10 Best River Cruises in the World

The concept of “a cruise” vacation elicits passionate debate and a wide range of opinions. People either love or hate the cruise. Detractors compare them to amusement parks; mere fabrications of a vacation and far from authentic. Others swear by the cruise, appreciate the all-inclusive nature of the experience and ability to kick back and do virtually zilch for the duration of the trip.

A good compromise between a traditional Caribbean-type cruise on a massive ocean liner with every possible amenity and way, way too much food and a country expedition that requires another vacation once you return home, is a river excursion. River cruises offer a level of intimacy, not to mention scenery, simply unavailable at sea or on the ocean. They provide a quasi-eco-tourism angle to a trip, albeit from a comfortable, watery distance and the ports of call are far more diverse and rich in terms of culture and history.

From Asia to Europe, Africa to South America, here are 10 of the Best River Cruises in the World.

Mississippi River, United States

The history of the Mississippi River in many aspects, mirrors the history of America. From Hernando de Soto’s first brush with the river in 1541 to the French explorers Joliet and Marquette and their navigation of the river with Sioux guides over a century later, the Mississippi has always been a focal point in the development of the country. The river was a vital cog in the slave trade - as a means of transport and escape - and before the advent of trains and motor vehicles, steamboat commerce on the Mississippi was one of the main engines of the U.S. economy. The river has also had a star turn in American literature, most notably in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.

A Mississippi River cruise is one of the best ways to enjoy the romance and lore of America’s Old South. Most excursions pass through such notable and historic stops as New Orleans, where one can sample authentic Cajun cuisine and jazz, St. Louis and Nashville, otherwise known as Music City.

Yangtze River, China

China conjures much trepidation among potential travelers. With a massive population and recent development of mainstream tourism, the country is complex, big and scary for many. These impressions fade upon first visit however, especially on a ride down the mythical Yangtze. A cruise on the third-longest river in the world offers a vast array of sights and attractions at stress levels far below Beijing or Shanghai street traffic. To amble down the Yangtze is to trace the development of China and indeed, a crucial piece of human civilization.

From ancient treasures that include the Great Wall and Imperial palaces and temples, as well as modern wonders like the controversial Three Gorges Dam and major city stops such as Wuhan, Wuhu and Nanjing, the river has a myriad of choices on tap.

Discover great Shanghai hotel deals and explore the city before you set out on the Yangtze.

Danube River, Europe

The second-longest river in Europe is perhaps the most romanticized waterway in the world. Long a favourite subject in literature, music and folklore, the Danube snakes through some of the most beautiful natural scenery on the continent. Some of the most ancient townships and settlements in Europe dot the river’s shores, as it meanders through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania and the Ukraine. For medieval architecture, vineyards and pristine valley landscapes, a cruise along the Danube has to be to best method to discover Europe.

The highlights are too numerous to mention. From historic Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and Belgrade, to the Iron Gates, a gorge between Serbia and Romania, as well as countless Basilicas, Cathedrals and monastic structures, the Danube River is a phenomenal experience.

Douro River, Portugal

The hallmark of the Douro River is charm. Intimate, cozy and leisurely, a cruise along the Douro is a fabulous way to enjoy Portugal’s beauty. A major river within the Iberian Peninsula, the most accessible areas of the Douro lie within the borders of Portugal. The river system boasts a unique mini-climate where olive, almond, wheat and grape cultivation is plentiful, as are sheep farms. Though towns are sparse along the Douro, the river is has a picturesque, idyllic quality, even if it cannot compete in terms of size and abundance of historic sites with other European rivers.

The city of Porto is the best reason to cruise on the Douro. A real gem, Porto has none of the pretension of Lisbon but all of the charm and more. The city is of course, world famous for the production of Port wine and a Douro cruise will normally feature extensive tours of some of the best houses. A foray into the historic city is an absolute must as well.

Oder River, Europe

With so much to see in Central Europe, a ride down the Oder River affords a complete experience that combines some of the best of Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany. If hidden gems are what you live for, explore the Oder. With a trade history that harkens back over a thousand years, there is a surfeit of little towns to explore and document. Part of one of the least understood areas of Europe, the Oder landscape is a wonder to discover.

The Old World settlements along the shores in Poland and Germany in particular are simply remarkable and not available in traditional, mainstream tourism. In addition to cultural landmarks and national parks, a cruise on the Oder is sheer delight. From Hanseatic towns in northern Germany to pristine Szcsecin and old Wroclaw in Poland, as well as the Bay of Pomerania and Baltic Sea region, the Oder hits all the right spots in Central Europe.

