Many river cruises are familiar with the well-traversed European river cruise destinations such as the Rhine, the Danube and the Main. If you’ve been there and done that and are looking for somewhere a little more unusual for your next river cruise then read on…

Some of the world’s lesser known rivers offer new and exciting opportunities to head off the beaten path, explore exotic destinations and discover interesting cultures. And you don’t need to travel far to discover these quieter rivers, some of them are just a couple of hours away from the UK. So rather than re-visit destinations that you’ve already explored, why not take a look at these new and exciting rivers for cruising. After all, the world is yours to explore.

1. Irrawaddy, Myanmar

Man fishing the traditional way on the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar

This far-reaching river stretches the length of Myanmar (formerly Burma), passing through cities such as Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan. Still relatively untraveled by tourists, it is perfect for cruisers who want to combine a relaxing holiday with exotic adventures. Jungle-clad riverbanks glide by the ship at every turn, alongside impressive gorges and vast paddy fields.

Irrawaddy river cruises are also perfect for guests craving authentic insights into local life. Fisherman line many river banks and, occasionally, you may spot a monk in saffron robes making his way to a temple.

2. Dnieper, Ukraine

Elaborate palace in Ukraine on the Dnieper

How often have you considered a Ukrainian river cruise? It might sound more farfetched than your average European voyage, but Ukraine is a beautiful country offering buckets of beauty and culture.

Sailing on the Dnieper and beginning in Kiev, you will typically pass gently rolling hills, vast forests and ancient villages. There are historic sites galore, sitting harmoniously among modern buildings and bustling cities.

Kiev aside, you will also visit Yalta: a coastal Russian beauty spot home to Chekhov’s House and Museum. Then there is Odessa, a stunning city with a plethora of architectural gems and stunning ballet theatres to admire.

3. Elbe, Czech Republic

The Elbe River running through picturesque countryside in Switzerland

Despite taking place on a major Central European waterway, Elbe river cruises are often overlooked. Originating in the Krkonoše Mountains of north-western Bohemia, the Elbe crosses the lowlands of the Czech Republic into Germany before powering its way through the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. On this journey, it passes some of the most breath-taking vistas in Europe.

If you are after a river cruise filled with culture, you will be pleased to know the Czech Republic is also home to ornate castles and inspiring UNESCO World Heritage sites. Historic, medieval towns and cities make for inspiring cruise excursions, while the option to overnight in Berlin or Prague offers the perfect end to your voyage.

4. Saone, France

The Saone River passing through Lyon at night

The Rhone is a popular choice among river cruisers, but if you are craving the waterway-less-travelled, take to its major tributary, the Saone.

Passing through both France and Switzerland, the Saone River has a picturesque collection of quaint villages and stunning wine producing regions lining its banks. Scenic vineyards and rolling green hills create a serene atmosphere that is perfect for guests who are craving tranquillity. Port visits include beautiful communes like Chalon-sur-Saone, Tournus and Villefranche-sur-Saone: France’s hidden gems.

5. Po, Italy

The Po River passing through Turin, in Italy, on a misty night

Northern Italy is a varied European region packed with enchanting cities. The best way to see them? Po river cruises.

Stretching 400 miles from Pian del Re to Venice, this incredible waterway takes in Verona and Turin along the way. The former is the iconic setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and is just as romantic as you can imagine.

In Turin, picturesque piazzas and baroque palaces await, while Venice’s legendary canals are the perfect place to end your river cruise on the Po.

Have you cruised on any of these lesser-known rivers? Have we inspired you to visit a brand new waterway? Let us know in the comment box, below.

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About Emma Smith

Emma has more than seven years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for nearly five years. She loves learning about new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Princess Cruises, Cunard, Celebrity Cruises, Virgin Voyages, Avalon Waterways and Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in her diary for 2024! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.

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