Breeze past ever-changing landscapes, wake up to a new view each day, and dock right in the heart of a city, town or village. A river cruise is a captivating way to see the world and deserves a top spot on your travel wish list. Take a peek at our guide to river cruising through the seasons. We explore when and where to go, and reveal what you could experience along the way…

Spring: visit one of the world’s largest flower gardens

Holland comes to life in spring. Trees turn pink as the blossom blooms, red tulips blanket lush gardens and Dutch daffodils decorate the floats of its annual flower parade. On Scenic’s springtime river cruise, you can explore one of the largest flower gardens on the planet, Keukenhof. Here, seven million tulips weave between violet hyacinths, creating a sea of vibrant colour. It’s a real spectacle. Next stop along the river is Belgium’s medieval town, Bruges. A visit to its iconic landmark, The Beguinage, is a must at this time of year, as you’ll see the charming courtyard bursting with bright yellow daffodils.

Keukenhof, Holland

Summer: pack your walking boots for Austria

As the days grow warmer and sunlight stretches into the night, Europe’s city sights, beaches and restaurants fill up with excited travellers kicking off the peak summer season. But if chaotic crowds and lively cities aren’t your scene, let us take you off the beaten track. A river cruise is a unique style of travel as it can take you right into lesser-known towns and rural villages where the locals outnumber the tourists. Avalon Waterways has a collection of cruises designed to inspire active adventures and new cultural experiences. If you’re into hiking, pack your walking boots for Salzburg, Austria. As part of this enchanting sailing, you can trek up the mighty Siriuskogel Mountain, where you’ll be treated to striking views of the olive-green hills and fairytale town below, and take a guided walking tour of The Sound of Music’s spectacular film locations.

Salzburg, Austria

Autumn: Germany’s famous beer festival or Paris in fall

Don a gingham dirndl or lederhosen and get ready for the ultimate German experience – Oktoberfest. For a week through September and October each year, millions of people from all over the world gather in Munich for this legendary Bavarian tradition. Hop from tent to tent sampling the best local brews in litre-sized glasses – from Germany’s favourite pale lager, ‘Helles’, to its smooth black beer, ‘Schwarzbier’. Then soak it all up with a giant pretzel dunked in hot mustard. Aside from ‘liquid gold’ and delicious food, there are also heaps of activities to enjoy at Oktoberfest, from fairground rides and folk music to a costume parade. On board Uniworld’s ‘Germany’s Finest’ river cruise, we can arrange a VIP Oktoberfest experience for you at extra cost. You’ll have your own private table at the festival, where a three-course Bavarian meal will be served, and will get to spend time in the best beer tents. If you’re a craft beer fan and have always wanted to tick this event off your bucket list, this is how to do it.

Oktoberfest, Munich

Autumn is also one the best times to visit Paris, when the summer crowds have fizzled out and fall colours fill the streets. Wander the length of the Champs-Élysées, ‘the world’s most beautiful avenue’, and feel the crunch of orange and gold leaves beneath your feet as they drift down from the trees. Then head to the Eiffel Tower to photograph this iconic monument behind a frame of ruby-red maple leaves. Tauck’s new all-inclusive river cruise, Impressions from the Seine, departs in October, when the city’s picturesque streets and parks will be ablaze with autumn’s fiery shades. Discover the beauty, art and history of France as you sail from Paris to Normandy along the romantic River Seine, and enjoy experiences such as a Parisian can-can show and an exclusive gala dinner at the 16th-Century Château du Taillis in Duclair.

Winter: see the Cambodian Water Festival boat races

November is a special time in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. Every year, to celebrate the end of the monsoon season when the flow between the Tonle Sap and Mekong River reverses, locals flock to the city for ‘Bon Om Touk’ – the Cambodian Water Festival. For three days, there are carnival rides, live music, parades, dance shows, fireworks and most important of all, boat races. Oarsmen from all over Cambodia take to the Tonle Sap river in their colourfully painted racing boats to compete, while thousands of spectators cheer them on from the river banks. If you don’t fancy being in the thick of the crowds, our Cambodia experts can tell you about a fantastic riverside bar where you can sip a crisp white or fresh cocktail while watching the races from above. The award-winning APT river cruises has a great selection of Cambodia sailings departing at this time of year – just ask our experts to help you find one that suits your travelling style.

Tonle Sap river, Cambodia

Christmas: hop between festive markets in Europe

Bite into a sizzling Bratwurst in Berlin, get stuck into family arts and crafts in Lille, and sip hot punch in a cosy wooden hut in Vienna as the sweet smell of roasted chestnuts fills the air. Europe is the king of Christmas markets – and on a river cruise you get to explore more than just one. You could sail from Nuremberg to Frankfurt and taste your way around the tempting markets of Germany on a Uniworld river cruise; or head to Strasbourg to visit one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe, as part of Avalon Waterways’ ‘Christmastime’ itinerary through France, Germany and Switzerland. And as you sail from place to place, you’ll be able to watch the festive lights of local towns twinkle on the water.

Christmas Market in Strasbourg - Alsace, France

New Year: celebrate Vietnam’s Luna New Year

Luna New Year, or ‘Tết’, is the biggest event in the Vietnamese calendar. From late January to early February, families and friends get together to share food, gifts and wish each other good fortune. New clothes are bought and houses are scrubbed clean in the hope of a fresh start for the year ahead. In the streets, performers dressed in extravagant red costumes dance to the beat of pounding drums, and on every corner you’ll find flower stalls selling pretty peach blossoms and yellow chrysanthemums. Travelling around Vietnam during Luna New Year can be tricky, as lots of transport services shut down for a week or two, but a river cruise is the exception. On one of APT’s immersive Vietnam sailings, you’ll have the freedom to follow the party across the country – a rare luxury at this hectic time of year. It also means that when you want to flee the chaos, you can return to the comfort of your floating hotel and relax with a drink in the lounge bar, while watching the festivities from afar.

Flower boats along canal on New Year festival, Vietnam

This feature was published on 22 March 2019. The information within this feature is correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of print. Feature by Maisie Johnson.