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A Guide to the Main River

  • Explore the rich medieval history of German cities and towns on a Main river cruise
  • What to expect on a Main river cruise – from luxurious cabins and first-class service to fascinating excursions
  • Expert advice on when to go, what to pack, and what to see when visiting Mainz, Nuremberg, Würzburg, and Miltenberg

Europe’s Main river flows through the heart of quintessential medieval Germany and while less well-known than the Danube or Rhine, it’s a major tributary of the latter. It weaves a glorious 530 km (330 miles) route from the lush valleys of the German Highlands to romantic Bavaria, passing some of the most picturesque medieval towns in the country before it reaches historic Mainz.

The Main’s only navigable section is between Mainz and Bamberg, the focus of our enchanting Medieval Germany cruise. This also includes excursions around Miltenberg, Wertheim, Würzburg, and Rothenburg, as well as Nuremberg which is located on the Main-Danube Canal. The Main river also forms part of our Cruise the Heart of Europe adventure.

Explore the historical treasures and rich heritage of medieval Germany on a Main river cruise such as our Cruise the Heart of Europe.

Why cruise the Main?

Whether you’re planning your first cruise or you’ve sailed many times before and want to visit somewhere new, Main river cruises are all about exploring scenic Germany. They offer the chance to discover more about the country’s fairytale castles, famous vineyards, and fascinating medieval villages.

You’ll learn about the area’s history, its culture, and the people who live there, as well as sample traditional food and drink. As your luxurious river cruise ship gently meanders along the Main river, you’ll enjoy the first-class service on board, stay in an elegant, well-appointed cabin, and experience fine dining every evening. There’s no better way to explore Bavaria!

main river wurzburg


What’s the best time of year to cruise the Main?

Our 2020 Main river cruises set sail from either Mainz or Nuremberg from May through to October.

Late spring is a glorious time for a cruise along the Main river, as the weather starts to perk up and the landscapes you cruise through are abloom with beautiful, fragrant flowers. The average daily temperature in Bamberg in May is a pleasant 20°C, though note that it may still be a chilly 7°C in the evenings so pack accordingly.

July and August are popular summer travel months when destinations will be a little busier. The mercury increases to 25°C, dipping back to 20°C in September, then a fresher 14°C as October arrives. Don’t be put off travelling later in the year though; sparkling blue skies are still a common sight, and the countryside looks idyllic as leaves on trees turn dazzling autumnal colours.

Travel late August or early September and your cruise may coincide with the Würzburg wine parade. Classic Franconian wine and sparkling new vintages can be sampled, and there are gastronomic delights to try too. Mainz is the heart of Germany’s wine region and a wine festival is also held in the city’s romantic park and rose garden during the last week in August and the first weekend in September.

Late August is when Bamberg’s annual folk festival, Sandkerwa, takes place. It’s one of the largest festivals of its kind in Bavaria and celebrated in the historic town over five days. Expect the beer to be flowing.

main river city hall in bamberg

City Hall in Bamberg

Highlights of a Main river cruise

The Romantic Road, Germany

One of the many highlights of a Main river cruise is discovering more about the aptly named Romantic Road – Germany’s picturesque and much-loved route through the mountains and forests of Bavaria. Situated at the start is Würzburg, a resplendent city that is home to a magnificent Baroque palace, the Residenz. That first glance whisks you back to the romantic 18th century when this part of Germany captivated writers, artists, and musicians. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the royal residence has one of Germany’s most ornate staircases, as well as decorative frescoes, priceless tapestries, sculptures, and paintings.

A drive along the Romantic Road, part of our Medieval Germany river cruise itinerary, is a memorable experience. It’s as if you’re able to travel back in time, learning more about lofty castles, grand palaces, medieval towns, and folklore, before arriving at the picture-perfect destination of Rothenburg. Here you’ll find remarkably preserved town walls, narrow cobbled streets, and gabled half-timbered houses – don’t forget your camera.

main river rothenburg ob der tauber


Historical Bamberg

One of the prettiest small towns visited on our Main river cruises is Bamberg, which is also UNESCO-listed thanks to its incredible heritage. A network of canals and former fishermen’s houses make for an impressive sight, as does the old town hall, built on an island in the middle of the Regnitz river and flanked by a bridge at either side. It’s also worth visiting Bamberg’s splendid cathedral, the resting place of Pope Clement II.

Medieval Miltenberg

Another must-see on our cruise itinerary is Miltenberg, one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval villages. On an escorted tour you’ll wander through its labyrinth of winding alleys and lanes, each one filled with stunning colourful buildings. Don’t miss the Gasthaus Zum Riesen – it’s reportedly the country’s oldest tavern, serving drinks since the 12th century.

main river milternberg old town bavaria


Secret Wertheim

On the same day, prepare to be enchanted by Wertheim. It’s a destination that remains wonderfully undiscovered on mainstream tourist trails, and a joy to behold. It may be one of the lesser-known of Germany’s famous medieval castles, but the russet-walled fortress ruins will be a highlight of a walking tour, as will the quaint market square, Gothic church complete with clock tower, and Zobelhaus, a contender for the narrowest house in Germany.

Original Gutenberg Bibles in Mainz

If you’re a book lover, Mainz will enthral too. Johannes Gutenberg, the father of modern printing, is the city’s most famous son; there’s an excellent museum housing a reconstruction of his workshop and two original 1455 Gutenberg Bibles. Mainz was also an important Roman centre for over 450 years, and an amphitheatre unearthed in the early 1900s is the largest north of the Alps – its stage alone measured 42 metres.

Incredible Nuremberg

Both our Main river cruises call at Nuremberg. The Bavarian city is an attractive destination in which to spend several hours admiring its many historical landmarks. Head for the Church of Our Lady to see a working mechanical clock dating from 1506, a fountain resembling a Gothic church tower in the Market Square and, of course, you can’t miss Nuremberg Castle which has been restored to its original state. Before leaving the city, stock up on gifts for friends back home – delicious gingerbread is a tasty treat.

main river nuremburg


Explore the Main on a river cruise

The historical heart of medieval Germany beckons on a Main river cruise. Discover everything the Main has to offer on our Cruise the Heart of Europe and our Medieval Germany River Cruise, both including guided tours, luxury cabins, and all meals on board included.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.