What Are River Cruises?

River cruises blend the conveniences of ocean cruising with the ease of river life - navigating a slower pace with smaller crowds and a relaxed mantra.

You only have to unpack once, but that doesn't mean you are stuck in the same location. As you chill upon boarding the craft, someone else has been planning an exciting inventory full of amazing places. The adventure awaits.

Of course, there's a secret to River Cruising. It's a way of combining lots of city breaks into one. You can reach a new destination each day and explore to your heart’s content, sailing between cultural ports while you sleep - waking up somewhere new and exciting each day. It's all about culture and atmosphere!

River cruise ships are much smaller than your typical ocean-going cruise ship; allowing you to sail further into the ports and inner depths of each city on your itinerary - providing the full VIP service.

Riviera Travel, TUI River Cruises and Saga River Cruises are among the big names in this sector, although there are loads of others to choose from.

River Cruises 2023, 2024, 2025

Riviera Travel

An award-winning tour operator, Riviera Travel specialises in worldwide river cruises, with their celebrated European itineraries not to be missed. Offering a range of five-star river cruises - with onboard dining and a range of excursions all included - Riviera Travel provides exceptional value for money on cruises down Europe's cultural waterways. We'd recommend the Danube River cruise, a Rhine adventure, and the Rhone experience.

Founded in 1984, Riviera Travel is proud to be one of the UK’s leading river cruise lines, with Riviera customers returning time and time again. Alongside a great range of visits and excursions, you can also rest assured that the ATOL and ABTA-protected holidays include all flights and transfers with Riviera Travel.

TUI River Cruises

TUI River Cruises offer exclusive adults-only voyages on all the major European rivers. The all-inclusive river cruises come with top-level service and an array of tempting shore excursions.

Three highlights from the TUI fleet include TUI Maya and TUI Skyla, which set sail in 2021, and TUI Isla. All TUI River Cruises vessels have capacity for a maximum of 155 guests, so there's plenty of personal space onboard.

TUI Isla boasts itineraries along the Rhine, Main, Moselle and Danube, plus packages that will sail you along the Dutch and Belgian waterways.

Saga river cruises

Saga River Cruises caters for travellers aged over 50. The river cruise line boasts two luxury cruise ships: Spirit of the Rhine (which sails the Rhine and Dutch waterways) and Spirit of the Danube (which offers Danube river cruise itineraries).

Other destinations for Saga river cruises include the Douro, Elbe and Oder - as well as Belgian waterways, French river cruises and German river adventures.

Guests of Saga River Cruises can take in panoramic views from the lounge and bar, relax in sumptuous cabins, indulge in delicious food and enjoy guided excursions – all included in the price. Every Saga river cruise includes VIP door-to-door travel service.


One of the best-known river cruise lines, Viking plies the waterways of Europe, China, Southeast Asia and Egypt - with its fleet of more than 60 vessels.

While Viking has also launched an award-winning ocean cruise line, the company built its reputation on river cruising. These all-inclusive river cruises feature outside staterooms, wi-fi, wine and beer with meals, shore excursions in every port, and Viking’s signature Culture Curriculum programme.

Avalon river cruises

River cruisers looking to explore Europe will find the largest standard staterooms and suites aboard Avalon Waterways’ fleet of luxurious ships. Onboard amenities for Avalon river cruises include fitness centres, a Sky Deck with a whirlpool and shade system, free wi-fi, flat-screen TVs and a self-serve beverage station.

The Avalon Choice programme also allows travellers on Avalon river cruises to customise the details of their experience, ensuring each of your Avalon river cruises is a perfect fit for you and what you want.

Crystal River Cruises

Crystal River Cruises took the world of river cruising by storm when it entered this market in 2016. The Crystal River Cruise line’s famed exciting ocean standards were transferred to European river cruising for the first time, making waves and setting a new benchmark.

The big deal? While other operators have built on an existing model of river cruise operations, Crystal created a new style based on its fleet of ocean ships.

That includes open-seating dining in the main restaurant, Michelin-inspired cuisine prepared onboard with fresh ingredients, and alternative casual dining in the Bistro. Crystal River Cruise voyages provide an impressive crew-to-guest ratio and ships with sufficient space to offer an abundance of facilities.


Many of the staterooms in AmaWaterways’ fleet of river cruise ships feature a French balcony, or a full outside balcony, providing guests with stellar views of the passing scenery.

Joined by no more than 163 fellow passengers, guests find plenty of room onboard to spread out and relax.

Shore excursions are included in the fare, and in many ports of call, guests can choose from several options. A fleet of complimentary bicycles allows guests to explore destinations in a more active, leisurely way in a true river cruise style.


Uniworld has made a name for itself in the river cruise market for a good reason. Luxurious river ships with an average capacity of 130 guests and one of the best staff-to-guest ratios in the industry ply the waters of Europe and Asia under the Uniworld name.

Passengers on its river cruise ships enjoy gourmet cuisine, immersive shore excursions and many all-inclusive benefits. The river ships are unique, complete with photo-worthy staterooms and original art commissioned exclusively for the company.

