Five reasons to try a river cruise this summer and where to go

A river cruise is your passport to different daily experiences – we tell you why one might work for you and the best voyages to choose for a summer holiday.

If you’ve never fancied a big ocean cruise, a more intimate river journey may be the perfect holiday for you this summer.

It’s a relaxing way to discover new destinations from the comfort of a floating hotel, think excursions to watch string quartets and visit riverside vineyards, rather than cabarets and endless onboard activities.

The small ships give you the accesibility to reach places a car can’t go, so you can discover some of the world’s greatest treasures – both natural and man made. We asked the experts at Saga River Cruises to explain what makes them so unique and give us their pick of where to go this summer.

A long river cruise boat moored in front of a huge palatial building.Credit: Saga River Cruises
Saga’s Spirit of the Danube in front of the parliament buildings in Budapest

“A river cruise offers the perfect mix of relaxation and exploration. Enjoy the views of the passing vineyards from the sundeck and then hop off in the heart of a new city,” says Sergej Tocili, Director of Saga River Cruises

The ships are smaller

1. Enjoy a small ship experience

The ships have fewer than 200 passengers on board, meaning they have an intimate and personal feel about them. They’re like a boutique hotel on water.

The smaller size also means you’ll also be closer to the water to enjoy the panoramic views.

Our pick – The Majestic Rhine

Flowing from the Swiss Alps, the Rhine wends through the heart of Europe and a cruise on this majestic river offers a host of different experiences.

You can explore the landmark sights of a lively cultural city, stroll along the peaceful cobbled streets of a traditional wine town and cruise through the UNESCO-listed scenery of the Middle Rhine Gorge with its vineyards and castle-topped hills.

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Every day brings a different destination

2. You’ll have daily discoveries

River cruises stop at new ports almost every day, offering you an itinerary of unique destinations.

It might be a walking tour, an evening classical concert, city trips or garden visits. Then you return to the ship for dinner every night as you set sail for another day and another experience.

Our pick – Douro Explorer

Cruise on the Douro River, past UNESCO-listed wine terraces carpeting the surrounding slopes. You’ll visit Porto, Lisbon and Salamanca through the heart of Portugal.

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There’s always a view to enjoy

3. Scenic sailing

Unlike an ocean cruise, where you may spend days at sea with just the ocean around you, you’ll always have something to see on a river cruise. You’ll pass picturesque landscapes and charming villages on the riverbanks, while unwinding on the deck or your balcony with a drink.

Our pick – Scenic Gems of the Danube

One of the highlights is the Danube’s Wachau Valley, known for its rolling hills, vineyards and fortresses.

This cruise contrasts the capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest with this stunning valley, home to historic towns and Melk, with its Benedictine Abbey.

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Almost everything is included in the price

4. All-inclusive

All meals and almost all drinks on board, along with most excursions, are included in the overall price, allowing travellers to enjoy a great holiday without the stress of planning every detail and watching every penny.

Our pick – Summertime in Holland

Explore the waterways of Holland on this all-inclusive river cruise aboard Amadeus Elegant. See Dutch architecture in Zaandam, the cheese market at Alkmaar, and Amsterdam with a cruise along the historic canals.

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Go where the bigger ships can’t

5. A unique experience

With access to narrow ports and through shallow waterways, the smaller ships take you places large ones can’t reach. You’ll moor in historic docks, often in the heart of riverside cities, towns and villages, leaving you with longer to experience new cultures, visit historical sites or explore the surrounding area.

Our pick – Vienna and the Blue Danube

Explore the scenic attractions on the banks of the Danube on this cruise through Austria and Germany. Destinations include Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and setting for The Sound of Music. Bavaria and Vienna.

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Mary Jones, from Hampshire, said she and her husband enjoyed their river cruise along the Rhine so much, that they’ve booked to go again.

She said: “I would never contemplate a big ocean cruise liner, even the small ones have more than a thousand passengers. But with the small ship you can mingle with other guests without being overwhelmed. It’s easy to strike up conversations and meet new people.

“You can sit in your cabin in your dressing gown and watch the views out of the large windows or go onto the upper deck for 360 degree vistas. There is always something to look out at.

“We got to know all the crew and the onboard manager was always on hand to deal with queries.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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