6 Regions Around the World Best Seen on a River Cruise

by  Donna Heiderstadt | May 28, 2024

River cruising has experienced phenomenal growth over the past two decades in part because it’s a more convenient alternative to land-based bus tours. Your home-away-from-home moves with you over the course of a week or longer, meaning you unpack only once while exploring a variety of exciting cities and enchanting small towns. You’ll also enjoy superb onboard cuisine and get to know your fellow cruisers. Of course, this is only possible where rivers flow and cruise lines sail, so here’s a look at six regions around the world best seen on a river cruise.

Cambodia & Vietnam


Flowing for almost 3,000 miles through Southeast Asia, the mighty Mekong is a living mosaic of century-spanning sights, from lavish palaces and UNESCO World Heritage Site temples to ramshackle villages and surreally green rice paddies. Most Mekong River cruises sail between Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, from August to April, since low river levels and hot weather make May to July difficult for travel.

Neil Bussey/iStock

Highlights of these cruises, which range from seven to 13 nights, include the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, with its Silver Pagoda and sobering genocide museum detailing the “Killing Fields” era of the 1970s Pol Pot regime. Cambodia’s more mystical destination is Angkor Wat, the superbly carved stone temple complex outside of Siem Reap built as early as the 9th century. 

R.M. Nunes/iStock

In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest city, sometimes still referred to as Saigon, is a mix of French-colonial architecture, Parisian-style boulevards, stunning pagodas, and modern skyscrapers. Smaller villages along the Mekong’s Vietnamese side offer a look at the daily life of farmers, fishermen, and handicraft makers, complete with floating markets and rickshaws.

Which river lines cruise Cambodia & Vietnam?

AmaWaterways, Aqua Expeditions, Avalon Waterways, Emerald Waterways, Scenic, Uniworld, and Viking.


Anton Aleksenko/iStock

The allure of cruising the Nile River to see the temples of Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and Abu Simbel in southern Egypt is undeniable. Add on a few nights in Cairo to visit the Pyramids of Giza and the newly opened Grand Egyptian Museum before or after your seven-night cruise and it’s a truly bucket-list trip for anyone fascinated by ancient history.


There are just a handful of primary ports on most Nile River cruises. After arriving in Cairo, you’ll fly to Luxor to board your ship, which will be notably smaller than those sailing the major rivers of Europe. From Luxor, you’ll visit the riverfront temples of Karnak and Luxor and delve into the lore of King Tut and Queen Hatshepsut. More ancient treasures wait in Edfu and Qena. In Aswan, Egypt’s southernmost city, you’ll gaze out on mesmerizing desert landscapes that frame lush mid-river islands, visit the two-mile-wide Aswan High Dam, or enjoy an Abu Simbal excursion to see the two massive rock-cut temples.

Which river lines cruise Egypt?

AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Uniworld, and Viking.

The Amazon


Cruising the Amazon River is an altogether unique experience, more wildlife safari and rainforest immersion than history lesson. While small luxury cruise ships can explore the river’s larger sections from the Atlantic Ocean to Manaus, Brazil, it’s the Peruvian Amazon that takes center stage for luxury river cruises lasting three, four, or seven nights. Here, on meandering tributaries, these vessels, typically accommodating no more than 30 to 40 guests, get into the heart of the Amazon from the city of Iquitos.

Each day is an adventure as you explore with a guide in a motorized skiff. You’ll spy on monkeys and sloths in the treetops and watch pink-hued river dolphins swim through the greenish-brown water. Hiking along verdant trails, you’ll spot tiny poisonous tree frogs and later enjoy a Champagne toast amid a picturesque quilt of water lilies at sunset. You may also fish for carnivorous piranha by day and search for giant anacondas after dark. 

Which river lines cruise The Amazon?

Aqua Expeditions, Avalon Waterways, Lindblad Expeditions, and Uniworld.

The Mississippi


If cruising closer to home appeals, it doesn’t get any closer than this. The Mississippi River, which winds its way for 2,340 miles through 10 states, from Louisiana in the south to Minnesota in the north, is a terrific option that will immerse you in the history, music, food, and architecture of America’s Heartland. 

Some vessels are sleek river ships while others are retro-inspired paddle wheelers. If you have 15 days, you can cruise the river’s entire length, from New Orleans to St. Paul (or vice versa). You can also opt for a Lower Mississippi or Upper Mississippi sailing that lasts seven to nine days. With the former, you can do a New Orleans roundtrip and visit historic cities in Mississippi and Louisiana that include Natchez, Vicksburg, Baton Rouge, and St. Francisville, or add on Memphis, Tennessee, with a one-way itinerary to or from New Orleans. On an Upper Mississippi sailing, you’ll start in either St. Louis or St. Paul and visit riverfront cities such as Hannibal, Missouri; Davenport, Iowa; La Crosse, Wisconsin; and Red Wing, Minnesota. Which section you choose will dictate when you go, since Upper Mississippi and Full Mississippi sailings are only offered from June to October while Lower Mississippi itineraries are year-round.

Which river lines cruise the Mississippi?

American Cruise Lines and Viking.

Central Europe


No other region is home to as many navigable rivers and must-see historic cities, from Amsterdam, Antwerp, Vienna, and Cologne in the north to Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, and Porto in the west. In Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Portugal rivers connect these vibrant cities with dozens of smaller towns featuring landmark castles, lavish cathedrals, and charming old towns. 

Central Europe’s top rivers include the Rhine, Rhone, Seine, Douro, and Danube. Dozens of cruise itineraries along these waterways immerse you in history, culinary traditions, wine-making, art, architecture, and natural beauty. Picture a living mosaic of tulips in April along the waterways of Belgium and Holland or gliding past the terraced vineyards of Portugal’s Douro Valley during the grape harvest in September. Mix history and art as you explore rogue papacies, Roman amphitheaters, and French wine along the Rhone in the South of France or tour the palaces and cathedrals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the Danube.

