10 River Cruises You May Not Have Heard Of

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River cruising today isn’t all about the Rhine or the Danube. While both remain popular bucket list destinations, there are around 50 others to choose from, some of which offer a great sense of journey for those who enjoy something a bit different. Here’s our top 10 picks of unusual rivers for an unforgettable adventure afloat.

The Ganges, India

This holy river, which flows through one of the most densely populated regions of the world, is also one of the hottest cruising destinations. New river boats are launching each year to explore the rarely travelled Lower Ganges. On a typical cruise from Patna to Kolkata, you’ll stroll through former outposts of French, British and Dutch colonies, visit forts, temples, and the mysterious Hazarduari Palace, enjoy a cycle rickshaw tour of Kalna, and stop by the great Buddhist monastery at Nalanda (www.travelmarvel.com.au). 

Great Rivers of Florida, USA

Say “Florida” and you can’t help but think of Miami and big ships, but on this cruise you'll enjoy a less-travelled route that adventurous passengers first followed in the 19th century. Cruises usually begin and end in Jacksonville on the St. John’s River, a designated American Heritage River. Highlights include Palatka, a charming town with restored plantation houses and beautiful parks, the historic ruins and narrow streets of St. Augustine, cruising Lake George, and exploring the Ocala National Forest, home of alligators, manatees, and eagles (www.americancruiselines.com). 

The Amazon, Peru

Cruises at this end of the mighty Amazon usually have the bonus of additional land explorations taking in the cosmopolitan city of Lima, historic Cusco and Machu Picchu. On the water you’ll also explore the Amazon wilderness where the river originates. A huge sprawl of untamed rainforest, highlights included naturalist-guided panga rides through the river tributaries, swimming with pink dolphins, and visiting native communities (www.avalonwaterways.com.au).

The Snake and Columbia Rivers, USA

And now for something completely different; a step back in time cruising through the vast volcano, vineyard and bear country of the Pacific Northwest. This is the way early explorers and settlers travelled, using iconic waterways that stretch far inland from the Pacific Ocean. Most ships cruise between Clarkston​ on the Snake River in Washington state, to Portland, Oregon, with a lineup of highlights including historic Fort Clatsop, cruising the scenic Columbia River Gorge, visiting a working ranch, visiting Palouse Falls, and jet boating to Hells Canyon (www.adventureworld.com.au).

The Elbe, Germany & Czech Republic

Flowing from the heart of the Czech mountains to the North Sea near Hamburg, famous cities lining its banks include Dresden, the porcelain centre of Meissen, and Wittenberg, which is linked to the story of Martin Luther. Along the way on a typical route between Hamburg and Prague are other quaint ports of call featuring cobbled streets, Gothic cathedrals and baroque palaces, while beyond, the landscape of the Sandstone Mountains offers jaw dropping cliffs to view (www.vikingcruises.com.au).

The Po, Italy

The Po crosses northern Italy for over 650 kilometres, and it is difficult to navigate thanks to wildly fluctuating water levels. A few river cruises venture some 60 kilometres inland from Chioggia on the Venetian Lagoon as far as Polesella, with the bonus of adding shore tours to the enchanting Italian cities of Verona, Padua, Bologna and Ravenna. Time is also spent exploring the Venetian Lagoon, with cruises starting and finishing in Venice offering stunning vistas of one of the world’s most famous cities (www.uniworld.com).

The Chobe, Namibia & Botswana

Cruising through the magnificent Chobe National Park provides adventurous travellers with an unusual and relaxing way to spot the best of African wildlife from the water. What you’ll enjoy are front-row seats to nature at its most magical, with additional glass bottom tours taking you out to see hippos, elephants and more. A bonus of these cruises is the option of adding land touring in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Kruger National Park (www.aptouring.com.au).  

The Irrawaddy, Myanmar

Rudyard Kipling once described the former Burma as “quite unlike any place you know about”. Now called Myanmar, it’s a corner of Asia which has changed little since British colonial times, with a surreal landscape from the bustling capital of Yangon to the temples of Bagan. On your hit-list cruising between Mandalay and Pyay is a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, exploring the ancient capitals of Inwa and Sagaing, and viewing the majestic temples of Bagan (www.scenic.com.au).

Guadalquivir River, Spain

You could be forgiven for never having heard of this river; it’s the fifth longest river in the Iberian peninsula, and Spain’s only great navigable river. Most cruises here start and end in the enigmatic city of Seville, a destination in its own right, but you’ll also get to explore a guided tour of Cadiz on foot, take a tour to the capital of wine and horses, Jerez, go wine tasting, and visit Moorish Granada along with Cordoba, the city of the Caliphs (www.cruiseabroad.com.au).

The Red River, Vietnam

River cruising in Northern Vietnam is a relatively new concept, the Red River delta and its main tributaries connecting the bustling capital of Hanoi and the remote, less travelled interior which is often free of tourists. Venturing deep into Highland Vietnam these cruises explore quaint mountain villages and tribal areas, as well as the stunning island scenery and rock formations of Halong Bay and sights of Hanoi (www.pandaw.com).



Joanna Hall