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Travel Inspiration
The Perks Of Small Ship River Cruising


River cruising is of my favorite ways to explore a region. You simply unpack once in your comfortable room, and then have a front-row seat to communities and landscapes along the way. Meals and excursions are taken care of. It’s a stress-free way to see a region, especially for the first time.

Small ship cruises mean that you can often dock in the heart of a location, and then step off to explore the local culture. Expert guides provide an inside look at what makes each destination unique.

Here are four of our favorite bucket-list river cruises to add to your list.

Markets on the DanubeMarkets on the Danube; Photo courtesy of Charissa Fay/Viking

Christmas markets in Europe are magical, and some of the very best can be found in cities and towns along the Danube River. Visiting these regions by river cruise adds extra joy to the experience.

During the holidays, the ship is adorned with festive décor and towns and cities along the river are decorated with twinkling holiday lights. Each Christmas market is different, but the air is always filled with the sweet smell of gingerbread and Glühwein (hot mulled wine).

Viking’s Christmas on the Danube cruise starts in Regensburg, Germany, with its romantic Christmas market and UNESCO World Heritage Old Town. From there, it’s on to Passau and the wintery landscape of the stunning Wachau Valley.

You’ll spend three nights in Austria’s beautiful capital of Vienna, which is worth a trip on its own. You can visit the lovely Vienna Christmas markets, dine on the finest pastries, or take in some of its famous sites.

Continuing to the famous “Danube Bend,” one of the most beautiful sections of the river, you’ll arrive in Budapest, Hungary, alight for the holidays. Budapest’s largest Christmas market in Vörösmarty Square is enchanting for all ages.

AmaDara luxury suitLuxury suit on AmaDara cruise ship; Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

For centuries, the slow-moving Mekong River has been a primary source of life in Southeast Asia. It runs past villages, towns, temples, farmland, and bustling cities.

The Charms of the Mekong cruise by AmaWaterways is an excellent way to explore this exotic region of the world. It starts in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (once known as Saigon) and continues to Siem Reap, Cambodia, stopping at fascinating destinations along the way.

You’ll cruise in style aboard the AmaDara, a cruise ship built with a French-colonial design and beautiful wood, from its floors and paneling to intricately carved room dividers. Its twin-balcony staterooms are spacious and luxurious.

The itinerary highlights authentic cultural experiences led by knowledgeable local guides well-versed in the region’s history, religion, and customs. Excursions include a visit to a monastery (where guests receive a Buddhist blessing), a visit to a silk-weaving village and local school, an ox cart ride to a local market, and more. This cruise will leave you with many wonderful memories of Southeast Asia.

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Lyon, FranceLyon, France; Photo by Sergey Novikov/

Lavender fields, sprawling vineyards, picturesque villages, and grand valleys are an integral part of Provence, the scenic, southeastern area of France. The region's natural beauty has long inspired writers, filmmakers, and artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne.

On the Colors of  Cruise with AmaWaterways, you’ll cruise the Rhône River through this storied part of France. The itinerary is a food- and wine-lovers delight. It starts in Lyon, France’s culinary capital, where you’ll visit a farmers market and sample local vintages like Côtes du Rhône and Beaujolais.

Dining on a river cruise is always a highlight, but especially in France, where you’ll enjoy Provencal cuisine. It’s well-known for its use of fresh, local ingredients such as olive oil, herbs, and vegetables.

At each destination, you can go on the hiking, walking, or biking tour of your choice. In the town of Vienne, you’ll explore its ancient Roman roots at the well-preserved Augustus and Livia Temple, and see St. Pierre Abbey, one of the oldest surviving churches in France. Those who want to explore on bike can take a guided bike tour on the ViaRhôna bike route.

In the town of Avignon, you’ll sample popular local foods, from cheese and wine to tapenades and macarons, or go in search of Black Diamond truffles in Grignan with a farmer and his highly trained dog.

Finally, spend the day in Arles, one of the most beautiful cities in France. Wander through the Old Village with its shops, galleries, and cafes, and visit an olive farm to learn about this long-held farming tradition. You can visit Saint Rémy de Provence, where Van Gogh painted “Starry Night” and even visit the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation to learn more about his legacy.

tulips in Keukenhof HollandTulips in bloom; Photo courtesy of Keukenhof Holland

In the springtime, Amsterdam and The Netherlands come alive with vibrant color. From March to May, tulips adorn homes, streets, and outdoor spaces. There’s a sweet smell of flowers in the air.

Tulips have been an important part of Dutch society since the 16th century, and this festive season is the perfect time for a Viking river cruise. Aboard a Viking longship, you’ll cruise the waterways of the Low Countries, from the windmills and flower fields of Holland to Belgium’s well-preserved medieval cities.

In Amsterdam, you’ll see the Dutch masters at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Then it’s on to the beautiful town of Brugges, Belgium, with its flower-lined canals. You’ll stop in the diamond capital of Antwerp to sample Belgian beers and chocolates and then visit traditional windmills at the 18th-century community of Kinderdijk. A highlight of this river cruise is a visit to the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Netherlands, one of the largest flower gardens in the world and home to 7 million flowers in bloom.

Whichever small ship cruise itinerary you choose, river cruises offers an experience to remember.