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The 9 top river cruise lines for 2024.

Sail through Europe, Asia, the U.S. and more on one of these exquisite river cruise lines.

The Top River Cruise Lines

Top River Cruises

Courtesy of Viking River Cruises

Not one for the high seas? Explore the world along its rivers instead.

If you'd like to take a cruise but aren't interested in the hustle and bustle of a massive ocean liner, consider a river cruise. River cruises offer the chance to visit lesser-known ports around the world, thanks to the small size and maneuverability of the vessels. These sailings are known to provide exceptional, personalized service, as most welcome fewer than 200 guests at a time. On top of that, you'll spend the majority of your trip exploring a different port each day, as most destinations along the waterways are fairly close together.

Read on to discover the best river cruise lines around the world, with details about where they sail, the number of passengers you can expect onboard, a snapshot of amenities and experiences, and sentiment from recent travelers.

Viking River Cruises

Uniworld boutique river cruises, american cruise lines, amawaterways, avalon waterways, emerald cruises.

  • Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

CroisiEurope Cruises

Viking Longship Idun on the Main River in front of Johannisburg Palace, Aschaffenburg, Germany.

Number of passengers: 75 to 250 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, U.S.

Viking's 60-plus ships – known as longships – traverse major rivers across Europe, including the Danube , the Rhine, the Douro and more. Other popular routes sail Egypt's Nile River as well as the Mississippi River , and newer options include a series of Great Lakes itineraries.

What to expect: Travelers may be familiar with Viking Ocean Cruises , which operates larger ocean voyages with an emphasis on opulent accommodations and diverse enrichment activities. Viking's river cruises follow a similar road map, with meals, daily walking tours and Wi-Fi access (where applicable) included in the base fare. Other amenities and activities span guest lectures, cooking demonstrations, musical performances, libraries, outdoor decks and more. Select Viking riverboats are also equipped with swimming pools, while cabins feature minibars, premium toiletries, purified water and TVs.

On board, you can expect to find mostly English-speaking passengers. Viking's price point generally attracts older crowds in the 55-plus age group, and travelers must be at least 18 years old to cruise on the line.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers thoroughly enjoyed their experience with Viking, praising the scenic shore excursions, top-notch service and comfortable rooms. Some, however, expressed disappointment with the service as well as the food.

Book a Viking River Cruise on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.

Pool and pool chairs on a Uniworld Boutique River Cruises ship.

Courtesy of Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

Number of passengers: 32 to 159 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America

Uniworld offers luxurious sailings in historic cities across central Europe, France , Italy , Portugal , India, Egypt and Peru.

What to expect: Its 17 ships aim to create the feel of a boutique hotel with stylish decor, antique artwork and specialty restaurants. The ships hold an average capacity of 120 cruisers, and the company boasts one of the highest staff-to-guest ratios in the industry: about one crew member for every two travelers.

Stateroom amenities vary by vessel but may include marble bathrooms, Egyptian cotton linens, French balconies, iPod docking stations, Nespresso coffee machines, rainfall showers and more. The line's all-inclusive rates cover meals, alcoholic beverages, select excursions, gratuities, onboard fitness classes and Wi-Fi access, on top of entertainment and enrichment classes. Uniworld prides itself on its top-notch cuisine, which is made with local ingredients sourced from the ports on your itinerary and also includes vegetarian and vegan options.

Uniworld's typical clientele tend to be in their 50s or 60s and reside in North America, the U.K. and Australia . The river cruise line has select itineraries aimed at families, LGBTQ cruisers and solo travelers.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers offered abundant praise for Uniworld's voyages, complimenting the stylish accommodations, attentive staff and fascinating excursions. Though complaints were few and far between, a handful of past travelers felt the experience was not worth the high price point.

Compare Uniworld Boutique River Cruises on GoToSea.

 American Cruise Lines ship on river during sunset.

Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Number of passengers: 90 to 180 Sails to:  U.S.

As the name suggests, American Cruise Lines sails exclusively on the rivers and coastlines of the United States. Popular cruises visit destinations along the Mississippi River, on the Hudson River, throughout New England , and lining the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest. The line also tours Alaska , the Southeast coast including Florida , and the Puget Sound between Washington state and the Canadian border.

