River cruises have become one of the hottest trends in travel in recent years – it removes the hard work and time it takes to plan travel, and there’s a different view out your window every day. If you’re thinking about making a river cruise your next vacation, here’s a look at some of the most unforgettable options in the world.
Elbe River, Berlin, Dresden and Prague
This 8-day cruise by Viking River Cruises offers the chance to discover the lesser-explored Elbe River in Viking Longships designed specifically for the Elbe. Passengers tour the opulent palaces of Saxon monarchs, trace the footsteps of Martin Luther King in Wittenberg, explore historical landmarks in Dresden and visit the scenic sandstone cliffs of Germany’s “Saxon Switzerland” along the way. The journey begins with a night in the exciting, multi-cultural city of Berlin and ends in elegant Prague.
Rhine River, Netherlands/Germany /France/Switzerland
AMA Waterways offers a 7-night cruise through four countries: The Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland, offering a great overview for first-time river cruisers starting in the legendary city of Amsterdam, renowned for its magnificent architecture and picturesque canals. It covers a ton of cultural ground, including a stop in Cologne, Germany to see its famous Gothic cathedral and wine tasting in Rudesheim. Passengers can also explore the historic city of Heidelberg with its often photographed red-brick bridge. The cruise is followed by two nights in Lucerne, where passengers enjoy a walking tour and lake cruise before heading on to Zurich to take in a tour of the city in the final two nights.
Seine River, France
If you’ve been dreaming of Paris, a Seine River cruise is sure to fit the bill as it focuses heavily on sightseeing in and around the City of Light. AMA Waterways’ seven-night art-themed cruise begins and ends in Paris, and includes a visit to the village of Giverny as well as the home and gardens of artist Claude Monet and the charming French harbor town of Honfleur, immortalized by generations of artists. Next, passengers explore the historic capital of Normandy, Rouen, known as the “City of 100 Spires” for its many cathedrals and churches followed by a visit to the famous Normandy beaches of World War II. It concludes with a tour of the top sights in Paris and a visit to the Musee d’Orsay.
Like the Rhine, the Danube flows through many countries, including Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, making this another great option for those who are embarking on a river cruise for the first time. This is Europe’s most popular river for cruising, framed by lush vineyards, medieval castles and rolling hillsides, the Danube has been enchanting artists, poets and other creative types for hundreds of years. AMA Waterways offers an 11-day Romantic Danube cruise that begins with a three-night stay in Prague, followed by seven nights of cruising from Vilshofen to Budapest. Stops include an Austrian Lake District tour, the chance to taste Wachau Valley wines and explore the fascinating history of cities like Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest. Other lines with similar itineraries include Viking River Cruises, Sea Cloud and Grand Circle.
Mississippi River, New Orleans, Louisiana to St. Paul, Minnesota
The fourth longest river in the world, the Mighty Mississippi cuts through the heart of America, offering the chance to view panoramic landscapes that inspired the works of author Mark Twain. You could take cruise on the Upper Mississippi (St. Paul, Minnesota to Memphis, Tennessee), the Middle (Memphis to St. Louis, Missouri) or the Lower Mississippi (St. Louis to New Orleans, Louisiana). Or, you could cruise the entire stretch in a three-week cruise with the American Queen Steamboat Company. Starting in New Orleans, passengers have the chance to explore places like the French Quarter and gorgeous plantations before heading to the charming river town of Natchez, Mississippi and on to spots like Memphis, with a visit to Graceland included, as well as St. Louis and Hannibal, Missouri which gave birth to Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. The final leg of the cruise includes stops in Iowa and Wisconsin before culminating in Red Wing, Minnesota near the city of St. Paul.
The Wine Regions of Washington and Oregon
Un-Cruise Adventures offers the chance to explore the wine regions of Washington and Oregon aboard the turn-of-the-century-inspired S.S. Legacy. The boat sails round trip from Portland, Oregon on the “Ameritage! Four Rivers of Wine & History” itinerary along the Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers, as well as featuring excursions to Multnomah Falls, Palouse Falls canyon and the beautiful coastal towns of Astoria and Cannon Beach, renowned for its dramatically picturesque shores. It includes tastings and tours at nine wineries, along with local wine experts who join passengers for the week.
Dutch Bulbfields, Netherlands
Leger Holidays offers a leisurely cruise on the Dutch waterways, combined with the glorious splendors of the country’s blooming bulb fields and the cosmopolitan city of Amsterdam. The 3-night cruise includes entrance to Keukenhof Gardens, one of the world’s largest flower gardens with over seven million tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and many other types of flowers. You’ll spend the night in Enkhuizen, which has a historical inner city with numerous state mansions, canals, churches, city walls and harbors, before cruising through the scenic waters of the Ijsselmeer and exploring Hoorn, home to numerous monuments as well as great shopping and dining.
Mekong River, Cambodia/Vietnam
Pandow offers a “Classic Mekong” cruise along the Mekong River, where you’ll experience the striking cultural contrast between the tranquility of Cambodia and the bustling delta in Vietnam. The 7-night excursion leaves from the vibrant colonial port of Saigon, through the vast delta, traveling along the main channel into the rich countryside of Cambodia, including a full day to explore Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh and remote waterways before moving on to the vast and varied temple complexes of Angkor. Stops along the way include visiting Cai Be and its colorful floating market, a Cham tribal village in Chau Doc, the little-known Chong Koh silk-weaving village and the hilltop temple of Wat Hanchey.
