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Active River Cruises: 6 Routes for Younger and Adventurous Passengers


Heidi Sarna is the cofounder of QuirkyCruise.com, a guide to small-ship cruising.    


Having taken river cruises all over the world—Southeast Asia, India, Europe, and North America—I know their advantages well. 

Everything is intimate and close up, from the scenery along the riverbanks to the convenient layout of the ship. Your cabin will never be far from the restaurant, lounge, or entry and exit points. And in port, vessels are often docked right in town, with tour buses or guided strolls departing from the end of a short gangway. 

Given the ease and tempo of most river cruises, it’s no surprise they’re popular with seniors.

Yet for younger and more adventurous travelers—myself included—the appeal of some river cruises extends beyond those benefits, encompassing exciting opportunities to stay active during the trip, thanks to fun, enriching, and adrenaline-boosting excursions in port. 

Here are six river cruise routes that will appeal to active younger—and young-at-heart—cruisers.

Waterways of the Netherlands and Belgium

Great for: bicycling 

These two countries are legendary for their extensive network of car-free paths for bicycling. Most river boats in Europe carry a fleet of bicycles on board, so you can often cycle right from where your boat is docked to tour cities like Antwerp and Dordrecht, as well as pedal through the countryside. 

Take off on your own or sign up for the boat’s guided rides. I always cycle on river cruises whenever possible, including on a recent AmaWaterways cruise. Seeing a destination from behind handlebars is an excellent and exhilarating way to get to know the region.

Some cruise lines that go here

(Bicycling amid tulips in the Netherlands | Credit: Southtownboy Studio / Shutterstock)

Columbia and Snake Rivers in Washington and Oregon

Great for: jet boating, hiking, wine tasting

This river cruise itinerary follows in the wake of explorers Lewis & Clark, weaving through a breathtaking landscape (a cruise on the Columbia River is pictured at the top of this page). Thrill seekers will especially appreciate sporty excursions like a jet boat ride through the Hells Canyon rapids, the dramatic gorge that forms the borders of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. 

There are also hikes to dramatic sights like Multnomah Falls and kayaking opportunities on the Palouse River, a tributary of the Snake. Some cruises also showcase vineyards of the Pacific Northwest, adding wine tasting to the week’s line-up. 

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Rivers of Bordeaux in France

Great for: wine tasting, cycling, helicopter rides

Located in the heart of the world’s most famous wine region, Bordeaux is set along the Garonne river in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of southwestern France. River cruises here of course offer wine-tasting tours at the many scenic vineyards that carpet the region, including tours by bicycle.

Helicopter rides over the vineyards and stately chateaux are often another excursion choice (typically for an extra fee). Staying on a day or two in historic Bordeaux before or after your cruise offers more opportunities for cycling, wine tasting, café-hopping , and long walks to places like Bordeaux’s famous interactive wine museum, La Cité du Vin.

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(Riverfront in Aswan, Egypt | Credit: Marcel Bakker / Shutterstock)

Nile River Cruises in Egypt

Great for: tours of ancient sites, balloon rides 

Egypt gets very hot in the summer and fall—triple-digit temps (F) are the norm, even into October—so healthy young cruisers may be better able to handle the heat on treks to the most popular ancient sights, many of which require navigating stone steps or crouching to enter tombs. Temperatures are lower in winter, but crowd sizes are higher.

No matter what time of year you embark on a Nile cruise, there’s a lot to see along the way—physical stamina helps. Besides walking tours, optional excursions include sunrise hot-air balloon adventures over the Valley of the Kings, camel rides, and short voyages aboard small local boats such as skiffs and traditional wooden feluccas. 

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Amazon River Cruises in South America

Great for: jungle explorations, kayaking, hiking

Another set of sometimes challenging climate conditions are characterized by the heat and humidity of the tropical rainforest of the Amazon River and its principal tributary, the Rio Negro. Excursions often involve climbing into small canoes to cruise through narrow jungle passages down streams and tributaries and into lagoons—sometimes you’ll have to duck to avoid errant branches and thick vegetation. You can also go kayaking and set out on hikes, all with the beautiful cacophony of howler monkeys and screeching parrots as accompaniment. 

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(Viewing zebras during a cruise on the Chobe River separating Namibia and Botswana | Credit: Fabio Lamanna / Shutterstock

Southern and West African River Cruises

Great for: safaris, natural wonders

There are several waterways in Southern and West Africa that make for adventurous river cruising. Many companies combine the trips with land-based safaris in national game parks and visits to villages and spectacular natural sights like Victoria Falls.

Two principal routes for cruising are the Chobe River, which forms the border between Botswana and Namibia, and the Gambia and Senegal rivers of West Africa. You can often see wildlife from the decks of the river boats or via excursions in smaller tenders.

Some cruise lines that go here:

Related: The World’s Best River Cruises



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