The USA is a country rich in colonial and native history wherever you decide to explore and its lifeblood for many has long been the mighty Mississippi River. This iconic waterway is the country’s largest and one of the world’s most famous and though it’s synonymous with the glory days of paddle steamers and the Deep South, it actually begins its journey far north in Minnesota. That said, most Mississippi River cruises concern themselves with the south, offering cruisers an authentic paddle steamer experience on state-of-the-art yet historically sympathetic river boats.
The direction in which you travel can vary and some journeys are longer than others. It’s possible to cruise from St Louis right through to New Orleans on the USA’s south coast, with shorter itineraries also available. Along the way you’ll visit musical meccas like Nashville and Memphis as well as smaller settlements which offer glimpses of a more traditional way of life.
One of the earliest established US States and the Gateway to the West during the days of the American Frontier, St Louis is a city with plenty of colonial heritage, the landmark focal point of which is the 630-foot Gateway Arch, which is the country’s tallest man-made monument. The beautiful Cathedral Basilica is the most celebrated architectural attraction, while there is also a wealth of beautiful gardens and parks to explore, too.
At the other end of the typical Mississippi route lies one of the USA’s most colourful and celebrated cities, New Orleans. Famous for its vibrant Mardi Gras carnival, it’s called the Big Easy for a reason and you can always expect a warm welcome and a truly hospitable atmosphere. Explore the history of French colonisation and soak up the atmosphere of the French Quarter, take a stroll in one of the city’s beautiful parks or experience architectural treasures like the Immaculate Conception Church.
The heart of the once flourishing Louisiana plantation country, Baton Rouge offers plenty for those who want to investigate this part of the country’s history including a look round the Rural Life Museum. In contrast, a trip up the art deco State Capitol building shows how far the city has come, as well as offering some fantastic views of the Mississippi. There is a wealth of other historic sites to take in, such as the Louisiana State University and Old Governor’s Mansion.
Memphis is of course the home of Elvis and indeed, the King’s legacy is all around. Its musical pedigree extends much further back though, as Tennessee’s cultural jewel is also the birthplace of the blues. Places of pilgrimage for many are Graceland, Elvis’s home and the Legendary Sun Studio where he recorded for the first time. Those wishing to explore a much more sobering chapter in the city’s history should visit the National Civil Rights Museum, built in the city because Martin Luther King was assassinated there in 1968.
The spiritual home of country music, Nashville offers such musical attractions as the legendary Grand Ole Opry, where country stars old and new perform and RCA Studio B, where many of the genre’s legends recorded. It’s also where you’ll find the Johnny Cash Museum and the Country Music Hall of Fame, but there’s plenty for non-fans too, including some beautiful parks, gardens and historic country mansions.
USA travel tips
If you enjoy a flutter, the Mississippi is certainly in touch with its steamboat gambling history and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to visit a floating casino during your cruise, so make sure you bring a few extra dollars. Cajun cooking is always popular and fried catfish is a particular speciality along the river.