The Nile, regarded by ancient Egyptians as the manifestation of the god Hapi and the goddess Ma’at. The Volga, the longest river in Europe and considered the national river of Russia. And the Mississippi, once the western boundary of the young U.S. and then, with the Louisiana Purchase, a gateway to the West. Rivers are entwined with the history, the industry, the culture and the myths of the lands they nourish, and a cruise on an iconic waterway reveals a country and its people as few other ways of travel can. In the following pages, we introduce you to five of the world’s greatest rivers.
From its origins in Germany’s Black Forest, the Danube River flows southeast for 1,780 miles through Central and Eastern Europe, passing through or touching 10 countries and four national capitals—Vienna, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia; Budapest, Hungary; and Belgrade, Serbia—before emptying into the Black Sea.
Many of the most popular cruises on the Danube River shuttle between Budapest and various cities in Germany. Highlights en route include the lush terraced vineyards and small towns of the Wachau Valley, the Baroque beauty of Melk Abbey with its gilded bookcases and colorful restored frescoes, the opulent residential apartments and staterooms of Schönbrunn Palace and its sprawling outdoor fountains and gardens, and the museums and music halls of Vienna.
A major trade route since the time of ancient Greece and Rome, the Rhône River rises in the Swiss Alps from the Rhône Glacier, passes through Lake Geneva and runs through southeastern France, eventually reaching the Mediterranean Sea. The typical Rhône cruise extends for eight days and moves between Lyon and Avignon or Arles in southern France; some cruise lines extend the trip by adding the Saône and Seine Rivers.
The Rhône region delights with its amalgam of Roman ruins, Renaissance and Gothic architecture, Provencal landscapes and exquisite French cuisine and wines. Grape varieties such as grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, grenache blanc, clairette and bourboulenc are used to produce a variety of Côtes du Rhône reds, whites and rosés. Excursions to the vineyards and wineries of the world-famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape region are especially popular.
The Volga River flows more than 2,000 miles through some of Russia’s most heavily populated areas, through forests and steppes and past 11 major cities, as it makes its way to the Caspian Sea. Used symbolically in Russian culture and literature, the river is frequently referred to as Mother Volga.
Although the Volga does not pass through St. Petersburg or Moscow, both of these exciting cities are featured on most Russia cruises, which sail not only the Volga but also Moscow Canal, multiple lakes and the River Neva. Bucket-list sights include the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Hermitage Museum and Catherine Palace as well as surprising gems such as the 22-dome Preobranzhenskaya (Transfiguration) Church, built in 1714 without a single nail; the UNESCO World Heritage-designated medieval city center of Yaroslavl; and the birch-lined shores and wild lands surrounding massive Lake Onega.
The longest river in Africa, the Nile flows northward for 4,130 miles from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea. The river was critical to the development of ancient Egyptian civilization, and even today 95 percent of Egyptians live within a few miles of its banks. While bustling Cairo and the Great Pyramids of Giza might top the list of must-sees in Egypt, no visit would be complete without a Nile cruise.
Many package tours combine the capital city with a cruise between Aswan and Luxor; some also include a visit to the two magnificent temples at Abu Simbel, built by King Ramses II. Standout attractions on a Nile cruise include The Temple of Hatshepsut, a mortuary temple for a rare female pharaoh; the Valley of the Kings, used for royal burials for nearly 500 years; the unusual double Temple of Kom Ombo; and the Temples of Hathor, Luxor and Karnak.
From its source in northern Minnesota’s Lake Itasca, the Mighty Mississippi flows south for 2,350 miles to the Gulf of Mexico, nearly slicing through the continental U.S. Long essential to the nation’s commerce and development, Ol’ Man River has figured prominently in our nation’s consciousness.
Most cruises on the Mississippi last about a week and sail either the upper or the lower portion of the river, though a few longer trips take in its full length. Ports in the river’s upper reaches introduce guests to the magnificent three-state view from Grandad Bluff in La Crosse, Wisconsin; the museums, music and Midwestern hospitality of the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois; and, a perennial favorite, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. The Lower Mississippi, generally considered Memphis, Tennessee, to New Orleans, Louisiana, features a cornucopia of Southern culture and heritage, from significant Civil War locales such as Vicksburg, Mississippi, to music meccas such as Memphis to Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital.