River cruising to the world's prettiest city ports: Top 10

Porto, Portugal

Porto clings to a rocky gorge in a tumble of medieval guildhalls, cobbled squares and baroque churches crammed with gold. The old town is World Heritage listed; even the train station features glorious blue-tiled depictions of its illustrious history. Porto also has a newfound energy in its thriving arts scene and reinvented cellar doors that have made its most famous product fashionable once more. Port wine has been brought here from along the Douro River since the 17th century, and many port lodges along the riverfront at Vila Nova de Gaia are open for tours and tastings. See visitportoandnorth.travel

Veere, Netherlands

As you sail towards Veere all you see across the dykes are house roofs and a stubby church dome that scarcely rises above the water level. The Netherlands' fabled water engineering works have cut this old seafaring town off from the open sea, but it remains a busy yacht harbour for recreational sailing. The town is dense with cobbled alleys, leaning old buildings and an elegant town hall straight from a Dutch Master painting. There are a few curious reminders of Scotland from medieval trading days, and surrounding elevated dykes are a great place to cycle. See vvvzeeland.nl

Sagaing, Myanmar

Sagaing, 25 kilometres along the Irrawaddy River from Mandalay, fulfils the stereotypes of the exotic East from the river, as golden temple spires gleam on verdant hillsides and coconut palms droop over the sluggish brown water's edge. There are some 500 monasteries and temples scattered across the hillsides; monks dress in wine-red robes and nuns in pink. The terraces of Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, decorated in glittering tiles and mirrored mosaics, provide the best outlook over the Irrawaddy Valley and its timeless villages and glorious spires in one of the world's best river views. See myanmartourism.org

Regensburg, Germany

Regensburg was an ancient Roman outpost and early missionary centre, but it was from 1140 that its stone bridge across the Danube River made it rich on trade between Italy and Germany. By 1245 it was a free imperial city. Admire old inns, beamed halls and the fortified tower homes erected by the nouveaux-riches of the day. The town's staggering Gothic cathedral is studded with saints and gargoyles. The town doesn't just live on its past, however. Regensburg also has a marvel of boutique shops, and a lively nightlife thanks to its large student population. See tourismus.regensburg.de

Tain l'Hermitage, France

The Rhone River, whose landscape is flat in its lower stretches, rucks up 90 kilometres south of Lyon into vine-clad hillsides that dissolve into an outline of blue French Alps on the horizon. The pretty scenery is added to by two towns that face each other across an iron pedestrian bridge. Tain l'Hermitage is famous for its cellar doors and as the home of Valrhona chocolate; the steep walking track that leads up to a chapel among the vines provides gorgeous alpine views. Tournon, meanwhile, bristles with medieval defensive towers and church spires and centres around a castle. See hermitage-tournonais-tourisme.com

Astoria, USA

Astoria, near the mouth of the Columbia River in America, was founded in 1811 as a fur-trading outpost by soon-to-be-millionaire John Jacob Astor. The downtown core sits on flat reclaimed land and has an air of the Wild West, with its old warehouses and department stores. Walls are painted with murals recounting the town's history. A six-kilometre promenade leads along the river, which is as wide as a bay and dotted with container ships at anchor. Head up the hillside too, where fine mansions are fronted by pretty gardens wanton with roses and snapdragons. See astoria.or.us

Uglich, Russia

Cruise between Moscow and St Petersburg and the old trading town Uglich is your first encounter with the Volga River. Sailing in provides a pretty picture, since the town's colourful churches stand near the riverbanks, surrounded by trees that, in autumn, turn gold and copper. Nine-year-old Prince Dmitry, son of Ivan the Terrible, was murdered here in 1584 on the orders of Boris Gudonov; the church in his memory features a blue dome covered in gold stars. Behind the historic buildings lie crumbling Soviet-era apartment blocks enlivened by a cheerful souvenir market selling Russian dolls and teapot warmers. See visitrussia.org.uk

Wurzburg, Germany

The highlight of the Main River is happy Wurzburg. Statues wave from its medieval bridge, reminiscent of Charles Bridge in Prague, though minus the crowds. Chestnut trees line the streets, and university students snooze in parks. The old town's central square, Marktgasse, features scrumptious delicatessens. At the centre of town, a gigantic baroque palace has a mad interior covered in frescoed buttocks and bosoms and gold leaf, and is a masterpiece of baroque architecture. A lovely garden behind is full of statues and tree-lined promenades. The town is surrounded by vineyards topped by a fortress. See wuerzburg.de

Aswan, Egypt

At the high point on the navigable Nile, the river narrows between small cliffs and giant red boulders and is laced with small islands. The promenades of Aswan line one side of the river, giant sand dunes and the ruins of St Simeon Monastery on the other. It's the loveliest of spots on an often lovely Nile, especially at sunset, when the sands turn orange and light catches the white sails of passing feluccas. Cruise ships tie up right in the middle of it all, a fitting end (or beginning) to a sail along this most cultural of rivers. See egypt.travel


Les Andelys, France

Les Andelys is a gorgeously smug country town straight from a Flaubert novel. The town itself has rather fine mansions and a scattering of artists' studios full of Normandy landscapes. It's most notable, however, for the ruins of Ch√Ęteau Gaillard, twelfth-century stronghold of Richard the Lionheart. A stiff walk to the bluff on which it stands will work off river-cruise buffets and reward you with fine views. Below, the Seine loops in a lazy curve between cliffs. Town chimneypots puff and the cow-chewed countryside glimmers, providing one of France's most delightful river scenes. See lesandelys-tourisme.fr

See also: Eight things I learnt on my first river cruise

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