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German river cruises

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Did You Know…?

  • KD German Rhine Line is the world’s oldest river cruise company (1826).
  • The Rhine-Main-Danube Canal creates a water route from the North Sea to the Black Sea.
  • The Danube crosses more countries (10) and more capitals (four) than any other river in the world.
  • Eighty percent of the Rhine’s ship-carrying waters pass through Germany.
  • Trier, on the Moselle, may be Germany’s oldest city, founded by the Romans in 16 B.C.

Germany by water

Rivers provide natural routings for tour itineraries and, in the case of Germany, offer scenic and varied terrains punctuated by historic cities and towns that dot the riverbanks. Several companies operate multiday river cruises seasonally, concentrating on the Danube, Elbe, Moselle and the Rhine, plus the Main (to move between the Danube and Rhine).

Regardless of itinerary, customers can figure on visiting charming villages with well-preserved town centers and one or more cities with important historical attractions and the diversions generally associated with urban areas. In the case of the Elbe, Moselle and Rhine, riverside scenes are further defined by their vineyards — and shore excursions include wine tasting options.

The beautiful and picturesque Upper Middle Rhine Valley (a 40-mile stretch between Bingen and Koblenz) is a popular river cruise segment, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its gorgeous panoramic views, slopes covered with vineyards and a wealth of castles and palaces.

The Rhine is particularly noted for the old and famed cities on its banks: Worms, Mainz, Wiesbaden, Bonn, Cologne and Dusseldorf in Germany, plus Strasbourg on the French side of the river. Major cities on the Elbe are Dresden, Meissen, Wittenberg and Hamburg. The Danube’s most important cities are down river and outside of Germany, but inside Germany, destinations include Ulm, Regensburg and Passau. Frankfurt is on the Main, and Nuremburg is on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal. Finally, Trier, Cochem and Koblenz sit on the Moselle.

River cruise operators take customers up and down Germany’s rivers aboard modern, sleek ships, which offer good food and capacious cabins along with relevant on-board lectures and a wide range of shore excursions at or beyond the river ports.

For alternatives, tourists can experience Germany’s river regions in smaller bites, taking half-day or full-day excursions on riverboats that travel Germany’s waterways. Other choices for cruising the rivers include houseboat living plus, uniquely, touring that involves ferries. The designated German Ferries Route encompasses points in the country’s north.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Choose a Rhine River cruise shore excursion that includes smoked beer tasting. Smoked beer is an acquired taste.
  • Also, on Rhine cruises, consider the Audi factory tour when it is offered at Regensburg.
  • Plan a “cruise” of a unique sort, taking any of 17 ferries that comprise the 155-mile German Ferries Route, effectively a waterside museum in northern Germany that takes travelers via fords and ferries, bridges and tunnels from Bremervorde on the Oste River, following the Oste, then on to the Elbe estuary and Kiel Canal to the Kiel Fjord.
  • Rent a houseboat to sightsee on the Elbe, Oste, Rhine or Weser River for a personalized approach to seeing life on and around a German waterway.
  • At Nuremberg, on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, choose an itinerary that is focused on World War II.
  • Spend a few days discovering the hot spots in Berlin in advance of embarking at Magdeburg for your Elbe River cruise.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Book a river cruise centered on the Moselle River, and enjoy its medieval castles and 21st century wines in equal measure.
  • Traverse the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, and marvel at the engineering feat that links the Main River (a Rhine tributary) to the Danube.
  • Choose an evening riverboat trip to see the Rhine in Flames, a program offering fireworks displays that light up the river and local castles on a series of nights each summer.
  • Take a daytime boat trip on the Moselle River departing from Cochem. Travel through the lock at Fankel for an afternoon at Beilstein. Or make this an evening dinner cruise.
  • During excursions from a Danube River cruise, visit Germany’s oldest restaurant, the Alte Wurstkuche, in Regensburg, and hear a concert played on Europe’s largest church organ, the 17,000-pipe instrument in Passau’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
  • On an Elbe River cruise, take advantage of sightseeing (and shopping) options in Meissen and Dresden.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Sign up for wine tasting, in Durnstein or Kitzingen or Rudesheim or in a number of other places, depending on your cruise itinerary.
  • Disembark from your Rhine River cruise for a walking tour of Riquewihr on the French side of the Rhine. It is deemed one of France’s most beautiful villages because it is so well preserved.
  • Time your river cruise in order to pass through riverside towns and cities when Christmas markets are in full swing.
  • Take the classic riverboat trip on the Rhine between Bingen and Koblenz to see famed picture-perfect castles, cliffs and vineyards. Or, choose alternate departure or disembarkation points for seeing the Lorelei Rock and other picturesque scenes on the Rhine.
  • From your Rhine River cruise, book an excursion to Heidelberg. Similarly, from the Rhine, tour the stunning Cologne Cathedral, then shop for perfume.
  • At Passau on the Danube, enjoy an evening riverboat trip, with music and dance.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the German National Tourist Office at