The Most Charming Castles and Cutest Rhine Towns in the Rhine River Valley
Your guide to all the best castles, cruises and cities on the Rhine in Germany.
Who else is a big fan of weekend trips? Please raise your hand!
Even though September has been filled with travels to Cape Verde and Poland, I couldn’t resist a good weekend trip. It’s early autumn and there was still a landmark close to Luxembourg that I have been wanting to explore for a long time: the German Middle Rhine River Valley near Koblenz!
Autumn might be the ideal period to visit as autumn foliage starts to shine in the brightest colors and, last but not least, it’s high season for wine harvesting. Join me on an autumnal quest of the best castles and Rhine valley towns in the Upper Middle Rhine River Valley.
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Why you must visit the Rhine River Valley, Germany!
The Middle Rhine Valley is one of the most popular travel destinations in Western Germany, attracting travelers since the 19th century. That’s mainly due to the fairy tale castles on hilltops, the lush green vineyards, and narrow river banks. These charms have been reflected in many creations of Romanticism like Heinrich Heine’s “Loreley” or in the operas of Richard Wagner.
Thanks to this cultural wealth, viticulture and unique landscape with castles lined along the Rhine river, the region proudly bears the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2002 and became one of the must-see places in Germany.
The Rhine river, being the busiest fluvial trade route in Europe, is divided into the Alpine, High, Upper, Middle, and Lower Rhine. This article will be about the charms of the Middle Rhine flowing between Bingen and Bonn encompassing Koblenz, imaginative castles, and quaint wine villages.
How to explore the Rhine Gorge in Germany?
- Hiking: The German Rhine Valley can be explored in several ways. An extensive hiking trail network, the RheinBurgenWeg, interconnects the region’s most precious gems.
- Public Transport: Almost every village along the Rhine river is connected to the public railway linking Mainz to Koblenz, which makes it very easy to explore the region without owning a car. – Check cheap connections and prices here
- By boat or cruise: Definitely my favorite way to explore the Rhine river and its castles. Almost every village has its own dock. – Buy tickets here
Where to stay in Rhine Valley, Germany: Best towns to stay on the Rhine River in Germany
|Where to stay in Koblenz (ideal base to explore the Rhine Valley)|
|Sander Hotel *** (All new, stylish hotel in the Rhine city center)|
|Bacharach, quaint wine village|
|Rhein-Hotel Bacharach ***|
Hotel am Markt ***
GHOTEL Hotel & living Koblenz ***
Burghotel auf Schönburg
Koblenz (Rhineland Palatinate) is the largest town of the Upper Middle Rhine river and the ideal base to explore the best cities and castles of the Rhine valley. It also happens to be one of my favorite day trips from Luxembourg. However, Koblenz itself definitely deserves more attention than being only the base for castle hopping and day trips to the wine villages.
After being destroyed to 80% during WWII, Koblenz has been fully rebuilt and is attracting more visitors than ever. The Bundesgartenshau, a national garden trade show, gave Koblenz a new upswing: numerous parks have been created and large open, green spaces have been preserved.
The town shows itself at its very best, as a modern, fresh and lively city. Nowadays it is considered one of the top Rhine river cities in Germany. This praise is well deserved as there are many amazing things to do in Koblenz.
That’s also the atmosphere that I could absorb during my visit: countless restaurants, filled terraces (even in early autumn), numerous cultural events and pulsating gatherings along the Rhine river, the town’s vital line.
It is generally considered that the most scenic part of the Rhine river is in between Koblenz and one of several towns along the rhine river. Some say it ends at Bingen, others at St. Goar or Boppard.
The most emblematic sites of Koblenz are the “Deutsches Eck” (German Corner), where the Moselle River flows into the Rhine, and the fortress Ehrenbreitstein.
The origins of the German Corner go back to the Teutonic order which built a fort at the confluence of Moselle and Rhine. The emblematic site hosts an imposing monument to Kaiser Wilhelm, the hero of German unification. It’s definitely the place to take your souvenir photo of Koblenz.
The “Deutsches Eck”, also offers the best view on Koblenz’s most eye-catching sight: the fortress Ehrenbreitstein. Towering at over 118m above the Rhine river, it is the second-largest fortress preserved in Europe and its origins go back to the year 1000. Nowadays the fortress hosts a permanent exhibition and the youth hostel (!).
The best way to reach Ehrenbreitstein is by cable car and have an epic view on Koblenz, one of the largest Rhine river cities in Germany along the Rhine river.
