10 Best River Cruises
Updated August 15, 2019
With all the rivers in the world, how do you know which river cruise is the best for you? Allow us to show you the difference between the Rhine and the Rhône—and eight other scenic waterways—plus what you can expect to see along the way.
Pictured: Viking River Cruises ship on the Danube river in Budapest
- Where: France
- Great for: Romantic couples, art lovers, and Francophiles
- Route: A cruise on the Seine focuses heavily on sightseeing in and around Paris. Typical weeklong voyages include a day or two in that city before traveling northwest toward Honfleur and the English Channel. Stops include Giverny—onetime home of Impressionist Claude Monet—and Rouen, known as the City of a Hundred Spires for its many churches and cathedrals. From Rouen, visit the beaches of Normandy to see D-Day memorial sites.
- Cruise lines: Deals for Uniworld's 7-night sailings aboard the S.S. Joie de Vivre cover shore excursions as well as wine and beer at dinner. Other lines with similar itineraries include Viking River Cruises and AmaWaterways.
- Where: France
- Great for: Relaxed wine lovers who aren't in a hurry—it can take 20 minutes to pass through one lock, and there are many along the way.
- Route: Thousands of miles of canals were built in France for the transport of goods; ships were towed through the water by mules trudging on paths along the banks (and you thought the voyage was slow-paced today). The canals provide a great way to explore the countryside in regions such as Champagne, the Upper Loire, Burgundy, and Alsace-Lorraine (pictured), where you'll pass through medieval villages, see historic châteaux, and taste lots of local wines.
- Cruise lines: French Country Waterways offers six-night sailings in Alsace-Lorraine aboard the 8-passenger Princess. This pricey ticket includes top wines, shore excursions, and dinner ashore at the Michelin-starred Le Cerf in Marlenheim. Le Boat and Abercrombie & Kent have similar itineraries.
Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
- Where: Germany, Netherlands, France, and Switzerland
- Great for: First-time river cruisers. Since the Rhine flows through four different countries, you'll get a nice survey of Europe on one trip.
- Route: Rhine cruises that sail between Holland and Switzerland cover a lot of cultural ground in one to two weeks. In Germany alone you'll see the famous cathedral in Cologne (pictured), taste riesling wines in Rudesheim, and explore historic Heidelberg with its 14th-century university.
- Cruise lines: AmaWaterways offers a 7-night voyage between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland, that hits all the highlights. Uniworld, Sea Cloud, Grand Circle, and Viking River Cruises all ride the Rhine as well.
- Where: Germany, Austria, Hungary, and seven more countries in Central and Eastern Europe
- Great for: River cruisers with broad interests. Like the Rhine, the Danube flows through many different nations.
- Route: Europe's most popular river for cruising stretches across almost 2,000 miles. Highlights include Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, the Austrian Lake District, medieval towns, and Baroque monasteries. There are dozens of Danube cruise options—cruise the river round-trip from Passau, Germany, or go one-way between Regensburg and Budapest or between Vienna and Nuremberg.
- Cruise lines: AmaWaterways offers Danube cruises between April and November, including a 7-night cruise from Budapest to Vilshofen, Germany. You can add two nights in Budapest before the cruise and three nights in Prague after. Uniworld, Sea Cloud, Grand Circle, and Viking River Cruises all have similar Danube sailings worth checking out.
Krzysztof Golik [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Where: Germany
- Great for: Wine and beer connoisseurs, World War II buffs, or anyone who wants to see the highlights of Germany
- Route: The three connecting rivers of the Rhine, Main, and Danube offer travelers a thorough tour of Germany and Austria. Don't miss excursions to Heidelberg and Nuremberg, with its fascinating WWII history and one of the world's largest Christmas markets.
- Cruise lines: A 15-night Viking River Cruises itinerary from Budapest to Amsterdam journeys along the Main for much of the way, making stops in German cities (such as Würzburg, pictured) where passengers can take in history—and lots of beer and wine. Also take a look at the Main routes of Sea Cloud and AmaWaterways.
- Where: Cambodia and Vietnam
- Great for: Adventure seekers and fairly fit travelers who can climb in and out of local panga boats for excursions along the Mekong's tributaries and to shore points
- Route: Popular 7-night itineraries run between Siem Reap (near the temples of Angkor Wat) in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The scenery is mostly rural, except for stops in Phnom Penh (pictured), Cambodia's capital. Boats typically anchor in the river and ferry passengers ashore via local pangas. Or the river boats nudge their bows into the muddy banks and throw out a gang plank leading to the shore. Excursions include visits to floating fish markets, temples, royal residences, villages with thatched huts, and a French Gothic church.
- Cruise lines: Pandaw Cruises does 7-night Mekong River routes starting in Saigon. All shore excursions, local spirits, beer, and nonalcoholic drinks are included in the price.
- Where: Egypt
- Great for: Experienced travelers and those who appreciate history and antiquities
- Route: Most Nile cruises are less than a week long and sail round-trip out of Cairo, a convenient airline hub and a jumping-off point for land-based touring, which is often included in the cruise tour package. The Nile is the gateway to the country's 5,000 years of history, from its pyramids to its colonnaded temples in the ports of Luxor and Aswan (pictured).
- Cruise lines: Lindblad Expeditions has a 13-day package that includes a few nights spent on the intimate Oberoi Philae ship along with airfare for flights within Egypt and admission to all the iconic monuments. Other good bets: Uniworld, Grand Circle, and Viking River Cruises.
Alexxx Malev / Flickr
- Where: Russia
- Great for: Travelers into history, art, and nature
- Route: Many itineraries are about two weeks long and sail between Moscow and St. Petersburg, home of the Hermitage museum. In between visits to Moscow's Kremlin and Red Square and, near St. Petersburg, the elaborate Catherine Palace in Pushkin, passengers wind through pastoral landscapes dominated by forests, lakes, and rustic summer houses and monasteries like the one pictured.
- Cruise lines: Uniworld operates 12-night sailings between Moscow and St. Petersburg from May to September.
- Where: China
- Great for: History and nature lovers, seniors, and anyone with the time to combine a cruise with a land-based tour of China
- Route: This nearly 4,000-mile-long waterway strings together many of China's great cities—Shanghai, Yangzhou, Nanjing, Chongqing, and Yichang, gateway to the Three Gorges (pictured). Itineraries range from 3 to 6 nights and most sail between Chongqing and Shanghai or between Chongqing and Yichang. The Three Gorges area—an 80-mile stretch encompassing gorgeous scenery as well as the Three Gorges Dam—is the highlight. The centuries-old pagodas along the river banks are a close second.
- Cruise lines: Victoria Cruises voyages along the Yangtze between March and November. The 4-night upstream Three Gorges Highlights trip sets off from Chongqing aboard the luxurious Victoria Jenna. Prices are reasonable, though fees do not include shore excursions.
Stephen Colebourne / Flickr
- Where: France
- Great for: Wine lovers, honeymooners, and arts and culture aficionados
- Route: Spending a week exploring the bottom half of France, most ships sail between Chalon-sur-Saône in the central part of the country and Arles in the south near the sea. This route covers everything from Roman ruins in Arles to historic Avignon (that city's Pont Saint-Bénézet is pictured). You can stroll around the 2,000-year-old city of Lyon and taste your way through the vineyards of Burgundy.
- Cruise lines: Viking River Cruises hosts Rhône trips (shore excursions included) on biweekly departures between March and November. See also: Uniworld and AmaWaterways.