Taking a river cruise is perhaps the most relaxing way to travel, allowing you to explore bucket-list destinations from the comfort of your own floating hotel without the stress of sailing the high seas or dealing with hotel parking on land.
Instead of frantically dashing with luggage lest you miss the next train, bus, or flight, a river cruise lets you linger over coffee, admiring the scenery as you glide to your next destination, combining culture and superb sightseeing with luxurious amenities. Long popular in Europe, river cruises are now available on more remote rivers, as well. Here are 10 spectacular choices for your next vacation.
Columbia River Wine Cruise (Oregon and Washington)
Explore the Pacific Northwest on the Wilderness Legacy, a small, 86-passenger ship with two hot tubs, spacious viewing platforms, and a portable launch platform for kayaks and paddleboards. The Rivers of Adventure and Wine excursions embark from Portland, Oregon, for seven nights of exploration on the Columbia and Snake rivers. The first stop is the slow-paced port city of Astoria, Oregon, where you’ll explore Fort Clatsop, the site of Lewis and Clark’s winter camp during their historic expedition.
Pass through the Bonneville Locks to explore the scenic Columbia Gorge, including a walk to Multnomah Falls and a wine tasting by the ship’s onboard sommelier. From there, it’s all about wine and the culinary delights of Walla Walla, Washington, where passengers can tour the grounds and sample reds and whites at Dunham Cellars. Adventurous folks can also go kayaking, paddleboarding, and birdwatching at the confluence of the Palouse and Snake rivers or go whitewater rafting on the Deschutes River before enjoying a beach party at Lyons Ferry State Park. Wrap things up with a hike to Rowena Overlook, offering views of Mount Adams, Mount Hood, and the Columbia River Gorge.
Rhine Christmas Markets City Experience Cruise (The Netherlands and Germany)
Fans of sustainability and family travel will want to explore the Rhine River on the 280-passenger Sena, the newest ship in the A-ROSA cruise fleet. E-motion technology reduces fuel consumption and allows the ship to dock using battery power, so port cities remain unpolluted by emissions. The Sena includes 12 family cabins for up to five people, as well two ADA-accessible cabins. Luxurious on-board amenities include a sauna, whirlpool, ice grotto, and two pools, along with a separate pool and Kids Club. There are special sailings geared specifically towards families with small children.
During the holidays, the Christmas Markets City Experience starts in Cologne, Germany, where the city’s largest market is set up in front of the historic cathedral. Then, explore the futuristic Dutch city of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, go ice-skating in Amsterdam, and admire the lavishly decorated houseboats. In Utrecht, there’s time to shop for souvenirs and stop for mulled wine while wandering the twinkling canals.
Mekong Kingdoms Cruise (Thailand and Laos)
With only two lavishly appointed cabins at opposite ends of a 135-foot-long converted rice barge, the ship called the “Gypsy” is cruising at its most intimate. An onboard chef prepares sumptuous Asian and international cuisine during your serene journey along Southeast Asia’s mightiest river, the Mekong. This three-day, two-night cruise sets off from Chiang Khong in northern Thailand’s Golden Triangle and overnights in Pak Tha, Laos, at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Tha rivers.
After morning meditation on deck, explore the Kamu village of Ban Houy Phalam, known for its beautiful woven silk scarves. The cruise later docks at the elephant conservation camp at Pak Beng, so guests can enjoy an after-dinner tasting of local spirits before bedtime. Everyone will feel refreshed with morning yoga before the Gypsy visits the Lao and Hmong villages at Khok Aek, where guests can sample Laotian rice whisky and tour the amazing Buddha-filled caves at Pak Ou. Travelers will enjoy an on-deck cooking demonstration before they arrive at the final destination, Luang Prabang. The cultural capital of Laos, this lovely and peaceful city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Heart of the Delta Mississippi River Cruise (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee)
While traditional paddle-wheel boats are the norm on the mighty Mississippi, the Viking Mississippi is a sleek ship with 183 cabins featuring large windows and private verandas. The ship has an expansive sundeck with a plunge pool, a 360-degree promenade deck, 24-hour room service, and the two-story Explorers' Lounge and Bar, with spectacular views of the river.
The eight-day Heart of the Delta cruise explores the best of the region’s history and heritage. The cruise embarks from New Orleans before docking in Baton Rouge, where passengers can explore Atchafalaya Basin by boat or canoe or take a Cajun culture tour. Later in the journey, admire beautifully preserved historic homes in Natchez, Mississippi, and gain a deep understanding of the Civil War in Vicksburg, Mississippi, before disembarking in music-rich Memphis.
