12 Most Iconic Rivers on Earth

There's a reason you know the names of these rivers—the Nile, the Mississippi, the Amazon—they've inspired exploration, legend, religion. Discover the waterways that shaped the world—and the cruises that reveal their secrets.


The 1,300-mile Orinoco was first documented by Columbus in 1498, but its elusive source was not found until 1951. Situated in present-day Colombia and Venezuela, the Orinoco Delta covers more than 340,000 square miles and branches off into literally hundreds of off-shoot rivers and waterways. This watery wonderland is home to more than 1,000 species of birds, plus a huge variety of fish, from gargantuan 200-pound catfish to carnivorous piranhas.
River cruise: Orinoco Delta Tours will get you close to this wealth of wildlife with its three-day river trip and lodge vacation on the Delta. Tucupita to Orinoco Delta Lodge, 011-58/295-249-1823, From $260 per person for a two-night trip.


Europe's longest river is Russia's principal waterway. A crucial trade route since the Bulgars and the Khazars settled along it in the Middle Ages, its banks have since been invaded by Mongol hordes, Cossacks, revolting peasants, and anti-Putin demonstrators. Known as "Mother Volga" in Russia, the river has carried Russian colonization to the east, transported freight, and watered the vast steppes.
River cruise: The 13-day Waterways of the Czars Cruise glides through Russia and the Ukraine, taking in majestic sights from the Kremlin and Red Square to Catherine the Great's Palace, the Hermitage, and the Golden Ring towns of Yaroslavl and Uglich. Moscow to St. Petersburg, 800/706-1483, From $4,496 per person for a 12-night cruise.


Although archaeological evidence shows that people were trotting along the Thames as far back as 400,000 years ago, the Romans founded the river's most significant settlement, Londinium, a mere 2,000 years ago. The Thames may be short, but it's mighty. In fact, the 220-mile-long Thames could probably claim to be the river that's had the most powerful impact on the world: The British Empire was explored and claimed by ships that sailed from it. In 1589, Sir Walter Raleigh set off for the New World from here. By the 1700s, London was the world's busiest port as commodities were shipped up the Thames from all over the British Empire. Today, it's a slow-flowing river with 44 locks, several royal palaces, innumerable English villages, two famed university towns, and, of course, the one-and-only London.
River cruise: See the Thames that flows outside London with a four-night cruise on the 12-passenger African Queen, which passes through quaint English villages like Henley-on-Thames and traverses the Goring Lock. Round-trip from Mapledurham, From $886 per person for a four-night cruise.


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