The Rhine River

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.

Save up to £865pp on selected 2019 Rhine cruises when you book before 30 November - see below.

Highlights of the Rhine river

  • Basel
    • This pretty Swiss town is the first navigable point of the Rhine where Switzerland, Germany and France converge. Perhaps because of this, Basel is rich in history and charm, with world-famous choirs, theatres and museums. Its atmospheric Gothic cathedral houses the tomb of 16th-century scholar Erasmus.
  • Strasbourg
    • The capital of the Alsace region, Strasbourg is a cosmopolitan hub that is known for its excellent wines. Take a stroll along the cobblestone streets, which are lined with medieval buildings, and admire the winding canals of La Petite France in the heart of Strasbourg's Old Town.
  • Rüdesheim
    • A pretty little Rhine Valley wine town, Rüdesheim is a riverside village with an unusual attraction: Siegfried's Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum, with its phenomenal collection of self-playing instruments. Be sure to enjoy a warming liqueur coffee at the cafe nearby cafe afterwards.
  • Rhine Gorge and Lorelei Rock
    • Sail through the UNESCO-listed Rhine Gorge, a beautiful stretch of water that is sprinkled with medieval castles, award-winning vineyards and crumbling fortresses. Pass the legendary Lorelei Rock where a heartbroken nymph was said to have lured sailors to their deaths.
  • Cologne
    • Cologne is the capital of the Rhineland and is known for its tradition of perfumery, its magnificent twin-steepled cathedral - which took 600 years to build - and its chocolate museum, where you explore the history and craftsmanship of this food of the gods.

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Save up to £865pp on Active Discovery on the Rhine

We travel to see new things, try new things, and experience new cultures. So it only makes sense to set sail on a river cruise that’s just as far from the ordinary.

Our new Active Discovery on the Rhine river cruises offer a deeper immersion in each destination. Walk through the glassy corridors of an ancient volcanic mine, discover the art of chocolate-making or perfect your brushstrokes in a local art studio - the discovery is up to you.

Book your 2019 Active Discovery cruise by 30 November 2018, and you can save up to £865pp (prices shown already include saving). 

Active Discovery on the Rhine

Amsterdam to Mainz

Learn the art of chocolate-making in Cologne, participate in a Roman Games re-enactment in Xanten and enjoy a guided walk through the vineyards near Eltville on our Active Discovery cruise on the Rhine.

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Active Discovery on the Rhine

Mainz to Amsterdam

Explore Germany and Holland with Active Discovery experiences to inspire, enlighten and move you to new heights and horizons, and meaningful milestones along the way

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Rhine River cruises

Christmastime in Alsace & Germany - Basel to Frankfurt

from £1,980 per person

  • 4 days
  • Price based on 30 Nov 19
  • 3 dates available

This Christmas river cruise begins in Switzerland and takes you down the Rhine River to France and Germany, with beautiful passing landscapes and quaint villages festively lit and decorated—a unique and unforgettable way to celebrate the season! Board your ship in Basel, Switzerland, then stop in Breisach, considered the gateway to Germany’s Black Forest. An area of unrivaled natural beauty, best known for Black Forest ham, cherry cake, and the cuckoo clock. There is no better setting than at this time of year when smoke curls from the chimneys of the traditional Black Forest houses. Strasbourg, France, located on the border with Germany, perfectly blends the cultures of both countries. The city is home to one of the oldest and finest Christmas markets in Europe—dating back to the 16th century. Take in the aromas of mulled wine, spice cakes, and biscuits. Bask in the holiday atmosphere as you visit Strasbourg Cathedral, a gothic masterpiece made of red sandstone, and containing ancient murals and fascinating astronomical clock. You’ll go on an excursion to Heidelberg, Germany, to visit the fascinating ruins of Heidelberg Castle, towering magnificently over the city. This time of year, an ice rink can be found at the foot of the castle and the Christmas market is spread over five town squares. Delight in the holiday cheer with Glühwein (hot mulled wine), bratwursts, and other regional delicacies. There’s plenty of time to find just the right Christmas present amongst the array of crafts, Christmas decorations, and gifts before this magical European river cruise ends in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Christmas in the Heart of Germany - Prague to Frankfurt

