In an era when smartphones provide access to limitless information, planning your next trip can be a breeze—but the sheer number of options can also be pretty overwhelming.
Enter river cruises. Like waterproof hotels that double as their own adventures, these small ships provide visitors with a new look at classic destinations—all without having to plan, plot, or even re-pack a suitcase. Aboard vessels of roughly a hundred passengers, the burden of in-depth research disappears. Instead, you’re left with the true purpose of travel: to experience something new.
Though ships’ planned excursions hit popular cities like Amsterdam, Moscow, and Paris, river cruises also focus on more hidden gems. Visiting smaller towns lets travelers dive into an area, beyond its flashy metropolises. Itineraries that include unexpected treasures—like a floating Cambodian village market or ancient Egyptian crocodile temple—scratch the itch for an authentic experience. (Learn how to river cruise beyond the port in Austria.)
The Adventures By Disney river cruises, which offer routes along the Seine, Rhine, and Danube Rivers, help tourists explore local Christmas markets and centuries-old abbeys that otherwise would’ve fallen by the wayside. The scheduling is meticulous: Adventures By Disney’s river cruises sail at night to maximize activities, allowing for exclusive activities like canoeing in Strasbourg, France, or hearing Mozart and Strauss compositions performed live at Schönbrunn Palace.
Sailing from country to country without navigating customs, international flight terminals, or local taxi rates makes it possible to see and do more each day. Returning to the same cabin, even when visiting different cities, alleviates the stress of multiple bookings, while all-inclusive on-board cuisine is both exceptional and optional. With sightseeing tours available directly from the cruise operator, there’s no need to arrive early to try to skip museum lines.
And then there are the perks. Viking’s private after-hours tour of Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum omits the overwhelming crowds, and Uniworld’s EatWith partnership gives travelers the option of dining with a local in their home. (Here's what you need to know about the world's top cruise liners.)
With their reputation for taking more time—a luxury not many of us have—river cruises are popularly associated with retirees. But the format is a weirdly perfect fit for modern freelancers, who can tap in to free and often unlimited wireless from cabin balconies as the ship sails by the lush vineyards of Portugal’s Douro Valley, or the bright buildings on the outskirts of Venice. No wonder millennial-driven river cruising is a growing industry, with U by Uniworld sails offering mixology lessons, silent disco parties, and hostel-style rooms.
What river cruise vessels may lack in Instagram-worthy bronze fixtures and subway-tiled bathrooms, they make up for in lounge-like interiors and airy open spaces designed to highlight the picturesque backgrounds floating by. And calm waters negate the woes of major ocean-going cruise liners. With immersive itineraries, unexpected delights, and lovely lodging, river cruises are the perfect antidote to the stress of travel.
Go with Nat Geo: Explore the world's greatest waterways and their surroundings with National Geographic experts and photographers on our very own River Cruises. Learn more here.