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group of four women riding in a gondala in venice, italy
Travel tips

The 8 best river & canal cruises around the world

Aug 23, 2022 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Hop on board! Whether it’s the magnificent pink façade of the Doge’s Palace in Venice or the Eiffel Tower’s sparkling light show, the best vantage points are often from the water. On many of our tours around the world, we offer excursions that get you on the water, from river cruises in Europe and Australia to canal cruises in Amsterdam and Ghent. “Doing anything on the water offers a different perspective on the place you are visiting, and the views are usually the best!,” said staffer Emily. Read on for four of the best European river cruises and four of the best canal cruises you can take on tour.

gondolier in venice

4 canal cruises you can take on tour

1. Glide through Venices famous canals with a group

“It was an incredible experience,” said traveler Joe, who traveled on our A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome tour in March 2022. “The views were spectacular, and I was amazed at how they maneuvered the gondola around the waters. The voice of our vocalist was amazing. Created a true Venetian gondola experience.”

With its sprawling Baroque palaces, picture-perfect piazzas, and bacaros serving up delicious seasonal food, Venice is one of Italy’s most popular destinations. It’s also one of its most romantic. Your first glimpse of its gondola-dotted canals will have you daydreaming of gliding through the Floating City and drinking in all its charm. Don’t resist! No trip to Venice is complete without a ride on the city’s most iconic symbol—the gondola. More than 100 waterways crisscross Venice, and boarding a sleek, black gondola to explore them has become a time-honored tradition. On this memorable excursion, join your fellow travelers for a canal cruise. When you travel on one of our Venice tours, including A Week in Italy: Venice, Florence & Rome, and our Grand Tour of Italy, we’ll organize your gondola experience for you!

Fun fact: Until the 16th century, Venice’s gondolas were a rainbow of colors. A decree from the Doge of Venice in 1562 mandated that all gondolas be painted the uniform black color you see today.

Book your dream Venice tour today →

2. Or… make a romantic memory on a gondola ride for two

“Our private ride was exceptional, and the musicians were extremely friendly and you got the feeling that they loved their job,” said traveler Steven, who traveled to Venice on our Journey through Italy: Milan to the Amalfi Coast tour in April 2022. “Highlight of Venice for us.”

How romantic! Like a scene out of a classic Italian film, a private gondola ride for two (with perhaps a Bellini in hand?) is everything you expect la dolce vita to be… and more! Many travelers find it to be one of the most memorable experiences they have on tour in Italy. Your private excursion on an ornate gondola whisks you away on a dreamy ride past some of Venice’s most iconic sites. The perspective from your gondola gives you a one-of-a-kind view of the city’s palatial palazzos, like the 17th century Palazzo Ca’ Pesaro. If Venice hasn’t already stolen your heart, a private gondola cruise for two certainly will.

Fun fact: At the peak of their popularity in the 1600s and 1700s, 10,000 gondolas cruised Venice’s canals. Today, there are just 400.

Head to Venice with someone you love →

Cruise in Amsterdam

3. Enjoy dinner on a canal boat cruise of Amsterdam

“Great dinner cruise along the canals,” said traveler Christopher, who took our Grand Tour of Europe: London to Rome in May of 2022. “Chef and catering staff get 5 stars for their hard work—great food and customer service. Highly recommend it to all travelers.”

Amsterdam is a feast for the eyes. The Dutch capital has so much to offer, from its houseboat-lined canals to its famous flower market, Bloemenmarkt (and then there’s the world-famous museums showcasing Rembrandts and Van Goghs!). Taking it all in is easy. You can explore the city's 165 canals on foot or by bike—hundreds of picturesque bridges cross the waterways. Be sure to stop to taste deliciously delicate poffertjes and caramel-filled stroopwafel along the way. When you’re done walking or biking, kick back and enjoy a unique view of Amsterdam on a dinner canal cruise. You’ll see Amsterdam in a new light as you pass under (instead of over) bridges and past the colorful canal homes. Along with your delicious meal, you’ll get a serving of history.

Fun fact: Amsterdam’s canals serve as water drainage for the city, which sits below sea level. Amsterdam would be underwater without the canals (and dikes and dams).

Cruise Amsterdam’s canals with us →

4. Eat and cruise your way through Ghent

“Loved Ghent,” said traveler Sarah, who visited the city on our Amsterdam, Luxembourg & Brussels tour in April of 2022. “One of my favorites. The tour guide gave us a glimpse through time. The boat ride through the city was nice, and the captain was very good. Loved this town, make sure you take extra time.”

A charming mix of the medieval and modern, Belgium’s most beautiful city doesn’t get the hype of Bruges or Antwerp. But that’s what makes this historic city, with its castles, canals, and thriving culinary scene, a gem to visit. Whether you choose our Food & Wine: Beers of Belgium & Germany tour or our other tours of Belgium, make sure to add the A Day in Ghent: Tasting Tour & Canal Cruise extension. A local guide will lead you on a tasting tour to sample the region’s specialties, including ganda ham, pralines, and cheese. Your stroll through this very walkable city includes visiting the 15th century Great Butcher’s Hall and stopping at the famous Tierenteyn mustard shop, where they’ve used the same secret recipe for over two centuries. Take your newfound food knowledge (ham and cheese with mustard sandwich, anyone?) and head to one of Ghent’s picturesque canals with a local Gruut beer. Then, get on board our scenic canal cruise for a different perspective of the city.