from £2,524 per person

  • 8 days
  • Price based on 07 Dec 19
  • 3 dates available

This Christmastime river cruise begins in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, and one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Set on the banks of the Vltava River, you will be immersed in holiday spirit as you explore the famous Christmas markets with rows of brightly decorated wooden huts that sell Christmas tree ornaments, wooden toys, and Czech handicrafts. Stand in front of the medieval Astronomical Clock, which amazes as an intricate art piece and visualization of time unlike anything else in the world—and don’t miss the beautifully decorated tree in Old Town. Board your ship in Nuremberg, the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Guided sightseeing shows you its historical treasures, as well as Old Town, illuminated with holiday lights and decorations. There’s plenty of time to visit the Christmas market, one of the most famous in Germany. And be sure to savor some traditional lebkuchen (spicy gingerbread), a specialty of Nuremberg. Next stop is delightful Bamberg, where nativity scenes built by local citizens are exhibited throughout town. Learn about Christmas traditions as you cruise to charming Würzburg, known as the “Pearl of the Romantic Road,” and surrounded by sloping hills covered with vineyards. Walk through the halls of the ornate Bishop’s Residenz—home to the largest ceiling fresco ever painted. Learn how to bake a traditional cookie before arriving at one of the charming small towns with half-timbered houses and narrow streets that are dotted along the Main River. Take a guided walk of one of these picturesque Bavarian villages—sure to be even more appealing lit up with festive lights and decorations. As this unforgettable Europe river cruise ends in Wiesbaden, you will never forget the historical treasures of Germany and magnificent Prague perfectly paired with the sights, sounds, and tastes of the joyous holiday season..

Romantic Rhine - Basel to Amsterdam

Most popular

from £2,567 per person

  • 8 days
  • Price based on 14 Dec 19
  • 35 dates available

One of Europe’s most legendary rivers awaits you on this exciting journey along the Rhine River, which begins in Switzerland and stops in France, Germany, and Holland! Board your vessel in Basel, Switzerland, then head for Breisach, Germany, located at the foot of the Kaiserstuhl Mountain on the French-German border. Here you’ll find the gateway to Germany’s Black Forest, an area of unrivalled natural beauty, best known for Black Forest ham, cherry cake, and the cuckoo clock. Continue your river cruise to Strasbourg, France, where you’ll be amazed by the red-sandstone gothic cathedral with ancient murals and the fascinating astronomical clock. Also, stroll through the lovely La Petite France district with its quaint shops, delightful bistros, and peaceful waterfront promenade. Visit the ruins of Heidelberg’s castle, towering magnificently over the city, and stop in Mainz for a guided walk and a visit to the captivating Gutenberg Museum. Next up is the charming wine town of Rüdesheim, and a visit to the unique Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum to see the impressive collection of historical self-playing instruments. You’ll pass through the dramatic Rhine Gorge - the most beautiful stretch of the Rhine River where ancient castles stand on cliffs 400 feet above the water. Last stop in Germany is Cologne - a 2,000-year-old city known for its gothic architecture and famous twin-spired cathedral. As an exclamation point to this wonderful Rhine river cruise, you’ll spend time in Holland’s popular, modern capital of Amsterdam. There is much to do with the world-famous museums and abundance of restaurants amongst the classic architecture and charming canals. The best way to see the treasures of this 700-year-old city is on a canal cruise along the elegant grachten lined with homes dating back to the city’s “Golden Age.”

Learn more about the Rhine

Fast facts

  • Countries: Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, France, Netherlands

  • Source: The Swiss Alps

  • Mouth: North Sea

  • Length: 766 miles

Did you know? 

  • 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.

Geography

  • 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.

Browse our Rhine cruises

Available cruises: 25

2018
2019
2020

Up to £865pp off Active Discovery cruises offer T&Cs

Savings up to £865pp available on any 2019 Active Discovery cruise booked between 18 September 2018 and 30 November 2018, new bookings only. Savings of £865pp are available on Active Discovery on the Rhine (Mainz to Amsterdam) departing on 11 May 2019. Price shown includes saving. Offer subject to availability.