A river cruise along the Danube offers spectacular views of sights like Hungary's house of parliament

5 Must-Sail River Cruises

By Kellie Davenport

As historic highways for their regions, rivers like the Rhine, Danube and Mekong can be gateways to quaint villages, charming towns and in many areas UNESCO World Heritage sites—not to mention the best access to local cuisine. Smaller ships and waterways take guests right into the heart and soul of a town.

And because the ships are smaller, the gangway can be down within 15 minutes of arriving—so there’s no waiting to explore a destination. “Most of the shore tours are walking tours, and they allow plenty of time to continue wandering on your own if you wish,” says AMA Travel Cruise Sales Manager Shelley Samycia. “Plus, you’re usually sailing in the daytime, so you can see when you’re passing through valleys with beautiful vineyards on either side, or castles and stately homes.”

Not sure which river to pick? Shelley takes the guesswork out of river cruising with the 4-1-1 on the latest routes and itineraries. When you’re ready to book a river adventure, visit AMATravel.ca/cruises or call AMA Travel Cruise Specialists at 1 866 989 6594.

1. AMSTERDAM TO BUDAPEST (two-week cruise, or reverse)
Five countries: Netherlands, German, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. Four rivers: Rhine, Rhone, Main and Danube

Why? Go for the beautiful old towns situated on the river. Stay for the views: “One of the most beautiful things about sailing from Amsterdam is that you end your vacation sailing into Budapest at night,” says Shelley. “Essentially, you come around the bend of the river and you see the Parliament Buildings and the Castle aglow.”

• Wachu Valley’s high riverbanks are lined with castles and grand homes.
• Go ashore in Vienna and attend an optional classical opera.
• Transit over 65 locks during the two weeks

2. AMSTERDAM TO BASEL (one-week or reverse)
Where? Rhine River through Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland

Why? Natural beauty abounds on this route: the Upper Middle Rhine Valley features a cliff-covered shoreline that’s dotted with medieval castles and fortresses.

• Stroll cobbled streets in small German towns that are steeped in history. Ponder this storied past over a pint of German lager or a glass of wine.
• “As you sail the Rhine, you’ll see many, many vineyards,” Shelley explains. “And you can actually do local wine tastings ashore and sometimes even on board the ship.”
• Black Forest tour with clock-making demonstrations

3. PARIS AND THE BEACHES OF NORMANDY (one-week cruise, roundtrip)
Where? Seine River sailing from Paris to Giverny, Rouen and Normandy

Why? “When you set sail from Paris in the evening,” says Shelley, “you’ll see the City of Light illuminated from the river.” And on a more sombre note, the 75th anniversary of D-Day is just a few years away—now’s your chance to visit the beaches of Normandy, where hundreds of Canadian soldiers lost their lives.

• Visit Monet’s garden in Giverny, the inspiration behind many of his Impressionist masterpieces.
• In Rouen, see the square where Joan of Arc was martyred.
• Walk on Juno Beach, the site of Canada’s victorious D-Day invasion during the World War II. Be sure to tour the interpretive centre, featuring exhibits on Canada’s contributions to the war.

4. CAMBODIA TO VIETNAM (two-week cruise and land journey)
Where? Hanoi, sail from Tonle Sap Lake along the Mekong to Ho Chi Minh City.

Why? The Mekong holds many ancient secrets and historic sites. But this is still a working river—you’ll see floating markets, fishing villages and nets being hauled in for a fresh-caught dinner.

• “For true local flavour, opt to spend a night on a wooden junk in Halong Bay,” Shelley recommends.
• Tour the ancient temples of Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
• See Prohm Temple, famous for its intertwined trees (scenes from the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider were filmed here)
• Visit the Cu Chi Tunnels—an underground network of connecting tunnels, which were used during the Vietnam war. You can even crawl through a demonstration tunnel.

5. CHINA AND YANGTZE RIVER (two-week cruise)
Where? From Shanghai, China, to Beijing

Why? Known as “the mighty river,” the Yangtze boasts winding bamboo groves, spectacular gorges and bustling villages on its shores.

• Visit the famed Terracotta Army in Xi’an.
• Walk along the Great Wall of China for the requisite Instagram photos.
• Tour Shanghai Yu Gardens and the Shanghai Museum, full of ancient Chinese art.
• Visit the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, which houses the world’s longest corridor.
• “You can’t leave Beijing without having Peking duck,” adds Shelley. “And some fabulous shopping, too, of course!”