Which to cruise first - the European river with its own waltz or the Egyptian waterway through a cradle of civilisation? Our experts help you decide.
By Amy Cooper
River cruises reach the spots others can't. They travel along vital arteries right to the heart of cities and into history hotspots. When I ride rivers, I want to go places, see more and do more - and for that purpose, the Danube's my winning waterway. A Nile cruise will take you to Egypt ... and usually nowhere else. Pharoah enough, until you consider that in the same amount of sailing time along the Danube, you can soak up eight or more countries. That's major bank for your buck.
When it comes to destination density, the Danube delivers. Europe's second-longest river flows through 10 countries and four national capitals - more than any other river in the world. They're a quality quartet, too: Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade.
Flowing 2850 kilometres across a swathe of history-rich central Europe from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, the river with its own waltz is your liquid gateway to Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and - in peaceful times - Ukraine. Wherever it wanders, the Danube creates its own spectacle: Austria's Schlgener Schlinge (try saying that after schlurping a schnapps), a dramatic 180-degree curve carved in the contours of the Danube Valley; Hungary's Danube Bend, where the river twists and turns through picturesque villages; and the Iron Gate, a narrow passage between majestic gorges in Romania and Serbia's Carpathian and Balkan Mountains.
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From Bavaria's fairytale castles and forests to the vineyards and medieval monasteries of Austria's Wachau Valley to Bratislava's baroque palaces, you'll float between centuries, plunging your bucket list deep into a well of wow-factor. Board in Regensburg, the Danube's oldest city and one of Germany's best preserved medieval town centres, with more than 900 UNESCO World Heritage-listed buildings, and travel the river's entire length east to the wetland wilderness of Romania's Danube Delta, where it meets the sea. Along the way, you can bask in Europe's largest medicinal baths in Budapest, waltz into Viennese coffee and opera houses, be awed by the Wachau Valley's Benedictine blockbuster building Melk Abbey, taste fine Croatian wines in the vineyards of Ilok, see Dracula's Transylvanian castle and goggle at Bucharest's 3000-room Palace of Parliament.
Dabble in the Danube with a shorter cruise to a couple of cities or focus on a single region for a deeper dive. When 'tis the season, a Danube cruise is your portal to a living Christmas card of magical markets, mulled wine and carols in historical cathedrals.
With sailings year-round from multiple companies to suit all budgets, your voyage choice is as deep and wide as the Danube itself. You'd have to be round the riverbend to sail anywhere else.
By Mal Chenu
It's just a matter of time. Centuries versus millennia, to be precise. The "oh look another bloody castle" Danube offers a lovely romp through Europe, but a cruise on the Nile is a voyage into an endlessly fascinating cradle of civilisation.
You'll begin your epochal Egyptian immersion in Cairo, so add a few days to explore Giza's pyramid complex and the Great Sphinx, as well as the capital's colourful souks, bazaars and mosques before flying to Luxor for the 240-kilometre cruise to Aswan.
Luxor is the world's greatest open-air museum, replete with ornately decorated and inscribed obelisks, pylons and necropolises. The massive Temple of Luxor on the east bank was built around 3400 years ago by Amenhotep III and Ramses II, who carved the names and titles of his 17 sons on the walls of the Great Court. The 2.7-kilometre long Avenue of the Sphinxes links the Temple of Luxor to the Temple of Karnak, where you'll see the Hypostyle Hall, which has more columns than Amy has written. Well, not really - she's been around quite a while, too.
On a wadi on the west bank, the Valley of the Kings is the final resting place of 62 pharaohs, from Thutmose I to Ramses X. The nearby Valley of the Queens is tomb to 90 queens, including Nefertari, Rameses II's fave missus of the 200-odd to whom he pledged his troth. In Qena, you'll tour the incredible Sheikh el-Qenawi Mosque in the main town square and the enormous, well-preserved and relatively modern (4th century BCE) Dendera Temple with its Ptolemaic and Greco-Roman art, including the famous Zodiac of Dendera night skyscape. (This sculpture - like a lot of the ancient world's cool stuff - is a replica. The OG was pinched by the French in 1821 and now sits - out of celestial context - in the Louvre).
Everywhere you go, your on-board Egyptologist will interpret the sites, decipher the hieroglyphs and recount the history.
The brand new (1st century CE) temple at Esna is dedicated to Khnum, the guardian of the source of the Nile, and the god who made children out of clay on his potter's wheel and inserted them into the wombs of their mothers. In Aswan, you'll explore Abu Simbel, the Philae Temple on Agilkia Island and sail past other picturesque granite outcrops on a felucca, a traditional wooden sailboat. And I've run out of space to mention the similarly ancient but unique edifices you'll find at Kom Ombo and Edfu.
The above is but a synoptic glimpse into the absorbing antiquity of a Nile cruise. And everywhere you go, your on-board Egyptologist will interpret the sites, decipher the hieroglyphs and recount the history.
The Nile is the most enthralling river cruise on the planet. And I challenge any Europe river cruise operator to send me on a first-class, all-expenses-paid fact-finding mission along the Danube to prove me wrong.