River cruising vacations guide

There’s something distinctly refined about river cruising vacations that it’s rare to find elsewhere. Drifting peacefully along, watching scenes of everyday life and lush scenery pass by from the deck, perhaps with a cool drink in your hand, the hours and days seem to blend into each other without complaint.
Admire the ancient treasures along the Nile or the Yangtze, browse the birdlife of West African wetlands, roam the tranquil backwaters of Kerala – river cruising unfurls endless scope to explore.
It’s easy to think of a river cruise as essentially a floating hotel, but the experience goes far beyond that. Culturally immersive, atmospheric and of course a convenient way to get off the beaten track into the natural world, on a river cruise you might not always have a lot of space to move around but the sense of freedom you get cannot be denied. Find out more in our river cruising vacations guide.

What does a river cruise
vacation entail?

Types of boat

You may be cruising the Nile by sail-powered felucca or houseboat, admiring the majestic Three Gorges of the Yangtze aboard a large, modern ship with all mod-cons, waving to villagers or watching for crocodiles from converted groundnut boats and rice barges, or riding in motorised canoes along narrow channels where larger vessels cannot pass; river cruises come in all sizes and styles.

Onboard amenities vary from the basic to the luxurious, and you may be traveling either with a large crowd of other passengers, just a few, or perhaps have the entire boat to yourselves. Know what to expect before casting off and you’re far more likely to enjoy smooth sailing.

Shore excursions

You’ll have regular opportunities to go ashore, either as part of scheduled excursions or, such as with tailor made Kerala backwaters itineraries, these can be impromptu and arranged on the go with your guide. On the Mekong you may visit Buddhist temples and pagodas half-buried in thick jungle, while on the Nile well preserved ruins of ancient civilisations abound in sites such as Luxor, Kom Ombo and Aswan. In Kerala you might pause in riverside villages to wander local markets or visit handicrafts workshops, while in Senegal and the Gambia you can transfer to small pirogues to traverse the waterways of wetland national parks in search of colourful birdlife. Constantly shifting scenery, and cultural discoveries in places that few other travelers reach; these are the ingredients of any great river cruise.

Our top River cruising Vacation

China vacation and Yangtze river cruise

China vacation and Yangtze river cruise

A comprehensive China itinerary covering its length and breadth

From US $4079 19 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2023: 10 Oct
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about River cruising or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Carry on cruising

A river cruise might last the duration of a vacation – as is generally the case with cruises on the Nile, or the Kerala backwaters – or it may form a short part of a wider itinerary. Yangtze Three Gorges cruises typically last for a few days in the middle of a China tour, while in West Africa you will be on water some of the way, overlanding the rest.

Itineraries can be affected by weather, river traffic and water levels, but if you join a small group tour then fixed departures are usually set to the best times of year to sail. Some trips however, such as Kerala backwaters cruises, can be tailor made, allowing you to select your dates and also curate your own itineraries. Fancy stretching your legs today? Then take a wander through a nearby village. Or perhaps you’d prefer just to moor up for a while, and help the crew with some fishing while the aroma of Keralan curry swirls out of the kitchen.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Clarence] [Intro: Ian Wagg] [Types of boat: Justin Otto] [Carry on cruising: Nandhu Kumar]