Rhine River Tours and Travel Guide
Rhine River Attractions & Landmarks Guide
A voyage along the Rhine River has attracted travelers and artists for hundreds of years. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a trip down the Rhine was considered a mandatory part of the European grand tour, and the castle-rich hilltops and colorful legends along Germany’s scenic Rhine Gorge inspired poetry by Heinrich Heine and opera by Richard Wagner.
The 700-mile-long river, which flows from Switzerland to the North Sea via France, Germany and the Netherlands, has also been a key means of transport and trade through Western Europe. “The Rhine combines every quality a river can exhibit,” wrote Victor Hugo, citing its “rapidity,” “breadth,” “sinuosity,” “translucency,” “historical reminiscences,” “regal dignity,” “mysterious influence,” “glittering streams” and “phantoms.”
What is the best time to take a Rhine River cruise?
Rhine river cruises run all year round, with peak season in the summer and, surprisingly, winter - when many families and couples attend cruises to see the famous European Christmas markets.
The weather along the Rhine can get quite hot in the summer, and it will also be very crowded. Shorts, skirts, and short sleeves are suggested, with maybe some light long sleeve layers and pants for the evening.
In the wintertime especially you can definitely expect some snow flurries and chilly days. Bundle up with lots of layers so you can enjoy wandering the Christmas markets!
The Rhine Gorge
Today the Rhine ranks with the Danube as among the most popular of all European cruising rivers. Its Rhine Gorge segment, which courses about 40 miles through steep hillsides dotted with more than 40 castles and fortresses, is one of the highlights of world river cruising, and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Small fairytale towns and villages line its banks, vineyards cling to terraced slopes, and large, intriguing cities await exploration as well.
Most Rhine cruising itineraries journey between Basel, Switzerland, and Amsterdam in the Netherlands; you can travel in either direction. The standard length is about a week, but you can easily extend it to 12 or more by combining the Rhine with the Moselle River, which branches off the Rhine at the German city of Koblenz and leads toward Luxembourg, or the Danube, which is connected to the Rhine by the Main Canal and leads to Budapest, Hungary, and beyond – a two- or three-week super cruise. If you’re pressed for time, some shorter, five-day cruises are also available from Basel, stopping at Dusseldorf in Germany rather than continuing on to Amsterdam.
Typical Rhine River Cruise Itineraries
A standard Rhine River cruise route, will include the German cities of Cologne, whose landmark is its Gothic twin-towered Dom Cathedral; Koblenz, site of the huge Ehrenbreitstein Castle; and Heidelberg, which houses the country’s oldest university as well as memorable Romanesque architecture.
The town of Breisach, gateway to Germany’s lovely Black Forest; the towns of Rudesheim and Kayserberg, among others, offering tastes of the wine country; and Strasbourg, France, with its canals, cathedral, and Alsatian choucrout (a hearty dish bearing both French and German influences) all help make Rhine port excursions some of the finest in Europe.
Not surprisingly, most every major European river cruise line operates on the Rhine, so it’s essential to compare and contrast not just itineraries but prices (don’t forget to check what’s included!), ship size, cabin sizes, amenities, and languages spoken aboard, among other things.
The good news is that Stride can help you make sense of it all, allowing you to book your Rhine cruise with confidence -- knowing you’ve chosen the cruise that’s right for you. And soon you’ll be gazing up at the same Sleeping Beauty-style castles on the Rhine that have enchanted travelers and artists for centuries.
Rivers Combined - The Rhine & the Moselle
Oftentimes, you’ll find Rhine River cruise itineraries also include the Moselle River. The Moselle joins the Rhine at Koblenz, and provides an extremely picturesque journey. Wine lovers will note the pristine German rieslings that come out of the regions the Moselle flows through.
From the Rhine, you will branch off to the left to travel through the French region of Lorraine, famous for being the home of Joan of Arc. With ancient castles and ruins dotting the hillsides, the Moselle provides the perfect journey for history lovers as well.
The Rhine & the Rhone
The Rhone is another popular river cruise destination, and a great cruise in its own right. If you’re looking for a cruise that touches on a greater variety of European sights and cultural activities, you might consider a cruise that includes both the Rhine and the Rhone rivers.
The wine regions are a consistent theme for these rivers, and especially if you’re interested in tasting some classic French varietals from famous Burgundy. If you choose a Rhine cruise that includes the Rhone, pay special attention to the land portions on the itinerary. Some may include longer stays or extensions in major cities like Amsterdam or Paris.
Find more useful tips in our blog post "Top Ten Tips for Choosing a European Cruise Line."
Things to Know Before You Go
River cruises along the Rhine are perfect for those travelers seeking a less crowded European river cruise than the Danube, but are eager to see many similar sights.
Rather than traveling in and east-west direction, Rhine river cruises travel north-south through the Netherlands, western Germany, and some far eastern parts of France.
Unlike many other river cruises through Europe, the Rhine touches on some views of a more industrial side of Europe. You will absolutely see a smattering of castles, and gorgeous countryside, but expect a few industrial plants and factories along the way as well. The Rhine, like all important rivers, has gone through many iterations of importance to the countries it services.
How long are Rhine River Cruises?
Rhine river cruises are usually between 8 and 15 days. This gives you a nice balance of port calls and time out on the water.
However, be sure to check the itinerary and route carefully. Many Rhine River cruises travel in smaller areas, rather than the full expanse of the river. These cruises may be similar amounts of time but hitting a different number of countries.
So when searching for a Rhine River cruise, consider whether you’d prefer to visit more sites within 1 country - meaning some smaller villages and towns, or forgo some sights in the interest of checking off more countries and larger cities.
Christmas Cruises Along the Rhine
The Rhine is an extremely popular river for people wanting to visit some of Europe’s famous Christmas markets. These delightful markets have deep roots in Germany where they are called “Christkindlesmarkt”. Because the Rhine flows through much of Germany’s western regions, it is one of the top rivers that hosts Christmas cruises.
Snow is common, so be ready for some cold weather! But it adds everything to the ambiance, as you stroll through the streets listening to carols, sipping mulled wine, and browsing stalls of crafts and food.
Rhine Christmas cruises fill up fast! Be sure to book early to secure a spot. And book extra early if you or someone you traveling with requires special assistance, such as a wheelchair accessible room. These are first come first serve on river cruise vessels.
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