River Cruising Down The Rhine

Sarah Freeman on 01 September 2019
There are so many rivers in Europe to choose from, from the Danube and Volga to the Loire and the Elbe. Selecting which river to cruise on really depends on what type of destinations you’re looking to visit. We selected the Rhine, home of medieval towns, castles and wineries. This river is also critical to the European economy, moving over 500MM tonnes of coal, cars and other goods along its 766 miles, from its source in the Swiss Alps through Germany and the Netherlands to the North Sea.

Our cruise was to take in some fascinating ports of call:

Amsterdam: A cultural kaleidoscope that offers something for everyone. Dozens of excellent museums and historic buildings, a winding maze of canals and exciting nightlife. We enjoyed a narrated canal boat ride, passing beautiful merchant houses, Ann Frank House and ended up at the Gasson Diamond centre. The rest of the day we people watched in the red light district, visited museums featuring artwork by Van Gogh and Vermeer, saw beautiful churches like Westerkerk and marvelled at the scale of the Central Station.

Arnhem: Set in wonderful countryside, while only small, the town has been well preserved and features lovely independent shops and quirky art installations. The Battle of Arnhem directed by Montgomery was part of Operation Market Garden in September 1944. Despite scores of British parachutists dropping into the town, the bridge of Arnhem was never captured and the troops suffered devastating losses. In the area museums tell the dramatic WWII stories and the town proudly displays flags to remember the valiant efforts of the British soldiers. After sombre moments, we moved onto Doorwerth Castle, a beautiful medieval castle with gardens and moat built in 1260, it’s worth an hour exploring.

Dusseldorf: Today we joined a walking tour. Setting off from Rheinpark, we passed one of 26 museums, the Kunst Palast which has a fun sculpture of a Rhino, saw the rotund Town Hall and one of Wolfgang Kliege’s lovely sculptures. Next up we wandered around Altstadt (Old Town) nicknamed “the longest bar in the world” due to its hundreds of pubs, explored Hofgarten and then Ko-Bogen, featuring upscale shops in striking, modern architecture. Finally, we ambled back along the Rhein Promenade giving a great view of the Rhine Tower.

Cologne: Infamous for its Cathedral, this bustling city offers over 100 art galleries, 12 Romanesque churches, multiple museums and a history that harkens back to the Romans. Cologne is also well known for two liquids, Kolsch (a local beer) and perfume. Cologne Cathedral or Kolner Dom is simply stunning with its 13th century Gothic interior and the golden “Shrine of the Three Magi” (1220). Street after street offered glimpses of lovely architecture, medieval alleyways, fun statues and of course pubs galore! Our tour touched on only a part of the city, but we enjoyed strolling through the Old Market, past the Town Hall and the old Roman road before ending up at the imposing cathedral.

Koblenz: A 2,000 yr old city formed at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers, the city was occupied by France during WWII and heavily bombed. First up was a visit to German Corner and the giant monument of German Emperor William I astride a 14m high horse. The statue was destroyed by US artillery but replaced by the German president. Next up we passed the Jewish Monument, the Ludwig Museum and St Castors Basilica, before walking through the historic old town and seeing the beautifully preserved Jesuit College and the Schangelbrunnen “spitting boy” Fountain (watch out you don’t get wet!). In the afternoon we took the cable car up to the imposing Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, 118m above the Rhine, the castle features extensive grounds, battlements and high walls. There is a museum on site but the best reason to visit is for the incredible panoramic views.

Rhine Gorge: The top of the Rhine isn’t that pretty to be honest, think lots of industrial scenery and freight vessels. However, the Middle Rhine Valley (65km) is chocolate box pretty, think narrow gorges, imposing hillside fortresses, quaint villages and rambling vineyards. A UNESCO World Heritage site, on average there’s a castle every 1.5 miles, most being constructed to collect tolls from traders during the 12th century. Lots of castles suffered severe damage in 1689 by Louis XIV troops but were since restored, we especially loved Marksburg and Stolzenfels Castles.

Rudesheim: This is one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever visited, renowned for its wine, vines have been cultivated here for two millennial! There’s a plethora of shops selling local wine and you can also visit the Asbach Distillery, plus don’t miss having the speciality coffee made with flaming brandy and whipped cream. The town’s made up of cute houses and cobbled streets and is also known for its Museum of Mechanical Instruments and Christmas market.

Eltville am Rhein: Quite simply beautiful! Street upon street of timber framed houses in immaculate condition on cobbled streets leading down to the river. Known as the “City of Wine and Roses”, this was the perfect place to sample a few of the local specialities from dry Riesling through to sparkling wines. The Electoral Castle is one of the town’s highlights, erected in 1345 the castle was home to the archbishops of Mainz and features a well tended rose garden. Mainz: Our final stop, the city was a key stronghold for the Romans who recognised the potential of the surrounding region for growing vines and as a critical trade route. Mainz’s most famous resident is Johannes Gutenberg who combined several innovations to develop a printing press using movable type that made the written word available to everyone. There’s a fabulous museum that takes you through his techniques and displays samples of his priceless Latin Bibles. Across the square (that houses a fabulous daily local produce market), is the vast 12th century St. Martin’s Cathedral. A huge, red sandstone edifice, the original construction started in 975 and 45 archbishops are buried here. One thing not to miss is the Nail Men tower, a form of propaganda and fundraising for the forces in WWI, these wooden statues had nails driven into them creating works of art in exchange for donations. In the afternoon, we took advantage of the large pedestrianised shopping area and enjoyed a few hours spending our last Euro’s.

The Rhine was amazing and certainly didn’t disappoint!