Is there anything better than sitting on a cruise boat, sipping a cocktail and watching the world pass by?
Are you ready to go cruising?
On these pages we have set down some information on three of the famous Rivers of Europe – the Rhine, Moselle and Danube. There are also other rivers too – but the Rhine, Moselle and Danube are three of the most popular choices for River Cruises. Many cruises also involve travel on more than one river too.
You will also find below information on Heidelberg, which is on the Neckar River.
Cruising the Rhine (Rhein in German and Rijn in Dutch) -
The Rhine River is one of the great rivers of Europe, flowing from the alpine streams that flow into Lake Constance in the Swiss Alps, and then from Lake Constance (Konstanz) flowing through to Basel and becoming the river border between Switzerland and Germany, and then as the border between Germany, France and Lichtenstein, flowing through Germany and then on westward through the Netherlands and finally into the North Sea at Hoek van Holland.
From Lake Constance to the North Sea the waters of the Rhine travel a distance of 1236 kilometres, making the Rhine one of the longest rivers in Europe – some of the other big rivers in Europe being the Volga in Russia (3530 km); Danube (2860 km); Elbe (1091 km); Moselle (544 km); Loire in France (1012 km); Rhöne (812 km); Oder (812 km) and Main River (527 km).
Both the Main River and Moselle River are two tributaries of the Rhine, with the Main-Danube Canal (RMD or Europa Canal) connecting the Rhine River via the Main River (the City of Frankfurt is located on the Main River) to the Danube River – the Canal itself being 172 kilometres long.
Where the Rhine heads westward and flows into the North Sea, the Danube flows eastwards and into the Black Sea.
The Rhine, Danube and Moselle River have been used as a means of transport from the days of the Roman Empire and still today these Rivers continue to carry goods and passengers along much of their courses – with barges, tourist cruise boats, rowing boats, ferries and other pleasure craft using the rivers every day and night of the year.
There are in most of the cities, towns and villages next to the rivers with small cruises, sometimes serving just a coffee, other times, lunch or dinner and with a commentary and these cruises last just a few hours showing the local scenery and the towns and villages from the water.
There are also large cruise boats that take passengers on long cruises that may well last a week or a fortnight or more, depending on the number of stops they make and the rivers and distances travelled. Taking a shorter or longer cruise will depend on the amount of time you have and your budget.
SO WHY DO PEOPLE CHOOSE TO CRUISE?
There is something very soothing and relaxing about being on the water, and with River Cruising, you will always be within sight of the land, as opposed to Ocean Cruising where you may well be a long way from shore. There are also no waves and so no one gets ‘sea sick’!
Once you are on a long River Cruise and unpacked and made yourself comfortable, you don’t have to worry about traffic jams, train timetables, where to go or what to see. Your Cruise organiser and crew will provide great food, wine, local stops, tours, shows, commentary on the places you visit and you will get to meet and spend time with fellow cruise friends and make new friends on board.
In many ways, a River Cruise is all about the scenery – seeing castles, forts, spectacular sites, cities, villages and other river traffic as you cruise along, but in other ways, it is also about the food and meeting new people. It can however be expensive so you need to really check to see what is included in the price you pay and what is excluded too. There are definitely 5 star cruises and also ones that are less luxurious and cheaper too, but also local Ferries and local cruise boats.
Most of the bigger cruises will stop at some the great cities in Europe – and you could start a cruise in Amsterdam and travel all the way to Zurich in Switzerland on the Rhine, or via the Rhine, Main and Danube to Vienna in Austria or all the way to the Black Sea, stopping every day at a new city or village or castle to explore, knowing that your cruise boat is moored and ready to take you on board once you have finished your sight-seeing. Remember if you cross some of the borders, you will need to show your passport.
Some cruises will travel only on the Rhine, others will take you on the Rhine, Moselle and Danube too – and again it depends on the cruise itinerary and the time and budget you have.
If you look at the Cruise Advertiser section of this website – you can take time to look at many of the different cruise options before you book.
Some people on board will have been on many cruises and they say that “cruising is addictive”. Once you have experienced one cruise, you will no doubt want to do another. It is almost a certainty that there will be people on board telling you about other cruises that they have been on.
If you think about most of the big cities in the world, they are almost all located next to water, be that the ocean, a harbour, port, lake or river – and a lot of the reason for this is that trade depends on transport and the bigger rivers of Europe provide the means for boats and barges to carry goods and people from one location to another.
The three rivers – Rhine, Moselle and Danube all have great scenery – and travel through cities, towns and villages, as well as past industrial and agricultural land, forest areas and open country – so the scenery constantly changes and when your cruise boat stops at a city or village, it usually means that there is something quite special to see there too – from old forts, to museums, opera houses, special restaurants, shows, historic homes, bier halls, wineries, art galleries, medieval streetscapes, or special markets. There is a lot to see and enjoy.
A LITTLE HISTORY – of Canals and Grand Plans
While the Romans certainly built and used roads, they also used the Rivers of Europe to carry goods, weapons and supplies for their armies. It is said that Charlemagne (Charles the Great) (742-814 AD) dreamed of connecting the Rhine River to the Danube and he built a canal to connect the two river systems (the Danube River to the Main River, that flows into the Rhine). This canal was called the ‘Fossa Carolina’.
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) saw the strategic and military advantage of having a canal to connect the two rivers, but his defeat at Waterloo in 1815 (Read Belgium section of this website) saw his grand plans abandoned.
Bavarian King Ludwig I (1786-1868) also foresaw the need for a canal and construction of a canal began in 1836 and by mid-1846 the canal was finished connecting the Danube to the Main River that flowed on to the Rhine. The canal was however narrow so only smaller barges could travel through the canal, with horses pulling the barges from the towpath next to the canal. There were also some 101 locks to travel through, making the journey a slow one, so expensive too, as each lock took time to move through and was controlled by a lockkeeper. Along the course of the canal, they built 10 aqueducts (like the Roman ones) to pass over some of the deeper valleys – 3 of which are still visible today.
With the coming of Railways and then later road transport, the use of Ludwig’s Canal diminished and in World War Two in 1945 it was bombed and then after the War it closed down in 1950 and was abandoned.
Plans for a new route for a bigger canal to link the Rhine and Danube started during the First World War, became more serious in the 1930’s but construction of the Main-Danube Canal (RMD Canal, or Europa Canal) didn’t start until 1966 with the new Canal only finished in 1992. There are 16 locks along its 171 kilometre length from Bamberg to Kelheim with the canal used for transporting around six million tonnes of cargo - everything from food to iron ore, coal and agricultural products, as well as large numbers of tourists on cruise boats. With the canal in place, it means that it is now possible to travel on water from the North Sea in the Netherlands to the Black Sea in Romania and/or Ukraine – where there is another canal, the Danube-Black Sea Canal.
CRUISING THE RHINE –
There are a number of big cities along the Rhine including Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Essen, Leverkusen, Worms, Konstanz (beside Lake Constance), with Frankfurt located on the Main River and Mainz where the Main River and Rhine meet. If you visit any of these cities you will be able to take short River Cruises. There are also many smaller towns, villages and farms that are located next to the Rivers and if you take a longer cruise you will no doubt stop at some of these special villages.
As you cruise along any of the Rhine River, the view will change – but perhaps the most special scenic attractions are the small villages and vineyards but also the castles, forts, stone ruins and monasteries that are often located on top of a high ridge of land right next to the Rhine. They seem to always be built almost on top of a cliff and you can well imagine that building in such a precarious position would have been extremely difficult – even just getting the stone to transport to the locations. Their position in most cases is designed to withstand attack from enemies – so you can also well imagine what it must have been like when these Forts were actively in use during the Middle Ages.
From the view of seeing lots of Castles the most interesting part of the Rhine to see a number of them is in the Middle Rhine region between Boppard and Rudesheim.
- Boppard – you can get to by the Interregio train from Cologne and you will find a number of Cruise boats stop here. In this small town/village you will find the Kurtrierische Burg fortress tower and armaments Museum, as well as places to stay and eat.
- St. Goar – Between Boppard and St Goar, about 90 minutes away by boat there are another five castle/forts next to the River, but the most interesting one is the Fortress Rheinfels, museum, hotel and restaurant near St Goar which can be reached from St Goar via a miniature railway.
- Bacharach – is another quaint village with its cobblestone streets, marketplace, ruins of Wener Chapel and the Castle Stahleck high on the hills above, with terraced vineyards spilling down the steep hillsides.
- Rudesheim - this very quaint village is where you will find the Niederwald Monument that was built to commemorate the end of the Franco-Prussian War that led to the Unification of Germany. Also here there is Niederwald Temple, with a cablecar to take you to the top of the mountain for great views over the Rhine and vineyards. Look for the Benedict Abbey of St Hildegard, Brömserburg Castle and the Drosselgasse Old centre of Rudesheim.
Half-timbered houses, cobbled streets, small alleyways, castles, ruins, monasteries, Town Halls, churches, geraniums spilling from window boxes, small bars, and open air restaurants in summer can be found all over Germany and there is no end to the number of small towns and villages that you might find on your journey. In many ways, the smaller the village the inviting it is, but equally the bigger cities have all the city attractions and big museums, sports stadiums and cultural activities.
A cruise on the Rhine is certainly something special, but so too is cruising on the Moselle River and the Danube. It is hard to decide, but no matter which river or cruise you take, you are bound to enjoy it.
You can also travel beside the Rhine in many places by road or rail or along hiking trails, walkways and cycle paths. The Valley and River scenery are equally impressive, but cruising down the River has its own appeal too.
THE DANUBE RIVER -
The Danube River starts in the Black Forest area of Germany and then flows 2860 kilometres eastwards eventually flowing into a delta area of the Black Sea. It passes through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine – so 10 different countries with their different languages, culture, traditions and architecture – making this journey down the Danube a fascinating one.
Three of the world’s great cities are also located on the Danube – Vienna in Austria, Budapest in Hungary and Belgrade in Serbia, with one of the most popular Cruises being from Vienna to Budapest.
You can also head to Munich on the Isar River (not the Danube) – and it is about 2+ hours away by rail or car from the beautiful city of Passau on the Danube River and the border with Austria where you will pick up cruises on the Danube.
Some of the Danube Cruise Packages will involve a stay over in Munich and a trip to Passau to join the Cruise Boat and start of your cruise on the Danube.
From Passau you can take short half and full day cruises up the Danube or a longer and bigger Cruise Boat downstream heading to Vienna and onwards from there to Budapest or Belgrade.
Passau is definitely worth a day or more to see and get to know this small city on the Danube. It has been called the “City of three Rivers” as here the Inn River and Ilz River flow into the Danube and there is a lot of heritage and interesting sights to see within this historic city.
The great thing about the Danube is the scenery, but also the changing culture and architecture as you move from one country or city to the next. Don’t forget to bring your passport identification, as you may need it crossing over country borders. Your Cruise Concierge or group organiser will no doubt remind you about passports and identification requirements.
On the German section of this website, you can read about Munich, but we have yet to post information about Austria and other countries on your trip down the Danube. Rest assured that Vienna and Budapest are considered two of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and your trip down the Danube will be rewarded with lots to see and do as you journey on your way.
THE MOSELLE RIVER -
The Moselle (Mosel) River is a tributary of the Rhine, flowing from Ballon d’Alsace in the Vosnes Mountains in France and the province of Lorraine into Germany, becoming the border between Luxembourg and Germany before flowing into the Rhine River in the City of Koblenz. The River and the Moselle River Valley with its picturesque vineyards lining the hillsides are both incredibly beautiful, with the best, though also busiest time being the summer months with their long summer evenings while Springtime and Autumn are also quite special too and in the lead-up to Christmas you have the Christmas markets in many of the German cities and towns.
Most cruises on the Moselle will travel between Trier and Koblenz, with a number of cruises cruising along both the Moselle and Rhine River, or even the three rivers – Moselle, Rhine and Main River.
Some of the main cities and towns to see are –
- Trier – this historic University City on the river dates back to Roman days and there is a Roman Amphitheatre dating back to the 2nd century AD, located on Olewiger Strasse and the remarkable Porta Nigra (Black Gate) also built in the 2nd century – see Germany- Introduction, History section. The Romans also built a bridge across the Moselle River here too in the 2nd century (the Römerbrücke) and that bridge is still operational – with sections of the bridge from the 2nd century still to be seen. The Romans occupied Trier for more than 300 years and here in Trier you can also see Kaiserthermen Roman Baths built by Roman Emperor Constantine (274- 337AD) and the Konstantin Basilika Church built in 310AD. Trier has a number of churches and Museums including the Liebfrauenbasilika and Dom Cathedral with its treasury (Domschatz) but the best place to see and understand more of the Roman times is the Rheinisches Landesmuseum on Weimarer Allee 1. The best way to see and learn more about the City is to take a walking tour of the old city centre and market square area (Hauptmarkt) but equally you can just wander and marvel at some of the building and find a café to just sit and watch the world go by. There are also bike paths beside the Moselle River and also a Wine Culture Path that will lead you some of the vineyards and on to the small village of Olewig – a 1.6 kilometre long walk. Trier is the City where the Philosopher/Economist/theorist, Karl Marx (1818-1883) was born and although he studied and lived in a number of German cities, also in Paris, he moved to London in 1849 where there is a large headstone image of him in Highgate Cemetery. Here in Trier the German Socialist Democratic Party purchased his original home in 1928 at Brücken Strasse 10 and it is open to visit and learn more about his life and philosophies.
- Koblenz – this City also dates back to Roman days and is located right where the Moselle River flows into the Rhine, with a peninsula of parkland where you can see a grand statue of Kaiser William the 1st on horseback (the Deutsches Eck) celebrating the joining of these two great rivers and German Unification. The Statue on a massive stone pediment stands 37 metres high and was erected here on this spot in 1897 but then destroyed in a British bombing raid in 1945, before being rebuilt in 1993. Directly opposite on the east bank hillside is the Ehrenbrietstein Fortress with a cable car crossing over the River from the main city to the Fortress, which was built between 1817 and 1828. As you would expect, the Rivers play a big part in Koblenz, with a number of cruise boats located here, with riverside walkways, cafés and many activities happening here, particularly during the summer months. The old part of the city has the narrow laneways, small squares and courtyards that you would expect to see in this beautiful old city – some of the Squares or Plazas being the old MunzPlatz, Jesuitenplatz, GörrensPlatz and the newer ZentralPlatz where you will find the very modern Forum Confluentes – with 6 floor levels of art and museums, including the Romanticum Exhibitions with their interactive displays. Some of the great buildings to see in Koblenz include the Stolenfels Castle in the Rhine, which dates back to 1412 and then updated in 1842. It has some great rooms and décor. There are also a number of great churches, including the 9th Century old Basilika St Kastor and perhaps the most interesting one being the Herz-Jesu-Kirche that was built in 1900-1903. It was bombed during the Second World War, as was much of the city, and was restored in 1950-53. Also bombed and rebuilt is the Electoral Palace, a grand classic French style building that dates back to 1777-1786. It is located on Schloβstasse 56068. There is also a large 3.5 kilometre long classically designed park, called the Rheinanlagen where you will find the Prussian Government Building and the Weindorf black and white, half-timbered house. Both are worth seeing. The middle Rhine (Mittelrhein) has a number of castles beside the River, and taking a cruise from Koblenz is the best way to see some of these castles and ruins from the river. There are many villages, vineyards and places to see along the River and quite close to Koblenz is the village of Braubach with its village atmosphere, market square and the Marksburg Castle (high above the Rhine River and dating back to 1117) and the Phillipsburg Palace building beside the Rail line and River, dating back to 1568-71 when it was first built.
