The Rhine and Tributaries of the Rhine

The Rhine

One of the longest rivers (1,320 or 820 miles) and definitely the busiest and most important commercial waterway in Europe, ‘Old Father Rhine’ has been the inspiration for artists, musicians, and romantics throughout the ages. It has been at the core of the folklore of Lorelei nymph and very alive in works by Wagner and Beethoven.

Beginning in the Rheinwaldhorn Glacier in Switzerland, the Rhine flows north and east, touching Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, emptying into the North Sea. Offering some enticing and varied scenery, a combination of cultures, and intriguing history along the way, the Rhine is known by many names, reflecting the countries through which it passes: Rhein in Germany; Rhin in France; and Rijn in the Netherlands. The majority of the river lies within Germany and most of the country’s vineyards owe their existence to the fertile valleys, terraced hillsides, or wide plains along its banks, producing several styles of wine from different grapes, each displaying their unique characteristics. Steeped in mystery, lore, and legend, the Rhine is full of castles, prehistoric fortifications, charming villages and premier cities, attesting its significance and importance as a waterway throughout history.

There are a variety of Rhine river cruises and major ports of call along the river include: Basel, Switzerland’s only port and one of the most cultured cities in the country; Strasbourg, France, where the cultures of France and Germany meet and mingle to influence food, wine, language, and a charming kaleidoscope of architecture; the marvelous UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Rhine Gorge or ‘Romantic Rhine’, located between the town of Bingen and city of Bonn in Germany; Cologne, Germany’s oldest city; and the bustling, handsome Dusseldorf. The Rhine is a truly magical combination of sights and sounds and a meeting place for many cultures. Popular cruise destinations include some important tributaries of the Rhine, such as the Main, the Moselle (Mosel), and the Neckar. Additionally, located east of Frankfurt is the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, which links the Rhine with the Danube, providing a trans-continental water route from the North Sea all the way to the Black Sea.

Destination highlights on the Rhine

Basel, Switzerland,

Bordering both Germany and France, Basel is the third most populous city in Switzerland, and the starting point for many Rhine cruises. Settlements date back to Roman and Celtic times, providing the town with a rich and long history spanning both sides of the river. Basel is the seat of Switzerland’s oldest university, the University of Basel, and is the birthplace of tennis champion, Roger Federer. The city is known for its museums, music festivals, and industrial trade fairs as well as the center for a thriving pharmaceutical and specialty chemical industry.

Gross Basel (Greater Basel) is the lovely old town located on the south bank of the river, with its focal point being the elaborate scarlet-colored Rathaus (Old Town Hall) and the bustling Marktplatz (Market Place), which is full of fruit and vegetable stands every morning. The other main square in the old town is the hectic Barfüsserplatz, full of trams and people and the dominating, but elegant Barfüsserkirche, aptly named by the barefoot Franciscans who founded it in the 14th century. Not to miss is the impressive Romanesque Münster, the uniquely colored red sandstone cathedral, which was first started at the beginning of the 11th century and rebuilt in the 15th after an earthquake. The cathedral serves as the eternal resting place of Erasmus. Well worth visiting are the gothic Peterskirche, with its late-medieval frescoes, and the university campus just opposite, which has seen such illustrious lecturers as Erasmus and Friedrich Nietzsche. The oldest bridge to cross the Rhine is the Mittlere Brücke, originally built in 1225.

Breisach, Germany

Flowing north from Basel, the Rhine forms a natural border between France and Germany and then travels though a series of ten locks on the way to Karlsruhe. En route can be found the town of Breisach, which has changed hands several times throughout its history. Breisach was a Celtic settlement, a Roman stronghold, annexed to the French State, given back to the Holy Roman Empire, and finally established as belonging to Germany. The town sits opposite its French counterpart, Neuf-Brisach, and has a lovely Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral, St. Stephansmünster, which was built between the 12th and 13th centuries. Located halfway between Colmar in France and Freiburg in Germany, the Rhine near Breisach flows pleasantly through the Alsace wine country, with the Black Forest on one side and the Vosges mountains on the other.

