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 industrialised places like Basel.
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.
Popular Rhine River Cruises
KD Rhine Pass from Mainz
Make the most of your time in Mainz with a sightseeing cruise along the Rhine River! With your ticket in hand, hop aboard any KD ship (except Rheinjet) and glide through the lush river valley. From the comfort of your seat, view riverside scenery speckled with grand castles, vineyards and natural wonders. Hop on and off all day at the many route stops from Mainz to Koblenz and Cologne to Linz with a flexible 24-hour ticket. Learn more about the KD Rhine Pass from Mainz.
Heidelberg and Rhine Valley Day Trip from Frankfurt
Spend an unforgettable day touring some of Southern Germany’s most lovely destinations! Depart Frankfurt on a scenic journey to riverside Heidelberg, where you'll marvel at stunning city sites from medieval Old Town to bustling Heidelberg University. Soak up the many sites and flavors of Germany as you visit castle ruins, see lovely villages and vineyards, cruise along the UNESCO-listed Rhine River, and indulge in a delectable dinner and wine-tasting session. Learn more about the Heidelberg & Rhine Valley Day Trip from Frankfurt.
KD Rhine Pass from Cologne
Enjoy a full day on the Rhine or Moselle rivers with this hop-on hop-off ticket. Cruise down the Rhine from Cologne to Linz or Koblenz to Mainz, or travel the Moselle from Koblenz to Cochem. Present this KD Rhine Pass on board any KD ship and enjoy all the scheduled day cruises on the Rhine and Moselle rivers for one day. Hop off at any of the stops, then hop back on whenever desired, according to the timetable/schedule. Just present the voucher when boarding or disembarking any ship in the KD fleet. Learn more about the KD Rhine Pass from Cologne.
Rhine Valley Trip from Frankfurt including Rhine River Cruise
Journey along the romantic Rhine on a half- or full-day tour from Frankfurt and take in the UNESCO-listed wonders of the Rhine Valley. Set sail along the Rhine River on a traditional steamer and cruise past sweeping vineyards, medieval towns and mountaintop castles. Jump off to explore historic Rudesheim, see the landmark Loreley Rock (full-day trip only) and indulge in wine tasting, then tuck into a delicious lunch (full-day trip) or dinner (half-day trip) by the riverside. Learn more about the Rhine Valley Trip from Frankfurt including Rhine River Cruise.
Düsseldorf Rhine River Christmas Dinner Cruise
Enjoy festive celebrations to remember on this 3-hour Rhine River Christmas dinner cruise in Düsseldorf. Hop aboard the MS Warsteiner and cruise onto the Rhine River. With the candles flickering, admire the Christmas decorations on board and get into the holiday mood! Enjoy panoramic views over the banks of the Rhine River illuminated against the night sky, and watch the city lights dance over the waves. Sit down to a delicious buffet of German specialty dishes with unlimited beer, wine and soft drinks. Don’t forget to save space for dessert! Learn more about the Düsseldorf Rhine River Christmas Dinner Cruise.
Mainz All-Inclusive Advent Evening Cruise
In a festive and Christmassy atmosphere, we welcome you on board our smart saloon ship MS Godesburg in Mainz. Learn more about the Mainz All-Inclusive Advent Evening Cruise.
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.
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.
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.
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.