One of the joys of a Rhine cruise is the variety of shoreside experiences it offers. You can find yourself exploring the cobbled streets of a sleepy medieval village or taking in the sights of a vibrant city, enjoying a lazy afternoon wine tasting, strolling the banks of a tranquil canal or marvelling at a splendid Baroque palace or spectacularly spooky Gothic cathedral.
Here are just a few of the highlights…
Amsterdam. The city of cyclists, lovely tree-lined canals, offbeat shops and cafes, and fabulous museums and art galleries, Amsterdam has so much to offer that most river cruises starting or ending there allow two days to explore the city. Its most famous sites include Anne Frank’s House, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum, but this great city has more than 50 museums in all and offers many more unusual options. These include the boat-shaped NEMO Science and Technology Museum (a popular choice with kids, as it’s interactive and hands-on) and — for those with more, ahem, esoteric tastes — museums devoted to sex and erotica.
Basel. A good thing to do in Basel is eat. Since it’s situated on Switzerland’s borders with France and Germany, the city’s many restaurants offer a vast range of European dishes. Don’t miss the local delicacy, Basler Leckerli — spiced cookies made with kirsch, nuts and candied fruit. Where to walk it all off? Head for the left bank of the Rhine, and you’ll find top sights like the Cathedral, the MarktPlatz (surrounded by meandering alleys lined with unusual craft shops) and the Rathaus (Town Hall), all pretty close to one another. Don’t miss a stroll around the lovely botanical gardens while you’re at it.
Strasbourg. With its cobbled streets, timbered medieval houses and the gorgeous canal-laced Petite France at the heart of its Old Town, Strasbourg is one of the loveliest and most fascinating cities in France (and that’s some contest). Its top attractions include the Cathedrale de Notre Dame, which dates from 1190 AD and, at 142 meters, is Europe’s tallest medieval building. Look out also for the Rohan Palace, where Marie Antoinette once stayed.
Mainz. The enormous six-towered Cathedral of St. Martin, founded in 975 AD, is one of the world’s finest examples of Romanesque architecture and an absolute must-see. Nearby, just off the Domplatze main square, you’ll find the Gutenberg Museum, which charts the history of printing and contains the famous 15th-century Gutenberg Bible, along with a reproduction of Gutenberg’s original printing-house.
Mainz also boasts a delightfully quaint medieval Old Town just south of the Cathedral, as well as fine Baroque churches, the 14th-century Gothic Church of St. Stephen (which features a beautiful stained glass window created by Marc Chagall) and the remains of a Roman aqueduct.
Cologne. Cologne’s twin-towered Dom is one of Europe’s largest churches, and its towers offer glorious views over the city’s rooftops for those fit enough to climb them. You can recover over one of many local beers sold in the kellers of Cologne’s picturesque Old Town, and then head off to the city’s fabulous chocolate museum to taste another of the city’s specialities. The good folk of Cologne also love to party and hold a spectacular Carnival, known locally as Fastelovend and Fasteleer, which starts at 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, comprises more than 600 events and carries on all winter, through to Ash Wednesday.
Rudesheim. This charming little Rhineland wine town is gateway to the lovely Rhine Gorge, and it’s the place to be around Christmas, when toffee apple-cheeked youngsters ride donkeys around its cobbled streets and its stall-lined squares — twinkling with fairy lights and heady with the fragrance of pine leaves, cinnamon and gluhwein — are simply magical. Don’t forget to try a cockle-warming Rudesheimer coffee, a delicious concoction of whipped cream, sugar and local Asbach brandy. It should come served up in an enormous ceramic mug decorated with scenes from the Rhine (and trust me, it won’t taste as good if it doesn’t).
Adapted from cruisecritic.com