I look out the window and perched on top of a nearby craggy outcrop is a picture postcard perfect castle, complete with turrets, crenelated towers and battlements. It is surrounded by lush green woods. At the bottom of the hill is a vineyard, draped dramatically across the steep lower banks of the river.
I cruise slowly past it, admiring the beauty of this area. In the distance is a tiny village; houses covered in a crisscross pattern of dark wood on white walls.
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INSPIRATION: Rhine River Castles and Villages
This is the Rhine Valley. A romantic, magical fantasyland that should be part of any European vacation.
At a glance: The best Rhine River cruise
German River cruises include the Danube, the Rhine and the Moselle Rivers, but the Rhine has the most beautiful castles.
Where are the best Rhine valley castles?
When you think about seeing the famous castles on the Rhine River, Germany, you are actually thinking about the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. There are dozens of castles along the Rhine, but the best Rhine castles and villages are on the 40-mile/ 65-kilometer stretch between Koblenz and Rudesheim.
This section of the river is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so best Rhine River cruise will include this section of the river. This was a gentler sailing experience than many I take, but I was excited to see the forty castles, villages and scenery along the way.
The Rhine River day cruise (Koblenz to Rudesheim)
The River Rhine cruise starts in Koblenz. Of course, you can do it reverse and end in Koblenz, or do the trip both ways.
The castles and villages listed below are described by the bank they on while travelling FROM Koblenz. Of course, if you are travelling TO Koblenz, everything will be on the opposite bank.
09:00AM Koblenz [right bank]
In addition to the Koblenz Rhine River cruise, trips up the Moselle River also leave from Koblenz, another choice for short River cruises in Germany. It is worth spending a little time in this town. There is a lovely village and a cable car across the river to the fort opposite.
09:30AM Schloss Stolzenfels Castle [right bank]
The first main castle you see is one of the most spectacular German castles on the Rhine.
Schloss Stolzenfels was originally a fortress castle (burg) built in the 13th century. It was in ruins in 1823 when it was given to the Prussian crown prince, who then rebuilt it as a palace in Gothic Revival style.
It’s beige color and multiple crenelated turrets make it one of the most beautiful castles in the Rhine Valley and the perfect way to start (or end) the cruise.
09:40AM Martinsburg Castle, Oberlahnstein [left bank]
The lovely little village of Oberlahnstein is dominated by Martinsburg Castle. The castle’s main feature is a heavy hexagonal tower dating from 1324. The main wing is from the 18th century in gothic style, with white walls and a black roof.
09:50AM Rhens [right bank]
The main square of the village, which can’t be seen from the boat, is lined with red and white half-timbered houses. A couple of these types of buildings can be seen from the river.
Some of the original city walls still exist and the Rheintor, which can also be seen from the Rhine River, is the only one of the five original 1400’s gate towers in the city fortifications still standing. It’s an impressive sight.
10:05AM Braubac and Marksburg Castle [left bank]
Marksburg Castle, which sits on the hill behind the village of Braubac, is one of only two castles that has never been destroyed (Maus Castle is the other). It was built as a fortress rather than a royal home, but is nonetheless beautiful rather than solid and imposing. It is one of the highlights of the Rhine cruise. There is a lovely park in Braubac next to the river at the foot of the hill.
10:15AM Oberspay [right bank]
Another cute village with half-timbered houses and Marksburg Castle behind it in the distance.
10:25AM Osterspai [left bank]
Osterpai is another gorgeous village with red and white half-timbered houses with black roofs. The castle on the hill behind Osterpai is the 18th Century Liebeneck Castle (Schloss Liebeneck).
10:43AM Filsen [left bank]
The St. Margaretha Church dominates Filsen, a small village on the left side just before Boppard on the opposite bank.
10:45AM Boppard [right bank]
This is one of the most beautiful villages on the Rhine River boat trip and a common place to get off the boat and explore, either for a few hours or overnight.
There are more lovely half-timbered buildings. The twin steeples you can see in this photo belong to the 12th Century Saint Severus Church. This is the heart of wine-growing country, so it’s a good place to have a glass of wine!
You can take a chairlift up to Vierseenblick, which means “Four-Lake View”. The four “lakes” that you can see from the lookout are actually all parts of the Rhine River, but hills cut off the rest of the river, making it look like they are lakes.
