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A friend asked me recently what would be the “best” river cruise for him to book – which is a pretty big question!

There is a bewildering number of cruise lines, ships and itineraries out there, and while there are only so many rivers in the world, more routes are opening up as the demand to sail in ‘new’ places keeps growing, and ships evolve to suit different river conditions.

So, the first thing we looked at was where to go. You can take river cruises in Europe, France, Portugal, Italy, China, South East Asia and Africa. And yes, we know France, Portugal and Italy are in Europe but most cruise lines differentiate between itineraries in these three countries and itineraries that run on the Rhine and Danube that sail through as many as six different countries. It’s already getting complicated.

Once you’ve pinpointed the region you’d most like to explore on a river cruise, you can start checking out the cruise lines that operate there. Although the ships are basically the same size – in Europe, anyway, where they all need to fit through locks and under bridges – each company offers a different style of cruising.

Budget is a major decider; you can pay upfront for a luxury cruise that covers everything from butler service to drinks 24/7, or dial it down a few notches and still enjoy plentiful meals onboard and shore excursions that are included in the fare.

Then you need to consider what sort of experience you’re looking for. Most river cruise excursions focus on cultural and historical attractions, simply because of the regions you’re cruising in; however more active tours such as cycling, hiking and in a few cases, kayaking, are increasingly popular.

Bear in mind that river cruises tend to attract an older demographic, although Uniworld and Tauck operate specific family-friendly itineraries at certain times of the year. And some lines, notably Riviera Travel, are more generous about waiving the single supplement than others.

There’s so much to explore – watch this space!