The Best Rhine River Cruise Guide – One of the world’s most popular river cruising destinations is the mighty Rhine River. Europe’s longest and most important river begins as a trickle of melted snow from the Rheinwaldhorn Glacier high in the Swiss Alps. It first becomes the Rhine proper at Reichenau, where it flows north to Lake Constance — a major water supply for Germany — and then heads through Schaffhausen to Basel, where Switzerland meets France and Germany. A Rhine River cruise is a wonderful experience indeed. Prepare to see ancient castles and lush vineyards, explore the winding streets of sleepy medieval villages, revel in the historic grandeur of lovely old cities like Strasbourg and Koblenz and enjoy the buzz of vibrant, modern ones like Cologne and Basel. Just remember, that not all of its scenery is pretty; much of it is, but you’ll also have to allow for the odd glimpse of a factory or power station, particularly around more industrialized places like Basel. For more information on cruising, read The Best Cruise Vacation Tips here, or visit us on Pinterest.
Best Time for a Rhine River Cruise
The Rhine can be hot and busy in the peak summer months, so for sun worshippers this is a great time to sit on the top deck. Some travelers prefer to cruise in the cooler weather of spring and autumn. A great good time to go is Easter, when local markets feature brightly-painted real eggs, pretty wooden decorations and beautiful circlets of flowers to hang outside your door.
Another good time is during one of the region’s spectacular “Rhine in Flames” events in the summer and fall. Generally linked to local wine festivals or other celebrations, these take place at different locations along the Middle Rhine and involve spectacular fireworks displays and much jollification, music and dancing. After joining in the fun ashore, passengers take to the river for the best view of the late-night pyrotechnics. December is another prime time for visiting, as the Rhine Christmas markets are quite magical and simply not to be missed. For details of river cruises tying in with these events — and for general Rhine cruise information — useful websites to visit include www.gorivercruise.com and the German Tourist Board site www.germany.travel.
Rhine River Cruise Itineraries
Short Rhine River Cruises
These sailings last three, four or five nights and are a great alternative to a city break, as your “hotel” travels with you and shows you a range of places instead of just one. A typical three-night cruise will run round trip from Strasbourg to Koblenz, with an overnight at Rudesheim, while a five-night trip might run from medieval Andernach to Cologne via Rudesheim, Boppard (famed for its Roman walls), Koblenz and Bonn.
Christmas Market Cruises
Short cruises are super popular in November and December, when thousands head to the banks of the Rhine to enjoy the region’s spectacular Christmas markets. If you love sugar and spice and all things nice — and want a festive experience straight off a Dickensian Christmas card — you should definitely go. Make sure any Christmas markets cruise you choose spends time in Cologne. It’s a great place to be at Christmastime, as it has seven markets to choose from, each with a different theme. A small floating market set on a riverboat and selling mainly Christmas tree trinkets might be the most convenient for river cruisers, but the prettiest is set around Cologne Cathedral, a 10 minute walk from the riverbank.
Rudesheim also has a fabulous Christmas market, set in its atmospheric medieval quarter and tavern-lined Drosselgasse, which features more than 120 stalls and attracts artisans from 12 European countries. At its heart is a large nativity scene with exquisitely painted lifesize statues. At every turn, you’ll find something to delight the senses like handmade wooden birdhouses, doll-like nutcrackers, intricate clockwork toys, and fragrant stalls selling salt-studded giant pretzels, cinnamon-dusted stollen and heartwarming gluhwein.
Seven-Night Rhine River Cruises
These typically run from Amsterdam to Basel via Cologne, Koblenz, the Rhine Gorge, Rudesheim, Mannheim and Strasbourg. These cruises have time to go beyond the Rhine to take in the sights along the Moselle and Main rivers. Boarding and disembarkation points vary, with some going, for example, from Luxembourg to Amsterdam via Trier, Bernkastel-Kues, Cochem, Koblenz (via the Moselle), Mainz, Rudesheim and Cologne. Others start or end in Frankfurt or travel along the Rhine and Rhone rivers from Amsterdam to Avignon, visiting Holland, Germany and France en route.
Longer Rhine River Cruises
A 14-night river cruise could take you from Amsterdam to Budapest via Cologne, Rudesheim, Nuremberg, Passau and other German stops, before visiting Melk and Vienna in Austria and travelling along the Danube to Budapest in Hungary. Longer cruises include a 22-night North Sea to Black Sea sailing from Amsterdam to Giurgiu in Romania. These span the Main and Danube rivers, as well as the Rhine, and travel through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Serbia and Bulgaria.
What’s To Like About Rhine River Cruises?
- Castles. You’ll see lots of them along the Rhine river, especially between Rudesheim and Koblenz, Germany. Be sure to be out on deck.
- Culture. With cities like Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Cologne, Amsterdam and more, you’ll get a good dollop of city life and culture on your Rhine River cruises.
- Bicycling. In many places along the Rhine river, there are good bicycling paths and dedicated bike roads. Straddle a saddle and enjoy the ride.
- Beer and wine. Have a Cologne Kolsch before or after checking out the impressive Cologne Cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), or stroll the “world’s merriest street,” known as the Drosselgasse, to find a Weingarten in Rudesheim, Germany.