What to expect: American Cruise Lines operates 19 relatively new small ships and river vessels (the average ship is about 5 years old), ranging from modern riverboats to small coastal ships to authentic paddlewheelers. Comfortable cabins can accommodate up to three people per room, and all ships offer single staterooms designed exclusively for solo travelers . Each room boasts picture windows, a spacious bathroom and – in some cases – a private balcony. In the ships' public spaces, cruisers can enjoy daily onboard entertainment like jazz and blues performances, as well as presentations by historians and area experts.

The line promises an all-American experience. As such, you can expect to find American staff aboard the American-built ships as well as food that pays homage to the destinations you will visit, from New Orleans -style andouille sausage gumbo to New England-inspired seafood boils. Complimentary cocktails and hors d'oeuvres are served every night prior to dinner; all meals, snacks, and wine and beer are included in the base fare. Shore excursions are not typically included in the rate.

Passengers on American Cruise Lines tend to lean North American and are typically mature retired travelers.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers enjoyed their experience, particularly on the line's themed cruises.

Read:  Cruise Packing List: Essentials for Your Next Cruise

AmaWaterways cruise ship on river near town.

Courtesy of AmaWaterways

Number of passengers: 28 to 196 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America  

Consider a river cruise with AmaWaterways, whether you're looking to sail through the heart of Europe or seeking a once-in-a-lifetime adventure touring destinations like Vietnam, Egypt, South Africa or (beginning in 2024) Colombia. A family-owned business founded in 2002, AmaWaterways operates 29 river cruise boats that welcome 150 passengers on average.

The cruise line aims to provide excursion-rich experiences and offers unique themed sailings for passengers with certain interests. Wine-themed voyages are perfect for oenophiles wishing to explore some of Europe's most popular wine regions, while a concierge golf program will transport passengers from one famous golf course to the next. Or, opt for a holiday river cruise to visit magical Christmas markets around Europe. In 2024, AmaWaterways will offer three new Black history-themed itineraries.

What to expect: On board, guests can expect cabins suitable for couples or single travelers, as well as a set amount of connectible rooms designed for multigenerational families. Staterooms are spacious, with perks like bathrobes, slippers and plush bedding. Cabins can feature up to two balconies with AmaWaterways' twin balcony design, which allows for a full, step-out balcony alongside a French balcony with sliding glass doors. In-room Wi-Fi is complimentary, and guests will have access to movies and music on demand.

Outside of their cabins, passengers can enjoy amenities spanning small pools, sun decks, fitness equipment, a hair salon, massage services and more.

AmaWaterways primarily attracts North American travelers in their 50s who enjoy taking part in active shore excursions that involve walking or cycling. Passengers from the U.K. and Australia sail on this river cruise line as well. You can expect to find a mix of couples, families and solo cruisers – including a growing number of millennial travelers – on your vessel, thanks to AmaWaterways' diverse cabin offerings. Adventures by Disney charters AmaWaterways ships for select sailings each year as well.

What travelers say: Recent travelers say AmaWaterways exceeded their expectations, with many noting it was especially enjoyable for families. Still, some were disappointed, particularly with the food.

Find AmaWaterways cruises on GoToSea.

Interior of guest cabin on an Avalon Waterways river cruise ship.

Courtesy of Avalon Waterways

Number of passengers: 16 to 166 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa, South America

Avalon Waterways sails 19 riverboats along popular thoroughfares like the Danube, the Rhone, the Seine, the Nile, the Rhine, the Moselle, the Mekong, the Ganges and more. In 2024, it will also sail the Douro River in Portugal.

What to expect: Launched in 2004, Avalon stands out for its spacious vessels – known as Suite Ships – which feature some of the largest rooms in the river cruise industry and beds that face wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows, providing panoramic views. Additional stateroom perks include complimentary breakfast in bed, L'Occitane toiletries, sitting areas, ample storage space and mattress toppers.

Across the ship, passengers can enjoy amenities like a sun deck with lounge chairs, whirlpools and a game area, in addition to numerous restaurants and bars and a 24-hour self-serve coffee station. You will also have your pick of Classic, Active or Discovery shore excursions – ranging from standard tours with a local guide to hiking outings along a hilltop castle – depending on your interests and physical abilities.

