Why this seven-day river cruise across six European cities should be on your to-do list

River cruising allows you to pack in more culture, says James Cunningham.

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When I think of cruises, I imagine big ships voyaging over even bigger oceans, so I didn’t know what to expect from a river cruise. The vessels themselves are much smaller so that they can fit through narrow locks and pass under bridges. Generally, they carry around 150 passengers and sail into the heart of some of Europe’s most magnificent cities (as well as on rivers around the world). You can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner on board, and some have a pool, sundeck and entertainment, too. I tested the waters on a five-day Avalon Waterways cruise along part of the Rhine, touring cities across Germany and the Netherlands. Avalon Visionary has 52 Panoramic View Suites, with floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open, which are Good Housekeeping Reader Recommended for Customer Experience, and I can’t wait to get on board and explore the cities on our cruise.


We spent two nights in this German city of finance exploring MMK (the Museum of Modern Art), window shopping on Goethestraße, and joining an Avalon excursion, hosted by an expert guide, who leads us around the city’s architectural and cultural highlights, from Römer town hall (Queen Elizabeth II and John F Kennedy were famous guests) to the Goethe House.


On our third day, we visited Heidelberg for a half-day excursion. I’d never heard of it before this voyage, but it’s a popular place on river cruise itineraries, known for its castle ruins. We also saw its famous Heidelberg Tun (aka the world’s largest wine barrel) and rode the funicular railway into the town before returning to Frankfurt and embarking on Avalon Visionary.


After a made-to-order omelette and mimosa, we explored the wine-making town of Rüdesheim and joined an excursion to the charming Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum. After a buffet lunch on board, we sailed through the Rhine Gorge past the Lorelei rock, where a mythological siren is said to have lured sailors with song, arriving at Koblenz late afternoon. There, we managed to squeeze in a ride on the city’s famous cable car for spectacular views.


We journeyed through the night so we can start the next day in Cologne, cycling with Avalon’s energetic Adventure Host, using the ship’s bicycles. There’s also time to walk around the city’s famed Gothic cathedral and historic old town.


On our penultimate day, we arrived in Amsterdam and hopped on a tram to the city centre, walked through the canal district and ticked off the must-see Van Gogh Museum. I left Avalon Visionary a total convert to river cruising. Despite our daily excursions and non-stop sightseeing in six wonderful cities and two different countries, we still found time to relax, which would have been impossible if we’d travelled any other way.

This piece originally appeared in the November 2023 print edition of Good Housekeeping UK