Did you know that many of history’s greatest civilizations were founded around famous rivers? Ancient Rome and ancient Egypt, as well as cities like Shanghai and Paris, thrived thanks to access to these storied waterways. The most famous rivers around the world don’t just provide water supply, but they’re ideal for successful transport and trade. And on many of our tours today, exploring cities like Vienna, Shanghai, and London includes a visit and/or a cruise on these popular rivers so you can see just how important they are. What’s a trip to Egypt without a Nile River cruise? And we’re convinced that a tour of Peru must include a sail down the Amazon. These are just a couple of the most famous rivers in the world, but in the following guide, we explore five more that are worth visiting on your next trip.
At 4,132 miles (or 6,650 kilometers) long, the Nile River’s drainage basin begins around Lake Victoria and runs across 11 countries in northeastern Africa before it reaches the Mediterranean Sea. One of the most famous rivers in the world, the Nile is also considered Africa’s longest river. Historically, the Nile was the lifeline for ancient Egypt, whose most important cities (including Cairo and Aswan) were built near the water.
One of the most famous rivers of the world, the Nile plays an important part in our trips to Egypt, too. On our nine-day A Week in Egypt: Giza, Nile River Cruise & Cairo tour, days exploring pyramids in Cairo and temples in Luxor are complemented with a three-night cruise on the Nile River. Not only is this a relaxing way to travel around Egypt, it’s also the most efficient mode of transport if you want to see stunning archaeological sites Kom Ombo and Edfu, which were originally established very close to the Nile’s rushing waters. It’s the same for our brand-new tour, Egypt & Nile River Cruise for Solo Travelers, where you’ll get to enjoy a similar itinerary from the comforts of a private cabin.
Depending on who you ask, some people say that the Nile is the longest river in the world; others claim that title belongs to the Amazon River, which runs through Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. The official length of the Amazon is 4,000 miles (or 6,400 kilometers), but new research suggests that it might actually be longer than that and potentially slightly longer than the Nile. But what remains undisputed is the Amazon’s huge drainage basin, which covers an area of approximately 2.7 million square miles (7 million square kilometers).
One of the most interesting facts about this famous river is that it used to flow in the opposite direction that it does now. But the formation of the Andes mountains blocked access to the Pacific Ocean, forcing the water to go in reverse. Now, it discharges mightly into the Atlantic Ocean.
Many of the activities included on our 14-day Grand Tour of Peru: Machu Picchu to Lake Titicaca are set in and around the Amazon, one of the most important rivers around the world. For instance, you’ll get to cruise down the river and deep into the rainforest, where you’ll learn all about conservation efforts to protect this rich ecosystem. On another day, your guide will teach you how to fish for piranhas—one of the most famous inhabitants of these waters. Talk about an iconic activity in one of the most famous rivers of the world!
The longest river in Asia, the 3,915-mile (or 6,300-kilometer) Yangtze River has been a crucial fixture in Chinese culture. In fact, nearly one third of the Chinese population (that’s a casual 400 million people) live in cities and towns that are considered part of the Yangtze’s river basin. And it provides half of the fish consumed in the country, as well as two-thirds of all the rice. No wonder the Yangtze is one of the most important rivers of the world. No trip to China would be complete without getting a first-hand look at how this majestic river contributes to daily Chinese life.
Our 15-day China: Beijing, Yangtze River Cruise & Shanghai tour includes four glorious nights cruising the Yangtze River. From the boat, you’ll see the beauty of this famous river, flanked by grassy mountains and hills. But you’ll also get to learn about important developments on the Yangtze, including a guided tour of The Three Gorges Dam, a massive hydro-electric power station (the largest in the world that’s still in use) amidst one of the most beautiful stretches of the river. You can also sign up for an excursion aboard a wooden boat, called a sampan, which will take you to explore the river’s tributaries. You can also add an outing to Mount Wuling Great Rift Valley, a scenic region full of lush vegetation and local wildlife.
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Canada’s 365-mile (or 587-kilometer) Bow River might not be as long or as powerful as the other rivers on this list, but it has its own fascinating history that stretches for thousands of years. In fact, it’s called Bow River, which starts in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in the province of Alberta, because of the reeds that can be found along its banks, which were used by First Nations communities to make bows. First Nations peoples from the Nakoda, Tsuu Tʼina, and the Blackfoot Confederacy have lived and settled the lands that surround these waters for millennia (hunting game like buffalo that made use of the river) before fur traders eventually settled in the region in the late 19th century.