Avalon Waterways attracts English-speaking cruisers from a variety of countries, typically in their 50s and 60s. However, children ages 8 and older are welcome on board (though there are no designated kids clubs), and some voyages draw younger or older passengers.

What travelers say: Most recent reviews are positive, with travelers highlighting the friendly, knowledgeable staff and tasty food.

Explore Avalon Waterways cruise deals on GoToSea.

Dining area on Tauck river cruise ship.

Courtesy of Tauck

Number of passengers: 84 to 130 Sails to:  Europe

Travel company Tauck wears multiple hats: It operates small-ship voyages around the world, land tours across seven continents, small group journeys for an average of 24 travelers at a time, family tours and – finally – European river cruises. Six new river itineraries in Europe are on the docket for 2024. Take your pick from nine river vessels to explore popular waterways like the Douro, the Moselle, the Rhine, the Danube and the Rhone.

What to expect: All-inclusive fares cover shore excursions, onboard activities and entertainment, gratuities, beverages and more. Plus, Tauck offers exclusive access to unforgettable experiences like wine tastings at private vineyards and gala dinners in historic castles.

More than 80% of the staterooms feature French balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows, allowing for excellent views. Other in-room amenities may include adjustable climate controls, satin linens, pillow-top mattresses, terry cloth robes and more. Outside of your cabin, you'll find perks such as a sun deck, a putting green, enrichment programs like cooking demonstrations, a fitness center and complimentary bikes for onshore exploring.

Tauck caters to affluent, English-speaking cruisers – primarily Americans in the 55-and-older age group – though you may also find families with adult children on board. The line appeals most to travelers who prefer all the details of their trip to be taken care of for them, versus those who like to plan activities independent of the cruise line.

What travelers say: Recent passengers generally speak highly of their Tauck river cruise experiences, pointing to the exceptional level of organization and spacious, luxurious accommodations. Others said they were underwhelmed for the price.

Aerial of Emerald Cruises river cruise ship on river in Urbar, Germany.

Getty Images

Number of passengers: 84 to 180 Sails to:  Europe, Asia

Previously known as Emerald Waterways, Emerald Cruises transports travelers across some of the most popular rivers in Europe and Asia, including the Danube, the Rhine, the Douro and the Mekong.

What to expect: The cruise fare covers all meals, beverages with lunch and dinner, daily shore excursions − which include more physically rigorous options called EmeraldACTIVE – Wi-Fi access and gratuities.

Emerald operates nine river vessels, all of which boast luxurious public spaces and accommodations with en suite bathrooms and flat-screen TVs. Common-area amenities span heated indoor pools, sun decks, spa and wellness facilities, and a variety of eateries. Onboard fitness classes are available, as are other forms of entertainment. On shore, cruisers can borrow bicycles to explore historic city centers.

Typical clientele aboard Emerald Cruises' voyages includes American and British passengers around retirement age, though some younger travelers may make an appearance as well. Children 12 and older are permitted on board and on tours, but there are no kids clubs or designated activities for younger cruisers. Special rooms and dinner reservations are available for solo travelers.

What travelers say: Cruisers on recent sailings – especially first-time sailors – enjoyed their experiences on Emerald Cruises. High points included the attentive crew members and the stress-free booking and planning process. However, some felt that customer service and communication were subpar.

Interior of guest cabin on Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours river cruise ship.

Gillies Zaiser | Courtesy of Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours

Number of passengers: 68 to 163 Sails to: Europe, Asia

From the Danube to the Mekong, Australian travel company Scenic Luxury Cruises and Tours offers lavish, all-inclusive river sailings with an emphasis on customization. The more upscale sister brand of Emerald Cruises, Scenic affords travelers the opportunity to do as much or as little as they want while on board and ashore.

What to expect: Enrichment activities are hand-picked by the line's "Journey Designers," and vessels provide a top-notch level of service thanks to their high crew-to-passenger ratios. In fact, each passenger receives a designated butler who can complete nightly turndowns and make laundry arrangements, among other tasks.