Strasbourg, France

Situated in the center of Western Europe, the attractive and medieval Strasbourg is the capital city of the Alsace region of France and the seat of the Council of Europe, the European Council of Human Rights, and the Parliament of Europe. Strasbourg has an eclectic mix of architectural styles, ranging from medieval churches to German Renaissance buildings to French Baroque and Classicism palaces to Wilhelmian structures to Art Nouveau houses and villas. The Ill River surrounds the city and the historic center and the Grand Ile (Great Island), as it is called, was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, marking the first time such an honor was bestowed upon an entire city center. The Petite France is a pedestrianized area within the historic area and one of the most well-known and photographed parts of Strasbourg, with cobbled lanes, old tanners’ workshops, and a variety of colorful half-timbered houses. Due to the River Ill and the numerous canals crossing the center, there are some lovely bridges, such as the historic Ponts Couverts at the end of the Petite France, which were the ancient covered footbridges, lending a charming and tranquil ambiance to the city. The main square is Place Gutenberg, whose namesake, Johannes Gutenberg, was the inventor of the printing press and whose statue adorns the center of the square. The principal site in Strasbourg is the Gothic sandstone cathedral, Cathédrale de Notre Dame, the tallest medieval building in Europe, which dominates the skyline and is at the very heart of the city. Inside the Cathedral is the Astronomical Clock, which draws crowds of onlookers at noon for the Parade of the Apostles. Located on the same square as the cathedral is the historic Maison Kammerzell, a unique structure starting in 1467 with the construction of the main level and completion in 1589 with other levels piled on top. An additional crowd pleaser is the very large part-Romanesque, Eglise Saint-Thomas (St. Thomas Church), which has a Silbermann organ upon which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Albert Schweitzer played. There are numerous cafes and shops in the small streets and lanes in the center and a very pleasant place to discover and enjoy some traditional Gastronomy and culinary specialties of the region. Just outside Strasbourg, the river enters the Gambersheim Locks, which are the largest inland waterway locks in France. Put into operation in 1974, the locks are a fascinating feat of engineering through which to pass on a Rhine river cruise, especially as many different types of vessels go through simultaneously, adding to the excitement.

Speyer and Heidelberg, Germany

Passing across the French-German border and skirting through the northern parts of the Black Forest, the Rhine winds its way past Karlsruhe through some gently rolling hills and on into the small town of Speyer. The town has a compact center, dominated by the Speyer Cathedral, a basilica with four towers and two domes founded in 1030, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Gate (Altpörtel), dates to 1176 and is part of the old medieval fortifications of the town. The only remaining church of its style still in existence in the Rhine-Main-Neckar region is the Trinity Church (Dreifaltigkeitskirche), designed by the architect to the court of the Palatinate and built as a Lutheran church between 1701- 1717. There are many friendly shops and cafés to explore in the lanes extending out from the cathedral, as well as a lovely park just behind it. Speyer offers some interesting museums, such as the Museum of Palatinate History (Historisches Museum der Pfalz), located near the cathedral, and the Speyer Museum of Technology (Technik Museum), which is housed in a former airplane hangar from 1913, now classified as a historic monument. Speyer is often used as a stopping off point for an excursion to nearby Heidelberg, which is located on the Neckar tributary of the Rhine.

Mannheim, Germany

Situated at the confluence of the Rhine and Neckar rivers, Mannheim is the second largest city in the state of Baden-Wurtemberg (after Stuttgart). It is located across from Ludwigshafen and is now a finance and insurance center. The landmark of Mannheim is the Water Tower (Wasserturm), located east of the downtown area. The Mannheim Palace is one of the world’s largest examples from the Baroque era, within which is the University of Mannheim, one of the younger universities in Germany. Also of interest is Friedrichsplatz with some nice art deco architecture.

Ludwigshafen, Germany

Though not usually a port of call on Rhine river cruises, Ludwigshafen can be seen from the river cruise vessel. It is located on the left bank of the river and was constructed as a military stronghold for Mannheim in 1607. The town was renamed for King Ludwig I in the 19th century and literally means “Ludwig’s Harbor”. It is now a leading center of the country’s chemical industry and the home of BASF.

Worms, Germany

An ancient Celtic settlement and Roman fortification, Worms was a Catholic Bishopric as well as an imperial residence at the center of the Burgundian Empire. The town is located on the banks of the river Rhine where vineyard-covered slopes stretch down to meet the river. Worms was an early center for printing and Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament was printed here. A keystone in the literary heritage of Germany, Worms is one of the major sites where the Niebelungenlied took place. It is the home to the Nibelung Bridge, with its bronze statue of Hagen, the villain of the piece. Worms also boasts the multimedia Nibelungen Museum, which opened in 2001, and a yearly festival in which performances and renditions take place in front of the cathedral. One of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Germany is the Worms Cathedral, dedicated to St. Peter, with six round towers. Worms was a former center for Judaism and has Europe’s oldest Jewish Cemetery (Heiliger Sand), dating from the 11th century, which was restored after being desecrated by the Nazis. Worms is famed for the sweet white Liebfraumilch wine, which was named for the vineyard of the Liebfrauenkirche (Or Beloved Lady Church) in the town center.

