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Over 100,000 Australians take to the rivers every year, and Europe is still one of the most popular destinations. With a wealth of estuaries to cruise from, it’s important to pick the right river for you.

The most popular river cruises on the market sail between Amsterdam to Budapest through five countries over 14 to 15 days, but if you’re contemplating your first river journey two weeks is quite a commitment. Why not factor in a shorter cruise as part of a European holiday to test the waters?

Cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Rhône and Seine pack in a raft of historical, cultural and gastronomic delights over five or seven nights. The biggest advantage over land-based tours is that you board your floating hotel and it goes with you – there’s no stress about navigating traffic and checking in to different hotels or B&Bs every night. You can take your pick of cruise lines that range from all-inclusive luxury to those that cater to more independent, budget-conscious travellers, but they all cover your accommodation, meals and shore excursions.

A seven-night Rhine cruise between Amsterdam and Basel ticks a lot of boxes. Along this route, the 65-kilometre Rhine Gorge is a scenic extravaganza – it boasts more castles than any other river valley in the world. Other highlights include Cologne, famed for its Gothic cathedral; Koblenz, where the Moselle meets the Rhine; medieval Rudesheim; picturesque Strasbourg on the border of Germany and France; and Breisach, for the Black Forest and Alsace wineries.

Wachau Valley

The little town of Durnstein in Austria’s lovely Wachau Valley

Cruises on the Danube between Budapest and Passau over seven or eight days visit always charming Vienna; Slovakia’s intriguing capital Bratislava; Austria’s lovely Wachau Valley, where ships stop at the little towns of Durnstein and Melk; and Linz, for day trips to Salzburg.

Other week-long cruises to check out include the Seine, round-trip from Paris; voyages through Normandy take in beautiful Rouen, WWII beach landing sites, Monet’s home and gardens in Giverny, and the City of Light – often with a day trip to the Palace of Versailles on the side.

Still in France, the cruise between Avignon and Lyon is a favourite among art-lovers, foodies and wine enthusiasts. Highlights include Avignon’s magnificent Popes’ Palace, the vineyards of Burgundy and Provence and travelling through the countryside that inspired Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gauguin.