What can you expect on each river? Here’s an intro:

The Danube, which flows through 10 countries from southern Germany to the Black Sea, is ideal for anyone with an interest in history, art, and architecture. On an Upper Danube itinerary, you’ll visit capital cities Budapest, Vienna, and Bratislava (Slovakia), as well as smaller Austrian cities and towns like Linz, Durnstein, and Melk. Day trips to lofty Salzburg or the picturesque Czech town of Cesky Krumlov are also possible. Most cruises begin or end in the Bavaria region of Germany, so a stay in Munich can cap off the trip.

The Rhine, which begins in the Swiss Alps and runs to the North Sea near Rotterdam, offers views of storybook castles and vineyards set against a backdrop that is among the most stunning in river cruising. Cities on a Rhine itinerary can include Basel, Switzerland; Strasbourg, France; Cologne, Germany; and Amsterdam. In between are wine-making hamlets such as Rüdesheim am Rhein and Bamberg in Germany, plus scenic Kinderdijk in the Netherlands, home to centuries-old windmills.

The Rhone, which meanders from food-centric Lyon all the way to the Mediterranean in the South of France, is chock full of delights. These include the Roman arena and medieval streets of Arles (also famous as the setting for some of Vincent Van Gogh’s most notable paintings), the papal intrigue of Avignon, the wine-making excellence around Tournon-sur-Rhône, and the truffle treasures of Viviers. 

Gael Fontaine/iStock

The Seine, which flows north through Paris to the English Channel, is equally intriguing, especially to history buffs and art lovers. On these cruises, you can explore the museums and landmarks of the French capital, wander Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny, and see buildings and landscapes painted by Van Gogh in Auvers-sur-Oise (where he’s also buried). You can also walk the medieval streets of Rouen, where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake and Monet painted the Gothic cathedral, before visiting Honfleur, a seaside hamlet favored by Impressionists, as well as the D-Day beaches of Normandy and the American Cemetery, resting place of 9,387 fallen soldiers.

The Dordogne and Garonne rivers, located in the Bordeaux wine-making region of France, offer a heady immersion for oenophiles — from the historic bustle of the city of Bordeaux to the bucolic ambiance of wine-making hamlets such as St.-Emilion, Pauillac, and Cadillac.

The Douro River in northern Portugal is another mecca for wine lovers. Riverboats cruise from atmospheric Porto, home to historic port wine cellars, to small towns such as Pinhão and Régua, set amid pastoral hillside vineyards.


Central Europe also has two lesser-known rivers. The Elbe River flows through the former East Germany and offers access to Berlin, Potsdam, and Dresden, as well as nearby Prague in the Czech Republic. The waterways of Holland and Belgium attract garden lovers each spring with millions of tulips, historic windmills, and the chocolate and beer abundant in Belgian cities like Brussels, Antwerp, and Bruges.

Which river lines cruise Central Europe?

Check out AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Emerald Waterways, Riverside, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld, and Viking.

Eastern Europe

Budapest, Hungary / iStock / Givaga

While exploring Central Europe is more popular, Eastern Europe has plenty to offer in the way of lesser-known but history-rich countries like Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The Danube River passes through all six and Lower Danube itineraries generally begin in Budapest, Hungary, and end in Bucharest, Romania (or vice versa). 

Here’s what you’ll see along the way:

In Hungary, the contrast between the stately architecture of Budapest and the port of Kalocsa couldn’t be greater. Known for paprika production and embroidered handicrafts, this city and its surrounding countryside are also the place to experience cowboy culture (the energetic but touristy Puszta Horse Show is a popular excursion) and the Hajós-Baja wine region (Hungarian wines are quite good, so wine-tasting is a commendable option).

Croatia, which most people know for its historic ports on the Adriatic coast, also has a port on the Danube. Vukovar is the gateway to Osijek, located about 45 minutes away. Both cities were heavily damaged during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but many buildings in Osijek’s historic Baroque center were spared or have been restored. Here you can visit the Church of St. Peter and Paul with its 295-foot steeple and pedestrian-only Holy Trinity Square in the Old Town known as Tvrda.


Belgrade, the former capital of Yugoslavia and current capital of Serbia, is one of Europe’s oldest cities. Its architecture ranges from charming 17th-century buildings set on the cobblestone streets of Old Town (a short stroll from the port) to dour Communist block structures. Don’t miss the Belgrade Fortress (it was destroyed 40 times, and what remains is mainly from the Ottoman period), the Nikola Tesla Museum, and the massive Church of Saint Sava with its lavish gilded crypt. 

Bulgaria may offer up the most surprises. One of the region’s least wealthy countries, it is full of scenic beauty and unique sights. River ships call on Vidin, home to Fortress Bab Vida, for excursions to the striking, red-hued Belogradchick Rocks. You’ll also call on Ruse for an all-day scenic excursion to Veliko Tarnovo, a medieval town and fortress built into the cliffs of the Yantra River. Back on the Danube, you’ll marvel at the Iron Gates, a series of gorges that are one of Europe’s natural wonders, as you cruise through them.

You’ll board or disembark your cruise about an hour outside of the Romanian capital. Bucharest is a city of contrasts, known as the “Paris of the East” for its stately boulevards (it even has an Arc de Triomphe). It's also home to the massive Palace of the Parliament, built by notorious mid-20th-century dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Many cruisers also add on pre- or post-cruise tour to the historic towns and castles of nearby Transylvania.

Which river lines cruise Eastern Europe?

AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Emerald Waterways, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld, and Viking.

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