River cruising has a cool new face, with adventure and activities, food and wine and even night-time shore excursions on offer.

River cruise lines got back into action during the European summer, with most (including Viking, Scenic, Emerald and Avalon) now sailing across the continent.

They are even looking forward to the Christmas markets cruise season – a magical time when the shores come alive with the sounds of carols and the smells of mulled wine and schnitzels.

The attraction for those who love travelling on inland waterways is that you can float between countries, yet stay in the same place and unpack only once. Your boutique hotel travels with you.

This season, after months in which the fleets were riding on river banks thanks to the pandemic, the lines are chasing a younger set with wellness coaches, kayaking, hiking and cycling on offer, as well as more hip and cool shore excursions.

Emerald Cruises, for instance, is offering spa and culture tours and wine-themed itineraries. Viking is presenting Christmas markets tours on the Elbe and its South of France itineraries feature cooking schools, truffle hunts and visits to wineries.

All the lines have lifted their game when it comes to fine dining, and most offer all-inclusive fares with wine at lunch and dinner, as well as onboard wi-fi and shore excursions.

The first-timers route of Amsterdam to Budapest is still a firm favourite, leaving Holland after an overnight hotel stay for one of the grandest routes anywhere, filled with amazing castles, tiny villages, shoreside restaurants and grand gorges.

It’s often a 15-day journey of delight, taking in Budapest’s Parliament Building (an evening sail past the grand gothic edifice is an amazing experience) and Vienna’s cake-and-cafe set, where the waltzes of Strauss waft across the squares. And you still have 11 more towns to enjoy.

River cruises aren’t confined to Europe. America’s Mississippi is about to open, the Mekong is popular in Asia, and Russia and China also feature grand river destinations.

In Europe, thanks to the locks, the ships are all the same size. But interiors are where competing marine architects have their work on display. Most ships have three levels, with gyms, spas, salons, pools and restaurants. The roofs sport walking tracks and golf putting courses and inventive furniture that folds as the vessels pass under the many bridges (even the wheelhouse drops on hydraulics).

Explore more: emeraldcruises.com.au; vikingrivercruises.com.au

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