Let’s get to an essential question though:
Where to eat in Koblenz?
You can’t leave the town without having lunch or dinner at the fabulous “Gerhards Genussgesellschaft” (Gerhards’ Society of Enjoyment). I had the most delighting dining experience at this place! Located in the historic building of a former cloister, “Gerhards” serves refined German cuisine with a modern and international touch.
My favorite was definitely the marinated salmon (it was incredibly soft and tender) and the Zen Garden dessert with green tea elements, chocolate, and plum. A big shoutout to the service staff as well: their courtesy and cordiality made a major contribution to our unforgettable evening.
How to get to Koblenz: I recommend visiting by railway. – Get your tickets for the German railway here.
2. Ehrenbreitstein Castle, Koblenz
The cable car of Koblenz is a relatively new attraction that has been built for the occasion of the Bundesgartenschau (the federal horticulture show) and was supposed to be dismantled after the show. However, the cable car quickly became one of the most popular attractions in Koblenz, one of the largest Rhine river cities in Germany.
Did you know that the cable car of Koblenz has the highest passenger capacity in the world? It can transport up to 7600 people per hour!
A ride with the cable car of Koblenz takes you above the Rhine river to the Ehrenbreitstein fortress. You’ll enjoy breathtaking views over the entire town and the German Corner. It’s easy to understand why this region received the UNESCO World Heritage label and is one of the most touristy German cities on the Rhine river.
This isn’t quite my favorite Rhine Gorge, Germany castle, but I still love it and recommend you visit!
Tickets to the cable car can be purchased here and I can only recommend taking one of your rides at sunset. One way costs 7.20€.
3. Ehrenbreitstein: Wine Lovers’ Heaven
This is a real hidden gem of Koblenz. According to our guide, the winery Weingut Göhlen is even relatively unknown to most locals. After crossing the river to Ehrenbreitstein neighborhood, you follow Obertal and Mühlental road.
Even though it’s located only 10 minutes from the city center of Koblenz, the Weingut Göhlen is a real oasis of peace where you can enjoy a glass of wine during warm summer nights on their terrace.
The winery is managed by Mr. and Mrs. Göhlen who created a charming microcosm of wine and German coziness. Upon reservation, they serve a hearty snack and organize guided tours through the vineyard. Mr.Göhlen himself guides you through his wine cellars.
Of course, every tour ends with a mandatory wine tasting.
Make sure to taste the Ehrenbreitstein wine, which is cultivated on only 10 hectares in entire Germany. Weingut Göhlen is just the perfect place to enjoy a charming, cozy evening in Koblenz, one of the most scenic cities on the rhine river in Germany.
4. Go Rhine Castle-Hopping
The romantic Rhine landscape and the Middle Rhine Valley castles have inspired painters, poets and musicians alike. That’s mainly due to the fairytale castles settled along the rivers. There are over 500 castles, ruins, and fortresses aligned along the Moselle and Rhine river together.
Set on steep crags on the Rhine valley Germany, they played an important role in the Middle Ages. Some have been recreated taking full advantage of the legends and spectacular setting of near-vertical vineyards. That means that not every Rhine valley castle dates back to the Middle Ages.
No wonder that the Rhine gorge, Germany castles are considered some of the most scenic ones in Europe.
Most of the castles were built by princes between the 12th and 14th centuries to protect their territory and mineral holdings. In the 13th century, they shifted their business model and started collecting tolls from the ships so that they could cross “their territory” (often delimited by a simple rope).
The castles differ a lot: some of them are just shells, ruins while others have been fully rebuilt, with fancy turrets and imposing donjons looking like straight from a Disney movie. Exploring middle Rhine castles by castle hopping is thus one of many top things to do in Rhine valley.
The best Rhine castles, Germany are, in my opinion:
- Burg Maus (Castle Mouse) and its counterpart Burg Katz Castle (Cat Castle) in Sankt Goarshausen
- the Pfalzgrafenstein Castle built on an island
- the imposing Burg Rheinfels castle in St.Goar
- the emblematic Marksburg castle, that has never been destroyed.
There are many German castles on Rhine river, thus I highly recommend preparing a list with the ones you are planning to visit. Or, consider a Rhine castle tour!
Burg Maus (Castle Mouse) and Burg Katz Castle (Cat Castle)
Burg Maus and Burg Katz are some of the most beautiful castles along Rhine River. Both are closed to the public, but Burg Maus can be accessed for prearranged private tours.
