Cutting deeply into mountains and winding its way through rolling hillsides, dramatic rocky gorges and past pretty Old World villages, the Rhine river is a romantic’s dream. Springing from a lake in the Swiss Alps, it charts a scenic course to the North Sea, lighting up some of Europe’s most captivating sights and customs. Immortalised by Wagner, Byron and Turner, the Rhine riverbanks are dotted with ancient castles and fortresses, award-winning vineyards, riverside cafes and dynamic cities. With beautiful scenery and enriching surprises around every turn, a journey along the Rhine is an unforgettable voyage into the heart of Europe.
Rhine river cruises offer an added attraction each December, when Christmas markets spring up in all the riverside towns. Whether you’re doing a turn on the twinkling ice rink of Heidelberg or browsing the stalls in Strasbourg’s town square with a warming glühwein, our Rhine Christmas cruises are sure to put you in the festive spirit.
Countries: Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, France, Netherlands
Source: The Swiss Alps
Mouth: North Sea
Length: 766 miles
The name 'Rhine' comes from the Celtic 'renos', which means 'raging flow.'
Wagner's epic masterpiece The Ring Cycle (De Ring des Nibelungen) is based around the Rhine, with the first in the four pieces telling the story of the 'Rhinegold' (Das Rheingold). An unprecendented work in size, scope and artistic ambition, Das Rheingold is one continuous piece of music with no interval, lasting two and a half hours. The last in the cycle, 'Twilight of the Gods' (Götterdämmerung) lasts six and a half hours, including two intervals.
The Rhine still has its secrets. In 2007, a 1900-year-old Roman ship was found on the banks in Cologne.
Strasbourg's old town, le Grande Île ("Grand Island"), was given UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1988: the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre.
It is thought that Julius Caesar was the first to build a bridge across the Rhine River, during the Gallic War of 55 BCE.
The Rhine begins life in the Swiss Alps, where the Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein rivers converge. From Reichenau, it courses north and forms a natural border between Switzerland and the mini-country of Liechtenstein, and then Switzerland and Austria. The Rhine then turns west, emptying into pretty Lake Constance, then creates a boundary between Switzerland and Germany. At Basel the river becomes navigable by ship, turning north at the so-called "Rhine knee" to flow alongside the border between France and Germany.
In Germany, between Bonn and Bingen, the Middle Rhine continues its journey through the beautiful Rhine Gorge - a dramatic natural gateway created by geological uplift and erosion. This stretch of the river is known as 'Romantic Rhine', a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing more than 40 castles and fortresses that date back to the Middle Ages.
On leaving Germany, the river heads west and enters The Netherlands, where it join the rivers Meuse and Scheldt to form one of the largest deltas in western Europe. The Rhine is at its widest as it enters The Netherlands, but then splits into three main distributaries and various smaller ones. These minor waterways then flow through the Dutch Lowlands and empty into the North Sea.