Mainz, Germany

Located at the confluence of the Main and Rhine rivers, Mainz was founded as the Roman settlement Moguntiacum. Mainz is now the capital of the Rhineland-Palatinate and is surrounded by vineyards and asparagus fields. Birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg, the man credited with inventing the modern printing press with movable type, the Gutenberg Museum depicts the history of printing. Legend has it that Mainz was also the birthplace of Pope Joan (John Anglicus) who, during the Middle Ages, was elected as pope, disguised as a man, and served for two years in that capacity. One of the major sights is St. Stephan’s Church, which has post-war stained-glass windows done by Marc Chagall. Another interesting church is the predominately Romanesque Cathedral of St. Martin. Mainz has a pleasant, historic Old Town Center, which was rebuilt after its destruction in World War II, and two interesting towers: the 13th century Iron Tower and the 14th century Wood Tower, located in their respective former market places. There are some nice Roman remains, such as the Old Gate and Aqueduct.

Wiesbaden, Germany

Dating back to the Stone Age, Wiesbaden is the capital of Hessen and is located on the opposite bank from Mainz. Having been famous for its thermal springs as far back as Roman times, Wiesbaden was a town where the privileged came to relax. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Wagner, and Johannes Brahms have all spent time in Wiesbaden. The town is still a major spa destination, boasting an enormous quantity of bath houses and spas. Wiesbaden offers a synthesis of architectural styles and some wonderfully elegant boulevards and buildings. One of the main sights include the Biebrich Palace, which is a lovely colorful ducal palace located in the center of town. Wiesbaden is not normally a port of call on Rhine cruises, but as the boat passes the town you may see the neo-Gothic steeple of the Marktkirche, which dominates the town center with its unique colour.

Rüdesheim-am-Rhein, Germany

In the heart of the Rheingau wine-growing region at the southern entrance to the Lorelei Valley, Rüdesheim is situated in one of the most beautiful stretches of the Rhine, carving through the Hunsrück Mountains on one side and the Taunus on the other. Famous for wine estates, the town is a chief center for the Rhine wine industry. Brömserburg, the oldest castle on the Rhine, is now the home of the Rheingau and Weinmuseum, providing in-depth information about the region’s wine production. Typically, the boats usually moor up in or near the center, making exploring the town an easy walk through cobbled streets. Drosselgasse is a pretty street playing homage and host to a numerous quantity of wine bars and taverns. Located in the Bromserhof is the unusual Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett (Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet), which as the name implies, is famous for its collection of mechanical musical instruments. Also to see is the Medieval Torture Museum, recounting and depicting the history of torture though the Middle Ages as well as describing the practice of witch hunting. On the hill overlooking Rüdesheim is the Niederwald monument, which was built between 1877-1883, designed to symbolize unity and the re-establishment of the German Empire, which can be reached from town via a funicular.

Spectacular Castles of the Rhine

After Rüdesheim, the Rhine winds through an alluring and historically important stretch of the river that is thought to be among the most romantic and beautiful in all Europe. The river banks and hillsides are impressively populated with fantastic castles, incredibly perched towers, unique rock outcroppings, legendary gorges, and terraced hillsides. Some of the most significant sights are the Mauseturm Castle, the Rheinstein Castle, the Reichenstein Castle, the Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, the site of the Lorelei tale, the Rheinfels Castle, and the ruins of the Liebenstein and Sterrenberg castles.

Mauseturm

Perched on a small island in the middle of the Rhine near Bingen is one of the most Disney-esque castles of the Rhine, Mauseturm. Built by greedy Bishop Hatto to collect taxes from passing vessels, the castle tells the story of disgruntled villagers who perished from fire inside the tower at the hands of Hatto. Apparently, the fire dispersed the population of mice, who eventually returned to the tower and devoured Hatto, who was trapped inside on a bed suspended high above the floor with chains, thereby giving the castle its name as Mouse Tower.

Rheinstein Castle

High on a rocky ridge, the former imperial Rheinstein Castle was built as a customs post for the German Empire in 900 AD. One of the oldest castles on the river, Rheinstein appears to emerge directly from the jagged rock, has a working drawbridge, and provides stunning views from the courtyard.

Reichenstein Castle

One of the oldest castle sites on the river, Reichenstein has been built and destroyed several times since its origins in the 11th century. It is now an excellent example of an expanded castle inspired by Rhine Romanticism and is currently in use as a hotel.

Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

Built by Ludwig I to collect customs duties from vessels operating on the Rhine, Pfalzgrafenstein is one of the most curious constructions in the world. The structure consists of a six-story tower, which barely clings to a tiny island, surrounded by the swirling Rhine waters. The castle was used as a signal point for shipping until the mid 1960s; but is now strictly for tourism.

Lorelei, St Goarshausen

The medieval wine-growing village of St. Goarshausen is at the heart and soul of the legend of Lorelei, the nymph who would perch high upon the rocks in the narrow gorge and lure sailors to their deaths in the whirlpools and on the jagged perilous rocks located in the water below.

In the area past St. Goarshausen there are several notable castles to be found, such as the Katz Castle, named for the Katzenelnbogen family, which was originally built to protect the town. Additionally there is the Maus Castle, started in 1356, which was built by the Emperor to protect his estate on the Rhine from the Katzlenbogen Counts. The Rheinfels Fortress across the river was the largest castle on the river and is now one of the largest ruins on the river. Dating from 1245, the Rheinfels Fortress near St. Goar sits strategically far out on a rocky promontory, supposedly impregnable to cannon fire.

The Liebenstein and Sterrenberg castles were built next to each other and as the myth goes, they were inhabited by two feuding brothers, who apparently fought each other from their respective castles. First mentioned in 1034, Sterrenberg is the oldest preserved castle on the Rhine. Liebenstein was built in the 13th century and it is not known whether it was built for protection or to lay siege.

Boppard, Germany

Boppard is an attractive town situated amidst picturesque wine-growing villages and vineyards in the Loreley Valley, and is always a pleasant stop on Rhine cruises. Originally a Celtic Settlement, Boppard was home to the Romans, a royal residence during Merovingian times, a center of commerce during the Middle Ages, and an imperial free city under the Hohenstaufen Emperors. Each stage of history has left enduring marks in the stone, structure, and layout of the town, such as 8 of the original 23 Roman towers, medieval town gates, and a wonderful selection of half-timbered houses. The skyline is defined by the silhouette of the Church of St. Severus and the castle on the riverbank, which now houses some work of Michel Thonet, a furniture-maker who developed the technique of bending wood. Wine culture is alive and well in Boppard and there are numerous opportunities to taste and appreciate the wines from the region, which have a good reputation and are considered to be of high quality.

Marksburg Castle, Germany

A unique castle in a spectacular setting, towering above the town of Braubach, is the Marksburg castle, virtually unchanged since medieval times. The castle was started in the 12th century and its current shape is the result of successive changes and additions and modifications in the succeeding centuries. Marksburg is the only castle in the Rhine Valley never to have been destroyed and as such is one of the most visited to have a rare glimpse into medieval life.

Stolzenfels Castle, Germany

Originally constructed in the mid-13th century to defend the silver mines, Stolzenfels was destroyed by the French and rebuilt by the Prussian royal family in a neo-Gothic, Tudor style. One of the best-known castles on the Rhine, the interior has furnishings from the 14th to the 19th centuries and the chapel has some murals from the High Romantic period.

Koblenz, Germany

Found at the confluence, or German Corner (Deutsches Eck), of the Rhine and Moselle rivers, Koblenz is a friendly town with an abundance of cultural monuments and historic buildings, narrow lanes, cozy squares, and half-timbered houses. Originally a Roman settlement, Koblenz is at a crossroads of states, with North Rhine-Westphalia to the north, Saarland to the south, Hessen to the east, and surrounded by four low mountain ranges. Boats usually dock near the Altstadt (Old Town), making it easy to explore the historic center and admire such places as St. Florin’s Market (Florinsmarkt), Old Mint Square (Münzplatz), Jesuit’s Square (Jesuitenplatz), and the Romanesque-Gothic St. Castor Church, the oldest building in town dating from 836 AD. The wines of the region are well worth a try, especially in one of the many Weinstube (wine tavern) in the town center. Such notable folks as Thomas Jefferson and Queen Victoria have savoured these wines here in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to history, Koblenz was also where the first base of the Teutonic Knights was established in 1216 and the place where the decision to divide up the empire of Charlemagne was made.

Ehrenbreitstein Castle, Germany

Just opposite the mouth of the Moselle River across from Koblenz is Ehrenbreitstein Castle. One of the largest and most impressive fortresses on the Rhine, Ehrenbreitstein was originally a medieval structure from 1100, which became a fortress in the 15th century. Though nothing is left of the previous construction, which was demolished by the French in 1801, the 19th century fortress is a spectacular sight. The castle now serves as a youth hostel and is one of the castles included in the Rhine in Flames annual celebration.

