Cruising the world’s great river is a wonderful way to travel, but it’s not just about getting from A to B. Along the way you’ll see amazing archaeological sites and learn more about the people who have lived on the riverbanks for centuries.
The list of fascinating historic sites and cultural highlights is almost as long as the Yangtze River, so here are just a few that we recommend putting high on your bucket list.
A cruise on the Volga and its tributaries introduces you to the diversity of Russia, from extravagant buildings and extraordinary Russian architecture, to quaint cities with a cultural heritage that dates back to the Viking era.
Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg – the world-famous Hermitage Museum houses the largest collection of priceless masterpieces by Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Rembrandt and many others. Boasting over 3 million items, the bulk of the collection is displayed in the impressive Winter Palace, formerly the official residence of the Romanov Tsars, and its several annexes. Founded by Catherine the Great in 1754 and open to the public since 1852, this is one of the world’s oldest museums.
Mandrogi, Svir River – On the left bank you’ll find Mandrogi, a reconstructed 18th century traditional Russian village set amongst a picturesque landscape. Walk through the town with its restored Russian houses (izba) and browse the shops for handmade Russian crafts, paintings or traditional clothes. Stop at the popular Museum of Russian Vodka, with a collection of over 2500 varieties of vodka from across Russia. Explore the craft workshops where painting, wood carving, weaving lacework and pottery are demonstrated, and then cap off the cultural visit with a traditional shashlik lunch, served in an open-air pavillion on the shore.
Church of Transfiguration, Kizhi – On the island of Kizhi you will stand in awe at the Church of Transfiguration, one of the most impressive wooden structures ever erected. This fairy tale architectural landmark is largely responsible for creating one of the most frequented tourist attractions in Russia. The church features 22 cupolas of striking intricacy, built without using a single nail. Wander through the open-air Architecture Museum with its collection of wooden houses, windmills and churches representing ancient Russian architecture. This entire area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kremlin, Moscow – The Kremlin is one of the best-known monuments in Russia. A guided walking tour takes you inside the former residence of the Russian Czars, where you’ll see the famous Czar Cannon, the 16th century Czar Bell and Cathedral Square, home to three of Moscow’s most elaborate cathedrals: the Cathedral of Assumption, the Cathedral of Annunciation and the Cathedral of the Archangel.
“This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about,” said Rudyard Kipling and he’s still right! The country has gone through monumental changes in recent recent years and today Myanmar (formerly Burma) is a nation of more than 100 ethnic groups that still display their traditional values.
Thayekhittaya (Sri-Ksetra) – Know as the ‘Fabulous City’, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was one of the ancient Pyu capitals of Myanmar and lies five miles south-east of Pyay on the left bank of the Ayeyarwady. Far less crowded than other archaeological sites is equal significance, you can wander this enormous Pyu city that ruled in the area from the 5th to 9th centuries AD.
Mud Volcanoes, Minbu – The small town of Minbu is famous for its legendary Mud Volcanoes, locally known as Naga Bwet Taung (Dragon’s breath) and home to two dragons with mystical powers. Upon entering, it’s customary to perform some offerings to the stone dragons, meant to tame the mythical beast. In reality, the volcanoes are formed by trapped methane gas trying to escape from deep below the surface. These gases then force their way through mud vents in this spectacular landscape that looks extremely lunar.
Salay – The Bagan-era village of Salay is an active religious centre founded in the 13th century with over 50 impressive teak monasteries and untouched British colonial buildings. Visit the huge Youqson Kyaung wooden monastery designed as a replica of the Crown Prince House in Mandalay, with its intricate exterior carvings depicting 19th century court life and scenes from Buddha’s past lives. Continue to an area of colonial buildings and the interesting monuments of Payathonzu and the Shinpinsarkyo Paya.
Bagan – This is the country’s spiritual centre and one of the largest and most unforgettable archaeological sites in the world. Over 2,000 pagodas, stupas and temples dot the golden plains of the city. Visit the magnificent Ananda temple, a whitewashed masterpiece that houses four standing Buddhas. Continue to Dhammayangyi, Bagan’s largest temple, built during the reign of King Narathu.
On the 16 Day Classic European River Cruise, as you sail between Amsterdam and Budapest you can expect to be wowed by opulent palaces, remarkable places of worship and incredible ancient monuments.
Bratislava, Slovakia – This capital city is among the youngest in Europe, yet has a mix of modern and Baroque architecture and retains a rich history dating back more than 2000 years. Walk along the cobblestone lanes of the historic town centre; view St. Martin’s Cathedral, coronation site of the Kings of Hungary, and visit the 13th century Old Town Hall and the Franciscan church.
Regensburg, Germany – One of Germany’s largest and best preserved medieval cities, Regensburg is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A guided walking tour highlights the city’s stunning architecture as you view the Old Town Hall, the Dom St Peter and the Porta Praetoria, gateway to an ancient Roman fort built in 179 AD. Marvel at beautiful churches and one of the oldest stone bridges crossing the Danube.
Nuremberg, Germany – Nuremberg, an energetic city with a visible history of almost one thousand years. Most famous for its historic Palace of Justice, where the War Crimes Tribunal met in 1946, today Nuremberg is an energetic city that still has a visible history of almost one thousand years. You can stroll through the shops that fill the Old Town, visit the vibrant Market Square or walk along the fortified walls of Nuremberg Castle.
Amsterdam, Netherlands – A panoramic tour of 700-year-old Amsterdam introduces you to both the old and the new sections of this city. View the Royal Palace on Amsterdam’s Dam Square, the Queen’s official home-away-from-home. On to the Dutch National Monument dedicated by Queen Juliana as a memorial to the victims of WWII and to the unusual Skinny Bridge, once so narrow that pedestrians could not pass each other. Then a must-do is a glass-top boat cruise through the winding canals for an up-close view of the stately historic homes, 16th-century warehouses and charming churches with striking bell towers.
Gate 1’s China tours combine four relaxing days on the Yangtze River with visiting the Middle Kingdom’s great cities and seeing the sights that you wouldn’t want to come all the way to China and miss out on!
The Great Wall of China – Number one on any list of iconic historic sites in China has to be the Great Wall. Travel to the extraordinary 2000-year-old Great Wall of China, one of the most spectacular structures ever built by man, spanning nearly 6,500 km of China’s northern frontier. Take time time to climb the ramparts of this ancient wonder to view breathtaking mountain passes, plateaus and grasslands from this 7th-century defensive fortification.
Forbidden City, Beijing – At the entrance to the Forbidden City you’ll find huge Tiananmen Square, the largest public plaza in the world built at the height of the Ming Dynasty. The square’s Gate of Heavenly Peace was once used as a staging ground for imperial edicts and by Mao Zedong himself to declare the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. From here, enter the Forbidden City, which served as the Imperial Palace until 1912. The extraordinary and immense walled complex is truly a masterpiece of Chinese architecture; its complex consists of 800 buildings with more than 9,000 rooms.
Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an – An unforgettable experience is visiting the archaeological site of the magnificent Terracotta Warriors, a vast collection of life-size soldiers, horses and chariots that were entombed with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. This world-famous site, stumbled upon by local farmers in 1974, is still being discovered and excavated today, more than forty years since the time of its unearthing.
Three Gorges Dam, Yangtze River – The dam is the world’s largest and most ambitious hydroelectric project ever undertaken, nearly six times the size of the Hoover Dam. In addition to producing electricity, the dam was constructed to increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity and reduce the potential for floods. This project has forever changed the landscape surrounding the Yangtze River and has also forced the relocation of people who once lived along the river. Tour the massive site to see this impressive achievement of engineering.