Top Rhine River Cruise Companies
On an AmaWaterways Rhine Cruise, you will enjoy an extensive lineup of included tours. In many cases, you will have a choice of excursions, such as standard tours, bike tours, hikes and Special Interest Tours. They always include a large variety of activities so that you can choose how you want to explore. No matter your preference, your days will be full of discovery and wonder. Find a cruise here.
Each ship in the Avalon Waterways fleet features an intimate dining room, a relaxing Main Lounge with panoramic views, a reception and internet workstation area, and a small fitness center and hair salon. Up top, an expansive sun deck allows guests to stroll and enjoy the fresh air, or relax in a deck chair and take in the ever-changing scenery. Find a cruise here.
CroisiEurope Rhine Cruises
CroiseEurope has more itineraries on the Rhine than any other company. Inclusions on CroisiEurope include complimentary beer and wine served with lunch and dinner, and an open bar throughout each voyage. The only items that aren’t inclusive are Champagne, wines on the wine list, and fine brandies. The line also includes all onboard entertainment and port taxes. Find a cruise here.
One distinguishing feature of all Emerald Waterways‘ vessels is the retractable roof over the Pool and Cinema area, which allows for an open-air space when weather permits. A All staterooms feature flat-panel televisions and infotainment centers, safes, wireless internet access, complimentary bathrobes and slippers, mini fridges and oversize beds. Find a cruise here.
Best 10 Ports to See Along the Rhine River
Mainz has buildings with restored half-timbered features and flamboyant Baroque and Rococo facades, and the largest Roman theater north of the Alps. Visit St Stephan’s Church, which has beautiful blue stained glass windows from Marc Chagall. Mainz is Germany’s wine capital and there’s some award-winning wineries to visit outside the city, plus some great wine bars in the city center. The Riesling is top-notch for those white wine lovers. Visit The Beautiful Sights of Mainz Here.
Leave yourself time to explore Amsterdam on foot (or bicycle). Make sure to visit Museumplein, a lush expanse of green fringed by superb attractions like the Van Gogh Museum – which is home to some of the best works of the Dutch post impressionist – and the Rijksmuseum, which showcases legendary paintings like Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. Pedal round Vondelpark, a favorite bucolic retreat. Visit Beautiful Amsterdam: City of Canals
Rüdesheim is a charming town home to some of the world’s best Riesling wines from vineyards that have perfected their process over centuries. In addition to touring these traditional German vineyards, guests can enjoy a stroll down the cobblestone Drosselgasse Lane, where taverns and shops highlight the quaint atmosphere. Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet showcases automated musical instruments, and a trip to nearby Brömserburg Castle will take you back to medieval times. Visit Beautiful Rüdesheim am Rhein
As you visit this small but vibrant German city, make sure to check out the 18th century Baroque Mannheim Palace, where travelers can learn a bit more about the city’s history through the historical exhibits. This Baroque style is also reflected in the fountain at Marktplatz Square. It’s a great place to get in some souvenir shopping too! Visit the Innovative Mannheim City Here.
Close to Germany’s Swiss and French borders, this town is a crossroads of culture. A survivor of both World Wars, this tiny village has miraculously preserved its 16th century charm. It’s great for active explorers who can cycle through the Rheinau woods and hike in the verdant hills that rise from the Rhine. Nearby Riquewihr, across the border in France, is known for its exquisite Riesling wines and is definitely worth a visit. Visit Breisach: Best of the Black Forest!
Basel’s streets have cutting-edge art and architecture from local firm Herzog & de Meuron, plus Zaha Hadid, Richard Meier and Renzo Piano. You can also spend some time is the traditional beer houses and contemporary fine dining restaurants, shop in quirky boutiques, and join the locals for a swim in the Rhine. Basel is also a starting location for hikes in the Black Forest. Find the Best Luxury Basel Hotels here.
Here you can leisurely walk along the cobbled streets and view half-timbered 500-year-old properties, neoclassical villas, palaces and bridges – plus a mighty medieval cathedral. Take a tram through Strasbourg’s modern, park-and-boulevard-laced neighborhoods to the European District, where you’ll see the continent’s parliament and Court of Human Rights. Visit Strasbourg: One of Europe’s Most Beautiful Cities
Perched near the Rhine Gorge, this UNESCO-rated watches over tiny fairy-tale villages, clifftop castles and steep-sided vineyards. The town of Koblenz has a photogenic quality with flowers adorning narrow streets, cozy courtyards and quaint squares. You can get a great overview of everything by taking the cable car up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress which overlooks the city. Visit Beautiful Koblenz: The German Corner
Set upon the beautiful backdrop of the Alps, the metropolitan city of Zurich is one of the most significant cities in global politics and hosts many cultural and architectural gems that highlight the town for travelers. Grossmünster & Fraumünster Abbeys, the Old Town (Altstadt) Hall, and St. Peter’s (home to the world’s largest clock face) are just a few of the sites here. Visit Zurich: One of Europe’s Greatest Walking Cities.
Cologne was one of the bombed cities during World War II. But with post-war blend of reconstruction and creative new architecture, the city skyline is intriguing. The Cologne cathedral, a twin-spired Gothic wonder built in the Middle Ages is a sight to see. The city’s beer halls and breweries will quench your thirst, and there are fine galleries and museums to take in, notably Museum Ludwig and the Roman-Germanic Museum. Visit Cologne: One of Germany’s Most Diverse Cities