Few people spend the money and time to travel to a new city, country or continent just to try the local cuisine or attend a one-time event. Most everyone who visits new territory wants to see new sights and bring back memories – and pictures – of exotic foreign places and people. Tourism is almost synonymous with sight-seeing, even if it’s a skiing holiday or attendance at the World Cup.
Depending on where you are and how long you’ll be there, sight-seeing may be the main focus of your travels, so it makes sense to find out as much as possible in advance about the sights to be seen and how to reach them. In some places you’ll want to rent a car, others will require a little or a lot of walking. However, if your destination is one of the many areas in the world with navigable rivers, it’s hard to top a river cruise for seeing the sights in comfort.
When you think about it, most of the world’s major cities grew up on waterways or coastlines; travel by water was often the only, or at least the easiest way to find out what marvels and/or perils could be discovered in unknown territory. These days a traveller doesn’t have to paddle his own canoe, portage around rapids or risk attack from large predators or hostile humans, so river travel is more a luxury than a necessity.
Most river cruises run for seven to ten days, and one of the biggest advantages is that you have a very comfortable travelling home base; no packing and unpacking every other day. The pace is necessarily slower than travel by rail or road, so there’s more time to take in the sights and sounds, and soak up the atmosphere of both large cities and tiny villages. Unlike an ocean cruise, you’re always in sight of land, close enough to enjoy changing scenery and to stop at remote towns where large ships cannot go.
There is literally a world of choices for river cruising; in Europe alone the options are almost endless. However on every continent and in almost every country you will find opportunities for sight-seeing by river boat, so you can choose your area of interest and shop the offers to find the one that suits best.
A river cruise is not like an ocean cruise, where you spend days at sea and only see a fraction of the ‘real’ country, the bits around cruise ship ports. On a river boat, which seldom carries more than about 200 passengers, the emphasis is not on ship-board activities but on the sights to be seen and things to be learned about the land you’re visiting. It is an up-close and intimate way to see the real interior of a country as opposed to ports of call on an ocean cruise.
River cruising attracts the more adventurous, and often the well-travelled who have learned to slow down and absorb the details of new surroundings, rather than rush around catching planes or buses to get to the next site on the itinerary. It’s a far more relaxing and enjoyable mode of travel than most, though not as luxurious as the average ocean cruise.
Do be aware that there are levels of excellence in river cruises, like any other aspect of the travel industry. Before deciding on a particular cruise or company, make sure you get all the details and know just what to expect for your fare.