Spacious suites on board are larger than those on most other riverboats (ranging from 160 to 510 square feet). High-tech balcony controls allow lodgers to let in as much air as they'd like with the touch of a button. Cruisers will also enjoy special in-room touches like pillow menus, slippers and robes.

When it comes to dining, Scenic sources local ingredients and culinary inspiration from the ports visited on the itinerary to provide an authentic experience. All meals are included in the base cruise fare, along with beverages, gratuities, Wi-Fi access, shore excursions and electric bicycle usage in select destinations.

What travelers say: Recent cruisers were pleased with their experiences aboard Scenic's vessels, praising the spacious cabins, pampering butler service, and knowledgeable crew members and tour guides. However, some travelers were particularly disappointed with the food.

Side view of CroisiEurope Cruises river cruise ship.

Helwin Goetzinger | Courtesy of CroisiEurope

Number of passengers: 22 to 200 Sails to:  Europe, Asia, Africa

CroisiEurope is a family-run French cruise line that has been in business since 1976. This line has more than 50 ships and barges that sail to countries around the world, including Egypt, Cambodia and Spain . Unusual in river cruising, the line operates two custom-built ships that sail on Lake Kariba in southern Africa. Additionally, CroisiEurope has a division that sells barge cruises throughout France on six different canals, such as Burgundy or Provence.

What to expect: CroisiEurope is known for its wide range of destinations and is one of the only river cruise lines that operates custom-built ships on Germany 's Elbe river, the Guadalquivir and Guadiana rivers in Spain and Portugal, and Venice 's canals. Onboard accommodations are relatively basic, which keeps the cruise fare to a budget-friendly minimum. The cruise line aims to provide the best value for money in the cruise industry. Cuisine is focused on French food with some local flair in the main dining room, which is included in the cruise fare.

The passenger mix on a CroisiEurope cruise is relatively international, featuring large contingencies from France, Germany, the U.K. and North America. Announcements are typically given in both French and English. The cruise line sees a mix of older couples and groups as well as younger families, depending on the itinerary and time of year.

What travelers say: Several cruisers echoed that some of CroisiEurope's river ships are due for a refurbishment and that internet connectivity leaves a lot to be desired, while others maintain that the experience was superb.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Size: River cruise ships are smaller in size and the number of passengers they can accommodate, with one lounge and one main dining room being a typical setup.
  • Atmosphere: The overall vibe on a river cruise is more relaxed and far less busy than that of an ocean liner.
  • Onboard entertainment: River cruising is notoriously sleepy at night, with a focus instead on local enrichment like cooking demonstrations or liqueur tastings. Due to the busy schedule of port calls and excursions, most passengers are tired after a long day of sightseeing and don't mind a lack of nightlife.
  • Excursions: Most of your time on a river cruise is spent out exploring the destinations, which can sometimes be two stops in a single day. Passengers can choose from a variety of activities in port – including biking, kayaking and hiking – or explore the destination at a leisurely pace.
  • Cuisine: Cuisine tends to be focused on local specialties but is prepared to accommodate predominantly American tastes. Not every river cruise line offers unlimited drinks, but the majority include beer and wine at lunch and dinner, often showcasing regional varieties.
  • Price: River cruising typically comes at a much higher price point than ocean-based itineraries.
  • American Queen

Note that inclusions can vary by cruise line. For example, Viking rates – while not fully all-inclusive – cover beer and wine at meals and one tour per day, while gratuities and other drink packages are left to the discretion of the guest.

Avalon Waterways, on the other hand, offers a number of included tours in every port on select itineraries that range from cultural or culinary-focused to active.

In terms of inclusions and service ratios (the number of crew on board to guests), the following river cruise lines are considered the most luxurious:

You might also be interested in:

  • The Top Cruises on Small Ships
  • The Top Adults-Only Cruises
  • The Best Cruise Insurance Plans
  • The Best Annual Travel Insurance Plans
  • The Best Travel Insurance for Seniors and Retirees

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Mississippi River Cruises

Stretching for 2,350 miles down the United States, from Minnesota's Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico, our new cruises on the "Mighty Mississippi" offer a different type of cross-country journey for the curious explorer—one that allows you to be immersed in American history and culture.

