The Rhine River winds through Germany amid a fertile valley of villages, castles, mountains and vineyards. The Rhine has been an important trade route for the last two millennia, and the towns that have sprung up along its banks exhibit all the tradition and charm of that rich history, making it a popular region for tourism and a really exciting area to explore.
The Rhineland © Wolfgang Staudt
Each section of the Rhineland has its own attractions, including the winelands of Rheinhessen, the hiking trails of Westerwald, the mineral springs of Ahr, and the historic Roman and Celtic settlements of Hunsruck. The region is full of fairy-tales and mythology, and has inspired tales like Wagner's epic Ring Cycle, wherein Siegfried kills the dragon and Brunhild plots revenge. The Rhineland has also been immortalised in stories by Lord Byron, Goethe and Mark Twain.
Today you can visit bustling small towns along the river, including Mainz, Trier, Koblenz, Neustadt an der Weinstrasse and Worms. Larger cities like Cologne, Bonn and Düsseldorf are attracting business to their growing metropolises and offer more cosmopolitan shopping and dining options. The variety of experiences makes the Rhineland a perfect holiday destination for just about anyone, and one of the best ways to explore is by cruising down the river itself.
Bonn © Matthias Zepper
BonnBonn is dominated by the Rheinische Friedrich Wilhem University, with a student population of about 25,000. The city has several beautiful churches, including the Kreuzbergkirche, Doppelkirche, and Das Bonner Münster Basilica, and other interesting buildings ranging from medieval to modern. Bonn also has many museums, including art museums, history museums, and a zoological museum. On nice days, visitors can enjoy spending a few hours in the Arboretum or Botanical Garden, or any of the other pleasant parks in Bonn. There is also an extinct volcano to climb on the border with Wachtberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. The city is small enough to explore on foot, but there is an excellent public transport system. Despite these pleasant and worthwhile attractions, Bonn is most widely known as the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, and there are many attractions in Bonn relating to the famous composer. The Beethoven House, located at Bonngasse 20 in the house he was born in, has the world's largest collection of Beethoven artefacts and memorabilia, including several of his pianos and a collection of busts. Nearby is the chamber music hall (Kammermusiksaal), where there are regular performances of Beethoven's works.
Stained glass at St Stephen's Church © Der Wilde Bernd
MainzThe capital of the Rhineland, Mainz is a bustling city with a curious but exciting mixture of medieval architecture and gleaming office blocks. The city is over 2,000 years old and mixes the old and the new with alacrity. The Dom und Diözesanmuseum dominates the skyline in the centre of town, and St Stephen's Church, with its original Chagall stained-glass windows, is a popular attraction in the Old Town, as is the Schillerplatz square. The Kaiserstraße boasts an attractive pedestrian boulevard and church. The city is compact enough to enjoy walking tours around town or along the Rhine. Mainz is also the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press, making books a popular souvenir from the city. The museum dedicated to Gutenberg is a highlight if you are interested in the revolution sparked by the printed word. The museum includes a working replica of Gutenberg's printing press and is housed in a beautiful old building. Mainz is close enough to Frankfurt for a quick day trip and one only needs a few hours to stroll around the historic Old Town and enjoy one of the city's great restaurants or cafes. Equally, Mainz could occupy travellers for a whole holiday.
Basilica of Constantine © Christian Reimer
TrierTourists are drawn to the German city of Trier for a taste of ancient Rome. Trier is 120 miles (193km) southwest of Frankfurt and was founded as a colonial capital under Roman Emperor Augustus in 16 BC, making it Germany's oldest city. The city became an important political and cultural centre, and many Roman buildings and monuments remain to be explored by visitors. In fact, the city has at least five UNESCO World Heritage Sites: St Peter's Cathedral, a remarkable 11th-century church holding several significant tombs; The Black Gate (Porta Nigra), the only remaining ancient gate into the city, which dates back to about 180 AD; The Imperial Roman Baths, 2,000-year-old ruins of a bath complex once frequented by Constantine; the Church of Our Lady, another beautiful old church adjacent to the cathedral; and the Amphitheatre, an enormous ruin dating back to the 2nd century. The Hauptmarkt, or central square, has great markets and is especially jolly over the Christmas season when it hosts one of Germany's famous Christmas markets. Trier is also a good starting point for trips into the Mosel Valley, Germany's main wine-producing region and a good area to explore if you want to visit vineyards and wine cellars. Another popular excursion from the city is a cruise on the scenic Mosel River.