10 Best River Cruises

People relaxing at a park along the river, Basel Photo by Anne Ackermann
By Heidi Sarna

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 Rhone (and eight other rivers), plus we reveal what you can expect to see along the way.

Photo Caption: People relaxing at a park along the Rhine in Basel, Switzerland.
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River cruising with Uniworld on the Seine. Photo by Frommers.com Community
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 Seine cruises include a day or two in Paris before traveling northwest toward Honfleur and the English Channel. Stops include Giverny, home of the artist Claude Monet, and Rouen, known as the "City of 100 Spires," for its many churches and cathedrals. From Rouen, visit the beaches of Normandy to see D-Day memorial sites.

Who Goes There: Uniworld's (tel. 800/733-7820; www.uniworld.com) 7-night sailings aboard the 128-passenger River Baroness start at $2,099 per person, including shore excursions and wine and beer at dinner. Other lines with similar itineraries include Viking River Cruises and AMA Waterways.

Photo Caption: River cruising with Uniworld on the Seine. Photo by F. Murphy/Frommers.com Community
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Sailing along a canal in the Alsace Lorraine, France. Photo by Michael Blarney_
Where: Throughout France

Great For: Families and small groups who appreciate the architecture, history, food, and wine of France. A barge cruise is also perfect for independent-minded travelers who don't like traveling with the pack and who can appreciate the extremely slow pace (it can take 20 minutes to pass through one lock, and there are many along the way). You also have the option of walking or biking alongside the canals.

Route: There are thousands of miles of canals in France, originally built as waterways for the transport of goods (ships were towed through the canals by mules that walked on paths along the banks). Today, these canals are a great way to explore the countryside of France at a leisurely pace. The most popular canals are in the Champagne region, the Upper Loire, Burgundy, and Alsace-Lorraine, where you'll pass through medieval villages, see historic châteaux -- and taste lots of local wines.

Who Goes There: French Country Waterways (tel. 800/222-1236; www.fcwl.com) offers six-night sailings in Alsace Lorraine aboard the 12-passenger Adrienne. From $6,295 per person, including top wines, shore excursions, and dinner ashore at the Michelin-starred Le Cerf in Marlenheim. Other lines with similar itineraries include Le Boat and Abercrombie & Kent.

Photo Caption: Sailing along a canal in the Alsace-Lorraine, France. Photo by Michael Blarney_/Flickr.com
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Houses along the Rhine River in Germany, as seen from a river cruise. Photo by mayakamina
Where: Germany, Netherlands, France and Switzerland

Great For: First-time river cruisers. Since the Rhine flows through four countries, you'll get an overview before striking out on more obscure river routes.

Route: Rhine cruises that sail between Holland and Switzerland cover a lot of cultural ground in one to two weeks, from a stop in Cologne, Germany to see the famous cathedral there to tasting Riesling wines in Rudesheim. Explore historic Heidelberg with its 14th-century university and much photographed red-brick bridge spanning the Neckar River. A highlight of Strasbourg, France, is its picturesque Gothic cathedral.

Who Goes There: AMA Waterways (tel. 800/626-0126; www.amawaterways.com) offers a great 7-night route between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland that hits the highlights, from $3,719 per person aboard the 148-passenger AMACello. Other lines with similar itineraries include Uniworld, Sea Cloud, Grand Circle, and Viking River Cruises.

Photo Caption: Houses along the Rhine River in Germany, as seen from a river cruise. Photo by mayakamina/Flickr.com
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A bridge over the Danube River separates the cities of Buda and Pest, Hungary. Photo by Frommers.com Community
Where: Germany, Austria, Hungary, and more

Great For: First-time river cruisers. Like the Rhine, the Danube flows through many countries.

Route: The Danube is Europe's most popular river for cruising. It flows through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and other countries for almost 2,000 miles. Highlights include easy access to Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, the Austrian Lake District, medieval towns, and Baroque monasteries. There are dozens of Danube river cruise combinations -- cruise the Danube round-trip from Passau, Germany; one-way between Regensburg and Budapest; or between Vienna or Budapest to Nuremberg.

Who Goes There: AMA Waterways (tel. 800/626-0126; www.amawaterways.com) offers Danube cruises between April and November, including a 7-night cruise from Budapest to Vilshofen (Germany), plus three nights in a Munich hotel, aboard the 148-passenger Amadolce from $1,999 per person. Other lines with similar itineraries include Uniworld, Sea Cloud, Grand Circle, and Viking River Cruises.

Photo Caption: A bridge over the Danube River separates the cities of Buda and Pest, Hungary. Photo by acmesales/Frommers.com Community
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The Main River in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo by ChrisYunker
Where: Germany

Great For: Wine and beer connoisseurs as well as World War II buffs and anyone who wants the highlights of Germany.

Route: The three connecting rivers of the Rhine, Main, and Danube offer travelers a thorough tour of Germany and Austria, with highlights including excursions to Heidelberg and Nuremburg, with its fascinating WWII history and also home to one of the world's largest Christmas markets.

