12 Bucket List Places You Can Visit on a River Cruise

by Donna Heiderstadt

12 Bucket List Places You Can Visit on a River Cruise

by Donna Heiderstadt

Everyone’s bucket list is different – a history buff’s must-sees likely aren’t the same as a garden lover’s or a wildlife enthusiast’s – but river cruises in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Amazon, and the United States offer extraordinary sites to satisfy almost every interest. Here are 12 bucket list places to visit on a river cruise.

Everyone’s bucket list is different – a history buff’s must-sees likely aren’t the same as a garden lover’s or a wildlife enthusiast’s – but river cruises in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Amazon, and the United States offer extraordinary sites to satisfy almost every interest. Here are 12 bucket list places to visit on a river cruise.

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Wildlife viewing / Courtesy of AmaWaterways
Luxor, Egypt
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The Ancient Tombs and Temples of Luxor, Egypt

Even if archaeology and ancient Egyptian culture aren’t a passion, there’s no denying the appeal of the 3,400-year-old temple complex in this city visited on a Nile River cruise. Home to the Temples of Luxor and Karnak, as well as the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, Luxor was the most significant religious center for generations of pharaohs, including Ramses II and Tutankhamun.

Even if archaeology and ancient Egyptian culture aren’t a passion, there’s no denying the appeal of the 3,400-year-old temple complex in this city visited on a Nile River cruise. Home to the Temples of Luxor and Karnak, as well as the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, Luxor was the most significant religious center for generations of pharaohs, including Ramses II and Tutankhamun.

Tulips in the Netherlands
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Springtime Tulips and Windmills in the Netherlands

From mid March to late April, cruise lines position Rhine River ships along the waterways of Belgium and the Netherlands, offering guests on these itineraries a chance to experience not one, but two marvels created by the combined forces of nature and mankind: the splendid tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils of 79-acre Keukenhof Gardens outside Amsterdam and the 19 historic windmills of Kinderdijk.

From mid March to late April, cruise lines position Rhine River ships along the waterways of Belgium and the Netherlands, offering guests on these itineraries a chance to experience not one, but two marvels created by the combined forces of nature and mankind: the splendid tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils of 79-acre Keukenhof Gardens outside Amsterdam and the 19 historic windmills of Kinderdijk.

Angkor Wat
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The Temples of Angkor in Cambodia

Most Mekong River cruises visit Siem Reap, the gateway to one of the world’s most important archeological sites: the temple complex at Angkor. The structures here were built by the Khmer dynasty from the 9th to 15th centuries, and a standout is 12th-century Angkor Wat, constructed by King Suryavarman II and known for its beautifully proportioned beehive-shape towers and elaborate carvings.

Most Mekong River cruises visit Siem Reap, the gateway to one of the world’s most important archeological sites: the temple complex at Angkor. The structures here were built by the Khmer dynasty from the 9th to 15th centuries, and a standout is 12th-century Angkor Wat, constructed by King Suryavarman II and known for its beautifully proportioned beehive-shape towers and elaborate carvings.

Omaha Beach
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The Beaches of Normandy and American Cemetery in France

Few places in Europe tug on Americans’ heartstrings like Omaha Beach, the stretch of sand along the Normandy Coast where U.S. and Allied forces stormed ashore on D-Day during World War II, and the American Cemetery, where 9,386 fallen heroes are buried. Both can be visited on a Seine River cruise, round-trip from Paris, which also offers a chance to see Monet’s Garden at Giverny and the Eiffel Tower.

Few places in Europe tug on Americans’ heartstrings like Omaha Beach, the stretch of sand along the Normandy Coast where U.S. and Allied forces stormed ashore on D-Day during World War II, and the American Cemetery, where 9,386 fallen heroes are buried. Both can be visited on a Seine River cruise, round-trip from Paris, which also offers a chance to see Monet’s Garden at Giverny and the Eiffel Tower.

Piazza San Marco
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Piazza San Marco and the Doges Palace in Venice, Italy

Italy’s Po River flows into the Venice Lagoon, and river cruises in Northern Italy begin and end in legendary Venice, mixing calls on several islands – including Burano and Torcello – with visits to historic river towns such as Polsella (for excursions to Bologna or Ferrara). A highlight is always Venice’s Piazza San Marco with its 11th-century gilded basilica and pink-and-white marble Doge’s Palace.

Italy’s Po River flows into the Venice Lagoon, and river cruises in Northern Italy begin and end in legendary Venice, mixing calls on several islands – including Burano and Torcello – with visits to historic river towns such as Polsella (for excursions to Bologna or Ferrara). A highlight is always Venice’s Piazza San Marco with its 11th-century gilded basilica and pink-and-white marble Doge’s Palace.

Red Square
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St. Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square in Moscow, Russia

While Baltic cruises aboard ocean ships call on St. Petersburg, it’s river itineraries on the Volga and other Russian waterways that make the journey inland to Moscow, offering guests the opportunity to stand in one of the planet’s most famous public spaces Red Square, and pose with the vibrantly painted onion-shaped cupolas of 16th-century St. Basil’s Cathedral.

