7 of the best river cruise lines

Cruise Advice

River cruising is the success story of the past five years, with a significant expansion of the world fleet both in Europe and further afield. If anything, choosing the right river cruise for you is even more difficult than finding your ocean ship, with many boasting similar itineraries and inclusions, so it is hard to differentiate between the various companies.

We would consider standard inclusions in the luxury market to be some or all drinks, some or all excursions, bicycles, quiet vox technology and local entertainment brought on board en route. Here is a quick - and by no means comprehensive! - round up of our favourites...

Best for Service

New entrant to the market Crystal launches with Crystal Mozart (refurbished) in July and four new builds to follow in 2017. The slowed down itineraries will give you plenty of time to enjoy the extra special Crystal service levels, with a crew to guest ratio significantly higher than on any other river cruise vessel. Look out for spacious accommodation too.

Best for Time Ashore

Vintage luxury escorted tour expert Tauck calls on partnerships and alliances going back up to 80 years to create a unique and extra special experience on shore, based on what they refer to as 'Uncommon Access' to places out of the reach of other operators, with visits exclusive to Tauck river cruises. The Cruise Director is assisted by several of Tauck's renowned tour leaders to give very personal attention.

Best for Décor

The unique décor on board Uniworld's boutique river cruise collection is totally down to the design philosophy of the company: that each vessel should be one-of- a-kind, with its own distinctive theme and colour palette, original art and sumptuous furnishings and antiques, and of course an onboard experience to match. Sister company Red Carnation Hotels oversees all the fitting out.

Best for Comfort

The warm welcome on an AmaWaterways vessel reflects the family influence of this unusual company - with every detail personally overseen by the three hands-on owners, guests on Ama boats always comment on the cosy comfort of these intimate and award-winning vessels. A wide range of itineraries takes you way beyond Europe if you wish.

Best for Exotic Luxury

Extreme luxury way off the beaten track is offered by Aqua Expeditions in Vietnam and Cambodia on the Mekong, and in Peru on the Upper Amazon. These exclusive and intimate expedition vessels offer the perfect combination of creature comforts and intrepid exploring for the most demanding adventurers. (Visit the Mundy Adventures website to find out more.)

Best for Rural Escapes

For many the appeal of river cruising is the slow pace of life, and the opportunities for walking, cycling and exploring ashore. So if you like the idea of a rural idyll, exploring a tiny village or private vineyard, the luxury hotel barges of European Waterways are the choice for you - intimate vessels carrying from 6 to 20 discerning guests, and perfect for charter.

Best for Colonial Luxury

A real one-off, Pandaw's exciting development has relied on the hands on direction of its owner, Burma historian Paul Strachan. Its selection of 16 beautiful hand crafted vessels on the rivers and waterways of Asia appeals to true and unpretentious adventurers, who are looking for very unusual authentic experiences and enjoy visiting otherwise unreachable destinations, with high level immersion in the day to day lives of local people. (Visit the Mundy Adventures website for more information.)

River Cruising Uncovered

Thinking about a river cruise but don't know where to start? Our informative guide is packed full of everything you need to know, including which cruise lines we recommend, what to expect on each river and how to make the most of your trip...

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina
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