- Discover the highlights of a Rhine river cruise from fairy tale castles and dramatic landscapes to historic towns
- What to expect on a Rhine river cruise including when to go and what you’ll see in spring, summer, autumn and winter
- Learn about the spectacular Rhine and which itinerary is right for you
An increasingly popular river cruise choice, the Rhine’s striking scenery has long enthralled writers, composers, artists, and travellers. With its picturesque towns, romantic castles, stunning gorges, and historic cities, it’s little wonder that cruising the Rhine is a popular, year-round holiday that offers something different in every season.
Rhine river facts
Embark on a Rhine river cruise, and you’ll sail along one of Europe’s most iconic rivers, enshrined in the history and culture of the six countries it passes through. Stretching 766 miles (1,233km), the Rhine starts high in the Swiss Alps, issuing from the Länta and the Grauhorn glaciers at the northern foot of the Rheinwaldhorn, and flows down through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and France all the way to Rotterdam in the Netherlands where it empties into the North Sea. No other river in Europe has so many famous and historic cities along its banks – from Basel in Switzerland and Strasbourg in France to Rüdesheim, Mainz, Koblenz, and Cologne in Germany.
Why cruise the Rhine?
Ask any seasoned traveller why they enjoy river cruises, and you’ll hear similar replies. A river cruise is a life-enriching experience and a comfortable luxurious holiday, where you’re able to explore several fascinating destinations on just one trip. On a Rhine river cruise, you’ll sleep in well-appointed accommodation, dine in a first-class restaurant every evening, and enjoy excellent professional service, while soaking up a wealth of spectacular sights.
Fairy-tale castles, lush vineyards, dramatic gorges, historic cities – a Rhine river cruise itinerary includes all this and much more. And with a choice of durations – five, eight or 15 days – there’s a cruise to suit everyone.
When is the best time of the year to cruise the Rhine?
Take your pick of the seasons. A first-time cruise is guaranteed to be memorable, regardless of whether you choose a holiday during spring, summer, autumn or winter. Indeed, river cruise fans often return to the Rhine year after year to experience the best each season has to offer.
Spring cruises along the Rhine are extremely picturesque as you’ll see carpets of colourful tulips covering many of the riverbanks. Coincide a cruise with Easter, and you’ll also notice villages and towns on your itinerary are decorated with pretty hand-painted eggs. Temperatures, as you’d expect, rise during the summer months – to around 27°C in Germany’s Rhine Valley – making the season an ideal time for sun worshippers to enjoy a Rhine river cruise. July and August are perfect months to relax on a ship’s top deck soaking up the sunshine, as well as the surrounding scenery.
Another option is to visit in autumn as leaves turn red and gold, vineyards celebrate their harvests, and wine festivals are in full flow. Partake in wine tastings and indulge in some merrymaking – one of the biggest festivals, in Boppard, takes place on 25-28 September and 2-4 October 2020. Alternatively, a Rhine river cruise visiting Yuletide markets will get you into the festive spirit in the run-up to Christmas and offers unique shopping opportunities in Rüdesheim, Koblenz, and Cologne.
Events and festivals take place along the Rhine throughout the year, so it’s always worth checking what’s on. In February, Cologne hosts a six-day lively street carnival, while Strasbourg is the venue for a June Jazz Festival.
Highlights of a Rhine river cruise
Sightseeing along the Rhine river is nothing short of magnificent. Popular itineraries take you through many remarkable locks and the Rhine Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Time ashore is spent on guided tours around fascinating cities and romantic villages, as well as vineyards and wine cellars.
There’s a staggering 40 castles and fortresses on one 65km stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley, otherwise known as the glorious Rhine Gorge – it’s a highlight of any Rhine cruise or indeed a holiday to Germany. Many castles were built between the 12th and 14th centuries as defence strongholds and today are ruins. However, others have been given impressive 19th-century makeovers and look like the stuff of fairy tales. Two of the most eye-catching are Marksburg Castle and Stolzenfels Castle, both near the Roman city of Koblenz. This is also the charming spot where the Rhine meets the Moselle river – take time to wander the quirky narrow streets and squares in the old town.
The Rhine Gorge is also home to the legendary Lorelei Rock, found near Saint Goarshausen where one of the five Rhine in Flames festivals take place. According to folklore, irresistible nymphs on the rock are known to ‘murmur’ or sing to passing sailors, luring them to treacherous waters.
The prospect of sampling some of the Rhine’s famous wines is another attraction of a river cruise. The Romans planted many of the terraced vineyards in the 4th century that ships glide past today, and these still produce top-quality grapes that are fermented into fine wines. One of the most well-known wine towns is Rüdesheim, which is also home to the Asbach brandy distillery. Another, Mainz, is where you’ll find a museum dedicated to Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press.
Other key stops on a Rhine river cruise include Cologne with its vast Gothic church; Strasbourg, the exquisite capital of the Alsace region; and the French medieval town of Colmar. Pastel-coloured, half-timbered houses fill the cathedral quarter here, and its concoction of canals, former merchants’ houses, ancient religious buildings, and antique shops are a delight.
Choose a Rhine cruise to Switzerland and the Black Forest will feature on the itinerary. The area’s rugged valleys and rolling hillsides are densely packed with pine trees, and there’s white-water rivers and cascading waterfalls to witness too. What’s more, as the cruise ship sails upriver towards Switzerland and Basel, passengers are treated to breath-taking views over the Vosges Massif.
Plan your Rhine river cruise – whatever the season
A Rhine river cruise is a delight, no matter the season, and ideal for first-timers and solo travellers. Try our Rhine, Strasbourg & Heidelberg River Cruise for Solo Travellers or Cruise the Heart of Europe with 15 visits and tours including guided tours in Budapest, Vienna, Nuremberg, Bamberg, Bratislava, Koblenz, Boppard, Rüdesheim, Mainz, Miltenberg, Wertheim, Regensburg, Passau, and Würzburg.
Unsure whether to choose between the Rhine or Danube? Read our helpful guide to help you choose between a Rhine or Danube river cruise!
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.