There’s something pretty special and unique about river cruising, as they say, ocean cruising takes you to the destination, and river cruising takes you through it.

While ocean cruises take you to far away ports and beachy paradise archipelagos, river cruises take you right into the centre of bustling cities and towns less trodden by cruise passengers, allowing for a wealth of shore excursions.

In fact, river cruising is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to cruise, with the Cruise Lines International Association revealing that an impressive 232,000 river cruises were taken by British and Irish holidaymakers last year, an increase of 10.4 per cent from 2017.

Scenic in Budapest
The Danube came out on top, attracting over half of UK and Ireland river cruise passengers

 

Leading the way for the most popular river cruise destination is the Danube, Europe’s second longest river and running through the buzzing ports of Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, Belgrade, Linz and Regensburg.

Interest in cruising the Danube grew by over 25 per cent in 2017, with half of all river cruise passengers taking the beautiful trip through hills, valleys and vineyards.

Behind the desirable waters of the Danube, the famous river Rhine came in second, lined with gastronomic hotspots, luscious rolling hills and Medieval fortresses.

Journeying through the cities of Cologne, Düsseldorf, Strausberg and Basel, Rhine river cruises are up by 20 per cent, with the Douro river the third most popular river cruise destination, seeing 23,800 UK and Irish passengers gracing its waters last year – up by 15 per cent.

Rhine river cruise with medieval castles
The Rhine river is steeped in natural beauty and gastronomic hotspots

 

But river cruising isn’t just confined to the waterways of Europe, with Asian and African river cruising also experiencing impressive growth. The Mekong river came out on top as the most popular river cruise destination in Asia, while the Nile saw a huge resurgence. Following an ease up on security concerns, the Nile experienced the highest increase in bookings last year, up 18 per cent. River cruising to North America is also becoming more popular, up by 15 per cent.

‘The river cruise market is certainly proving popular in the travel sector with passenger numbers continuing to grow year on year,’ said Andy Harmer, CLIA UK & Ireland director. ‘This can be put down to the incredible experiences a river cruise has to offer, as guests can sail through the heart of a destination – as well as the plethora of fantastic itineraries and the high standard of the ships.

Douro river and Porto city, Shearings and A-Rosa river cruise
The Douro Valley also saw a spike in popularity

 

‘One-third of all river ships have been built within the past 10 years, with 18 new vessels set to launch from now to 2020, meaning that guests can sail on ships that are contemporary, luxurious and have plenty to offer. This attracts the modern-day traveller, who seeks to explore the world in comfort and style.

‘River cruise lines are also focussing on shore excursion choices with activities that either keep guests active with biking, hiking or canoeing or that offer enriching experiences, where guests can learn a new skill or improve an existing one.’

Fancy booking a river cruise? Check out our World of Cruising guide to river cruising, from who sails where to the 10 best river cruises around.