Andernach, Germany

As the Rhine continues past Koblenz on the way to Cologne, there are many industrialized towns along the river bank. Though Andernach is not a port-of-call on Rhine river cruises, the town is worth a mention as it is one of the oldest towns in Germany, with evidence dating as far back as settlements in the Stone and Bronze Ages.

Hammerstein Castle to Limes Tower

After Andernach, the Rhine continues up into the northernmost reaches of Germany’s red-wine producing vineyards. Though the landscape here begins to look slightly more urban, with lower hillsides, there are still some noteworthy castles and structures to be seen while cruising. For example, there are the ruins of the Hammerstein Castle, the rebuilt Rheineck, and the replica of a Roman barrier called Limes Tower, which marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire, extending to the Danube.

Rolandseck Castle and Drachenfels Castle, Germany

Located opposite one another, the ruins of Rolandseck Castle and the draconian Drachenfels Castle are steeped in lore and myth. Rolandseck Castle, so named for the remaining archway, Rolandsbogen, tells the story of the forlorn Knight Roland, the nephew of Charlemagne, who was in love with a young lady from Drachenfels Castle. They were to be married, when Roland was urgently called away by his uncle to fight the Moors in the Pyrenees. Thinking he would not return, she joined the convent on the island in the middle of the Rhine and took her vows. Sadly enough, upon his return she was unable to leave the convent and the lovers died apart, broken-hearted.

The castle of Drachenfels on the other side of the river, has major significance in the Nibelungen Saga, as Siegfried slew the dragon and bathed in its blood at the foot of the cliff, Dragon’s Rock (Drachenfels), so named because it was the home of the dragon. Below the castle is the 19th century neo-Gothic red-brick Drachenburg. On the other side of the Rhine are the Seven Hills (Siebengebirge), which figure prominently in German Romanticism, and are the gateway to an important wine-growing area, featuring Drachenblut (Dragon Blood), as one of the vintages.

Bonn, Germany

The capital of West Germany after World War II until Reunification, Bonn is a sprawling university town along the River Rhine. Bonn has its roots back to the Romans, who occupied the area for 400 years, and was subsequently occupied by the Franks and the Prussians, leading up to a Bourgeois and prosperous 19th and early 20th century. As such, Bonn has a rich cultural and historical past, evidence of which still exits today. The Rococo Town Hall is a lovely sight in the historic center and the Romanesque Münster Cathedral (Bonn Minster) is one of Germany’s oldest churches. Another notable sight is the 17th century Poppelsdorf Palace (Kurfürstliches Schloss), which houses part of the University of Bonn and has lovely gardens and a chestnut lined main entrance. A prime attraction in Bonn is the ‘Museum Mile’, a stretch of interesting museums along the banks of the Rhine, such as the Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany) and the Kunstmuseum Bonn (Bonn Museum of Art). Birthplace of Beethoven, the Beethoven-Haus Bonn is a fabulous place to discover new or little known facts about the composer and gain insight into his work and the work of the museum.

Cologne, Germany

Founded by the Romans in 50 AD, Cologne is one of the oldest cities in Germany and a thriving and modern city. Allied bombing wreaked immense destruction in World War II, necessitating intense reconstruction. Fortunately, the historic street pattern was preserved and despite a preponderance of modern buildings, a traditional atmosphere persists. The most famous landmark of the city is the impressive and world-renowned Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), which was started in 1248. Seat of a Roman-Catholic Archdiocese, the Cathedral has a golden sarcophagus said to contain the remains of the Three Kings, or Magi. One of the most important products of the city is Eau de Cologne, a type of light perfume created by an Italian perfumer and marketed under the brand name 4711, which was the address of the original perfumery (Glockengasse No. 4711). Another important product is the specially brewed Kölsch beer, which can be found in the plethora of quaint and charming or hip and stylish bars, cafés, or taverns scattered throughout the city. Located in the old harbor area near the river Rhine is the Fischmarkt, a lively square surrounded by late-Gothic buildings. The Cologne University is one of Europe’s oldest and it internationally renowned for economics and computer science. The multitude of museums and galleries attests to the city’s vibrant art scene and the Römisch-Germanisches Museum and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum are definitely worth visiting. Additionally, there are twelve Romanesque churches, fine examples of medieval sacral architecture, such as St. Gereon. Part of the old medieval city wall can be seen at Ulrepforte (Potter’s Gate).