Step on board the newest and most modern ship on the Mississippi with all outside staterooms, private verandas, spacious public areas and our signature, clean Scandinavian design, reimagined for the Mississippi River.

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Mississippi Delta Explorer


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NEW! Heartland of America

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America’s Heartland

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New Orleans & Southern Charms

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America’s Great River

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Upper Mississippi Explorer

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Grand Mississippi Voyage

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The Big Easy to the Gateway City

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Heart of the Delta

Highlights of mississippi river cruises.

A Mississippi River cruise offers the rare opportunity to sail through America's heartland on the world’s #1 river cruise line. Explore picturesque towns and boom cities; take in views of pastoral farms and towering bluffs; and immerse yourself in the region's rich history and culture with an included excursion in every port. Here are a few highlights Viking reveals to you:

  • Festive French Quarter and Creole cuisine in New Orleans
  • Cajun heritage in Baton Rouge
  • Civil War history at Vicksburg National Military Park
  • Memphis BBQ, Graceland and appreciation of the Delta Blues
  • Steamboat sailings with diverse wildlife sightings
  • Mark Twain's boyhood home and America’s literary history
  • Up close look at America’s national symbol, the bald eagle
  • Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the pioneering spirit of the Midwest
  • Norwegian cultural experience at Vesterheim
  • Intricate locks and dams of the Upper Mississippi

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  • River Cruises

Explore America’s Most Iconic Waterways With the 5 Best U.S. River Cruises

Discover natural and cultural treasures close to home.

riverboat cruise

You don't need to fly to Europe for a river cruise, with new ships and routes creating even more options right here in the United States. Some of the most scenic itineraries traverse the Mississippi, Hudson, Columbia, and Snake rivers, showcasing natural, cultural, and historical attractions along the way. Passengers can visit wineries in Washington, taste Creole cuisine in New Orleans, or learn about the Siege of Vicksburg right where it happened.

On these voyages, you'll sail with anywhere from 100 to 400 other guests aboard either modern riverboats or classic paddle wheelers that hearken back to a different time. Like their European counterparts, river cruises in the U.S. typically package everything at a single price, including staterooms, meals, guest lectures and enrichment programs, entertainment, and most shore excursions. Some even include pre-cruise hotel stays.

Here are five river cruises that will show you the U.S. in a whole new light.

American Cruise Lines’ Music Cities Cruise from Memphis to Nashville

It's hard to choose from American Cruise Lines' 35 itineraries. For arts and culture lovers, the eight-day Music Cities Cruise along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Cumberland rivers presents an opportunity to visit several charming cities and towns in the South. The itinerary is offered on four different 180-passenger ships, including the American Serenade and the classic American Splendor paddle wheeler.

Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure

The voyage begins in Memphis, where passengers can visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, take in a show at one of the nightclubs along legendary Beale Street, or tour Elvis Presley's mansion, Graceland. After a day of cruising, the ship stops at Paducah, Kentucky, where you can admire the more than 50 murals on the floodwall along Water Street before exploring the National Quilt Museum. The next day, the ship travels through the Barkley Lock and past the stunning coves and limestone bluffs of the Cumberland River's Lake Barkley– a view best enjoyed from the balcony of your stateroom. In Dover, Tennessee, guests visit historic Fort Donelson National Park and learn about the garrison's role during the Civil War. The next day, passengers can tour the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center and Fort Defiance in Clarksville, Tennessee, and cap off the experience with a whiskey tasting at Old Glory Distilling Co. The voyage ends in Nashville, where you can stroll along historic Lower Broadway, visit museums dedicated to Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, and take in a Grand Ole Opry show. 

American Queen Voyages' Upper Mississippi Cruise from St. Louis to Minneapolis

History buffs will love this nine-day cruise along the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers aboard American Queen Voyages' 245-passenger American Countess paddle wheeler. The itinerary offers guests a chance to explore the idyllic river towns that inspired the Father of American Literature.

