The Rhine is arguably Europe’s greatest waterway and, as a working river, it is acclaimed as the busiest too.
Some cruises pass through urbanised areas which, admittedly, is not the most attractive stretch of river, but the main highlight of sailings along this vital artery is the romantic Middle Rhine, steeped in stunning vistas and mysterious legends and offering a complete contrast.
The legendary Rhine Gorge – a spectacular landscape designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site – is full of rocky peaks crowned by a string of storybook castles and fortresses and slopes of neatly-terraced vineyards that hint at this region’s wine-making pedigree. At its heart lies the famous Lorelei Rock where a siren is said to lure sailors to their deaths in the treacherous waters with her seductive singing.
From the medieval charm of Strasbourg in France’s Alsace region to the natural beauty of Germany’s Black Forest and the Gothic glory of Cologne’s cathedral-led spires, the Rhine’s appeal lies in the variety of places along its path.
The main season runs from March until November, though as summers can be hot (which makes them popular with sun-worshippers) spring and autumn are considered to be an ideal time with seasonal colours and mild temperatures that make excursions and activities, such as cycling trips, more comfortable. Christmas market cruises cast a magical spell over sailings from late November into December, while cruises over Christmas and New Year bring festive cheer.
Museums, art galleries, cathedrals and castles along with vineyard tours in Germany’s wine region and walking tours of medieval towns enroute. Top spots include Amsterdam, Cologne, Strasbourg, Rhine Gorge, Rüdesheim and Koblenz.