GLITTERING festive lights and imposing Gothic buildings are reflected in shimmering perfection in the calm waters of the canal.
Crowds stroll along cobblestone streets and over bridges lined with bicycles while the smell of sweet waffles and hot chocolate wafts through the cold night air.
And whisper it . . . I think I’ve found my new favourite Dutch city. Its gorgeous Old Town is a highlight with the Oudegracht canal winding its way through.
Unlike Amsterdam, the canals here feature tow paths that once would have seen goods being unloaded and then sold at markets on the bridges.
الآن, these pathways and the brick wharves are home to bars, restaurants and cafes with tables, lights and laughter spilling right out to the water’s edge.
By night, the bridges are lit beautifully and the pedestrianised streets are a shopaholic’s delight with plenty of independent little boutiques. We snuggle up in the انستغرام-glam Ruby Rose restaurant by the canal and indulge in deep fried croquettes of ham and beef — perfect comfort food for a chilly day.
And thanks to my mode of travel I’m able to enjoy both its daytime delights and after-dark antics safe in the knowledge a cosy cabin is waiting to welcome me back on board. River cruising is another first for me and I can instantly see the appeal.
As a regular ocean cruiser, I had worried I would be bored on a smaller ship with less to do.
I wondered if the passengers would also be a more mature lot. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
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My home for the week was the brand new Sena — the newest and most environmentally friendly ship from the ألمانية A-Rosa cruise line.
Sailing from Dusseldorf or Cologne, this is a chic, modern take on river cruising for the 21st century, capable of hosting 280 guests in comfort and luxury.
Unusually, almost all the cabins feature large balconies for watching the world go by, and there are also 12 family cabins sleeping up to five with cute bunk beds.
Our balcony cabin on the third deck was ideal — a modern, muted palette with a supremely comfy king-size bed, plenty of storage and a large sofa.
But best of all were the full-length windows leading out to the balcony. Even in winter it was a delight to sit and watch the countryside pass by and, I imagine, even nicer when it’s warmer.
The ship is topped off with a vast sun deck spanning the length and width of the ship. While the many loungers, tables and chairs around the two heated pools were not quite so popular in the freezing temperatures, I am sure by spring this would be the heart of the ship, offering superb views day and night.
Our five-night Christmas special sailed from Germany to Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht before heading back along the Rhine to Cologne.
Billed as a Premium All-Inclusive, the cruise price from around £950pp includes breakfast, غداء, dinner and afternoon tea as well as all drinks, including premium alcohol brands, bubbly and cocktails.
There are also discounts on the superb spa. Billed as the largest ever on a river cruise ship, it has a sauna, whirlpool, ice grotto, heat bench, relaxation room, treatment rooms and a fitness area.
And you’ll definitely need to work off some of the calories you’ll consume in the restaurant. The expansive buffet features vegetarian and vegan options and German specialities from bratwurst to dumplings, as well as international favourites including surf and turf and fresh salmon.
GO: Dutch river cruise
GETTING / STAYING THERE: A six-night premium all-inclusive Rhine Christmas Market City Experience cruise on A-Rosa Sena is from £1,249pp, departing November 22, 2023. Departing Cologne and calling at Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht.
Price includes return flights from Heathrow, one night’s hotel stay pre-cruise in Cologne, plus transfers to and from the ship.
Visit destination2.co.uk/cruise/cruise-lines/a-rosa أو أتصل 01244 957 904.
There’s also a more intimate, speciality steak restaurant for an extra cost.
But of course the real highlight was the chance to stroll off the ship straight into three fascinating cities each morning. Our first call in Rotterdam had us moored up alongside the quirky cube houses the city is known for. The development was a clever solution to a tricky planning problem which saw houses built above a pedestrianised bridge.
Just a short stroll from there is the Markthal — or Market Hall — a stunning piece of architecture housing hundreds of food stalls selling everything from traditional Dutch stroopwafels and croquettes to bao buns and pizza.
In Amsterdam, we stroll past the coffee shops and tourist trap bars and head onwards to the De Pijp district.
A favourite with the young and bohemian crowd since the 1960s, there are oodles of cool bars and restaurants to bar hop across and bargains to be picked up at the Albert Cuypmarkt street market.
Refuelled, we head on to the grand square in front of the Rijksmuseum where an ice rink and Christmas market add to the festive mood.
Our last day sees us cruising back to Cologne with plenty of time to enjoy the spa and the convivial atmosphere in the lounge bar.
For kids, there’s a dedicated club with staff to keep them entertained.
لي, wrapped up cosy under the heaters outside at the rear of the boat, I was happy to watch the world sail by.
After three days discovering the delights of three Dutch cities it was the perfect place to reflect on our adventures.