11:20AM Kamp-Bornhofen [left bank]
There are two castles close to each other on the hills above Kamp-Bornhofen. These are Burg Liebenstein and Burg Sterrenberg, known as the “Hostile Brothers”. They were built by two brother princes arguing over their inheritance.
Liebenstein Castle is now a hotel and restaurant. Sterrenberg Castle (the “White Castle”) is not only the older of the two, but, dating from 1190, is one of the oldest castles in the Rhine Gorge.
12:00PM Maus Castle [left bank]
This castle is another highlight of Rhine River trips. It was built in the 1300’s and, along with Marksburg Castle, is one of only two never destroyed. It sits above the village of Wellmich.
Its official name is actually Thurnberg Castle, but got its nickname of Mouse Castle because people felt that the Rhine castles spied on each other like cats and mice (“Cat Castle” in nearby).
12:10PM Burg Rheinfels [right bank]
This sits opposite Maus Castle. Rheinfels castle was the largest fortress in the Rhine Gorge in its heyday. The ruins are about 1/5 of the original size of the castle, but nonetheless, it is still one of the largest castle ruins you’ll see.
Part of it is now a hotel, but there are plenty of ruins, cellars, mines and battlements to explore, if you get off the boat. It is an impressive sight to cruise past. There are elements from the 14th, 16th and 18th centuries.
12:15PM St Goarshausen and Burg Katz [left bank]
Burg Katz or “Cat Castle” (c/f the nearby “Mouse Castle”) was originally built in 1371 destroyed in 1806 by Napoleon and rebuilt in 1898. Sankt Goarshausen is another wine growing center.
12:30PM Lorelei Rock [left bank]
This seemed to be a highlight for the German tourists on the Rhine day cruise, mostly because of the legends associated with it. Legend has it that a beautiful woman jumped into the river here because of a cheating lover, and was then transformed into a siren who subsequently lured hapless fishermen to their deaths. The legend appears in many stories, songs and poems in Germany, including a famous poem “Die Loreley” by Heinrich Heine.
To be honest, the legend is more interesting than the rock, but it is a famous feature on the Rhine.
12:50PM Oberwesel and Schonburg Castle [right bank]
Another highlight of Rhine River cruises day trips, though this is also a great place to overnight. 16 of the original towers and much of the original medieval city walls remain, along with Schonburg Castle. This is also the heart of Riesling country, so makes a great stop if you like white wine.
01:10PM Kaub and Gutenfels Castle [left bank]
Gutenfels Castle (also called Caub Castle) was originally built in 1220 to help extract tolls along the river (with Pfalzgrafenstein Castle). It was rebuilt in the late 1800’s and is now a hotel. It sits about 330 feet/ 100 meters above the small village of Kaub and is surrounded by vineyards.
01:15PM Pfalzgrafenstein Castle [island near left bank]
Perhaps the most famous of the castles on the Rhine River cruise, this tiny castle sits on an island just off the shore from Kaub. With its white walls, pointy black roof and orange prow, it’s incredibly picturesque. It has a small five-sided tower with a Baroque top and a six-sided wall. It was built in 1327 as a toll station (in conjunction with the nearby Gutenfels Castle), and was added to in 1607 and 1755.
The main river here was dangerous, so boats were forced to go through the narrow section between the island castle and the river bank. A chain was strung between the castle and the bank, so ships had to stop and pay the toll. Those who resisted were put in a floating dungeon. Tolls were collected in this way until 1867.
Fortunately, nowadays, the river is safe and you can cruise through freely – and for free.
01:30PM Bacharach with Burg Stahlek [right bank]
The 12th Century Stahleck Castle has a partial moat, which is not common among the Rhine castles. There is a youth hostel inside the castle and vineyards all around it. In town, there are more adorable half-timbered medieval 16th Century buildings. Between the village and the castle is Wernerkapelle, an orange clover-leaf-shaped unfinished Gothic ruin.
02:00PM Heimburg Castle, Niederheimbach [right bank]
The Heimburg Castle, smack bang in the middle of Niederheimbach village, is one of the lowest castles on the Rhine (most have higher vantage points). It was first built in the late 1200’s, but the current version is from the 19th Century. The nearby church is the Catholic Parish Church of the Assumption of Mary.