Who Goes There: Uniworld (tel. 800/733-7820; www.uniworld.com) offers a 14-night itinerary aboard the 134-passenger River Countess from Basel, Switzerland, to Vienna, Austria, in October and November 2010 from $3,889 per person, including shore excursions, beer and wine. Other lines with similar itineraries include Viking River Cruises, Sea Cloud, and AMA Waterways.

Photo Caption: The Main River in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo by ChrisYunker/Flickr.com
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Buddhist monks in traditional orange robes, sitting along the riverfront in Phnom Penh Photo by Elisabeth Blanchet
Where: Cambodia & Vietnam

Great For: Adventure seekers and fairly fit travelers who can climb in and out of basic local panga boats for daily excursions along the Mekong's tributaries and to rural shore points.

Route: Popular 7-night itineraries run between Siem Reap (near the temples of Angkor Wat), Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The route is mostly rural, except for stops in Phnom Penh, 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 river side and throw out a gang plank leading to the shore. Excursions include visits to floating fish markets, temples, royal residences, villages with thatched huts, an orphanage, and a French Gothic church.

Who Goes There: Pandaw Cruises (www.pandaw.com) 66-passenger Tonle Pandaw and 64-passenger Mekong Pandaw are doing 7-night Mekong River routes through March 2012. Fares start at about $2,400 per person, including all shore excursions and local spirits, beer and non-alcoholic drinks. Other lines with similar itineraries include AMA Waterways.

Photo Caption: Buddhist monks in traditional orange robes, sitting along the Mekong River in Phnom Penh
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Vendors sell their wares to tourists, who are aboard a cruise ship going through a set of locks on the Nile River. Photo by Frommers.com Community
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 River 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.

Who Goes There: Lindblad Expeditions (tel. 800/397-3348; www.expeditions.com) has a 10-day cruise tour package that includes a 4-night cruise aboard the 47-passenger Salacia, starting at $4,700 per person, including shore excursions, on departures between October 2010 and January 2011. Other lines with similar itineraries include Uniworld, Grand Circle, and Viking River Cruises.

Photo Caption: Vendors sell their wares to tourists, who are aboard a cruise ship going through a set of locks on the Nile River. Photo by Mr. Fred/Frommers.com Community
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Leaving Volgograd on a Volga River cruise. Photo by Swerz.com
Where: Russia

Great For: History buffs and art lovers

Route: Many itineraries are about two weeks long and sail between Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the Hermitage museum resides. From Moscow's Kremlin and Red Square to Catherine's Palace in Pushkin, the Volga takes passengers through Russia's history-filled urban centers as well as the pastoral landscapes dominated by forests, lakes, and rustic summer houses.

Who Goes There: Uniworld (tel. 800/733-7820; www.uniworld.com) does 12-night sailings between Moscow and St. Petersburg between May and September of 2011 aboard the 206-passenger River Victoria from $3,299 per person, including shore excursions. Other lines with similar itineraries include Viking River Cruises, Grand Circle, and AMA Waterways.

Photo Caption: Leaving Volgograd on a Volga River cruise. Photo by Swerz.com/Flickr.com
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The Three Gorges on the Yangtze River. Photo by Frommers.com Community
Where: China

Great For: History buffs, seniors, and anyone with the time to combine a cruise with a land-based tour of China.

Route: Many of China's great cities lie along the nearly 4,000-mile-long waterway, including Shanghai, Yangzhou, Nanjing, Chongging, and Yichang, gateway to the Three Gorges. Itineraries range from three to six nights and most sail between Chongging and Shanghai or between Chongging and Yichang. The Three Gorges area -- an 80-mile stretch of gorgeous scenery as well as the Three Gorges Dam -- is the highlight of many itineraries. The centuries-old pagodas along the river banks are a close second.

Who Goes There: Victoria Cruises (tel. 800/348-8084; www.victoriacruises.com) is an American-managed company that cruises on the Yangtze nearly year-round between March and November. The 4-night upstream Three Gorges Highlights cruise aboard the new and luxurious 400-passenger Victoria Jenna starts at $980 per person (shore excursions are not included). Other lines with similar itineraries include Uniworld and Viking River Cruises.

Photo Caption: The Three Gorges on the Yangtze River. Photo by JerrycAZ/Frommers.com Community
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The Rhone River in France. Photo by Frommers.com Community
Where: France

Great For: Wine lovers, honeymooners, and history buffs.

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 includes everything from the Roman ruins in Arles to historic Avignon. Stroll around the 2,000-year-old city of Lyon and taste your way through the vineyards of Burgundy.

Who Goes There: Viking River Cruises (tel. 800/304-9616; www.vikingrivercruises.com) is doing weeklong Rhone cruises aboard the 150-passenger Viking Neptune from $1,356 per person, including shore excursions, on weekly departures between March and November. Other lines with similar itineraries include Uniworld and AMA Waterways.

Photo Caption: The Rhone River in France. Photo by DammitJanet/Frommers.com Community
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