Rhine River, Europe

One of the most popular river cruise destinations in the world, the Rhine evokes much emotion and passion from natives along her shores and tourists alike. Many momentous events in Europe’s history have gone down here, as the Rhine represents one of the most geographic features on the continent. For Germans, the river is the symbol of the country and the historic heart of commerce, industry and trade.

In terms of significant port towns, the Rhine is king and not confined to Germany. Stops may include Strasbourg in Alsace, France; Rotterdam, Netherlands or Basel, Switzerland, all wonderful destinations on their own. But the best of the Rhine is in Germany, as some of the most exquisite architecture in Europe unfolds along the way. From ancient Bamberg to Dusseldorf, Cologne, Mainz and Bonn, the Rhine cruises through the best of Germany.

Saone River, France

For Francophiles and wine connoisseurs, a cruise on the Saone River is a must. From Burgundy vineyards to old Gallic towns, the Saone affords some of the best views in the country and also presents a nice break from Paris and the Cote d’Azur. In terms of great food, wine, architecture and culture, the Saone may be the best cruise excursion in Europe.

Perhaps the most notable city on the way is Lyon, which to many, is the culinary heart of France. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is splendid and virtually unmatched in France. A cruise in the Saone may also meander by Macon, site of several monuments and with a lineage that dates back over 2,000 years. The area also produces some of the best Chardonnay in the world. Another vital town on the Saone is Beaune, home to some of the most famous wine producers in all of Burgundy.

Volga River, Russia

To explore Russia is a venture of incomparable scope. The country is a gargantuan beast that stretches from Europe to Asia and from the Pacific to the Arctic. If you want a taste of Russia as a whole, a Volga river tour might be your panacea. A cruise here will include the all important big two of Moscow and St. Petersburg but also many other sites unfamiliar to many neophytes.

As the watery heart of this massive land, the Volga holds much mystery and history to the people of Russia. Eleven of the country’s twenty largest population centers are situated on the mighty river’s shores. Needless to say, the Volga and her confluents provide a way of life to millions upon millions of Russian citizens. As a result, a cruise here represents the ideal way to explore the rich historical and cultural heritage of Russia. Aside from the obvious Moscow and St. Petersburg, one can also explore the historic towns of Nizhni Novgorod, Kazan, Volograd and Kostroma.

Amazon River, South America
No river inspires more mystery, folklore or awe. The Nile may have the Amazon beat in terms of length but in every other category, the natural wonder of record in South America reigns supreme. With a total flow that surpasses the next ten competitors combined, the importance of the Amazon basin and river system to the world cannot be overstated. We all know about the precarious position the Amazon rainforests find themselves in. As a result, the time is ripe to visit the area and take a cruise along this spectacular waterway river.

The beauty along the Amazaon, visible from your watercraft, is lush, gorgeous and simply not in existence anywhere else on Earth. While the most beautiful parts are probably not accessible by standard cruise operators, most will nonetheless take you to the Upper Amazon. From here, ports like Iquitos, Peru and Leticia, Colombia await discovery, not to mention a dizzying array of exotic wildlife, flora and hospitable local people. When available, tributary cruises are a must and reach some of the most pristine and ecologically rich nether-regions of the Amazon landscape.

Explore magical Peru hotel before you venture out into the Amazon wilderness.

Nile River, Egypt

A visit to magical Egypt would not be complete - not by a longshot - without a cruise down the Nile River. A journey by which to measure all others, it remains the hallmark feature of any vacation to the area. The simple fact remains the when on the Nile, you are nestled in the cradle of human civilization. In many respects, it all begin here, in this part of Africa. Remarkable developments in cultivation, science, mathematics, architecture and much more. Indeed, a cruise on the Nile is more than just an idyllic way to relax. It traces vital roots of human development that go back five millenia.

All the inherent sites are ancient and deeply spiritual. From the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut and Temple of Karnak in Thebes, to the nearby Valley of the Kings, where dozens of pharaohs were entombed, a Nile cruise visits unforgettable locations. The Temple of Horus, over 2,000 years old and in astounding condition, and the prodigious dam at Aswan are major highlights as well. Most Nile tours include the best of Cairo, as well as the major Pyramid attractions.

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