After departing St. Louis, the cruise arrives in Alton, Illinois, where guests can play golf on championship courses, explore the National Great Rivers Museum , or just stroll around the town's historic districts. Day three brings passengers further upriver to Mark Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, from which the author drew inspiration for several of his novels. On day four, the ship stops at Bettendorf, Iowa, for a hop-on hop-off tour of museums, artist studios, the German American Heritage Center , and the Quad City Botanical Center . In Dubuque, Iowa, guests can take a ride on the Fenelon Place Elevator, billed as "the world's steepest, shortest scenic railway". Day nine, finds the the ship at La Crosse, Wisconsin, famous for its rugged terrain and breathtaking vistas. The final port is Red Wing, Minnesota, home to beautifully preserved artisan workshops, factories, and pioneer-era architecture. After disembarking, passengers can explore nearby Minneapolis before going home.

American Cruise Lines’ Hudson River Fall Foliage Cruise

This eight-day fall foliage-themed cruise takes leaf peeping to a new level. The round-trip voyage out of New York City takes nature lovers through the heart of the Hudson Valley  –  swathed every fall in a blanket of bright orange, red, and yellow. Whether you sail on the classic 48-stateroom American Star or the 100-passenger American Eagle , you'll enjoy a stunning display of colors from the comfort of your balcony. On shore, you’ll have the opportunity to hike to the highest waterfall in the Empire State , walk across the longest pedestrian bridge in the world , and visit the homes of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park and author Washington Irving in Sleepy Hollow.

Viking Cruises’ New Orleans & Southern Charms Lower Mississippi Cruise

This eight-day round-trip cruise takes in historic estates, military sites, and comunities bursting with Cajun and Creole culture. After departing New Orleans, the Viking Mississippi stops in the Louisiana towns of Darrow and St. Francisville, which boast Greek Revival mansions, Spanish moss-draped avenues, and even a haunted house . Day four brings travelers to the oldest city on the river, Natchez, Mississippi, home to a rich African American heritage . The next day, guests can learn about one of the most consequential battles of the Civil War at Vicksburg National Military Park before setting sail for the vibrant capital city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The ship then returns to New Orleans, where guests can stay longer or catch a flight home.

Courtesy of Viking

UnCruise Adventures’ Rivers of Adventure & Wine Columbia and Snake River Cruise

Spotting wildlife and sipping wine go hand-in-hand on this UnCruise Adventures expedition around the Pacific Northwest. The seven-night round-trip journey from Portland isn't your typical leisure cruise. Instead, passengers get to go on rainforest hikes, rafting adventures, winery visits, and scenic kayaking excursions through dramatic canyons.

After the champagne departure from Portland and a stop at Astoria, Oregon, the ship passes through the Columbia River Gorge. Passengers can disembark for a guided hike, then return for a wine tasting with the ship's sommelier. The gourmand adventures continue with an excursion to Walla Walla, Washington, which includes visits to olive oil makers, chocolatiers, and family-owned wine cellars. Day five begins at the mouth of the Palouse River, where guests can kayak or paddleboard. The next day, passengers can visit Columbia Hills State Park and Rowena Plateau on foot or by skiff boat while enjoying river dips, farm-to-fork delights, and a wine tour and tasting. Guests then disembark at The Dalles, Oregon, for whitewater rafting or a relaxing winery tour. The adventure ends with a farewell dinner back at Portland.

Related Articles

7 best US river cruises

Donna Heiderstadt

Whether you're fascinated by American history, culture and cuisine, or you've enjoyed river cruising in Europe but are now looking to explore closer to home, U.S. river cruises are an easy and enjoyable vacation option.

Choose from two main waterways for your U.S. river cruise: the Mississippi River — which flows through nine states from St. Paul, Minnesota, to New Orleans — or the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon and Washington. Some cruise lines also venture onto three smaller, lesser-known rivers: the Ohio, the Cumberland and the Tennessee. You can also explore New York's Hudson River on a fall foliage cruise.

For cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter .

Your choice of cruise line is equally limited. Just two companies offer multiple itineraries on U.S. rivers. American Cruise Line sails all the waterways mentioned above, while Viking offers itineraries solely on the Mississippi. Additionally, Lindblad Expeditions has introduced a food-and-wine-centric river cruise on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Read on for our picks of the seven best U.S. river cruises. They range from seven to 15 nights and visit destinations in 16 states; itineraries take you through the colonial-heritage-rich Northeast, America's agricultural heartland and the pioneer routes of the Pacific Northwest.