Volga River, Russia
Cruising the Volga River, the longest river in Europe, offers the chance to experience both old and modern Russia. Viking River Cruises offers a 12-night cruise between St. Petersburg and Moscow that’s ideal for history buffs and art lovers. It includes visits to iconic landmarks like the Red Square and Kremlin in Moscow, and the Hermitage and Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg. It also offers the chance to experience Russia’s “other side,” like Yaroslavl and Uglich. Highlights include exploring beautiful cathedrals, opulent palaces and fortified monasteries, as well as enjoying music and dance performances onshore, listening to lectures about the Soviet Union, current affairs and Romanov Tsars, participating in Russian team time and attending a Russian cooking workshop.
This Bordeaux to Bordeaux cruise is a wine enthusiast’s dream. It sails three rivers: the Garoone, the Dordogne and the Gironde, promising the best in French scenery, history, food and wine. You’ll enjoy incredibly picturesque landscapes with historic architecture and virtually untouched Roman vineyards, along with delectable cuisine like oysters and duck confit, paired with the famous regional wines of the area, of course. Highlights on this 7-night all-inclusive cruise include a walking tour or bicycle ride through the back streets of Bordeaux, a scenic drive along the Route de la Corniche Fleurie, and an exclusive artisanal wine-pairing lunch at Chateau Cazeneuve.
Yangtze River Cruise, China
A cruise with Victoria Cruises on the third longest river in the world, and Asia’s longest river, is perfect for history buffs and anyone else who wants to enjoy both a land-based tour of China and a cruise. Many of China’s great cities lie along this nearly 4,000-mile-long waterway, including Yichang, the gateway to the Three Gorges, Chongging, Nanjing, Yangzhou and Shanghai. The Three Gorges area is an especially magnificent 80-mile stretch with breathtaking scenery and is the highlight for many, with the centuries-old pagodas seen along the river banks a close second. The river is also home for a number of this country’s endangered species, including the river dolphin and the Chinese alligator. Victoria Cruises offers a variety of year-round itineraries, including a 7-day cruise with a full day excursion to Jiuhuashan, “Mountain of the Nine Lotuses.” The area is renowned for its tranquil beauty that includes mountain peaks, winding paths, waterfalls, streams and ancient temples.
Chindwin River, Myanmar
Pandaw River Expeditions features “A Voyage to Nagaland,” a 7-night cruise along Myanmar’s Chindwin River, a fabulous alternative to the heavily-traveled Irrawaddy River. This less-visited region near the Indian border offers the chance to visit the Buddha Lotus Garden of Homalin, the colonial town of Mawlaik and more. Along the way you’ll pass through dramatic scenery that includes high cliffs and dense jungles, as well as deep gorges and remote villages, each with a unique way of life. It begins in Kalewa with a visit to the local market and taking in the panoramic views over the Chindwin from atop a hill, before sailing to the charming village of Ma Sein Village, continuing to Mawlaik, the former seat of the Bombay Burma Corporation’s timber extraction operations for the Chindwin Area. Toward the end of the journey, passengers enjoy scenic explorations upstream into remote Nagaland, including a stop at Khamti, “the land full of gold,” and a visit to the monastery to meet the local Tai-speaking people.
Amazon River, Peru
A number of cruises offer the chance to explore the wild, untamed Amazon. While it traverses through eight countries, the Peruvian Amazon River basin is especially enthralling. Although most larger vessels’ itineraries are limited to sections between the Brazilian ports of Manuas and Belem, smaller cruise ships can venture further upriver to Iquitos in Peru, incorporating spots in some of this region’s more undeveloped areas. Smithsonian Journeys hosts a small-ship adventure over 10 days which navigates over 500 miles of the Amazon, providing the opportunity to watch an exciting variety of wildlife, like pink Amazon River dolphins, sloths, squirrel monkeys and colorful macaws, as well as traditional village life. Passengers can also take thrilling daily expeditions into the rain forest.
Douro River, Portugal and Spain
Viking River Cruises offers “Portugal’s River of Gold,” a somewhat off the beaten river cruising track that starts in the beautiful city of Porto, known for its graceful bridges, world famous port wine houses and historic center. There are long, heavenly spells on the water without seeing other boats, cruising through narrow stretches of the upper Douro River between the steep terraced vineyards, and you’ll enjoy ports of call where you can explore magnificent castles, baroque mansions and historic monasteries. Other highlights in this 10-day cruise that includes two countries and eight guided tours, are the chance to attend a flamenco show and learn about wine-making traditions as well as dine on authentic specialties like salt cod paired with local port and tawny wines in Spain’s medieval city of Salamanca.
Nile River, Egypt
A cruise on the Nile River, the longest river in the world, is one of the best ways to experience Egypt and all of its fascinating ancient sites, like the pyramids and the Sphinx. The 4,160-mile-long river flows north from Lake Victoria through Uganda, Sudan and Egypt, passing mountains, rainforests, savannas, swamps and desert landscapes, culminating in the fertile Nile Delta before draining into the Mediterranean Sea. There are hundreds of cruise ships that ply its waters, sailing round-trip out of Cairo, including Avalon Waterways. The 9-day cruise includes the chance to marvel at King Tutankhamun’s treasures and ancient art masterpieces in Cairo in addition to the Great Pyramids and Sphinx before flying to Luxor and embarking on a 4-night Nile River cruise to Aswan, stopping at the Luxor Temple, the Valley of Kings and Valley of Queens among others. You’ll visit colorful local bazaars, learn about ancient civilization by an Egyptologist and sail across the water on a felucca before returning to Cairo.