Six of the world's best cruise excursions

CAPE TOWN'S TABLE MOUNTAIN

Could a more spectacular vista present itself to those lucky enough to cruise into the Fairest Cape's Table Bay? In front, the majesty of Table Mountain, often with its white tablecloth, framed by Lion's Head, Signal Hill and Devil's Peak. An excursion in the cable car to the 1060-metre tabletop offers diverse peninsula views – the floor of the car rotates 360 degrees. On top of the mountain you can appreciate the peninsula amphitheatre with its spine of mountains ending at Cape Point. A circular walk to the mountain's highest point, Maclear's Beacon reveals more of this lovely city including False Bay, the Twelve Apostles, Camps Bay and the far spires of the Drakenstein Mountains. Alternative excursions to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens and Robben Island are also highly recommended.

See en.ponant.com/cruises/africa-south

NORWAY'S TORGHATTEN

This shore excursion from the Helgeland coastal town of Bronnoysund allows us to hike one of Norway's most spectacular "troll mountains" – Torghatten, meaning "hole in the hat". The mountain, called "nature's cathedral" is the subject of trollish legend. Our five-kilometre circular hike is a happy way to experience Norway's crystal air, rich heathland, birch and ash woodland and blueberry thickets. We climb a steep, uneven path to clamber through the mountain's spectacular hole, then down again through spring flower meadows. This is one of Norway's most striking mountains whose ice-eroded granite "hole" is 160 metres long, 35 metres high and 20 metres wide. Views to the water show why this mountain was a sailors' landmark.

See aptouring.com.au/norway

EGYPT'S LUXOR

Luxor must rank among the world's most extraordinary open-air museums of antiquity. Our Nile cruise excursion allows us to step into the rich legacy of ancient Egypt. Egypt possesses about 30 per cent of world antiquities, with 70 per cent of those in Luxor, many intact. Luxor's Karnak and Luxor temple complexes are breathtaking in their vastness, reflecting the absolute power and sophistication of Egypt's rulers. And across the Nile's fabled waters is the equivalent of a gourmet feast – the tombs, temples and monuments of the West Bank Necropolis, including the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, that are integral to the pharaoh's "architecture of eternity".

See scenic.com.au/egypt?

ISTANBUL'S SULTANAHMET

A dawn sailing into Istanbul with the blood sky flooding the water and the city's minarets rising black is to be drawn into a city heavy with mystery, melancholy and beauty. We dock on the shore of the Bosphorus beneath Topkapi Palace and wander up through Gulhane Park's flowers to gorge on the heart of old Istanbul, Sultanahmet. There's much more to Istanbul but it all starts here. The six minarets of the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) are grand exclamation marks to one of Turkey's most superb buildings. The engineering marvel of the Hagia Sophia, built in the Middle Ages with its massive dome, is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. There's Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman sultans, the Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome and the Arasta Bazaar.

See aptouring.com.au/istanbul

ST PETERSBURG'S HERMITAGE

This "Hermitage Behind Closed Doors" excursion allows an insider's view of one of the world's great art collections that contains about three million works of art and historical artefacts. A guided tour of the private collection, including masterpieces and the Hermitage's grand spaces like the Jordan Staircase is followed by privileged access to the off-site secured vaults. A historian gives an in-depth view of the museum, its 19th-century frescoes, sculptures, Romanov furniture, imperial carriages and gifts to Russian royalty including a huge gold-embroidered tent from a Turkish sultan.

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See vikingrivercruises.com.au/russia

PHNOM PENH'S ROYAL PALACE

The walled palace with its classic golden Khmer gables, set at the confluence of three great rivers – Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac – is an elegant landmark for those sailing into Phnom Penh. Pol Pot kept the palace collection mostly intact for propaganda purposes. The palace, home to King Norodom Sihamoni, is a fine example of Khmer architecture, with a light French influence. Palace buildings set within exquisite French-style formal gardens include the golden-spired Throne Hall, the Moonlight Pavilion and the Napoleon III Pavilion, built for Napoleon's wife, Empress Eugenie, in 1869. The pagoda compound includes the Silver Pagoda, the Tripitaka Library, with its silver sculpture of Nandi – Shiva's sacred bull, stupas with royal ashes, including those of King Norodom I and his statue looking all the world like Napoleon on his charger.

See scenic.com.au/tours/mekong

Alison Stewart was a guest of APT, Scenic and Ponant

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