Düsseldorf, Germany

A handsome and elegant city on the banks of the Rhine, Düsseldorf is the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia and the economic center for Western Germany. There are a variety of beautiful baroque buildings to see as well as the Burgplatz, one of the finest squares in German. Near the pleasant Altstadt (Old Town), with its narrow lanes and old churches, is the luxurious tree-lined Königsallee, a beautiful shopping street and a great place to wander. Together, the Altstadt and the Kö form what’s called the ‘longest bar in the world’, with upwards of 260 cozy pubs and micro-breweries. The Town Hall (Rathaus) is an interesting complex consisting of three buildings from different periods. The Lambertus Basilica is a lower-Rhine brick Gothic structure with a crooked tower. Attractive Bolkerstarsse was the birthplace of Heinrich Heine, celebrated German poet and author of Die Lorelei (The Lorelei). Düsseldorf has several nice museums, such as the Fine Arts Museum and the Ceramic Museum. Additionally, the Castle Tower operates as the Shipping Museum (SchiffahrtMuseum), depicting 2000 years of sailing romance and navigation on the Rhine. The Wilhelm Marx House, built from 1922-1924 was Germany’s first high-rise building with twelve storeys. Located in the south of Düsseldorf and considered a work of beautiful artistic harmony, the Palace Benrath (Schloss Benrath) is a late-Rococo palace and park, and a lovely place for a stroll.

Duisberg and Xanten, Germany

After Düsseldorf, the Rhine flows northward and most river cruise vessels continue at top speed up toward Amsterdam, quickly passing the industrialized region including the towns of Duisberg and Xanten. These towns both deserve mention as they succumbed to the same or similar fates when the Rhine changed its course and the towns found themselves unfortunately no longer on the water. Duisberg, a former Hanseatic League member, has the world’s largest inland harbor and is an important center of steel production and coal mining.

A prosperous trading center in the Middle Ages up until the river changed course, Xanten is now considered a ‘model city’ due to the impressive and extensive reconstruction work carried out after the World War II destruction. The major sights include the Gothic Cathedral, the medieval City Walls, and the Roman remains at the Archeological Park.

Amsterdam-Rhine Canal into Holland

North of Xanten the Rhine splits in two as it enters the Netherlands. Rhine cruises that are bound for Amsterdam enter the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, a busy commercial and pleasure craft waterway. From Tier, the landscape becomes the flat, agricultural, picturesque countryside, typical of Holland, replete with windmills, grazing cattle, and poplar trees along the canal banks. The canal continues past Utrecht, a university town with magnificent churches, and into Amsterdam, the cosmopolitan canal and island city famous for the Red-Light District, the Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the canal ring flanked by narrow houses and tall elegant mansions.

Tributaries of the Rhine: The Main; The Moselle; The Neckar

The Main River

One of the Rhine’s most significant tributaries, the Main, flows for 524 km (324 miles) from its source at Kulmbach, where its headstreams the White Main and the Red Main join. The river flows through the German States of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, and Hessen. A typical itinerary for river cruises on the Main is between Frankfurt and Würzburg. With the completion of the Main-Danube Canal in 1992, navigation between the Rhine and the Danube became possible. An additional cruise itinerary including the Main might start on the Danube, go past Passau, up the Main-Danube Canal, joining up with the Main and then continuing on up to Frankfurt.

Destination Highlights on the Main River

Frankfurt-am-main, Germany

The largest city in the German State of Hesse, Frankurt-am-Main is the financial and transportation center of Germany. Frankfurt is considered the wealthiest city in the European Union, based on GDP per capita, and is the seat of the European Central Bank and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, the second largest in Europe after Paris. Frequently dubbed ‘Mainhattan’, due to its Manhattan style skyline, Frankfurt is a busy and modern city, typically a starting point for river cruses on the Middle Rhine. The heart of the city and one of the most important landmarks is Römerberg and the complex of houses comprising the Rathaus (City Hall), called Römer. Across from the town hall are a cobbled square and a row of medieval, half-timbered houses, called Historische Ostzeile. The main church of Frankfurt is the Gothic St. Bartholomeus Cathedral (Dom Sankt Bartholomaus), which was constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries on the site of a previous Merovingian church. Another important church is St. Paul’s Church(Paulskirche), which in 1848 was the seat of the first democratically elected Parliament and is now a national historic monument. The restored Old Opera (Alte Oper) was one of Germany’s premier opera houses until its destruction in World War II, and with its reconstruction has once again regained prominence. The longest shopping street in Germany is the Zeil, which starts at the Hauptwache, and one of the longest eating streets is Fressgasse (Glutton’s Lane), which is a street full of restaurants, cafés, and food stands. There are several fine museums in Frankfurt, including the Museum of Modern Art near the center, with some work by Andy Warhol, and the collection of nine museums along the bank of the Rhine, known as Museumsufer (Museums Bank).

