoy a stunning array of scenery.
The Nile in Egypt and the Rhine and the Danube in Europe continue to be firm favourites and other destinations are growing in popularity as traditional cruisers look for something slightly different. Other popular European river cruises include the Moselle, Elbe, Rhone, Saone and Seine. For those looking a little further afield, the Amazon River in Peru and Brazil, the Yangtze River in China and the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia are also popular river cruise destinations.
Cologne is the biggest city on the Rhine and arguably the most interesting. Expect the light, cheerful vibe that’s so typical of Rhineland. This, along with a multitude of brew houses and traditional Rhineland cuisine, will help you soak up authentic Cologne atmosphere. This is a city where tradition is mixed with contemporary. You will find a host of chic shops, sophisticated restaurants, swanky bars and dance clubs, plus a contemporary art scene to rival those in Berlin.
Cologne hosts four Christmas markets dotted around the city. The most popular is ‘Am Dom’ set on the square in front of the towering twin spires of the city’s cathedral – the most visited monument in Germany. The festive decorations plus a fascinating array of crafts, traditional food and drink should get you in the Christmas spirit.
Shanghai, China (Yangtze)
Located at the mouth of the mighty Yangtze River, Shanghai is one of China’s most modern cities. The waterfront area known as the Bund or Waitan, offers an eclectic mix of sculptures and buildings designed in architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and the Renaissance. Walking the promenade at night is a must.
Wondering through Shanghai’s Old Street (Miaoqian Dajie) is also a must, the earliest bank, gold shop, jewellers, wine shop and tea house in the city are all to be found here. Cruisers with a little more time should head to Mt. Jiuhua, an exquisite complex of Buddhist temples, and one of the four sacred Buddhist shrines in China.
St. Petersburg, Russia (Volga)
While Moscow may be the political centre of Russia, Saint Petersburg is without question its cultural heart. Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, it was the imperial capital until 1918 and this heritage saturates the city with stunning palaces, churches and museums.
The State Hermitage is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world and comprises six buildings housing over three million items. While the cultural and historical collections are worth exploring, the Hermitage’s collection of artwork is its main draw – Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Michelangelo and Rembrandt are all on show.
St Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood (formally the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ) are also a must-see for many visitors. Both of the colossal structures are beautifully adorned and have exquisite interiors.
If you want to take in as much as possible in a single day, a walk or boat tour along the seven kilometre Fontanka River is well worth the effort – the highlight for many is the Summer Palace of Peter the Great.
Vienna was once regarded as the centre of the universe when Freud was revolutionising psychology and Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka were redefining painting. Meanwhile, Mahler composed and the strains of Strauss’s Blue Danube permeated the city, as they still often do today.
All this momentous history, art and thinking mean that Vienna provides a delicious taste of grandeur at every turn. Most of the main sights are in the inner city area of Vienna, which lies within the Ringstrasse.