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Today, we’re going on a virtual journey through the romantic Rhine Valley in Germany. It’s a land of incredible contrasts, with rugged mountain peaks towering over the lowlands and river.
Here, castles dot the landscape. Some were built for war, while others were built as luxurious vacation estates. Meanwhile, the waterside is an endless vista of peaceful vineyards and rural villages like Bacharach. These vineyard and villages are divided by the dense forests that gave The Black Forest its name.
Those passionate about history will love the ruins and architectural wonders on this list. Families can treat the kids to traditional wooden dolls. Everyone will want to dig into artisan pastries crafted from recipes passed down centuries ago.
This isn’t just an urban tour through some of European civilization’s best and oldest parts. There are wild, untamed areas along the Rhine Valley. These include challenging mountain trails, overlooks, and other heart-pounding outdoor adventures.
The Rhine River is one of the longest rivers in Europe. It flows from the Swiss Alps on an incredible 1,230-kilometer route through mountains and meadows to the Netherlands, eventually spilling into the North Sea. That’s quite a journey!
For this guide, we’re narrowing down a plethora of attractions to the absolute best places to visit on the Rhine River.
- Places to Visit on the Rhine River & Things to Do
- 1. Marksburg Castle
- 2. Boppard
- 3. Reichenstein Castle
- 4. Klobenz
- 5. Rüdesheim am Rhein
- 6. Rheinstein Castle
- 7. Schloss Drachenburg
- 8. Fünfseenblick
- 9. Lorelei
- 10. Boat Tours on the Rhine River
- 11. Mannheim
- 12. Hike or bike the Palatinate Forest (Pfälzer Wald)
- Full Video Travel Guide to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley
Places to Visit on the Rhine River & Things to Do
1. Marksburg Castle
Address: Marksburg, 56338 Braubach, Germany
Marksburg Castle isn’t the biggest castle along the river, but this picturesque site is considered one of the highlights of any visit. It’s the only hilltop fortress in the middle Rhine region that was not destroyed and rebuilt at some point in its history.
This is especially impressive since it was built in 1117 and survived nine centuries of strife. The castle boasts original architecture and a museum you can visit over a breezy one-hour guided tour. Visitors can enjoy amazing views of valleys, nearby villages, historic towns, and the Rhine River just outside its walls.
A short walk downhill takes you into the village of Braubach, which clusters at the castle’s metaphorical feet. This quaint and quiet place is just across the river Rhine from the well-known city of Koblenz.
Braubach has retained much of its medieval character. It’s full of twisty old streets and half-timbered buildings straight from a fairytale.
See Related: Real, Magical Castles in Fairytales to Visit
While we’re gonna cross off a few medieval castles and palaces on this list, there are some sites along the Rhine that are literally ancient. Boppard is a charming town, grown over centuries on rolling hills… hills that the ancient Romans once called home.
There is a magnificently well-preserved castrum, or Roman fortification, that you can visit here. This site has been dated back to the 4th century but is likely far older.
It contains dozens of semi-circular towers and well-preserved sections of the old wall. Some of these stand up to 9 meters high. History enthusiasts will want to explore the site and Boppard’s museum, with its wealth of excavated Roman relics.
This is also a popular town for shopping and grabbing a bite to eat. One of the biggest attractions is GedeonsEck, a restaurant perched atop a 240-meter hill. You can ride a chairlift if you’re worn out from walking around this enthralling Roman site. This saves your legs and gives you a stunning panoramic view of the river and hills!
3. Reichenstein Castle
Address: Burgweg 24, 55413 Trechtingshausen, Germany
Remember how we mentioned that Marksburg Castle had survived the centuries unscathed? Well, Reichenstein Castle has a different story.
It’s a story of perseverance, of generations who refused to let this castle disappear into the mists of memory. Burg Reichenstein has been besieged a few times and fully destroyed twice. But the locals rallied and rebuilt this pivotal piece of their history each time.
The current iteration of the castle offers travelers a museum, historically furnished rooms, the remnants of the Rheinböller ironworks, and something else… something rather special for this list.
For you see, Reichenstein Castle isn’t just an ancient structure with a wild history and amazing river views. It’s also a restaurant, bar, and updated hotel with luxurious amenities.
