River cruises are fast becoming one of the most popular ways of seeing Europe, writes Greg Cary.

Having just hosted a trip from Amsterdam to Budapest on a river cruise, I can understand why this is becoming one of the most popular ways to explore Europe.

Feeling a little like Tom Sawyer, each day brings new adventures, fun and knowledge. Unlike Tom, we travelled on the magnificent new Avalon ship, The Illumination, which was spacious, modern, easy to get around and casual. The crew were outstanding, as was the food (oh, the food).

These cruises offer a smorgasbord of European sights and experiences leaving you open to return to favourite places another time. A day in Vienna after all is hardly enough but impressions will long endure.

Tour guides play an important role and, whilst most were outstanding , one or two were perhaps a little too keen to share all they knew (usually a lot) on the various castles and churches in their region. For those passionate about such things that’s fine, but for the average traveller it can become a bit repetitive. Feel free at times to chart your own course.

Highlights? It’s hard and a bit unfair to pick a few but some will remain etched in the memory. But here goes …

Budapest in Hungary, which suffered terribly under both the Nazis and Communists, is a place of unique beauty and charm.

Duernstein — little known to most — is a small, ancient town at the end of the stunning Wachau Valley on the Danube. Renowned for having once imprisoned Richard the Lionheart after one of the crusades in the 12th century, it also provides some of most breathtaking scenery you will ever see.

Speaking of the crusades, you are constantly surrounded by history on either bank of the river. Famous and important scenes from the two World Wars and many other conflicts . We are reminded that Europe has been a battlefield for many hundreds of years and that more recent events are part of a continuum we often miss from this distance. To that end the Eurozone, although confronting many challenges, remains a worthwhile and valuable endeavour.

Those interested in the rise of Hitler will find Nuremberg compelling, particularly the area designed by Albert Speer for rallies and early gatherings. The interactive museum is superb as are a few hours spent roaming the old city.

A surprise packet for us was Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia but others might name Salzburg, Regensburg, Bamberg or Passau.

We returned home much richer for the experience — the ship, the cruise, the places we saw and the people we met.

Hemingway was right : “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

The author was a guest of Dream Maker Travel. To book for Greg’s next trip to Canada and Alaska on 16 May 2015, call 3343 5422 or visit dreammakertravel.com.au