River cruising leads to many charming villages and cities in exciting destinations. However, for those nature and wildlife lovers longing for an adventure off the beaten track, here is a selection of natural wonders to see on a river cruise.

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, as the hazy sun sets during a Mekong river cruise

A serene spot in the northeast region of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay consists of thousands of towering limestone islands topped with vibrant rainforests. Erupting from the waters around the Gulf of Tonkin, this World Heritage site covers of 43,400 hectares and includes more than 1,600 islands and islets. Situated close to the Mekong, river cruises will transport you to this spectacular seascape for a dose of truly majestic scenery.

The Matterhorn

The snow-capped peak of the Matterhorn rising up to meet the clouds in Switzerland

An alpine emblem, the Matterhorn is Switzerland’s mountainous logo sitting on the Swiss Alps. On the border of Switzerland and Italy, this peak could be reached as part of a longer, ‘cruise and stay’ sailing on the Rhone to Lyon. At an impressive 4,478m, the Matterhorn is one of the most breath-taking mountains in Europe and can be easily admired from afar. For a trip fitting in the panoramic views of the Alps, visit the Gornergrat, which sits at an altitude of 3,089m and has been one of Switzerland’s top excursion destinations since 1898.

Verdon Gorge

Bright blue water between lush cliffs in the Verdon Gorge in France

A quick trip from the city of Avignon, the Verdon Gorge is an aquamarine delight for river cruisers. Hop off the Rhone and join the river Verdon as it plunges into Frances’ own Grand Canyon. Reaching a depth of almost 3,000ft, the gorge is a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers as well as sightseers and bird-watchers. Visitors can paddle along in a canoe or kayak, and enjoy the scenery from the lower part of the gorge.

Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves

Visitors gathering in the mouth of Eisriesenwelt Caves in Austria, near the Danube

Malk Meld / Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

While cruising the Danube, stop off in Salzburg and enter Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves to see the shimmering ice sculptures of the World of Ice Giants. Just above the village of Werfen, this wonderous world of natural beauty is a labyrinth of almost 30 miles. Before your tour of the caves, you are handed a lamp and taken to the first stop, Poselt Hall, home of the Posselt Tower stalagmite. The rest of the tour visits the Great Ice Embankment and stalactites in Hymir’s Castle, all of which are silhouetted against magnesium lighting to protect the site.

Jiuzhaigou Valley

The piercing blue waters of Mirror Lake in Jiuzhaigou Valley, China

Jean-Marie Hullot / Flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

This UNESCO World Heritage site is aptly named ‘Fairyland on Earth’ for its picturesque lakes, waterfalls and beaches, and could be reached from Wuxiangang (one of the Three Gorges) on longer Yangtze river cruises.

The dreamlike location is home to more than 220 bird species, as well as numerous endangered plant and animal species including the giant panda, Sichuan golden monkey and the Sichuan takin. Whilst here, walk the Mirror Lake to see the reflection of the mountains in the crystal-clear waters or visit the Peacock River to see both banks blossom into flowers and trees. The Five-Flower Lake is the pride of the Jiuzhaigou Valley, laced with fallen trees and branches which can be seen through the depths of the waters. Due to the calcium carbonate and hydrophytes in the water, it differs in colour from blue to dark green to light yellow – hence the name Five-Flower Lake.

Douro River Valley

A river cruise ship sailing between lush vineyards in the Douro Valley during summer

Situated right on the banks of the river Douro, this Portuguese haven is home to vast acres of pristine vineyards and sweeping hillsides. Cruising along the Douro is an experience itself, even without the addition of visiting a vineyard or two to see the famous Porto beverage brewed in person. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the meandering river has some of the best viewpoints in all of Portugal and vistas that stretch for miles. The lush green valley is perfectly paired with the gentle waves of the Douro to create a peaceful paradise for nature-lovers.

There are numerous rivers to explore and natural wonders to discover: from the deep gorges of France to the peaks of Switzerland. Let us know which river cruise you think offers the best sights of stunning natural lakes and mountain scenery in the comment box, below.

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About Emma Smith

Emma has more than six years' experience as a writer and has been in the travel industry for over two years. She loves learning of new places and cruise ships coming to market, as well as discovering fun and exciting activities to do while you sail. She has cruised with Royal Caribbean and is looking to get something in diary for 2021! Her favourite things to see on a ship include excellent entertainment, a delicious cocktail menu and extraordinary dining venues.

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