Yep, you can book a night at this UNESCO World Heritage Site! For many travelers, this is the pinnacle of their vacation experience. You can enjoy fine dining, experience castle living, and take all the time you want touring the museum.
See Related: Best Castle Hotels in Germany
Next up, Klobenz! A lot of experiences are packed into this relatively small city. Wherever you are, you’re only a short walk away from lovely historic churches, shopping malls, and more. Hop on a tour to learn about the town and area.
Its best-known landmark is the Deutsches Eck Eck or German Corner. This observation platform overlooks the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. It’s a popular place for selfies and a great place to look around and get your bearings in this busy town.
Another must-see attraction is the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. This towering edifice was commissioned in the 11th century. It was considered utterly impregnable, a national security powerhouse… until the French finally breached it in 1797, a victory that is something of rare occurrence in the annals of war between French and German states.
Ehrenbreitstein Fortress contains multiple museums. If you’re a military or history buff, reserve enough time to take everything in. One quick tip: You can buy a combined ticket for the cable car ride up and fortress entry.
5. Rüdesheim am Rhein
If you, like me, can’t properly explore anywhere without the knowledge that a cool glass of wine is part of the journey, then this stop is for you. After all, you don’t have to tour the Rhine Valley on just your feet. You can also take your tastebuds on a truly epicurean adventure!
Wet and mild weather makes many sections of the Rhine Valley ideal places to grow grapes. Riesling wines are its most famous export, a floral-forward white wine with sweet, fruity notes.
However, other varieties are also grown here. You’ll pass by vineyards clustered along many river areas, but in many ways, Rüdesheim am Rhein is the heart of Germany’s wine country.
Where do you kick off a wine-tasting tour? The Drosselgasse is an alley in town that boasts numerous wineries and tavern gardens, with plenty of pubs and bierhausen thrown in as well.
You can also take your wine tasting to the nearby countryside. Before you head out on your journey, the Rheingau Wine Museum inside Brömserburg Castle merits a stopover.
6. Rheinstein Castle
Address: Burg Rheinstein, 55413 Trechtingshausen, Germany
Here’s one of the most elegant, romantic castles in the Rhine Valley and one of the best castles in Germany. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is perched on a steep hilltop castle that slopes directly down the river. At 270 feet up, you’ll have an excellent view of the area and passing boats.
Rheinstein Castle was destroyed and partially reconstructed several times. It was rebuilt in the 19th century and boasted a working drawbridge and portcullis. Visitors can marvel at the stained glass windows, art displays, antique armor pieces, and medieval weaponry.
However, many people find the real draw here is the great outdoors. One of the gardens on the estate is named after the 500-year-old Burgundy grapevine growing there. Meanwhile, if you’ve fallen in love with the ruggedly hilly landscape, you’ll want to check out the nearby Morgenbachtal Trail Loop.
This 12.6 km trail gives you a bit of everything: river views, challenging climbs, rolling valleys, and dense forests. It’s moderately difficult and takes about 4 hours to complete, so come prepared.
7. Schloss Drachenburg
Address: Drachenfelsstraße 118, 53639 Königswinter, Germany
Many of the castles on this list were built for military functions, primarily guarding strategic parts of the Rhine, such as trade, manufacturing, and population centers. The 19th-century Schloss Drachenburg, on the other hand, was always designed to be a holiday home.
As you approach, you’ll first see delicate turrets poking out over the tree line. Then, the rest of the castle is revealed in its airy, many-windowed glory. It looks like something straight out of a fairytale.
This castle was built for Baron Stephan von Sarter, a banker who built up enough of a fortune that he could buy a patent of nobility, believing that as a member of the nobility, he should have a family castle if no one was going to give him one. So he had Schloss Drachenburg built for him. But von Sarter never actually lived in this fantastical place.
Although this didn’t become the family home, Schloss Drachenburg has lasting appeal in pop culture. TV shows have been filmed here, and it was the inspiration for a castle on the Rhine in the post-Fleming James Bond novel Never Send Flowers.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in Southern Germany
Fünfseenblick refers to the 10.6 km loop trail near Bad Salzig and the trail’s observation tower. The name sounds like a mouthful but means View of Five Lakes.
It’s a bit of an insider joke, as you won’t actually see five lakes. Instead, you get five lake-like views of the Rhine River.
