10 Amazing River Cruises

Forget the ocean. Jump ship for a river cruise.

Don’t miss the boat. Travelers are abandoning ship – ocean liners, that is – for river cruises. Smaller river boats can go places the big boys can't, and often drop you off in town, instead of making you wait for a shuttle to shore.

Steamboat Cruise

American Queen Steamboat Company

River cruises also typically include land excursions with your fare. Of course, because the ships are smaller, you won’t get extravagant amenities like rock climbing walls. On the other hand, fewer passengers, and meals served at set times, make it easier to socialize. You also have more time on land, because you’re not at sea for a day or more. Here are 10 of our favorites.

Snake and Columbia Rivers, Pacific Northwestern U.S.

You’re in pioneer country when you sail the Snake and Columbia Rivers in the scenic Pacific Northwest. Board a steamboat to retrace Lewis and Clark’s legendary route; many have onboard experts who'll discuss the region’s history, culture and natural resources. You’ll see the majestic Columbia River Gorge and icy-cold Multnomah Falls, the second highest waterfall in the U.S. Book a jet boat ride when you reach Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon in North America, to look for Native American pictographs and watch the landscape change from high desert to alpine forest.  

Steamboat Cruise, Columbia River

American Queen Steamboat Company

Danube River, Europe

The Danube is Europe’s most popular cruising river. It flows through Germany, Austria, Hungary and other counties on its 2,000-mile route, and you’ll find itineraries that include Vienna, Munich, Prague, Budapest and other don't-miss cities. Disembark in Vienna, the “City of Music,” to visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Hofburg Imperial complex, home to the Vienna Boys’ Choir and the Lipizzaner stallions. Look for fairytale-like Neuschwanstein Castle in Munich. In Prague, explore the Black Forest, Heidelberg Castle, and the infamous Nuremberg Rally Grounds. 

Danube River Cruise

Globus Avalon Waterways Affinity

Moselle River, Europe

One of Europe’s great rivers, the Moselle winds from tall mountains in France through Luxembourg and Germany. Plan your trip in the fall to see brilliant autumnal colors in the landscape, or go at Christmastime, when small towns and big cities along the river glow with festive lights. Sample Riesling, Kerner and other regional wines, and leave plenty of time to see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and other Parisian landmarks. Book your trip in spring, and you can include Holland’s iconic windmills and colorful tulips.  

Moselle River Cruise

Globus Avalon Waterways Affinity

Shanghai, Chongqing, Nanjing and other prominent Chinese cities lie along the 4,000-mile Yangtze. The Three Gorges region is the most scenic stretch of the river, with its forested mountains and sheer cliffs.

Goddess Stream Gorges, China

Victoria Cruises

Take a land trip in Fengdu to visit the fabled “Ghost City,” where mystical attractions include the Nothing-To-Be-Done Bridge and the Ghost Torturing Pass. As you pass pagodas on the riverbanks, you’ll encounter the infamous Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydro-powered project (and, sadly, one of the most costly and environmentally damaging).

Victoria Katarina Ship

Victoria Cruises

Nile River, Africa  

Cruise Africa’s Nile, the longest river in the world, for a 5,000-year journey back in time. Fans of history and archeology will want to tour Cairo and Giza to visit the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx, among other artifacts and treasures. Highlights on a Nile cruise include the Valley of Kings and the Valley of Queens, where Tutankhamen’s tomb was found in 1922. Many other royals are thought to still lie undisturbed in the region. Note: Be aware that there is a high risk to your safety and security when traveling in Egypt. Violent political protests and terrorist attacks may occur without warning. For detailed information, visit the U.S. Department of State's website and also check the Embassy of the United States, Cairo, Egypt website.

Elbe River, Europe

Germany’s second best-known river, the Elbe (the Rhine is first), offers stunning scenery and opportunities to explore the culture and history of Germany and Eastern Europe. The Elbe flows past vineyards and the Sandstone Mountains, also called the Saxon Alps, on its way to the North Sea. Sail from Prague to Hamburg or Berlin to see the cities of Dresden; Meissen, notable for its fine porcelain; Wittenberg, where Martin Luther launched the Reformation; and Magdeburg, the site of Germany’s first Gothic cathedral. Be prepared to be flexible, though, because the Elbe's water levels can drop in the summer. Cruise operators must sometimes bus passengers to their destinations, or transfer them to boats in other locations on the river, before they can resume their journey. 

Rhine River, Europe

Canals in Holland

Viking Cruises

If you’re interested in culture, fine dining and art, plan a cruise on the Rhine, one of Europe’s most historically important waterways. The Rhine starts in the Alps, in east-central Switzerland, and continues into the North Sea, and flows to the Netherlands. Many old cities lie along its path, including Strasbourg, in France, and Cologne, in Germany. Embark in Zurich to sail through the Rhine Gorge toward Heidelberg, known for its famous castle and historic old quarter. Board in Amsterdam, in the spring, to spot fields of daffodils, tulips and other flowers. There are many other options for a Rhine cruise, including departures from Paris, Brussels, Budapest, Prague and Munich. 

Mekong River, Southeast Asia

With its origins in the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong is Southeast Asia’s longest river, reaching to the South China Sea. Book passage through China, Laos, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand for scenery that ranges from small rice paddies and humble fish farms to Cambodia’s impressive Silver Pagoda and more. In Hanoi, Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City, take a walking tour to interact with the locals and learn about their cultures, history and traditions. 

Amazon River, South America

Tropical rain forests, colorful parrots, red howler monkeys, and remote villages are just some of the highlights of the Peruvian Amazon River basin. Most riverboat companies employ naturalists who'll help you understand the region’s history, culture and human and animal inhabitants. Be sure to allow time to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu, which dates back to 1450. Once you’re on the river, you’ll be in an untamed wilderness with incredible biodiversity. Plan a guided tour down the river’s tributaries to visit a native village, take a nature walk into the jungle, or swim with the Amazon’s incredible pink dolphins. 

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