02:08PM Burg Sooneck, Niederheimbach [right bank]
Not far after Niederheimbach, Sooneck Castle sits about half way up a forested hill. The original castle was built in the 1200’s, but fell into ruins and this version, built on those ruins as a hunting lodge, dates from 1834.
02:30PM Burg Reichenstein [right bank]
This is one of several Rhine River, Germany castles that is also a hotel. The castle, also called Falkenburg, was also rebuilt in the late 1800s in Neo-Gothic style.
02:45PM Burg Rheinstein [right bank]
This is one of the highlights on the Rhine River castle tour. It dates originally from the 10th century and has a garden, vineyards and gothic chapel connected by steep stairs.
03:20PM [Scheduled 1430] Assmannhausen [left bank]
Another cute village surrounded by vineyards; this one is famous for red wine (Pinot Noir). It also has a chairlift to the hills above, where you can find the Niederwalddenkmal, a large monument built in the 1870/80s to commemorate the Unification of Germany (you can’t see this from the river though).
03:30PM Ruine Ehrenfels [left bank]
Ehrenfels Castle is a ruined castle on a steep slope, surrounded by vineyards. Fun fact: The grape variety Ehrenfelser is named after the castle.
03:45PM [Scheduled 1500] Bingen [right bank]
On a small island just as you approach Bingen, is the Mauseturm (Mouse Tower). The original structure dates from the Roman Empire, but has been rebuilt many times, most recently in 1855, when it became a Prussian signal tower.
The Mouse Tower is the center of a legend in which during the 974 famine, the peasants ran out of food. Their ruler, Hatto II promised them food, lured them into a barn and then burned the barn to the ground with the peasants in it (I’m not sure who he expected to grow food to end the famine). As it burned, Hatto allegedly said something like “Hear the mice squeak!”
Then, when he returned to his castle, thousands of mice chased him, swarming behind him as he sailed across the river to the tower. The mice followed him, enough managing to swim across the river to chew through the tower’s doors and eat him alive.
The tale is gruesome, but the tower is pretty.
This was the end of the Rhine River cruise for me. Although the Rhine Riverboat cruise went one more stop, Bingen has better train connections to Mainz and Frankfurt.
Rhine River cruise map
The Verdict: Best Rhine River cruises
The Rhine, Germany is stunning and the best Rhine cruises go through this section of the river for a reason. The castles were beautiful, but it was the gorgeous villages that took me by surprise.
Were I to do this again, rather than taking the day trip Rhine River cruise, I would stop off along the way and explore some of the villages.
PRACTICAL TIPS: Rhine cruise
The Experience: Rhine River tour to see the Rhine castles and villages
Short Rhine River cruises can be done in either direction between Koblenz and Rudesheim. There are a couple of options:
a) Start in Koblenz or, at the other end, Rudesheim or Bingen.
I started in Koblenz and spent the night in Koblenz before the cruise.
Buy a River Pass that lets you stop off along the way, or take the boat right through. Here is the schedule for May, when I took it.
Check the cost of Rhine River cruise and buy tickets here.
How to get to Koblenz from Frankfurt
You can either drive or take a train.
Driving in Germany
Driving is a great choice, because it gives you the most flexibility. It also means you can go back and explore in more detail places you saw on the cruise. You could easily spend a week exploring the entire Rhine Valley.
If you do decide to drive, check out this guide to driving in Germany before you go. It has the lowdown on different types of German roads, driving rules and etiquette and parking rules. You can rent a car in Germany online here. Before you rent, read my tips for finding the cheapest rental cars.
Taking the train
If you prefer the ease of taking a train, there are trains direct to Koblenz from Frankfurt. The journey takes about an hour and a half and actually goes right along the route you will travel back down on the Rhine River boat tour. It takes about 90 minutes.
The main Koblenz Hbf train station is about a 20-minute walk from the center of town. You can change trains to a local train that will take you one station further to Koblenz Stadtmitte. This is the center of town and near the main sites and the boat dock.
Book your train ticket on Omio here. I use Omio to buy train tickets whenever I am in Europe because it is so much easier and quicker than lining up at a train station when I’m there.
How to get to Frankfurt at the end of the Rhine River cruise
The last stop on the main Rhine River boat cruise is technically Rudesheim. However, train connections form the second last stop, Bingen, are much better. There are no castles between Bingen and Rudesheim, so you don’t miss anything by getting off at Bingen. This is what I did.