Scenic River Cruises

Scenic river cruises enjoy 'all-inclusive Space-Ships' boasting some of the largest suites among European river cruise line operators, with a wealth of luxury facilities, and include a spacious wellness area, complimentary wi-fi, electric bikes, five dining venues and a spacious sun deck.

Balcony suites on the newest European ships feature the Scenic Sun Lounge system that transforms your Scenic river cruises balcony into an all-weather conservatory-style space at the touch of a button – so if you are enjoying river cruises off-season, you can still enjoy great views in an enclosed balcony area.

Ashore, Scenic river cruises passengers can choose from unique 'Enrich' experiences; free choice exploration at your own pace, which lets you pack in back-to-back tours or go for a far more leisurely experience; tours by bike, hikes and more.

During Scenic river cruises, the varied dining options and facilities of the ship give you a great base to plan your next day of activities.

Emerald Waterways

Emerald Waterways' custom-built Star-Ships give Emerald river cruises guests more space than almost any other river cruise ships in Europe.

Onboard amenities for Emerald river cruises’ eight to 17-day itineraries include a heated pool, nightly cinema, sun deck, fine dining, beer and wine, soft drinks and EmeraldPLUS experiences – activities designed to immerse Emerald river cruises guests in the culture and history of each fascinating destination they visit.

Emerald river cruises operate on the waterways of Europe, Egypt and Southeast Asia. Travellers can choose from itineraries on the Danube, Rhine, Main, Rhône and Portugal’s Douro. Emerald river cruises also operate on the Nile and the Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam.

Related articles

Top river cruise destinations - which river cruises are the best?

Rhine, Main & Moselle rivers

The mighty and romantic Rhine carries river cruise ships and cargo through a landscape shaped by time and history. Glimpse the spires of medieval churches and visit castles that were once impregnable fortresses; see the verdant terraced hillsides, and taste their refreshing white wines; stroll the streets of historic cities and fairy-tale towns.

Danube River

What to know about Danube river cruises? Well, often referred to as ‘the Queen of Europe's rivers,' the enchanting Danube river is one of the best-loved rivers on which to cruise.

It has cast its spell on poets, musicians and artists – and Danube river cruise voyages will do the same for you thanks to the river's magical cities, great art collections, Viennese palaces, medieval abbeys and captivating scenery. Perfect for those river cruise fans who love history, art, architecture and music.

Nile River cruise

Sail on a Nile river cruise, one of the most famous rivers in the world, and immerse yourself in the history of Ancient Egypt. In Cairo, hop off your Nile river cruise ship and see the mighty ancient pyramids and the timeworn, enigmatic sphinx before wandering amongst the towering ruins of the Temples of Karnak and Luxor, then visit fascinating burial places, following in the footsteps of renowned scholars and explorers before returning to the comfort of your Nile river cruise cabin.

Mekong River

On river cruises down the mighty Mekong, you will visit two of the most beautiful, historic and friendly places in all of Asia, dynamic Vietnam and pastoral Cambodia. You will visit Vietnam's capital Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Cambodia's Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap, gateway to the vast jungle temple complex of Angkor Wat.

Yangtze River

Take an unforgettable river crusie through 5,000 years of Chinese culture and history on the Yangtze, from Beijing, where you visit the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Great Wall, to the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an, and then on to the natural beauty of the Yangtze river's Three Gorges, before finishing your trip in ultra-modern Shanghai. Finish it off with a post-cruise stay in the country where the possibilities are endless.

What are river cruises like? What to expect on a river cruise

How many passengers on river cruises?

Most river cruise ships accommodate between 140-200 guests, some even fewer, but all much less than the average cruise ship which holds roughly over 2000 guests.

And although the vessels are smaller in size, on average the space-per-guest ratio is higher. This brings fellow passengers together, making it easier to get to know each other and make friends. Many river cruise guests choose to dine with their fellow passengers or even arrange to meet for a drink.

What's more, the smaller size of a river cruise ship enables them to dock in locations unbeknown to an ocean ship. River vessels dock right in the heart of some of the world’s greatest cities and towns, which means you can literally walk straight off the vessel and into town.

Why take a river cruise

River cruises feature a fantastic variety of complimentary tours taking you to some of the world’s most famous landmarks. Most river cruise operators will provide guests with a couple of options at each port of call – choose the right river cruise and your options could include city tours by foot, cycling tours and cookery classes. There’s truly something to suit everyone.

A river cruise provides a real insight into the local cultures, from tours ashore and lectures onboard, to onboard activities and entertainment. River cruises can take you to the heart of the culture and history behind each destination.

You will also experience a taste of local cuisine on board, as some of the river cruise line operators adapt their menus according to the different places being visited. Activities and entertainment on board often also reflect the itinerary and location of the cruise to add that extra spark to the trip.

How to choose a river cruise

Are you a wine connoisseur? An art lover? A wellness guru? If so, there’s a river cruise for you. Many lines offer special themed sailings. You’ll find everything from golf and history to jazz, wine and food-themed itineraries. A music-themed cruise down the Danube River on a Danube river cruise? that’s no problem at all.

Featured Cruises

Norway with Hurtigruten

View all Norway Offers

Top picks from Iglu Cruise

Enchanting Crossing from Barcelona to Miami...

Regent Seven Seas

From £3,727   Cruise with Flight
View details
View more from Iglu