Between Frankfurt-am-Main and Würzburg

The stretch of the Main River between Frankfurt and Würzburg passes through gentle, rolling countryside and historic cities and sites such as Seiligenstadt and Aschaffenburg, with its Johannisburg Palace. Seiligenstadt was founded as a Roman settlement and fort by Emperor Trajan and eventually became part of the royal Franconian court. Aschaffenburg was also founded by the Romans as a fort. Though it was never part of historical Franconia, it did serve as a location for many United States Army installations during the Cold War. The most notable building is the impressive Johannisburg Palace, built from 1605 – 1614 by the Archbishop Schweikard von Kronberg.

Würzburg, Germany

A majestic city on the Main and a wine-making center, Würzburg is home to a prestigious university and is the site where the X-ray was discovered by Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen in the late 19th century. The city was nearly completely reconstructed after World War II and offers a variety of churches, historical buildings, and interesting structures. Designed by leading architect, Balthasar Neumann, one of Europe’s most impressive Baroque palaces is the Residence Palace (Residenz), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another impressive structure is the Festung Marienberg, a rectangular fortress on the hill across from the Old Bridge (Alte Mainbrücke), which was started in 1201 and consecutively added to with various architectural styles over the centuries. It was in this solid fortress that the entire town took shelter during the bombing raids at the end of World War II when 85 percent of the town was demolished.

The Moselle

The longest tributary of the Rhine, the Moselle flows 535 km (332 miles) from the western slope of the Ballon d’Alsace in the Vosges Mountains in France, through Luxembourg, where it forms the border with Germany for 36 km (22 miles), then continues further into Germany where it joins the Rhine at Koblenz. Narrower than the Rhine, the Moselle became navigable in 1964 after an agreement was reached between the three countries, resulting in the construction of a lock system comprising 14 locks. Typical Moselle river cruise itineraries usually operate between Koblenz and Trier, taking in deep valleys, steep vineyard-terraced hillsides, and many twists and turns.

Destination highlights on the Moselle

Moselkern, Germany

Situated at the confluence of the Eltz and Main rivers, Moselkern is a charming tourist destination and stopping point for river cruise vessels for a visit to Burg Eltz. The fairy-tale castle is set on a hillside deep in the dense forest and is made up of three different houses with a type of drawbridge entrance. Still owned by the descendents of the Eltz family, Castle Eltz was one of the few Rhenish castles to escape destruction during the Thirty Year’s War and houses treasures and tapestries from the last 850 years. The town of Moselkern itself has Celtic, Roman, and Frankish monuments. The main sights include the Town Hall, the oldest in the Moselle region, and the Merovingian Crucifix, which is the oldest cross of its kind north of the Alps.

Cochem, Germany

A highlight on any of the Moselle River cruises, Cochem is a lovely and picturesque medieval town in one of the best wine regions of the Moselle Valley. The attractive walled Old Town has narrow lanes and cobbled alleys and a Baroque Town Hall. Dominating the skyline and set on a mound behind the town, the Imperial Castle (Reichsburg Cochem), with its turrets and medieval ramparts, lends a dramatic backdrop to the setting. Destroyed by the army of Louis XIV in 1689, the castle was restored according to the original plans. Cochem is situated at a point in the river preceding a 20 km (13 miles) sweeping bend, offering lovely scenery of vineyards, country houses, and more castles.

Bernkastel, Germany

Straddling the river at the confluence of the Moselle and Tiefenbach stream, Bernkastel is famed for its medieval market square, late-Gothic and early-Renaissance buildings, and wines. The main square has the elegant 17th century fountain of St. Michael (Michaelsbrunnen) and is surrounded by many colorful half-timbered buildings and a Renaissance Town Hall. One of the most famous half-timbered houses is the very narrow and top-heavy Spitzhäuschen (Pointed House) at the old market square. The ruins of the Landshut Fortress tower above the town offering beautiful views to the vineyards and the Moselle Valley below.

Across the river is Kues, which is the birthplace of Nicholas of Cusa (latinized form of Kues), who was a cardinal, philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, and jurist. The town is home to St. Nikolaus Hospital, named for the polymath, which has a famous collection of ancient books and is also a home for the elderly.

