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Best Mississippi River Shore Excursions

Gateway Arch
Gateway Arch is the most famous St. Louis attraction. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Mississippi river cruises have shore excursions unlike other cruise destinations. Guided walking tours are often built into the cruise price.

Entrance to major attractions may require a fee, while cruise passengers can see some attractions on their own without spending a dime.

There are four types of Mississippi river cruises:

  1. Begin and end in New Orleans after touring Louisiana river towns.
  2. Lower Mississippi between New Orleans and Memphis.
  3. Upper Mississippi between St. Louis and St. Paul.
  4. Complete Mississippi between New Orleans and St. Paul.

Each of these four major cities offers memorable attractions and shore excursions. More are available at the smaller ports that riverboats visit between the major ports.

Lower Mississippi

New Orleans

Anyone wanting to spend even a small amount of time in New Orleans before or after their cruise will find quick access to major attractions.

The famous French Quarter and Bourbon Street are within walking distance of the cruise terminals. They are a National Historic Landmark with cobblestone streets, nightclubs, restaurants and carriage tours.

The World War II Museum, 945 Magazine Street, is about 15 to 20 minutes away on foot or about one mile northwest of the port.

The Riverfront trolley line is another good option for cruise visitors who have some extra time to spend in New Orleans. The trolley line, which is next to the port, goes to the French Market, the Aquarium of the Americas, shopping at the Riverwalk and the Morial convention center.

The Riverwalk Marketplace and Outlet Collection at Riverwalk are two shopping and dining centers within a brief walking distance north of the terminals.


The most famous attraction in Memphis is not free. It is Graceland, the home of rock legend Elvis Presley. The estate is nine miles south of the cruise docks on Elvis Presley Boulevard. An eight-hour shore excursion including lunch and transportation costs about $100 per person. Anyone who goes on their own will pay $41 for access just to the mansion plus taxi costs.

Another Elvis Presley attraction is Sun Studio, three miles from the docks on Route 51. It is known as the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll for discovering Presley as well as Johnny Cash. Tickets are $14 for anyone 12 and older; admission is free for children under 12.

The National Civil Rights Museum is in the converted hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The museum at 450 Mulberry St. is about two miles from the docks.

Upper Mississippi

St. Louis

Gateway Arch National Park is the home of two major St. Louis attractions.

The 630-foot-tall Gateway Arch is the tallest monument in the United States and the most famous attraction in the city of St. Louis. The arch symbolizes the historic “gateway” for pioneers heading to the western half of the United States. Visitors to the arch can take a tram to the top, which is as tall as a 63-story building.

The museum under the Arch is free. Tickets are required for the tram that goes to the top of the Arch. Prices for the tram start at $15 for adults (depending on the day and month) with discounts for children.

Another attraction at the Park is The Old Courthouse. It was the site of the famous Dred Scott slavery trials in the mid 1800s. It was also the site of a famous case in the 1870s when female suffragettes fought in court for the right of women to vote.

The Lewis and Clark State Historic Site has a museum with exhibits, galleries and a replica of the keelboat used to navigate the Missouri River. The Discovery Corps was a volunteer Army unit of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that explored the Louisiana Purchase of the western U.S.

The photographic Confluence Tower monument at the same location has two identical 180-foot towers that memorialize the formation of the Corps. Visitors can ride to the top and observe the surrounding countryside.

Shore excursions for some or all of the above cost about $75 to $85 per person. Prices depend on amenities, how long they last and other factors. Anyone who visits on their own will need a taxi or rental car to get to them.

St. Paul and Minneapolis

St. Paul and the nearby Minneapolis don’t have many major historical attractions, but they have quite a few cultural ones.

Major attractions include Minneapolis Sculpture Gardens and Guthrie Theatre. Others include the Japanese Garden, Como Zoo, Landmark Center and Minnesota State Capitol. The Cathedral of St. Paul is the fourth largest cathedral in the United States. Natural attractions include St. Anthony Falls and the 53-foot Minnehaha Falls

Some companies offer a city tour plus an airport transfer for about $80 or more per person.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
August 13, 2022

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