American Cruise Lines' 8-night Music Cities Cruise

riverboat cruise

From Memphis blues and Elvis Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes" to Kentucky bluegrass and New Orleans jazz, American Cruise Lines' eight-night Music Cities Cruise sails you through a chronology of the U.S. music scene. You'll traverse three rivers (the Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland) en route from Memphis to Nashville, or vice versa.

In Tennessee's two famous music cities, you'll have a chance to visit Elvis Presley's Graceland, stroll blues club-lined Beale Street and check out the Grand Ole Opry. You'll also visit Paducah, Kentucky, and Dover and Clarksville in Tennessee, where experiences include whiskey and bourbon tasting, tours of landmark art murals and, of course, Civil War history.

While cruising, you'll enjoy nightly entertainment that celebrates the region's musical heritage. American Cruise Lines offers this itinerary on four ships from April to October 2024, 2025 and 2026. Three of the ships — American Melody, American Symphony and American Serenade — are 180-passenger modern river ships launched in 2021, 2022 and 2023, respectively. The fourth, American Splendor, is a 180-passenger paddlewheeler that debuted in 2016.

Related: Booking your first river cruise? Here's what you need to know

Viking's 14-night America's Great River Cruise

riverboat cruise

Want the total Mississippi experience? You can cruise the entire length of this mighty river as you visit 14 cities in seven U.S. states on Viking's two-week sailing.

Available three times a year (in July, September and October), the America's Great River cruise begins in Minnesota (either St. Paul or Red Wing) and concludes in New Orleans, allowing you to experience an intricate tapestry of American history and culture.

There's eagle spotting in Red Wing and agricultural innovation in Quad Cities, Iowa. You'll enjoy Mark Twain lore in Hannibal, Missouri, and architectural landmarks, such as the soaring Gateway Arch, in St. Louis. As you cruise the lower Mississippi, you'll delve into civil rights history in Memphis; Civil War battles and historic architecture in Mississippi's Vicksburg and Natchez; Cajun and Creole music in Baton Rouge; and the legendary culinary treats and jazz of New Orleans.

All sailings are aboard the 386-passenger Viking Mississippi. Launched in 2022, it's currently the largest river ship in the U.S. and features three restaurants and an aft infinity pool.

American Cruise Lines' 8-Night Columbia & Snake River Cruise

riverboat cruise

If your vacation preferences favor mountain landscapes, wine tasting and pioneer lore, consider American Cruise Lines' eight-night Columbia & Snake River Cruise . You'll explore the Pacific Northwest from Portland, Oregon, to Clarkstown, Washington (or vice versa).

On the Pacific end of your voyage, you'll visit Astoria, Oregon — the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. This coastal city at the mouth of the Columbia River is known for its Victorian homes, wineries, brew pubs, and Lewis and Clark heritage. Next, from Kalama, Washington, you can join an excursion to visit the remnants of the area around Mount St. Helens, which suffered a devastating eruption in 1980.

In The Dalles, you can enjoy a sommelier-led tasting of Columbia Valley wines, visit Multnomah Falls or get adventurous on a river kayak tour. During a call on Richland, Washington, you can admire the scenic beauty around the confluence of the Columbia and Snake rivers at Sacajawea State Park. More wine tasting or outdoor adventure awaits on the way to Clarkstown.

American Cruise Line offers this itinerary on five ships from April to October 2024, 2025 and 2026. Three of the ships (American Song, American Jazz and American Harmony) are 180-passenger modern river ships launched from 2018 to 2020. American Pride is a 150-passenger paddlewheeler launched in 2012, and American West is a 110-passenger veteran paddlewheeler launched in 1995.

Related: Best river cruise lines around the world

Viking's 7-night New Orleans & Southern Charms

riverboat cruise

If you've never visited New Orleans, or it's been a while, take a Mississippi River cruise that sails round-trip from the Big Easy. They offer time before or after the cruise to enjoy the city's food, music and iconic architecture — plus the ease of a round-trip flight booking. Viking's seven-night New Orleans & Southern Charms itinerary focuses solely on ports in Louisiana and Mississippi, with an emphasis on historic architecture, Cajun culture and Civil War landmarks.