Trier, Germany

The oldest documented ‘city’ in Germany, Trier is the principal city of the Moselle Valley, lying amidst vine-covered sandstone hills. The town is bordered by the countries of Luxembourg and Belgium, as well as the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, and Saarland. Known for its well-preserved Roman remains, the most famous structures include: Porta Nigra, the best-preserved Roman city gate north of the Alps; the Imperial Baths, which include the largest Roman bath north of the Alps; the Roman Amphitheater; and the Roman Bridge. Now in use as a Protestant church, the huge Constantine Basilica is the largest surviving single-room structure from Roman times. Reputed to be the oldest church in Germany, the Trier Cathedral (Dom St. Peter) houses an impressive collection of artworks, architecture, and holy relics, specifically the Holy Tunic, which was the garment dating back to the robe Jesus was wearing when he died. The Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche) is a fine example of early Gothic styles.
As the birthplace of Karl Marx in 1818, Trier is home to the Karl Marx House, which is a museum, or more accurately, a ‘documentation center’, located in Bruckenstrasse, which deals with Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and contemporary history.

The Neckar

From its source near Villingen-Schwenningen in the Black Forest, the Neckar flows for 367 km (228 miles) to its mouth at Mannheim on the Rhine. The scenery on the Neckar includes some of the most beauitiful and picturesque in Germany, with castles, vineyards, and forests hugging the slopes and curves of the river. The entire valley is a pleasure and tourist destination for cycling, hiking, and boating. Typical cruise itineraries go from Mannheim, southeast through Heidelberg, to Stuttgart.

Destination highlights on the Neckar

Heidelberg, Germany

Halfway between Stuttgart and Frankfurt, where the river leaves the steep, narrow valley of the Odenwald (Forest of Odes) and enters into the Rhine Valley, is Heidelberg, a charming city steeped in history and tradition. Home to one of Europe’s oldest educational institutions, University of Heidelberg, the city also has the oldest public library still intact, founded in 1421. A vibrant city, Heidelberg has a charming Old Town (Altstadt), with several pedestrian streets, pleasant shops, romantic buildings, and a variety of churches. The major attraction dominating the city is the magnificent Heidelberg Castle, considered to be the most outstanding castle ruin in the country. The red sandstone castle is a sprawling complex, comprised of several architectural styles, from Gothic to High Renaissance, and surrounded by beautiful gardens. Within the complex is the richly decorated Otto Henry Palace the renaissance façade remaining from the original palace. The biggest gothic church in the region is the Church of the Holy Ghost (Heiligkeitskirche). The Old Bridge Gate and the Old Bridge (Karl Theodore Brücke) over the Neckar are splendid and picturesque, offering beautiful views and photo opportunities. It is said that Goethe considered the Old Bridge to be one of the wonders of the world. The world famous Philosopher’s Path (Philosophenweg), so named because it was considered the walking path of the philosophers and teachers from the university, provides memorable insights and sights as it meanders up the Heiligenberg away from the hustle and bustle of the town below.

Eberbach to Bed Wimpfen, Germany

From Heidelberg, the river snakes its way through the Oberwald, with sandstone hills, lovely villages, and medieval castles and structures. Though not guaranteed to be shore excursions, the most noteworthy include: the romantic Hirschhorn; the ruins of Staufer Castle; and the Eberbach Cloister. Overlooked by the ruins of Staufer, the small market town of Eberbach has a charming historic Old Town. Dating to the middle of the 12th century, the Eberbach Cloister is one of the best-preserved monasteries in the country, with a remarkable dormitory. As the river approaches the pretty town of Bad Wimpfen, there are picturesque wooded hills crowned with castles, such as Zwingenberg, Neuburg, Hornberg, Horneck, and Guttenberg. The ridge top town of Bad Wimpfen is a popular destination for a ‘cure’ and has richly decorated half-timbered houses, city walls, the Blue Tower and its four turrets, and the gothic St. Peter’s Church. The river affords a splendid view of the Staufer Palace, dating from .the 1182 and one of the most beautiful examples of Renaissance architecture, with its arcades and red tower.

Stuttgart, Germany

Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg, is a wealthy and modern city located in a lush valley surrounded with vineyards and forests. Though it may not be included on a typical itinerary for a Neckar river cruise, Stuttgart is a cultural center and a good destination for extending a trip before or after a cruise. The city was heavily damaged during World War II and many historic buildings were destroyed during reconstruction efforts, though many have been subsequently rebuilt. Some of the important sights include: the Renaissance Old Castle (Altes Schloss) dating from the 10th century; the Baroque and Classicist New Castle, dating from the 18th century; the Rococo palace of Castle Solitude; and the world-renowned Opera House. Stuttgart was the starting point for the world-wide automotive industry and the spiritual home for Mercedes Benz. There are some important visits for automobile enthusiasts, such as the Daimler-Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum.