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The Romantic Rhine: A river cruise guide

Destination Reviews
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In the old days, a Rhine cruise was the river cruise to take, and it's easy to understand why: craggy outcrops topped with fairytale castles, lush forests and terraced vineyards, pretty villages, atmospheric cobbled streets, ancient towns and more treasures at every turn.

The Romantics of the early 19th century - composers, writers and poets alike - effectively created Rhine tourism, what with Byron's 'Castled Crag of Drachenfels' and Heinrich Heine's mystical mermaid siren, the Lorelei.

To this day, Rhine river cruising is an epic journey of discovery, perfectly suited to wine connoisseurs, culture lovers, Europhiles, history buffs, romantics and foodies.

Wine tasting on a Uniworld river cruise along the Rhine

The history of the region is significant, and reaches back to Roman times and before, when this great river was both the border between civilisation and badlands, and also an ancient motorway to speed you across Europe towards the North Sea.

Its importance as a waterway in the Holy Roman Empire is supported by the many castles and fortifications built along it. In the modern era, it has become a symbol of German nationalism. It flows northwards from the mountainous heart of Europe in Switzerland, captivates with its beauty in the gorges of the middle regions, supports industrial Germany to the north, and sweeps you to the sea via the magic of canal-choked Amsterdam.

Bridge in Amsterdam, Netherlands

More or less every European river cruise operator offers a wealth of Rhine itineraries - and with good reason, as there is so much to do. Some itineraries take you all the way to Basel, with the opportunity to extend your stay in the scenic Swiss Alps or explore the lovely treasures of Alsace. Others start in quirky Amsterdam, the perfect city to explore on foot or by water. The picturesque Moselle river might be included - don't miss the opportunity to sample the delicious wines. Other key tributaries are the Neckar and the Main.

Early in the year you might be looking out for the bulbfield cruises, and the opportunity to visit the lowlands of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, with great art, history and amazing food, whilst in November and December, book for the magic of the Christmas markets, with delicious traditional foods and spirit-lifting decorations.

Cologne Christmas markets

Along the Rhine there are so many 'must see' destinations, so look out for calls at bustling cities and tiny villages alike. In Basel, where France, Switzerland and Germany meet, you will find culture, food, and the meeting of the medieval and the modern when it comes to architecture. Strasbourg's buildings are a rich cocktail of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic in the heart of Alsace, perfect for exploring on foot.

Admire the beautiful Black Forest region and the ancient spa town of Baden Baden, or pretty Heidelberg with panoramic views from the hilltop castle. Sail the Rhine Gorge, with a perfect viewpoint from on board your river cruise vessel of this World Heritage-listed region. In Koblenz, where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet, cycle the riverbanks past the vine terraces and try the wonderful wines - they keep the best ones to themselves! Nearby Cochem is home to the 1,000-year-old Reichsburg Castle.

Petite France, Strasbourg

As you walk the streets of historic Cologne, the town of monks and bones, you will come across the extraordinary Gothic Cathedral, well worth a visit, before going for a ride on Germany's oldest cog railway to ornate Schloss Drachenburg. And finally to the Netherlands where you can tour Amsterdam by canal, travel to the windmills of Volendam or taste the cheese in the 18th-century cheese warehouses of Edam.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina
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