From the Nile to the Amazon: 6 of the Best River Cruises in the World

Caribbean and Mediterranean cruises are probably more well known, but river cruises have steadily increased in popularity over the last decade. These cruises take travelers right into the heart of picturesque cities and natural areas of stunning beauty. Because the ships used for river cruises are smaller than the typical ocean cruise ship, the atmosphere on a river cruise tends to be more relaxed and intimate. Read on for a look at some of the best river cruises and start planning your trip today.

River Nile

The longest river in Africa and—many would argue—the longest in the world, the River Nile stretches some 4,130 miles through 11 countries as it flows north into the Mediterranean Sea in northern Egypt.

It is in Egypt where there are numerous river cruises available to explore the Nile. Considering that much of modern and Ancient Egypt is located along the river, a cruise on the Nile will take you to the country’s most important cultural and historical sites.

For example, a Cairo-to-Aswan cruise, approximately 545 miles, begins in the Egyptian capital and make stops at such iconic sites as the Pyramids at Giza, the ancient city of Luxor, the temple complex of Dendera, the Temple of Horus at Edfu, and the market town of Aswan. What better way to explore one of the world’s oldest and most important civilizations?

River Danube

The River Danube is Europe’s second longest river and covers around 1,770 miles, flowing through or bordering 10 countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Ukraine, before spilling into the Black Sea.

Given the number of countries the Danube touches and its distance, there are several cruises to choose from, with most between eight to 23 days.

Some sights travelers see while cruising the Danube include Passau in Germany, where three rivers meet; Budapest’s Chain Bridge; the Iron Gates between Serbia and Romania; and the Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade. Other itineraries may include stops in Vienna, Munich, and Prague.

Amazon River

The world’s largest river (by discharge) and arguably the longest, the Amazon is one of the most significant waterways on Earth. At a length of 4,300 miles, the Amazon flows through Brazil, Peru, and Colombia, so the choice of river cruise will depend on the country you choose to embark from.

With approximately 60 percent of the river within its borders, Brazil is a popular choice for an Amazon river cruise. Cruisers will be immersed in the unrivalled array of water and land wildlife, experience Amazonian culture courtesy of indigenous tribes, and enjoy adventures such as rainforest canopy walks, swimming with pink river dolphins, fishing, and birdwatching.

Alternatively, there are Amazon cruises departing from Peru and Colombia, while neighboring Ecuador and Bolivia also host river cruises on the Amazon’s tributaries that still offer many of the same experiences as on the main river.

Yangtze River

The Yangtze River in China is the longest river in Asia and third-longest in the world behind the Nile and Amazon, flowing approximately 3,900 miles. Cruises on the Yangtze can vary from three days up to 20-day trips with overnight hotel stays. All trips will give travelers an up-close experience of China’s stunning natural scenery.

Many parts of China can be seen during a Yangtze river tour, including a visit to Fengdu,  China’s ancient “Ghost City,” and the enormous yet controversial Three Gorges Dam.

While on a Yangtze river cruise, shore excursions could include visits to some of China’s most important landmarks, such as the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army in Xi’an, and Beijing sites like Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Mississippi River

The Mississippi River is one of the most famous and important rivers in North America, and at 2,348 miles long, it is the longest river in the United States.

A Mississippi River cruise can offer unique insight into American history. Trips typically range from eight-day voyages up to 22 days to experience the complete cruise. Many Mississippi River cruises start in New Orleans, a beautiful, historic city known as the birthplace of jazz music and the home of Creole cuisine.

Experience a Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and rock out in Memphis, Tennessee, one of the United States’ most influential music cities. Other stops may include Hannibal, Missouri, a historic town where writer Mark Twain was born and where he drew much of his inspiration from.  

Mekong River

For those considering a trip to Southeast Asia, a Mekong River cruise might just be the ticket. Flowing through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, the Mekong is approximately 2,700 miles long, making it the seventh-longest in Asia.

There are numerous Mekong cruises to choose from that vary in duration—often between five and 20 days—and can incorporate multiple countries. Combining Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand is a popular choice and allows visitors to experience the many different wonders of Southeast Asia, including ancient temples, floating markets, breathtaking scenery, and stunning beaches. Other sites serve as history lessons on the not-so-distant past; these include Vietnam War museums and reminders of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Mekong river cruises can be enjoyed year-round, although the rainy season between June and October typically brings heavy showers—but on the plus side, it will be less busy then.