Fun fact: Thursday is Veggie Day in Ghent. In the city known as the Veggie Capital of Europe, restaurants across Ghent serve up vegetarian alternatives.

Get away to Ghent on your next trip →

eiffel tower at night

4 river cruises you can take on tour

1. Cruise the Seine at night to see Paris in a magical light

“This cruise on the Seine was gorgeous,” said traveler Anna, who added the extension to our Grand Tour of Europe: London to Rome tour in June 2022. “We got to see it at sunset, and we managed to catch the Eiffel Tower sparkling as well. I didn’t know this was on my bucket list until I did it and I’m so glad I did!!”

Paris is a pleasure to explore. Charming arrondissements, beautiful jardins, and a scenic walking path along the Seine River make every journey magnificent. But the City of Light becomes even more enchanting at night. Paris’s most famous monuments are bathed in light, and the Eiffel Tower puts on a sparkling light show at the top of every hour. When the sun goes down, you’ll understand why many consider Paris the most romantic city in the world. Capture all the nighttime splendor on your tour of Paris by adding the Dinner in Paris & Seine River Cruise excursion, one of the best river cruises in Europe. To whet your appetite for the river cruise, your evening begins with dinner at a local Parisian restaurant. Then, you’ll board a boat to cruise along the Seine to marvel at the illuminated monuments as the lights shimmer on the river. Have your camera ready to capture brilliant photos of Paris at night!

Fun fact: The Seine River travels 483 miles through France. As it runs through the city, it divides into its famous Left and Right Banks.

Say “Oui, oui!” to a tour of Paris →

2. Take a thrilling high-speed boat from Vienna to Slovakia

Really enjoyed the high-speed boat ride, and Bratislava was wonderful,” said traveler Louis who traveled on our Oktoberfest: Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour in May 2022. We had great weather, and this made it even more special. The guide was excellent—10 out of 10.”

You don’t need to be in a hurry to enjoy a boat ride on the Danube River. But in addition to giving you more time to explore the capital of Slovakia, you’ll get an adrenaline rush while taking in the sights along the way. Pay attention as your boat passes through scenic Donau-Auen National Park, one of the last refuges for many highly endangered species. Once you’ve debarked from one of the best river cruises in Europe, you’ll follow a local guide through Bratislava’s charming Old Town to see the well-preserved city center and its regal castle. You’ll stop at the neoclassical Primate’s Palace, the seat of the mayor of Bratislava, to enter the historic Hall of Mirrors or St. Martin’s Cathedral, the former coronation church for Hungarian kings and queens. Use the extra time in Bratislava to check out the waterfront promenade on the Danube River. You’ll find plenty of cafes and restaurants there, plus great views of Bratislava Castle.

Fun fact: The Danube is Europe’s second-longest river. The 1,777-mile waterway runs from Germany’s Black Forest to the Black Sea, passing through 10 different countries along the way.

Book your trip to Slovakia today →

Thames river cruise

3. Get a unique view of London from the Thames River

“We had a very enjoyable evening out on the Thames,” said traveler Howard, who traveled on our Highlights of Scotland & England: Edinburgh to London tour in May 2022. “The sun even shone! It was a bonus that we had the ‘hop on and off’ pass and we took advantage of that too. The tube ride to the pub was an added experience for all of us. The meal and atmosphere were great.”

Since the Romans invaded Britain in 43 A.D. and chased the Britons along its banks, the Thames River has played a crucial role in London’s rise to one of the world’s great cities. Known as “the great highway of London,” the Thames is England’s longest river, and some of London’s most famous landmarks line its banks. A scenic boat ride through its historic waters is one of the best European river cruises. It provides the most incredible vantage point to take in views of the London skyline, Tower Bridge, Southbank, and more.

On our tours of London, you can add our Thames River Cruise & Pub Dinner excursion to see London from the water. You’ll travel from Tower Pier to Westminster Pier, snapping photos of Shakespeare’s Globe, the National Theatre, and Jubilee Gardens. The excursion continues on land with a tour of the Covent Garden area in London's West End. Then you’ll top it all off at a local pub, where you’ll sit down for a three-course dinner and a pint with your fellow travelers. It’s a very British way to end a day of sightseeing through the heart of London.

Fun fact: Up until the early 19th century, the Thames would freeze over in winter. In 1536, King Henry VIII traveled by sleigh on the river from central London to Greenwich.

Explore all of London’s wonders with us →

4. Search for crocs on Australias Daintree River

Adventure is a huge part of the allure of the Land Down Under. And a crocodile river cruise in Australia is one of the best adventures! Mysterious and majestic, the ancient canopy of trees that arches over the winding Daintree River provides the perfect atmosphere for your cruise through Australia’s Daintree National Park. Saltwater crocodiles have lived in these waters for millions of years, and you’ll search for them with a local guide (from the safety of your boat). The excitement continues as you go to the coast to visit Cape Tribulation Beach and then into Daintree Rainforest for a guided tour along its wooden boardwalks. Here you’ll look for cassowaries, musky rat-kangaroos, bandicoots, and white-lipped tree frogs among the rare and primitive plant species. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to take some fantastic photos in the rainforest. Still, your favorite images might come at the Mount Alexandra Lookout. This panoramic viewpoint rises above the treetops, so you can include the tree line and the ocean in one memorable photo!

Fun fact: Formed over 180 million years ago, the Daintree Rainforest is the world’s oldest tropical rainforest.

Find your trip to the Land Down Under →

Let’s set sail! Book a trip with a river or canal cruise on one of our tours

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.
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