Unforgettable Douro Cruise (Portugal)
The Douro, Portugal’s “River of Gold,” offers a refreshingly relaxed journey through a more rural part of Europe. With room for only 96 , the Scenic Azure is a five-star way to explore the gorgeous and rugged scenery filled with quintas (rural estates), olive groves, terraced vineyards, and quaint villages. On the Azure, balconies open up into private sun lounges at the press of a button, and every cabin enjoys the attention of their own personal butler.
Travelers can tour the wine-growing village of Lamego and historic Old Town Salamanca, an official UNESCO World Heritage Site, on this eight-day journey, while sampling the bountiful produce of Pocinho and sipping a glass of wine in the gardens of Casa de Mateus. A private performance in the historic São Francisco Church is the perfect way to end the evening. Ships don’t sail on the Douro at night, so vacationers also have the option to experience lots of local nightlife.
Paris and the Heart of Normandy Cruise (France)
Embarking just steps from the Eiffel Tower, this eight-day cruise takes passengers for a stunning journey along the Seine, one of Europe’s grandest rivers, for an odyssey of food, wine, culture, and history. Tours of the City of Lights are on the itinerary before the ship sails to La Roche-Guyon, often hailed as the most beautiful village in France. Next, see the picturesque town of Giverny, including the house and gardens where Claude Monet painted many of his masterpieces.
Once the cruise reaches Normandy, travelers can admire Gothic architecture and visit museums in Rouen, where Joan of Arc was martyred. Discovering the history of the region doesn’t stop there. Passengers tour the beaches of Normandy, including World War II landmarks like Omaha Beach, and sample the region’s heavenly cuisine. Before returning to Paris, there’s a chance to visit Napoleon’s Château de Malmaison and the spectacular gardens at Tuileries.
Secrets of Egypt and the Nile Cruise (Egypt)
Pyramids and tombs along the world’s longest river make the Nile an alluring choice for a river cruise. Travel like a pharaoh aboard the five-star AmaDahlia, where the baths are made of marble and all 72 guests are treated like royalty. During the Secrets of Egypt and the Nile Cruise, passengers lunch at the historic Abdeen Presidential Palace and enjoy private access to off-the-beaten-path excursions, such as visiting the sacred city of Abydos, home to a necropolis for the earliest Egyptian kings and the Great Temple of Seti. The ship’s own private Egyptologist will guide passengers through ancient treasures, including legendary Luxor, the enormous temple complex of Karnak, and the otherworldly Valley of Kings.
Prague, Dresden, and the Castles of Bohemia Cruise (Germany and Czechia)
The lesser-traveled Elbe and Vltava rivers are explored on this seven-night cruise aboard the Elbe Princesse II that lets you get up close and personal with some of the most regal castles in Europe. The authentic paddlewheel ship accommodates up to 81 and was designed for navigating the river’s low waters. Its modern cabins are spacious and have large windows and sun decks offering panoramic views. The cruise begins in Prague, the “Golden City,” before floating down the Vltava to the Czech village of Štěchovice, where voyagers visit the glorious Konopiste Castle, the last home of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
In the town of Mělník, passengers visit the birthplace of famous Czech composer Antonín Leopold Dvořák, and spend a day in the German city of Dresden, also known as the “Florence of the Elbe.”
Secrets of Amazonia Cruise (Peru)
Fine dining, plush linens, a spa, and a plunge pool weren’t amenities offered to the first intrepid explorers, but you can now enjoy the Amazon in eco-conscious style on one of the three Delfin ships plying the river.
In Peru’s Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, guests can birdwatch, kayak in search of rare pink dolphins, fish for piranhas, and traverse the canopy on a rainforest walk. Delfin practices social responsibility, hiring local guides and supporting local riverine communities.
Northern Holland Tulip Cruise (The Netherlands)
Flower-lovers and photographers won’t want to miss a tulip cruise, which showcases the beloved bulbs of the Netherlands in peak color and bloom. (The Dutch Floriade International Horticultural Expo, held every 10 years, is also happening in 2022.) Take it all in on a specialty eight-day cruise aboard one of Avalon’s luxury ships, which feature spacious cabins with panoramic windows and a sky deck with a whirlpool.
Highlights of the cruise include visits to tulip fields and the chance to explore the magnificent Keukenhof Gardens. In the city of Arnhem, take a guided tour of the Kröller-Müller Museum, which has the second-largest Van Gogh collection in the world. Afterward, indulge in an onboard cheese tasting with Genever — the official liquor of the Netherlands.