If you look at a Rhine River castles map, you will notice that these castles that are situated on opposing ends of Sankt Goarshausen, one of the towns along the Rhine River.
This is because they are rival castles. Supposedly during construction of Burg Maus, the Counts of Katzenelnbogen called it a mouse that could be devoured by a cat. When it was complete, they built Katz Burg.
Built in the early 14th century, Pfalzgrafenstein Castle was originally a toll collection station for ships passing down the Rhine river valley, Germany.
Today it is a museum, known as “The Pfalz”, with access via a public ferry from the nearby town of Kaub. However, visitors should be warned that electricity has not yet reached this boat-shaped island fortress. In a rare turn of events, during its time as a defensive position, it was never irreparably damaged or conquered.
Pfalzgrafenstein Castle’s bright colour scheme comes from the fact that it has been restored to how it would have looked during the Baroque period.
Burg Rheinfels Castle in St. Goar
Burg Rheinfels is the largest of the Rhine river Germany castles. Even so, historically it used to be around five times larger than it is now.
During periods of conflict, Burg Rheinfels could hold up to 4,500 people while being besieged. Sadly, it was deliberately ruined by French Revolutionary Army troops at the end of the 18th century, after five hundred years of operation.
Contrary to its original purpose, the castle now contains a relaxation and wellness centre, and a luxury hotel.
One of the older German castles on the Rhine, Marksburg Castle was originally a keep built by the powerful Eppstein family in 1100.
While spending the centuries defending the region, it managed to avoid being destroyed and never fell into disrepair. Unfortunately, this streak was ended in 1945, when it was badly damaged by American artillery from across the river.
In the 1800s, the French emperor Napoleon gave Marksburg Castle to his ally the Duke of Nassau, who used the complex as a prison and home for disabled soldiers.
Today, this Rhine Gorge Germany castle is one of the principal sites of the Rhine Gorge UNESCO world heritage group.
5. Visit Stolzenfels Castle on the Rhine
After spotting so many castles from the river’s perspective, I was anxious to visit one from the inside! I couldn’t have been more fortunate and visited Stolzenfels Castle, probably the epitome of the romantic Rhine, Germany.
Located at only 10 minutes by car from the city center of Koblenz, Schloss Stolzenfels towers on the left river bank and offers dramatic views on the Rhine and backcountry. Nowadays it is considered one of the best castles on the Rhine.
Built during the 19th century on top of medieval ruins, Stolzenfels castle is one of the prettiest castles on the Rhine river Germany thanks to its park, artwork and fanciful, majestic exterior. Prussian Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm rebuilt the castle in a Gothic Revival style and it opened again in 1842. The prince even opened up the castle to foreign visitors, something very unusual at that time.
The setting of Stolzenfels castle is absolutely enchanting: the pergola garden reminded me of Andalusian palaces and the castle chapel’s towers in front of the Rhine create a magical postcard motive.
Stolzenberg castle on the Rhine is considered one of the top castles on the Rhine cruise.
Opening hours vary with the seasons and tickets cost ~5€. You can reach the castle by foot from Stolzenfels village.
How to get to Burg Stolzenfels:
By bus/rail: Train station Koblenz Hbf. In front of the station, the building is the bus terminal. Bus line “650 Boppard” to the stop “Stolzenfels-Schlossweg”. The footpath to the castle is signposted. – Check Railway Prices here
By boat: The Köln-Düsseldorfer Rheinschiffahrtdaily departures from Koblenz to Stolzenfels and back (travel time approx. 30 minutes). – Buy tickets here
6. Oberwesel Village with a Rhine River Cruise
There are many options for Rhine River Day Cruises in Germany. One of my favorite ones goes to Oberwesel, one of the cutest Rhine towns in the Rhine river valley.
I recommend taking a river cruise on the Rhine or the ferry boat which interconnects Rhine villages for castle hopping or exploring several villages… It allows you to spot a large number of Rhine castles in Germany.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing your Rhine river cruise. Large operators like Avalon or Viking sail up (and down) from Amsterdam to Basel, Strasbourg…
The journey can take anywhere between 1-2 weeks with (luxury) accommodation on the boat. A great way to live and breathe the magic of the Romantic Rhine.