On our nine-day Canadian Rockies by Train: Banff, Lake Louise & Vancouver tour, you can experience the picturesque beauty of the Bow River on our Banff River Float excursion. This summertime add-on starts just outside Banff, where you’ll board a river raft that will drift you through Banff National Park. Get that camera ready: This part of the Rockies is especially gorgeous. Staggering snow-capped mountains, hoodoo rock spires, and water birds are just a few of the sightings you’ll want to enjoy and photograph. It’s one of our favorite excursions on our Canada tours, because from this unique vantage point, you’ll immediately realize why the Bow River is one of the most beloved rivers from around the world.
The 3,050-mile (or 4,909-kilometer) Mekong River is one of the most famous rivers in the world. From its origins in the Tibetan Plateau, it snakes through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. One of Southeast Asia’s great civilizations, the Khmer, settled along the Mekong for centuries. But this geographical diversity creates a dynamic waterway with rushing rapids and towering waterfalls. Of the rivers of the world, the Mekong is one of the most difficult to navigate. Still, it’s considered a major trade route not just for the communities that surround it, but beyond. Excavations of historic settlements in the area even revealed Roman coins!
Our brand-new 22-day Grand Tour of Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand shows off not only the immense beauty of the Mekong but also its relevance to the communities that rely on its waters. In Luang Prabang, a day of sightseeing at historic venues like Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, the city’s largest Buddhist temple, is paired with people-watching strolls along the Mekong waterfront, where you can shop homegrown stores. You can also opt for the additional Traditions of the Mekong River Delta excursion, where you’ll visit creative artisans via a small boat. This might include a women’s straw mat-weaving workshop followed by a delicious lunch with a local family. It’s an immersive way to learn about enduring customs on your next [trip to Asia](.
The second-longest river in Europe, the 1,770-mile-long (or 2,850-kilometer-long) Danube starts in Germany and flows southeast until it empties into the Black Sea via the Danube River Delta in Romania and Ukraine. What makes it one of the most famous rivers in the world? Well, four European capitals (Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava, and Belgrade) are right on the river, along with many other important cities (like Linz and Regensberg). And over the centuries, so important is this river that countless battles have been waged for control of it. The Ottoman Empire, for instance, fought the Hapsburgs and the Russian Empire, among many other civilizations, so that it could have control of the river and thus maintain its northern borders.
Many of our Central and Eastern Europe tours feature a Danube River Cruise. Whether you’re on our 15-day Oktoberfest: Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour or the two-week Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour, you can add a Danube River Cruise to your itinerary. This speedboat sail from Vienna to Bratislava is a great way to see how two different capitals have established themselves along the banks of the river. And you’ll even pass through the beautiful Donau-Auen National Park on your way. Both tours also allow you to extend your trip to Budapest, one of the great riverside capitals in the world. Did you know the Danube splits the city in half? Buda lies to the west and Pest to the east.
England’s longest river, the River Thames is a 215-mile (346-kilometer) waterway that flows into the North Sea. It has at least 50 named tributaries and 80 islands, but what might make the River Thames among the most well-known rivers of the world is that it runs right through central London. But even before the founding of the British capital, the banks of the Thames have been home to human settlement for millennia, some dating back to Neolithic times. But on any trip to London, the River Thames will be a meaningful part of your experience. Standing along the river to soak in the city’s grandeur may sound simple, but it’s one of our top London travel tips.
Whether you’re coming for our seven-day London: The City Experience tour or starting the new year off with a glamorous two-city break on our nine-day New Year’s Eve in London with Paris tour, the Thames will almost act as one of your travel companions because so much of the sightseeing will include crossing the water multiple times. You can also add our Tower of London & Thames River Cruise excursion to your trip. As you sail along this storied river, you’ll get to see iconic sights like Tower Bridge and the London Eye with a unique point of view. And when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, you’ll ring in a new year with a spectacular firework show right over the River Thames, too.
Are you ready to discover some of the world’s most iconic rivers? Shop our tours now and find your just-right trip