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World’s best luxury river cruise lines

Signature Luxury Travel & Style has assembled a panel of 19 travel industry insiders and cruise experts to identify the best river cruise lines in the world.

Whether you’re cruising the history-rich rivers of Europe, experiencing the vibrant bustling of everyday life along Vietnam’s Mekong River or drinking in the ancient wonders of Egypt while meandering down the Nile, river cruising has a wealth of experiences on offer.

What is the Signature Luxury Travel & Style Cruise Awards?

Signature Luxury Travel & Style is celebrating the best and brightest of the river cruise industry as part of our 2023 Luxury Cruise Awards. In our fifth annual awards, we pay tribute to the top cruise lines, ships and operators in the industry.

How are the Luxury Cruise Awards judged?

Our annual Luxury Cruise Awards are judged by a panel of 19 leading luxury cruise experts and travel advisors who rate major cruise lines across 11 key categories, including suites, service, dining, wellness, itineraries and shore excursions. Each cruise line is awarded points that are tallied to determine the overall winners.

Scenic Spirit on a river cruise
Scenic Spirit © Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

World’s best luxury river cruises: Europe

1. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Uniworld takes out the top prize, which should be no surprise. With ships designed like luxury hotels, Uniworld guests are able to take in the fairytale views of Europe’s waterways in absolute style. Sailing along the Danube River on Uniworld’s SS Beatrice is an inspiring and elegant affair, with the marble, Murano glass and handmade upholstery all adding to the opulent ambience – an experience not to be missed.

2. Tauck

Coming in a close second is Tauck for its beautifully designed ships, which are the epitome of intimacy and luxury. A river cruise with Tauck will take you to some of Europe’s most interesting and beguiling ports. For instance, guests on Tauck’s custom-designed MS Andorinha tour the vibrant and historic quintas and villages along Portugal’s picturesque Douro River.

3. Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

The Australian-founded Scenic is a trendsetter when it comes to river cruising, giving guests access to truly amazing itineraries and destinations. Scenic Sapphire and Diamond sail the rivers of France and boast Scenic’s signature spacious suites with large private balconies.

Finalists: AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Viking Cruises

The sun deck pool on board MS Andorinha
The sun deck pool on board MS Andorinha © Tauck

World’s best luxury river cruises: rest of the world

1. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Uniworld again comes out on top due to its unbeatable mix of ships that have been specially designed by hoteliers – and the incredible destinations that they sail to. When river cruising in Egypt, guests onboard Uniworld’s SS Sphinx are immersed in their magnificent destination via art and design aboard the ship, which showcases Egyptian craftsmanship through stunning interior fabrics and furnishings.

2. Aqua Expeditions

Aqua’s incredible ships are designed by architectural firms, and there are few better ways to explore the world’s most remote reaches than aboard one. Its brand-new river vessel, Aqua Nera, was created by award-winning architects Noor Design and will allow guests to explore the captivating rivers of the Peruvian Amazon in comfort and style.

3. Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

Scenic takes out third place for its new fleet of state-of-the-art vessels that take guests voyaging to beautiful parts of the world for culturally enriching experiences. See the landscapes of Vietnam and Cambodia on a Mekong River cruise with Scenic Spirit, a small ship with big personality and divine amenities.

Finalists: Belmond, Delfin Amazon Cruises, Sanctuary Retreats

The colours of dusk are best seen from the Aqua Nera pool deck
The colours of dusk are best seen from the Aqua Nera pool deck

What is river cruising?

An adventure! A river cruise is a voyage along inland waterways, regularly stopping at ports for exploring along the way. While many river cruises last longer than a week, you can take shorter versions or even day cruises. Depending on the size of the ship, river cruises typically carry between 100 and 250 guests.

What are the benefits of river cruising?

River cruise ships are usually smaller than ocean vessels, which allows for access to smaller ports that rule out larger liners. It also means travellers can enjoy a more intimate affair. Another bonus? River cruises mean travellers only need to unpack once (so you avoid the hassle of all the packing and unpacking at different locations). You can also enjoy the perks of onboard amenities, such as restaurants, bars, gyms and spas.

Bold colours and patterns characterise Uniworld’s SS Sphinx river cruise ship
Bold colours and patterns characterise Uniworld’s SS Sphinx

What are the best river cruises in Europe?

  • The Danube River is Europe’s longest river, and a popular choice for river cruisers. You can sail from Passau in Germany to Budapest in Hungary or take shorter trips along the picturesque river.
  • The Classic Rhine river cruise from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Basel in Switzerland is also a winner, boasting enchanting views through forests, mountains and medieval villages.
  • Portugal’s ‘River of Gold’ cruise, which starts and ends in Porto and voyages along the Douro River, has guests exploring spectacular Baroque palaces, verdant vineyards and the World Heritage city of Salamanca in Spain.
  • And let’s not forget the wine lovers. If this is you, a Bordeaux river cruise – taking in two waterways, the Dordogne and Garonne rivers in Southwest France – is the ticket. You’ll visit world-renowned winemaking regions including Beaune in Burgundy and Hermitage and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in Provence.
Scenic Spirit on a river cruise tour
Scenic Spirit © Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

What are the best river cruises around the world?

There are too many to list here, but here are a few highlights.

  • The Yangtze is Asia’s longest river. Taking a cruise in China means marvelling at the jaw-dropping sights of the imposing mountain ranges and cavernous canyons of the Three Gorges.
  • The Ganges cruise in India is a truly mesmerising voyage from buzzing Kolkata to the spiritual heartland of Varanasi. This river cruise brings a captivating assault to the senses with dazzling sights of ornate temples, women in shimmering saris socialising as they do their washing by the water’s edge and mourners attending the funeral pyres along the banks of this holy river.
  • In Egypt, you’ll take a step back in time on a river cruise along the Nile where 4,000 years of history are on display. Most cruises snake their way from Luxor to Aswan, where guests visit historic villages and sacred sights, including ancient temples and royal tombs. Did we mention the stunning sunsets?

Signature Luxury Travel & Style Luxury Cruise Awards

Read more: 

The latest European river cruises
The world’s best luxury cruise lines and cruise ships
The world’s best luxury expedition cruises

This article originally appeared in volume 46 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. Subscribe to the latest issue today.

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