While Baltic cruises aboard ocean ships call on St. Petersburg, it’s river itineraries on the Volga and other Russian waterways that make the journey inland to Moscow, offering guests the opportunity to stand in one of the planet’s most famous public spaces Red Square, and pose with the vibrantly painted onion-shaped cupolas of 16th-century St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Victoria Falls
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Wildlife in Botswana and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

River cruising in Africa isn’t as well-known as in some other regions of the world, but both AmaWaterways and CroisiEurope offer safari cruises – AmaWaterways on the Chobe River and CroisiEurope on Lake Kariba – with wildlife viewing at Chobe National Park in Botswana. The grand finale? A visit to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and an excursion on the fabled Zambezi River.

River cruising in Africa isn’t as well-known as in some other regions of the world, but both AmaWaterways and CroisiEurope offer safari cruises – AmaWaterways on the Chobe River and CroisiEurope on Lake Kariba – with wildlife viewing at Chobe National Park in Botswana. The grand finale? A visit to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and an excursion on the fabled Zambezi River.

Cologne Cathedral
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Cologne Cathedral in Germany

The UNESCO-designated cathedral in Cologne is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. Constructed from the 14th and 16th centuries, it’s famous for its 515-foot twin spires and was badly damaged by Allied bombs during World War II. However, its preservation and interior treasures are impressive. Intrepid Rhine River cruisers can also climb a spiral stone staircase up into one of the towers.

The UNESCO-designated cathedral in Cologne is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. Constructed from the 14th and 16th centuries, it’s famous for its 515-foot twin spires and was badly damaged by Allied bombs during World War II. However, its preservation and interior treasures are impressive. Intrepid Rhine River cruisers can also climb a spiral stone staircase up into one of the towers.

Amazon Rainforest
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The Amazon Rainforest in Peru

Experiencing the unique ecosystem of the Amazon River and rainforest is on many bucket lists. Several river cruise lines, including Aqua Expeditions and Avalon Waterways, offer itineraries in the Peruvian Amazon that include daily expeditions by motorized skiff to spy on pink river dolphins, search the treetops for sloths and monkeys and even fish for piranha.

Experiencing the unique ecosystem of the Amazon River and rainforest is on many bucket lists. Several river cruise lines, including Aqua Expeditions and Avalon Waterways, offer itineraries in the Peruvian Amazon that include daily expeditions by motorized skiff to spy on pink river dolphins, search the treetops for sloths and monkeys and even fish for piranha.

Basel, Switzerland
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The Medieval Old Town of Basel, Switzerland

History buffs have plenty of beautifully restored medieval Old Towns to explore during a European river cruise, but one of the loveliest, and perhaps most unexpected, is the historic heart of Basel. Often the start or finish of a Rhine River cruise, this Swiss city is home to 800-year-old Münster cathedral, an ornamental Town Hall located on the vibrant Marktplatz and more than 300 fountains.

History buffs have plenty of beautifully restored medieval Old Towns to explore during a European river cruise, but one of the loveliest, and perhaps most unexpected, is the historic heart of Basel. Often the start or finish of a Rhine River cruise, this Swiss city is home to 800-year-old Münster cathedral, an ornamental Town Hall located on the vibrant Marktplatz and more than 300 fountains.

Avignon Bridge and Palace of the Popes
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Avignon’s Palace of the Popes in France

Another top spot for history lovers is Avignon, located on the Rhône River, where the 14th-century Palace of the Popes was home to seven popes and two popes of the papal schism before the papacy was returned to Rome in 1377. Built by Pope Benedict XII and Pope Clement VI, it’s the largest Gothic palace in Europe. Pont du Gard, a soaring Roman aqueduct, is also nearby.

Another top spot for history lovers is Avignon, located on the Rhône River, where the 14th-century Palace of the Popes was home to seven popes and two popes of the papal schism before the papacy was returned to Rome in 1377. Built by Pope Benedict XII and Pope Clement VI, it’s the largest Gothic palace in Europe. Pont du Gard, a soaring Roman aqueduct, is also nearby.

Gateway Arch
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Architectural Landmarks of the Mississippi River

A Mississippi River cruise offers access to some of America’s most cherished historic architecture, from Garden District mansions and Jackson Square in New Orleans to the soaring Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Along the way, river towns such as Natchez, Mississippi, have landmarked historic homes that can be toured, while Memphis, Tennessee, is home to a mecca for fans of Elvis Presley: Graceland.

A Mississippi River cruise offers access to some of America’s most cherished historic architecture, from Garden District mansions and Jackson Square in New Orleans to the soaring Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Along the way, river towns such as Natchez, Mississippi, have landmarked historic homes that can be toured, while Memphis, Tennessee, is home to a mecca for fans of Elvis Presley: Graceland.

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