At 1230km (764 miles) long, the Rhine River is second only to the Danube for the title of the longest river in Europe. As for the most romantic, in Germany, nothing beats the Rhine, inspiration for many an epic poem or novel. There are many adorable towns and villages nestled in the twists and turns of the River as it makes its way from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea. Here are 8 of our favorites in Germany.
If timber-framed houses and beautiful churches are what you’re after, then Bacharach is the perfect place to while away an afternoon. Keep an eye out for Altes Haus, a half-timber house dating from 1368, the 12th-century Stahlek Castle, and St Peter’s Church. Climb the Postenturm to get an Instagram-worthy view of the town and then top up your energy reserves with some coffee and cake at one of the many cafés.
The third-largest city in Rhineland is also an important train hub for the area. If you come from Cologne on the slow train, Koblenz is the start of the prettiest stretch of the journey. The city’s name comes from the Latin for ‘merging of rivers,’ which makes sense because this is where the Mosel and the Rhine meet. Look out for the ancient castle Schloss Stolsenfels, Wehrtechnische Studiensammlung, a small military museum, and Romanticism, an interactive museum that explains how important the Rhine is in German literature and culture.
This tiny town (pronounced with a soft ‘ch’) has been going since the Celts were exploring the Moselle a couple of thousand years ago. In addition to the dozens of historical buildings nestled on a bend in the Moselle River, Cochem has the distinct advantage of being right in the middle of white wine country. The steep hills right at the river’s edge made excellent terraces, which in turn make Riesling worth the hike to procure.
10 kilometers (6 miles) south of Cochem, next to the village of Beilstein, you’ll find the ruins of Metternich Castle atop Schlossberg vineyard. The village is known as the Sleeping Beauty of the Rhine, so don’t expect anything to happen faster than 0km speed. The castle terrace is worth having some cake at because it gives you a chance to take in the stunning Mosel loop panorama.
5. Burg Eltz
Technically not a village, but definitely worth a visit. Burg Eltz is probably the best-preserved Medieval castle in all of Germany and is therefore the perfect place to indulge all your knight and damsel fantasies. The castle is unusual in that it’s been in the same family for 33 generations and wasn’t destroyed in the war. Take the train from Cochem to Moselkern and walk through the forest for about an hour to get to the castle, or splurge on a taxi.
If you’re at all familiar with Romantic German literature, songs, or poetry, you’ll know about Lorelei, a steep slate cliff on whose ramparts many a ship were dashed as they tried to make the near 90-degree bend in the river. Every year Piesport puts on a fireworks display for its Loreleyfest the first weekend in July. Also: wine. The 35 vineyards in the area are collectively known as Piesporter Michelsberg, the best of which is Goldtröpfchen (golden droplets).
In addition to being the terminus of the Koblenz-Mainz cute Rhine town train journey, Mainz is where the printing press was invented. As such, the city is obsessed with books. Check out how the first books were made at the Gutenberg Museum or try it out yourself at the Druckladen. Dom St Martin and the Landesmuseum Mainz round out the offerings.
The Gothic village of Kiedrich is in the central Rheingau region between Bingen and Mainz. As you approach the village, you’ll see the tower of Scharfenstein Castle (built in 1215) and the spires of St. Valentine’s Basilica and St. Michael’s Chapel, both from the 15th century. Public tours of the basilica are available immediately after mass. The chapel next door used to be a charnel house, a place where dug-up bones from the cemetery were stored. These days, it houses a chandelier sculpted around a life-sized, two-sided Madonna.