From Darrow, Louisiana, you'll stroll beneath canopies of towering live oak trees to visit historic mansions or glide through the bayou. More historic architecture, along with bird-watching, awaits in St. Francisville, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi. Vicksburg, Mississippi, is home to one of the Civil War's most famous battlefields. Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capital, has something to satisfy every interest, from Cajun cuisine to tours of the restored World War II-era USS Kidd.

The cruise, which is available in November and December 2024 and January, November and December 2025, ends with a full day of exploration back in New Orleans before one last night aboard the 386-passenger Viking Mississippi.

American Cruise Lines' 7-night Hudson River Fall Foliage Cruise

riverboat cruise

Not only is the autumnal landscape in New York's Hudson Valley visually captivating, but the small cities and towns that line the river's shores are filled with fascinating early American history dating back more than 400 years.

Cruise the Hudson round-trip from New York City on American Cruise Lines' seven-night Hudson River Fall Foliage Cruise . You'll visit Catskill, home to the Hudson River School Art Trail and the Olana Historic Site, or explore more actively at the Hudson River Skywalk and Kaaterskill Falls. In Albany, founded in 1609, you can tour the newly renovated New York State Capitol building, built in the late 1800s; you can also visit the New York State Museum, which dates to 1836. Feel like apple-picking? That's an option here, too.

Next, during a call at Kingston/Hyde Park, you can tour the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, home to the 32nd U.S. president's library and museum. You can also head to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, featuring an American Beaux-Arts mansion completed in 1899. The United States Military Academy at West Point, founded in 1802, is also on the itinerary, as is Sleepy Hollow. The Sleepy Hollow legend comes to life during a tour of the local cemetery where author Washington Irving is buried. Back in the Big Apple on day seven, you'll have time to explore before saying farewell to your ship.

Sailings are available from late September to early November 2024, 2025 and 2026. Sailings are onboard either the 100-passenger American Eagle, American Liberty, American Glory or American Legend (all built in 2023 or 2024), or the older 90-passenger American Star and American Independence, launched in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

Related: River cruise packing list: What to pack when traveling by riverboat

Lindblad Expeditions' 7-night Columbia & Snake Rivers: Food, Wine and History Cruise

riverboat cruise

Nature-focused cruise line Lindblad Expeditions has partnered with Food & Wine magazine to offer a new seven-night Columbia & Snake Rivers: Food, Wine and History cruise on multiple dates in April, September and October 2024; there are also sailings in March, April, September and October 2025. The voyages will sail between Portland, Oregon, and Clarkston, Washington.

Complementing the itinerary will be gourmet Pacific Northwest cuisine and more than 40 regional wines curated by an onboard culinary team. All ingredients will be sourced from within 250 miles of the ship's route. A naturalist, historian and geologist will be on hand to guide you on excursions by foot, kayak, Zodiac and jet boat.

Off-ship experiences include sampling local beer and oysters in Astoria, Oregon; visiting Multnomah Falls or hiking Beacon Rock; and having a private vineyard visit and downtown wine walk in Walla Walla, Washington.

These sailings occur on two identical Lindblad ships: the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Lion and National Geographic Sea Bird.

American Cruise Line's 15-night Grand Ohio River Cruise

riverboat cruise

Did you know that you can cruise from Pittsburgh to St. Louis? If exploring the central U.S. — Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri — without driving is appealing, consider the 15-night Grand Ohio River Cruise offered by American Cruise Lines. You'll enjoy regionally inspired dining and eclectic landmarks along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers as you sail.

Over two weeks, you'll visit Native American burial grounds and archeological sites in West Virginia and learn about the underground railroad in Ohio. You can taste bourbon and explore the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory or the Kentucky Derby Museum & Horse Park in Louisville. Take time to appreciate American artistry at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky. Rest up from your portside adventures during five days of scenic river cruising.

This itinerary is available from June to August 2024, 2025 and 2026 on the 180-passenger modern river ship American Melody and the 150-passenger paddlewheeler American Heritage.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

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