This past Christmas season, my husband and I explored some of the best cities on the Rhine River with AmaWaterways. Our ship, the AmaMora, sailed from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands on an 8-day cruise. We visited everything from delightful small towns to bustling big cities.
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The Rhine River winds its way from Switzerland to the Netherlands, and there are many river boat tours that make their way along the route. Sailing on the river is a lovely way to see medieval towns and historic buildings from the comfort of a single accommodation.
If you are looking for a cruise that travels through the Rhine Gorge, visits charming towns, and shows you all the joys of river cruising, then an AmaWaterways Rhine River Cruise is for you.
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Best Cities on the Rhine River Cruise You Won’t Want to Miss
Whether your journey begins or ends in Basel, be sure to spend some time exploring the 3rd-largest city in Switzerland. Basel is known for its museums and architecture and as a starting point for many Rhine cruises.
While in Basel you can visit the Kunstmuseum Basel (the city’s art museum), take a city walking tour, or go shopping.
We enjoyed fondue dogs and rösti at Basel’s Christmas market in Barfüsserplatz. There are several markets throughout the city, so plan to explore them all if you have time.
Our European river cruise began in Basel, but on the first day, we took a bus to the Swiss city of Lucerne (which isn’t on the Rhine River). We spent our day trip to Lucerne walking around the old town, learning about the city’s history, and exploring the local Christmas markets.
The town occupies an idyllic spot on the shores of Lake Lucerne and is surrounded by the Swiss Alps, including Mount Pilatus, which is just under 7,000 feet tall. If you have time, you can ride the cogwheel train or cable car to the top for epic views.
We didn’t have time, so we explored the Dying Lion Monument (a stone lion carved into the side of a rock to honor Swiss mercenaries killed in the 18th century), walked on the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke – which is featured in just about every photo of Lucerne), and admired the architecture of the Old Town. There were several Christmas markets throughout town that we enjoyed.
We would recommend a traditional Swiss lunch at Restaurant Fritschi before returning to the ship.
Strasbourg is located on the border of France and Germany and is one of my favorite cities in the Alsace region. It’s home to the European Parliament and the famous Parc de l’Orangerie. The day we visited with AmaWaterways it was snowing, and it seemed straight out of a fairy tale!
Our first stop was the Strasbourg Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Notre Dame. This impressive Gothic structure dates to the 15th century.
Inside you will find stunning stained glass windows, a massive organ, and an astronomical clock that dates to the Renaissance period. For panoramic city views, head up to the platform. (Note: this may be closed due to inclement weather).
Afterward, we strolled through La Petite France, a neighborhood known for its charming half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, and local shops and cafés. We shopped at some of the local Christmas markets and grabbed delicious treats – bredele and mulled wine (highly recommend)!
Part of Strasbourg’s charm is found in wandering through its streets. Allow some time to visit all of the nooks and crannies before returning to the ship. This was one of the best cities on the Rhine River for exploring on our own.
If your cruise offers, be sure to take the evening trip to Gengenbach to see the world’s largest Advent calendar. The charming town sits on the edge of the Black Forest and its advent display is stunning.
I was thrilled to visit Heidelberg, as it rained for two days straight the last time we visited. This time we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day. Technically, Heidelberg isn’t on the Rhine River (it’s on the Neckar), but it was part of our cruise.
Heidelberg is one of the crown jewels of Baden-Württemberg in Germany. The city houses the oldest university in Germany, Heidelberg University, and one of the coolest castles in Europe, Heidelberg Castle.
Our first stop was the castle, an imposing fortress that towers over the city and sits upon Königstuhl Hill. Originally, it was two castles, an upper and a lower, but in 1537 a lightning bolt destroyed the upper castle. Not to worry, this is still a massive complex of red sandstone ruins to explore.
Take time to walk through the castle grounds and former garden, find the Heidelberg Tun (the world’s largest wine barrel), and the pharmacy museum.
If you are exploring on your own, we highly recommend a guided walking tour. Be sure to check out the panoramic views from the observation terraces.
After spending time in the castle, make your to the Old Town (Altstadt). This can be reached by stairs or funicular.
In the charming Altstadt, you can see the famous Old Bridge, meander through Marktplatz, and if you have enough time, make your way to the Philosopher’s Walk (a walking path on the other side of the Neckar River).
We had enough time to enjoy a meal in the city center and walk along the main pedestrian shopping street, Hauptstrasse. Our favorite Christmas market is the one in Karlsplatz.
A stop in Rüdesheim offers a variety of opportunities for exploring this wine-making region.
The town is known for its Rheingauer riesling and Rüdesheimer coffee (made from 3 sugar cubes, coffee, and Asbach Uralt brandy). AmaWaterways had both a wine tasting and coffee tasting the night of our arrival in the city. Wine lovers will enjoy the riesling, but I chose the coffee and was not disappointed!
During the day, my husband and I split up and tried different activities. He chose the gondola ride over the vineyards and a hike. I chose to explore the Christmas markets, wandering along Drosselgasse (the main street) and shopping for souvenirs. It was also an option to visit Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum, but we opted to skip that.
That afternoon, our cruise ship traveled along the stretch of the Rhine known as the Rhine Gorge, Romantic Rhine, or Upper Middle Rhine Valley. This popular destination is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In this area, the banks of the Rhine are dotted with over 40 castles, all in different states of preservation. We saw Burg Rheinstein, Katz Castle, Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, and Klopp Castle to name a few.
In the evening, we visited Lahneck Castle, a 13th century medieval castle overlooking the Rhine and Lahn rivers. This was our favorite excursion on the trip. Visiting a castle at night gives off all sorts of spooky vibes and amazing photo ops.
We had a tour with one of the docents and learned about the castle’s connections to the Knights Templar and Idilia Dubb, a Scottish girl who disappeared in the castle while on a family holiday in 1851.
It’s difficult to miss the city of Cologne, with the Cologne Cathedral dominating the skyline. We arrived in the city on the Saturday before Christmas, and to say it was crowded is an understatement.
We had an amazing city tour and kölsch beer tasting organized by AmaWaterways. Afterward, we spent time exploring the city’s Christmas markets and touring inside the cathedral.
Don’t miss the Heinzels Wintermärchen, dedicated to house elves. It has unique souvenirs, an ice skating rink, and some delicious Christmas market foods.
Cologne is one of the largest cities on the Rhine along with Strasbourg and Rüdesheim. This makes it a great option for shopping.
Amsterdam was the final stop on our river cruise and a perfect place to wrap up our holiday travels. We planned an extra day here after the cruise ended to make the most of our time in the city.
AmaWaterways had arranged for a guided tour that took us through the city and included a stop at a local café. We sampled authentic Dutch apple pie, which honestly does not taste anything like the American version.
At its conclusion, we walked on our own to the Anne Frank House for a tour. **Note: Be sure to make your reservations in advance.**
We spent an extra day exploring Amsterdam, visiting the Van Gogh Museum, and wandering through the Jordaan District.
Unfortunately, the Amsterdam Christmas market scene is not like the German one. There are many holiday decorations throughout the city, but the markets are few and far between. If you plan on souvenir shopping in the markets, we recommend doing so in Germany or France.
Conclusion: Best Cities on the Rhine River
These were some of the best cities on the Rhine River that we saw on our AmaWaterways cruise. If you’re traveling this route during the Christmas season, you are in for a magical experience!