When it comes to ferries on the Rhine river, the Köln-Düsseldorfer Rheinschiffahrt, better known as KD, runs cruises and scheduled services up and down the river between Cologne and Mainz. – Buy here your KD boat pass
I took the KD ferry from Boppard to Bacharach (2h30 ride) and was mesmerized by the variety and quantity of castles. If you want to visit the castles’ interiors, you always need to be aware of whether your castle is located on the left or right river bank… Indeed, bridges across the Rhine were scarce!
On top, the ride from Boppard to Bacharach takes you along the legendary Loreley rock.
7. Visit Bacharach
|How to get to Bacharach:|
By train: well connected public railway to Koblenz, Bingen, and Mainz –Check Railway Prices here
By boat: The Köln-Düsseldorfer Rheinschiffahrt (KD) ferry service runs all along the river with a stop in Bacharach. From here you can also reach many other charming wine villages along the Rhine River. – Buy tickets ehre
You will probably get as quickly addicted to the Romantic vibe of wine-growing villages along the Rhine as I did. Well, then visiting only one Rhine village is clearly not enough.
Bacharach reflects the quintessence of the Romantic Rhine: green, steep vineyards, an impressive castle, medieval ruins, timber frame houses, cobblestone streets, a perfectly maintained fortification wall, and friendly people. No wonder that many consider it one of the prettiest Rhine towns in the Rhine river valley.
Like so many towns on the Rhine, Bacharach made its money from the ships passing down the river. In order to absorb the romantic and absolutely relaxing atmosphere, I recommend starting your tour at one of the medieval entrance gates.
Make it to “Altes Haus”, the prettiest and oldest house (1368) in town and stroll on the main street “Koblenzerstrasse” packed with wine terraces. Take “Rosenstrasse” to your left and walk up to the Northern entrance gate.
From here it’s only 5 minutes to reach the “Postenturm”, the best place for panoramic views over the Rhine river in Germany and charming Bacharach village.
I was particularly intrigued by the Gothic ruins of a massive chapel, the Wernerkapelle, which lays on the way to the castle Burg Stahleck. For me, Bacharach village is the best place to enjoy the (wine) Romantic of the Rhine river.
I highly recommend spending at least 1 night in Bacharach, as the atmosphere is almost surreal and sublime in early mornings and at nightfall.
Where to stay in Bacharach, Rhine Valley, Germany
The best place to stay in Bacharach is Rhein-Hotel Bacharach.
The hotel is family-run since 3 generations and lays on the fortification wall. Not only is the hotel located only 3 minutes from the town center, but the rooms also offer beautiful views over the Rhine river. Mr. Stüber, manager and cook at Rhein-Hotel Bacharach will serve you German cuisine with a modern twist.
Their entire menu is based on the concept of “Slow food” including regional and seasonal products. You can also buy local wines and liquors at Rhine-Hotel Bacharach. It’s definitely the place to stay in Bacharach.
8. Visit Boppard
|How to get to Boppard:|
By train: well connected public railway to Koblenz, Bingen, and Mainz Check Railway Prices here
By boat: The Köln-Düsseldorfer Rheinschiffahrt (KD) ferry service runs all along the Rhine river with a stop in Boppard. – Buy tickets here
A Rhine valley itinerary wouldn’t be complete without wandering in one of its romantic villages. Many of them are nestled under towering fortresses and have a centuries-old tradition of winemaking.
One of these quaint, romantic Rhine towns in the Rhine river valley is Boppard. Winegrowing center, it is home to several prestigious Riesling wines. Viticulture in Boppard goes back to Roman times and with its 75 hectares, one of the largest wine-growing towns in the Middle Rhine and thus one of the best towns on the Rhine river to be visited.
Boppard is the perfect place to enjoy the romantic vibe of a typical Rhine village. I recommend to wander through its narrow streets and enjoy the terraces on the Rhine promenade. I also loved to explore the particularly well-maintained fortification walls.
The main sights of Boppard are the ancient Roman fortress and the Electorial Castle, one of the few castles along the Rhine River that hasn’t been destroyed. Usually, castles were built on hilltops, away from the villages.
9. Lorelei Cliff
|How to get to Lorelei:|
By train: well connected public railway to Koblenz, Bingen, and Mainz. Get out of the train in Oberwesel or St. Goar. – Check Railway Prices here
By boat: The Köln-Düsseldorfer Rheinschiffahrt (KD) ferry service runs all along the Rhine river with stops in St. Goar and Oberwesel. – Buy tickets here
The river bend and its legendary Loreley (or Lorelei) rock are an absolute must when visiting the Middle Rhine River.
