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Stepping from the ship to the riverside to be whisked away to nearby sights is one of the simple joys of river cruising.

This year sees plenty of new small-group tours and exclusive experiences available in Europe, Asia, Africa and the US for a taste of the local culture, history, food and wine. Night activities, private events and active adventures are covered on these 2022–23 itineraries, with all excursions included in your cruise fare.

Uniworld

River cruises are not stuck to a strict schedule of spending days on land and sailing overnight. The ships often remain docked near the town centre until the next morning, allowing time to enjoy the evening atmosphere.

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has a range of excursions called Nights Out. In Amsterdam, take a sunset cruise along the canals as part of its Dutch Delight itinerary. On the Danube, be immersed in Vienna’s classical music at a private concert in Albert Hall. On a Rhine cruise, sample Swiss beers at the Feldschlösschen Brewery, where sales funded a castle-like transformation of this old factory.

But the most exciting opportunities feel like sneaking into tourist attractions when the crowds have left. After-hours tours include St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, where only Uniworld’s Italy cruise guests are allowed inside to watch this 9th-century church’s golden interiors glow during a special lighting ceremony. Walking to and from the ship is magical in itself. uniworld.com

Scenic

On the Mekong, Scenic is the only line operating a nine-night river cruise. Making the most of this longer duration, Scenic Spirit slowly sails to more locations in Vietnam and Cambodia. Combined with a land journey, travellers can extend their trip with two nights on the UNESCO World Heritage-listed waters of Halong Bay aboard the 32-cabin Au Co. In Ho Chi Minh City, hop on a Vespa foodie tour at night, or attend a Phare Circus performance in Siem Reap.

Anyone who drank Mateus Rosé in the 1980s would remember the palace featured on the distinctive bottle’s label. On a Duoro cruise, passengers visit this landmark and drink much better wine at many great wineries in Portugal. The 10-night Unforgettable Douro itinerary has a gourmet focus, with a sparkling wine tasting at the fairytale Quinta da Aveleda in the Vinho Verde region and another tasting at the restored manor house of Morgadio da Calçada. Scenic also offers canoeing on the Pinhão River and a private evening concert in Porto’s São Francisco Church.

The seven-night Windmills, Tulips and Belgian Delights round trip from Amsterdam coincides with Floriade Expo 2022. Held every 10 years, this six-month horticulture event in the Netherlands showcases plants and flowers from around the world, with themed art exhibitions and live entertainment. Scenic passengers will have a full day to explore Floriade on five itineraries offered between April and October. scenic.com.au

Avalon Waterways

Another once-in-a-decade event, the staging of the Oberammergau Passion Play will take place this year. In this lovely Bavarian village, Avalon guests will be treated to premier seating for the religious performance, a theatrical tradition since 1634. The five-hour play, which recalls events from the Last Supper to Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, was postponed in 2020 for the first time in 400 years. Avalon is offering three Oberammergau itineraries in 2022 sailing the Rhine and Danube rivers.

Renowned for its Active & Discovery itineraries, Avalon has introduced a new option in Germany in May and June 2022. Beyond the usual walking tours, activities include a guided canoe excursion on the Moselle River, kayaking in Koblenz, hiking to the hilltop Landshut Castle, and cycling along the banks of the Main and Nidda rivers in Frankfurt.avalonwaterways.com.au

Viking

For the first time, Viking is celebrating Christmas on the Seine, cruising from Paris to the snow-covered countryside of Normandy. The City of Light sparkles during the holiday season, so whether you choose a funicular ride to the top of Montmartre or a walking tour to the city’s oldest cafés and bakeries, it will be a beautiful memory. Enjoy other excursions to the Christmas markets and gingerbread cookie baking at the 850-plus-year-old Abbaye du Valasse. Departing in late November and through December in 2022 and 2023, the week concludes with a moving visit to the D-Day beaches
and museum to learn about the role of the Allied troops during World War II.

December is also the most festive time to discover America’s Old South on a Mississippi river cruise. Sail from Memphis, the birthplace of blues and rock‘n’roll, to the jazz capital of New Orleans. Exclusive to Viking, guests get after-hours access to Elvis Presley’s Graceland. See the Christmas lights displays adorning historic homes in Baton Rouge and Natchez, learn about the Civil War in Vicksburg, and savour Cajun cuisine in local restaurants.

Finally, this is the year to make it to Egypt, explored the easy way on a Nile river cruise. The ultimate excursion is riding a camel to witness the only Wonder of the Ancient World still standing: the Great Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. Viking has departures every month in 2022 and 2023 except June and July. vikingcruises.com.au