IOHO, rivers may well beat out mountains and sunrises for most inspirational—they can cut through stone, after all. From Mississippi to Switzerland, and with views you won’t soon forget, these 9 streams around the world rank as some of our favorites.
Winding nearly 1,800 miles through ten countries—including Germany, Austria, and Romania— the Danube is one of the world’s most iconic rivers (it’s no wonder Strauss wrote a waltz about it—The Blue Danube, 1867). The prettiest portions may well be the tributaries in Germany’s Black Forest, not to mention the exact spot where the river begins: a reflecting pool on the grounds of the Prince of Fürstenberg’s palace, in Donaueschingen, Germany.
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The Colorado River
The biggest river Instagram star may well be the Colorado River—or more specifically, Horseshoe Bend, which sits north of the Grand Canyon and has more than 220,000 #horseshoebend posts. This looping flow of turquoise water cuts through the red sandstone cliffs so beautifully, you’ve got to see it to believe it. Once you’ve taken your shot from the overlook, sign up for a rafting trip with Canyon River Adventure, and keep your eyes out for ancient Native American petroglyphs.
Before Amazon, there was The Amazon—considered the largest river on earth, at more than 4,300 miles long, with waters in 8 countries (including Brazil, Ecuador and Venezuela). Originating high in the Andes, it’s perhaps best experienced by tour— Abercrombie & Kent offers Peruvian Amazon cruises that include spotting sloths and pink river dolphins. Yes, pink.
Don’t deny yourself a trip to what many consider the headwaters of civilization. On what other body of water can you see the colonnaded Temple of Luxor and the circa 180 BC Kom Ombo—which was built to honor the area’s indigenous crocodiles—on one blissful cruise? We recommend the 12-day Pathways of the Pharaohs River Cruise with Viking: you’ll pass the Great Sphynx of Giza on camel, shop the Khan el-Khalili souk in Cairo, and even hop aboard a felucca a.k.a. Egyptian sailboat—to float the river like the locals do.
Despite a recent rash of forest fires that made international headlines, the Columbia River remains one of the prettiest river destinations on earth—620-foot Multnomah Falls waterfall is still rushing, and soon enough will reopen. Two overlooks that are must-sees: the 1917 stone Vista House and beaux-arts icon Maryhill Museum of Art, which maintains its own replica of Stonehenge.
The mighty Mississippi starts as a mere trickle of a stream in Minnesota—which goes to show you, you can’t judge a river by its tributary. The best way to take it all in is perhaps from a riverboat like American Cruise Lines’ Highlights of the Mississippi—which stops at both 38-acre Houmas House, a Louisiana estate, and the Oak Alley Plantation.
This waterway starts in Tibet and courses through the limestone Three Gorges region at up to 600 feet deep—making it the deepest on earth. With Viking’s Imperial Jewels of China tour, you’ll spend 14 days strolling the Great Wall, ogling waterfalls in the Wu Gorge, and exploring Shanghai.
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There’s little that rivals the winter views of Switzerland’s Rhine, which is bordered by snow-dusted alpines and valleys. The 765-mile river, which starts in the southeastern Swiss Alps, also passes through Rotterdam, in the Netherlands; Cologne, Germany; and our favorite stop, the thermal springs at Wiesbaden, where you can soak in splendor at Das Badhaus.
Flowing through Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, the Mekong is the 12th longest river in the world. You’ll see everything from rice paddy fields to 8th-century temples like Wat Hanchey overlooking Angkor Ban, on an 8-day Avalon Waterways cruise. Or, stay on land, and book a room at Mekong Riverview Hotel, many of which have private balconies with standout water vistas.