- Villages on the Moselle
There are many villages on both sides of the Moselle and if on a cruise you will no doubt stop at some of them, or hop off to take a scenic bike ride, or if travelling by rail or car be glued to the windows of your car looking at the vineyards and small villages that you pass through or by. There are also many walking tracks too that broadly follow the river and river valleys or along the ridges.
Many of the Castles were built as fortifications and were variously attacked, added to, raided or partly demolished, but they greatly add to the landscape, with most built high on a crest of the hillsides looking down over the River and villages that are located next to the River. No one village is more scenic or better than another – so on a guided tour, the villages that you stop at will be determined by your tour operator. Just some of the Moselle River Villages you might see are –
- Cochem where the Reichsburg Castle, built around 1020, is located.
- Beilstein – a great medieval village
- Wierschem Village where the Elitz Castle is located (about 36 kilometres from Koblenz)
- Bernkastel-Kues – with its central square and half-timbered buildings, sometimes called the Moselle “Wine Capital” and on the opposite side of the River is Piesport Village.
- Traben-Trarbach – where the Middle Mosel Museum is located and close to Luxembourg (see Luxembourg section of this website)
- Zell – very picturesque
- Alken – where the Burg Thurant Castle with its twin stone towers is located high above it. It dates back to the times of the Romans, with most of the construction dating back to 1197.
- Kobern-Gondorf – with 4 castles nearby including the Wasserschloss and also Ehrenburg ruins
These villages are all very special and there are of course others too.
You might also head to the Main River and the City of Frankfurt – see Frankfurt section on this website.
This city is located on the Neckar River and is one of the most popular tourist towns in Germany with the Odelwald forest as a backdrop and the massive Heidelberg Castle ruins overlooking the city below.
This massive fortress sandstone castle with its towers and turrets was first constructed in the 1300’s and was the home of the Wittelsbach family dynasty for around 400 years. Much of it may be in ruins, but much of it also survived and at night when it is lit up, it forms a spectacular sight above the town.
The castle and its courtyards, rooms, gardens and museum is a big drawcard to tourists, and you could walk up the steep incline to the castle or take the easy option by catching a funicular ‘Bergbahn’ rail car up the 80 metre or so climb.
While many German cities were heavily bombed and destroyed in World War Two bombings, Heidelberg survived the war more or less intact, so what you see here in Heidelberg is a real city dating back to the 18th Century. It did however come under siege and destruction in the 1690’s when French King Louis XIV laid siege to the city, and certainly the Castle came under attack by numerous forces over the centuries.
The city runs alongside the Neckar River with the Hauptstrasse (main street) vehicle free for pedestrians only, so a great place to just wander, window shop and take in the architecture and atmosphere of the city and surrounds. There is always something to see here with the city with a large student population and creative spirit. There are also churches, a number of museums, longer or shorter walking tracks, bars, festivals, musical events during the year and good hotels to stay in, making Heidelberg the popular city that it is. You can also purchase a Heidelberg Card from the Visitor Bureau on the Hauptstrasse which provides transport and discounts.
There is no doubt that the river valleys in Germany are very picturesque as are the villages that line the shores of the rivers.
If you do get a chance to go cruising, then you are bound to have a great time as you travel the rivers and enjoy the scenery and learning more about the wines and food of Germany. You will also meet some other great people on board to share the journey with too.