Best Castles and Towns to Explore in the Middle Rhine River Valley
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 cities in the Upper Middle Rhine River Valley.
The Middle Rhine Valley is one of the most popular travel destinations in Western Germany, attracting travellers since the 19th century. That’s mainly due to the fairy tale castles on hill tops, 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 in 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?
- The German Rhine Valley can be explored in several ways. An extensive hiking trail network, the RheinBurgenWeg, interconnects the region’s most precious gems.
- 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.
Find all Rhine castles and cities in a Rhine valley map at the end of the post!
Like it? Pin it!
Language: German. English is widely spoken.
How to get there:
- By airplane to Luxembourg Airport or Köln Airport
- Rent a car to drive from airports of Luxembourg, Köln or Düsseldorf or explore the region without restrictions. Check cheap rental car prices here
- 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
Where to stay in Middle Rhine Valley, Germany
|Where to stay in Koblenz (ideal base to explore the Rhine Valley)|
|Sander Hotel (All new, stylish hotel in the city center)|
|Bacharach, quaint wine village|
|Rhein-Hotel Bacharach ***|
|Kleiner Riesen ***
|GHotel hotel & living Koblenz ****|
|Diehls Hotel ****|
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. 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.
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.
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, 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 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 (see point 2).
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 majorly contribution to our unforgettable evening.
How to get to Koblenz: I recommend to visit by railway.
2. Koblenz Cable Car
Koblenz’ Highlight: Sunset Ride in the Cable Car
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 dismanteled after the show. However the cable car quickly became one of the most popular attractions in Koblenz.
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.
Tickets to the cable car can be purchased here and I can only recommend to take one of your rides at sunset. One way costs 7.20€.
3. Wine Tasting in Koblenz
Gotta taste that wine!
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 at 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 cosiness. 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.
4. Castle Hopping on the Rhine
The romantic Rhine landscape of the Middle Rhine Valley has 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, 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.
Most of the castles were built by princes between the 12th and 14th century 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. Castle hopping is thus one of many top things to do in Rhine valley.
The best Rhine castles 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
- the emblematic Marksburg castle, that has never been destroyed.
5. Visit Stolzenfels Castle
Princess Moments in Stolzenfels Castle
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.
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 back country.
Built in the 19th century on top of medieval ruins, Stolzenfels castle is one of the prettiest castles on the Rhine river 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.
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 building is the bus terminal. Bus line “650 Boppard” to the stop “Stolzenfels-Schlossweg”. The footpath to the castle is signposted.
By boat: daily departures from Koblenz to Stolzenfels and back (travel time approx. 30 minutes)
6. Make a Rhine Cruise
You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to choose 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.
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 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
Oh Hello 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.
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.
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 to start 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 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 to spend 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
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 at 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
Welcome to 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.
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 wine making.
One of these quaint, romantic towns is Boppard. Wine growing centre, 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
View on the Loreley
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.
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 one is by Heinrich Heine.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
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 sooo delicious as well!
10. Hiking the RheinBurgen Trail
Hiking from Oberwesel to St.Goar
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 romantic Rhine castles.
The most prominent hiking trail network is the Rheinburgenweg, a trail passing on the left Rhine river bank through Bingen, Bacharach,, Boppard and Koblenz to Remagen. As the name suggests, romantic castles are sprinkled along the trail.
We decided to hike the fourth leg from Oberwesel towhich 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 to have lunch, or at least an afternoon snack at Maria Ruh restaurant 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 on the Rhine river unveils itself.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.
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? Did you enjoy it? I would love to hear about the things you loved (or loved less) in the comment form.
Map: Best of Rhine River Valley, Germany
Before You Go: Top Tips for your Trip
- You’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. I travel with a FUJI XT2 (mirrorless, takes amazing photos) and Action Camera GoPro HERO5 Session (takes beautiful photos in the most extreme situations, slim & lightweight). All of the cameras are WiFi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!.
- To edit photos and answer mails while traveling, I usually take my Touchscreen 2-in-1 Business Laptop with me.
- When spending a lot of time on the road, I love to wear my trekking sandals.
- 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.