Located between the winegrowing villages of St.Goar and Oberwesel, the steep, 194m high slate cliff is the narrowest point of the Rhine river. Shrouded in legends, this place has been depicted in countless paintings, poems, and songs. However, the most famous one is by Heinrich Heine.
The legend says that Loreley, a melancholic mermaid sits on a rock, combing her golden hair. Sailors get easily distracted by her beauty and her mesmerizing song and smash their vessels against the rocks.
Indeed, the place is particularly difficult to be navigated, but there was no ship wreckage during the last decades.
The calming, sheltering counterpart of the hazardous Loreley rock is “Maria Ruh” on the right river bank. There is a restaurant “Loreleyblick Maria Ruh” on top of the hill which provides you a gorgeous view on the river bend and Loreley rock.
Here you’ll definitely find all the Ruh – tranquility – that you might need. Their menu serves typical German, but refined cuisine.
I am not a huge fan of Schnitzel, but luckily my travel mate offered me a few bites…and it was the best Schnitzel I remember! It’s like air!
Their cakes and dessert looked so delicious as well!
10. St. Goar Village via the RheinBurgen Trail
One of my favorite ways to explore a new area is by hiking. Thankfully, the Middle Rhine Valley has a large number of hiking trails that connect wine villages, go up steep vineyard hills or along with romantic Rhine castles of Germany.
The most prominent hiking trail network is the Rheinburgenweg, a trail passing on the left Rhine river bank through Bingen, Bacharach, St. Goar, Boppard, and Koblenz to Remagen. As the name suggests, romantic castles are sprinkled along the trail.
You also get stunning views of all the beautiful Rhine towns in the Rhine river valley along the hiking trail.
We decided to hike the fourth leg from Oberwesel to St. Goar which includes the legendary Loreley rock. The trail takes about 9km or 3-4 hours (depending on how many pictures you take). My favorite part were the parts where you climb up some rocks, all well secured with ropes and giving the trail a little adventurous touch.
Oberwesel, our departing point, was yet another romantic wine village but unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to explore its majestic castle and the well-preserved town center. You’ll pass along the legendary Loreley rock at the half of the trail.
I highly recommend having lunch, or at least an afternoon snack at Loreleyblick Maria Ruh which offers a privileged view on the Loreley rock and river bend.
The rest of the trail takes you through woods which were particularly colorful during October. From time to time, a great view of the Rhine river unveils itself.
St. Goar is your arrival point, which is home to one of the biggest castle ruins on the Rhine, Burg Rheinfels. It is also the perfect place to enjoy a refreshing glass of wine after your hike. From here you can take a ferry and explore further castles on the Rhine river Germany.
Find here the detailed itinerary of the RheinBurgenWeg trail.
As the villages are well inter-connected by railway, you can easily leave your car at the departure and get back by train. Check railway schedules and tickets here.
I hope some of these, admittedly very personal, highlights of my visit to the Middle Rhine River Valley in Germany could convince you to include the region in your travel plans.
Have you been in the Rhine River Valley, Germany? What Rhine towns in the Rhine river valley do you recommend? I would love to hear about the things you loved (or loved less) in the comment form.
General Info about the German Rhine River Valley
- By airplane to Luxembourg Airport or Köln Airport
- Rent a car to drive from airports of Luxembourg, Köln or Düsseldorf or explore German cities on the Rhine river without restrictions.
- Public Transport: By train. Wine villages are well connected to public transport on the train line: Mainz -Bingen – Koblenz. Check cheap connections and prices here
Rhine Valley and Rhine River Castles Map
Before You Go: Top Tips for your Trip
- You’ll snap tons of photos and I love to take my GoPro in order to shoot even in extreme situations.
- Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and hiking sandals when traveling to warm countries.
- While you’re finding all the best German cities on the Rhine river, you’ll want the best hiking gear!
- Sunscreen is key! I always take with me my eco-friendly sunscreen by Thinksport.
- I always carry a light rain jacket, just in case.
- Travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected against all odds with World Nomads.
In order to get more information on tourism in Rhine River Valley, Germany, I recommend the site of the Romantic Rhine Tourism.
Disclaimer: I have been a guest of Romantischer Rhein Touristik. All my opinions, as always, are my own. This post contains affiliate links. In case you purchase one of the items, I’ll receive a small commission. The price remains the same for you.