The star of the show is the 27.4-meter-high observation tower. You’ll get an incredible panorama of the area. Take the time to view farmlands and forests, vineyards and villages, rolling hills, and the river. The tower has a restaurant, so you can savor the view while having a bite to eat.
The Fünfseenblick Dream Loop is a 10.6 km trail accessible from the outskirts of Bad Salzig, among other points. I t’s moderately strenuous, and the whole loop may take 3 hours and 15 minutes to walk.
The trail can be steep and has some exposed areas, so you’ll want to check local weather before setting off. However, the spectacular views are worth the effort.
See Related: Best Lakes in Germany to Visit
No list of things to do in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley would be complete without mentioning its most famous (or infamous) feature. The steep Lorelei (sometimes spelled Loreley) rock face lurks on the right bank of the Rhine Gorge. It’s something between a mountain and a cliff, a site of tragedy and inspiration to generations.
Since at least the 10th century, ships have been dashed to pieces on the side of Lorelei. What happened to them? Sure, the rock is located on a steep bend in the river, but frankly, the river has a lot of bends and rocky outcrops.
So, why is this rockface, in particular, so deadly? No one really knows.
Ancient people thought something sinister lurked in the mountain and called to passing boats. In older times, people whispered about dwarves, curses, and the most famous legend: a heartbroken siren who lured sailors to their doom. The name “Lorelei” itself means “murmuring rock.”
Despite this gloomy legend, the Lorelei has also acted as an artistic muse. Heinrich Heine wrote a world-famous poem about this local legend in 1824. In the years since then, others have been inspired to write ballads, symphonies, and novels about the mysterious Lorelei.
See Related: Best Family Vacation Ideas in Germany
10. Boat Tours on the Rhine River
Arguably, the best way to explore the River Rhine is on the River Rhine, and there are a few ways you can achieve this, from exclusive river cruises to kayaks.
For instance, you can hop on a short city Rhine tour from places like Cologne. Quaint towns like Rüdesheim offer rafting tours that take you past quaint waterfront cottages and hamlets along the Rhine. You can have fun, cool off on hot days, and get a different view of famous attractions like Rheinstein Castle.
Certain tours include vineyard visits. Others stop at beaches that offer swimming.
You won’t be fighting for your life with Class IV rapids. However, the laid-back pace of these rafting adventures makes them a great fit for families with smaller kids.
But if you’re thinking of something really laid back, consider taking a Rhine sightseeing cruise that includes lunch or dinner. You could also go all out for a once-in-a-lifetime luxury cruise along the Rhine that lasts several days!
See Related: Best Canal Cruises in Amsterdam
Mannheim is a pedestrian-friendly city that has a special charm that sticks with you. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a feeling that compels you to wander around and explore the city. It’s one of those cities that we just love at ViaTravelers.
The layout of Mannheim is unique and different from other European cities – even German cities. Instead of narrow, winding streets, it’s all about the grid system, similar to New York City. Fun fact: Mannheim is known as the “City of Squares” because of its grid-like structure, which resembles a giant chessboard.
The Marktplatz is the city’s center, featuring the Alte Rathaus, an old church there since 1724, and the Lower Parish Church, a beautiful sight to see. The Mannheim Palace is another highlight, with its stunning Baroque architecture reminiscent of a fairy tale.
But it’s not just the sights that make Mannheim special. The people are friendly and welcoming, and the food is delicious.
12. Hike or bike the Palatinate Forest (Pfälzer Wald)
The Pfälzer Wald, also known as the Palatinate Forest, is an incredible destination for nature lovers. Situated along the Upper Rhine, this highland area boasts one of Germany’s largest forested regions, an impressive 1770 square kilometers.
In keeping with the Rhine Valley’s storybook setting, it’s like stepping into a fairy tale, with picturesque towns like Kaiserslautern and Pirmasens surrounded by the fresh scent of pine and natural beauty as far as the eye can see. The Saar basin to the west and the Rheinplain to the east create a captivating landscape that resembles a rollercoaster ride.
The Pfälzer Wald is home to some remarkable peaks, including the 673-meter-tall Kalmit. Even more impressive is that these peaks are adorned with the ruins of historic castles.
It’s a place where history and nature come together in truly breathtaking fashion. Even if you’re not a history buff, you’ll still be enchanted by the old stones’ charm.
Full Video Travel Guide to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley
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- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.
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