At 2,320 miles long, the Mississippi River streams through multiple states, flowing from the Gulf of Mexico past Illinois. At the lower base of the river is the colorful city of New Orleans in Louisiana. Over the last 300 years, various cultures and heritages have shaped this distinctive city. Most evident are the Cajun, Creole and French influences marking everything from NOLA's cuisine to music. Enjoy a tour of the French Quarter and historic Garden District, shop along Canal Street, or sample beignets at one of the many outdoor cafes.
From New Orleans, travel through Louisiana's plantation country to see Vacherie, Burnside, and St. Francisville. In Vacherie, two rows of enormous, 300-year-old oak trees line a quarter-mile avenue leading to the grand antebellum home of Oak Alley Plantation. A National Historic Landmark, this Greek Revival-style mansion was built in 1839 and is supported by 28 Doric columns and furnished with 19th century antiques. Burnside's impressive antebellum plantation Houmas House is filled with period pieces and elegant gardens.
St. Francisville lies at the heart of Louisiana's plantation country. Explore beautiful Greenwood Plantation or the Myrtles, a famous haunted house. The town is also known for its charming churches, gift shops, antique shops and historic buildings.
Traveling north along the river brings you to Natchez and Vicksburg, both in Mississippi. Founded in 1716 and perched on a bluff 200 feet above the river, Natchez is the oldest city in the state, housing more than 500 antebellum structures. You can learn about the history of cotton production at Frogmore Plantation or discover the Delta Music Museum. Vicksburg was the site of a crucial 47-day Civil War siege. Explore sprawling Vicksburg National Military Park with its battlefields, statues and monuments to soldiers from both the North and South.
Continuing along the Mississippi takes to you to Helena, Arkansas. Mark Twain wrote, "Helena occupies one of the prettiest situations on the river." Home to seven generals of the Confederacy, this town features many attractions on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Confederate Cemetery and Louisiana Purchase State Park.
An hour northeast of Helena is the historic Old South city of Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis heralds a great musical legacy as the birthplace of blues and home of Elvis Presley. Stroll among the shops, nightclubs and restaurants, take the musical "Walk of Fame" on Beale Street or head to the Center for Southern Folklore for films and exhibits about Memphis. Tours of Graceland are popular, as is the historic Peabody Hotel, where spectators gather daily to watch resident ducks march down a red carpet to the lobby fountain.
Drifting upward toward Missouri brings you to New Madrid and St. Louis. In 1811, the most powerful earthquake ever to hit North America was centered in New Madrid, forcing the Mississippi River to run backwards for miles. Explore this charming town's historic streets and vistas or tour the Hunter-Dawson Home State Historical site and the New Madrid Historical Museum. In St. Louis, the iconic Gateway Arch welcomes you. Travel under Eads Bridge, a National Historic Landmark en route to the Chain of Rocks Canal and the confluence of the Missouri River.
North of St. Louis is Alton, Illinois. Perched on the banks of the Mississippi River, you can visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center here or climb the 150-foot lookout tower for breathtaking views of the river. Branching off the Mississippi is the Illinois River leading to cities like Havana and Chicago. In Havana, see the restored pioneer village of New Salem, where Abraham Lincoln spent time as a young adult. Chicago is home to Wrigley Field, Sears Tower, Field Museum and Millennium Park. Try Chicago-style pizza, indulge in shopping or amble along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
A number of tributaries that connect to the Mississippi River flow through Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, including the Cumberland, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. Some cruises stop in cities along these rivers.
In Tennessee, Dover offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities with its proximity to the Land Between Lakes National Recreation area. There are also a number of historical attractions such as the Civil War site and Fort Donelson National Battlefield.
Clarksville is one of Tennessee's largest cities. Founded in 1785, the city is home to attractions such as King's Bluff, Cumberland Riverwalk, Beachaven Vineyards & Winery, Port Royal State Park, and Historic Collinsville, a village restored to demonstrate the living conditions of early European and African-American settlers.
Best known as the country and western music capital of the world, Nashville is home of the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame. You can see plantations like the Belle Meade, Civil War battlefields, Andrew Jackson's home, the Jack Daniels Distillery and a full-scale reproduction of the Parthenon with its 42-foot-tall statue of Athena.
Chattanooga is nestled between the Appalachians and Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. Known as the "Scenic City," it offers striking mountain landscapes. Saunter along the 13-mile riverwalk or explore the Tennessee Aquarium, the world's largest freshwater aquarium.
Near Chattanooga, cruise through Tennessee's "Grand Canyon," a breathtaking river gorge in the Cumberland Mountains. Spectacular views abound as you pass Raccoon and Lookout Mountains, where the "Battle Above the Clouds" was fought during the Civil War. From here, travel through Wilson Lock and see Tennessee's oldest and most historic dam. Continue to Pickwick where you can pass through Pittsburg Landing, tour Shiloh Military Park or survey Pickwick Landing State Park.
North of Tennessee are the river towns of Kentucky, beginning with Paducah. It was from this city that 42,000 Union soldiers boarded 173 steamboats and 12 gunboats for a military convoy up the Tennessee River to Shiloh. Browse antique shops and explore museums and galleries around Market House Square. On the downtown floodwalls, look for colorful murals that depict scenes from Paducah's past.
Next up in Kentucky is Smithland, sitting at the confluence of the Ohio and Cumberland Rivers. Established in 1780, this town was once an important supply depot and staging area for Union troops. Cruise along Kentucky's stunning "Land Between the Lakes," the largest inland peninsula in America.
In Alabama, visit Guntersville and Mobile. Guntersville is surrounded by beautiful Lake Guntersville in the Mountain Lakes region. Tour the castle-like Guntersville Museum & Cultural Center here. Places of interest in Mobile include the Battleship Memorial Park and USS Alabama on Dauphin Street, the aquarium on Dauphin Island, Fort Conde, Fort Gaines, and the Bellingrath Home and Gardens.