From the ferry dock, it is an easy walk to Bingen (Rhein) Hbf train station.
This is what I did, but there is another option. There are trains roughly every hour. You will most likely need to change trains in Mainz. The journey into Frankfurt takes less than an hour and a half.
Can I store luggage on the Rhine River cruise?
Yes, you CAN store your luggage on Rhine River boat cruises.
You can also get off and stay overnight in the cute villages along the way, then back on a boat the next day.
If you are looking for light luggage to take with you (which I recommend), check out my guides to:
b) Book a combined coach and river day trip from Frankfurt
You can easily see the castles near Frankfurt as a day trip from the city and then transport is very easy. A coach picks you in Frankfurt, takes you to the boat, then picks you up again at the end. of course, you have not option to get off along the way, but this is an easy option.
When is the best time for a Rhine River cruise?
The season runs from early April to early October. The summer months (July and August) are the peak seasons, and are very busy. April to June are the rainiest months. September is lovely and dry.
The other best tome for Rhine River cruises is around Christmas. There are some Saturday cruises in November and December for Christmas. The castles are often covered in snow and many villages have Christmas markets. I didn’t do this myself, but it sounds lovely. You can book a Christmas cruise here.
Where is the Rhine River and what is the currency?
If you are wondering “What country is the Rhine River in?”, it is Germany. The currency in Germany is the euro.
Check here for the current exchange rate.
How to get to Germany
There are frequent flights to Germany and frequent train connections from all around Europe. Frankfurt is a major hub because it is the home of Germany’s national airline Lufthansa. Since Frankfurt is the main gateway city to the Rhine River cruises, Germany is an easy destination.
If you will be travelling by train quite a bit, it can be worth buying a EurRail Pas. If this is you, check out the EuRail Pass here.
Another option is to rent a car and drive. Driving in Europe is easy. You will want to take a train to the end of the cruise though, unless you take the boat in both directions (which is certainly possible). I always use RentalCars.com as they search a huge database of all (or at least most) of the rental car companies to find the cheapest deals. Find a rental car here.
Where to stay in Koblenz
I stayed at the Altstadt Hotel Koblenz.
It was right on the main square. This was the view from my room:
There was a restaurant downstairs and breakfast was served there. The only downside was that church bells chimed loudly. But I loved it.
Combine the cruise with a stay in the valley
One of the main towns to explore along the way is Boppard, and this makes a great place to get off the boat and spend a night or two. A great option for a hotel is the historic Bellevue Rhine Hotel. Read a comprehensive review of the Bellevue Rhine Hotel here.
You can also stay in several of these castles, which make a perfect place to break your journey. There are plenty of other castle hotels in Germany too. Here are some of the best castle hotels in Germany.
Planning and packing for a cruise down the Rhine River
Start you trip planning by using my handy Trip Planner.
I use a guide book in addition to blogs. I use the Lonely Planet books, as they are more comprehensive and reliable. You can buy the Germany Lonely Planet here.
When you are ready for your trip, check out my international Essential Packing List so that you don’t forget to pack something important.
A key item to take with you is binoculars, as the castles are perched atop the hills surrounding the river and it is nice to see things up closer. Recommend are the Vortex Optics Diamondback 10×42 Roof Prism Binoculars (buy them on Amazon here). They are the best binoculars for the money, but you can read reviews and recommendations for other binoculars:
- Guide to the best binoculars for the money
- Guide to the best binoculars under $300
- Guide to the best binoculars under $200
- Guide to the best binoculars under $100
Additional consideration: Travel Insurance
You will want travel insurance. First read my Guide to Buying Travel Insurance.
A great insurance option is Travelex. It has coverage for all you’ll need. You can swap this link for either choose the best travel insurance plan for your trip here or get a quote right now:
Do you have any other favorite castles or towns to share on this cruise or any other fun facts? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.
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Read about other boat trips here:
- Cruise to see glaciers in Patagonia
- Ride the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon
- Kayak around Haida Gwaii in Canada to see totem poles and wildlife
James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He is passionate about experiential travel, i.e. meaningful travel that actively engages with the environment and culture. He helps people have similar experiences that involve active participation in activities and festivals; engaging with the local food and handicrafts through lessons and food tours; and interacting positively with environment by hiking, riding, rowing, diving and low/no impact animal encounters.
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