The Rhine and Danube River systems are the most traveled in Europe. Deciding on which river to explore is a tough decision as they flow in different directions through two completely different regions.
The Rhine begins in the mountains of Switzerland, touches Austria and Leichtenstein on its way to Basel, where it becomes river cruise compatible. From their, it forms the border between France and Germany for a while, then swings northward through the heart of Germany and finally ends up split into several smaller rivers in the Netherlands.
The Rhine carries the most traffic of any other major river.
The Danube (Donau) is the second longest river in Europe; only the Volga is longer. It rises in Germany’s Black Forest near Ulm and flows eastward to the Black Sea, passing along or through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova.
The tributaries of these 2 rivers make this river system the most traveled in Europe. The Rhine has the Mosel, Main, and Neckar; the Danube tributaries include the Drave, Tisza and Sava.
The river cruises on these waters generally last a week or more. Rhine cruises are shorter, as the distance covered is shorter, and there are also 2 and 3 day taster cruises based in Strasbourg offered by CroisiEurope. They go down the river through the most scenic areas and then return.
Other Rhine river cruises detour briefly into the Mosel, Neckar, or Main, all of which are worthy of their own separate cruise.
The lure of ancient castles is part of the Rhine’s appeal. Including several along the French border, the area between Rudeshiem and Koblenz is heavily infested with former castles, now ruins or sometimes hotels or just plain tourist attractions.
Back in the old days each castle guarded a small section of the river and collected tolls to pass by. If you didn’t pay, it often meant several uncomfortable nights (weeks?) in a dungeon or jail.
A map locating each of these castles is found at Roll International.
A sharp turn at Koblenz onto and down the Mosel will bring you to Trier, which is one of my favorite small cities. More Roman ruins there than you can ever imagine, including a basilica and intact city gate, the Porta Nigra. Another turn at Wiesbaden will bring you to Frankfurt, while yet another turn at Mannheim takes you to Heidelberg on the Neckar.
The Rhine, notwithstanding castles, offers a look at many of Germany’s major cities. Depending upon the cruise, each stop at one city or the other will offer a chance to explore.
How To Germany is an entire web site dedicated to information on Germany, from river cruises to maternity matters, jobs, to living in Germany to education. And beyond. Pretty much covers everything.
Travels Through Germany is full of info about various river cruises and other tidbits of traveling through Germany.
The Danube (Donau) is the second longest river in Europe; only the Volga is longer. It offers serious river cruises as it rises in Germany’s Black Forest near Ulm and flows eastward to the Black Sea, passing along or through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova.
Of the two rivers, river cruising on the Rhine is probably the most picturesque and it offers more interesting cities to visit. The Danube, however, is no slouch in scenic beauty and adds some spectacular vistas that previously were unattainable due to the political situation.
Some of the many interesting cities on the Danube include Nuremberg, (actually on the Main-Danube Canal), Passau, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Novi Sad, Belgrade, Izmail (Ukraine), where most of the river cruises end their journey.
The eastern reaches of the river are more rural in nature, with more small villages than large cities. If the river cruise continues on to the Black Sea (Constanta, or Sulina Romania) It’s theoretically possible to transfer ships and continue on a Danube river cruise through the Black Sea and ending up in the Greek isles – or Spain.
In addition, within the area spanned by these two major rivers, in regions some may consider off the beaten path, there are also several other smaller rivers that provide stunning scenic views and interesting city stops.
Not to be forgotten is the Elbe, which flows from the Czech Republic to Hamburg. It passes through some pretty rugged territory before it hits the German border. Most Elbe river cruises start with a short bus ride from Prague to the river.
The Elbe also has short cruises originating in Dresden, which should be a mandatory stop. These cruises, which can last an hour or an entire day, travel downriver to the outskirts of Dresden or upstream into the Czech Republic. Usually, the day tours provide a bus ride back to Dresden.
Canals connect the Elbe to Berlin, although most boats will dock in Potsdam, on the Berlin outskirts.
One river cruise typically overlooked is on the Vistula, in Poland. This is an area that is not over-run with tourists, but has a wealth of castles and natural beauty. Much of the time on these tours may be through canals or on a bus. It’s a fascinating and still undeveloped area for river cruises with much to offer.
The Peter Deilmann Company offers cruises up the Oder River from Potsdam through Poland. While you’re in Poland, Gdansk and Warsaw must be on any itinerary.
If you’re going on the Danube or Vistula, remember that a visa will be necessary.
To find out more about the terrain and cities on any cruise, I suggest a trip to Google Maps to find out more about any area. Simply type in the address, including the city and country and you will be able to zoom in on most areas on the earth. Choose satellite, map, or terrain and move around with the directional button in the upper left.
With practice you will be able to follow the entire course of a river or road. Pictures, street views or videos are often available, as well. While you’re there, check out your own home address. For more fun of discovery, I also suggest downloading Google Earth and traveling from the comfort of home.
Whether going on a virtual cruise or one in reality, a vacation on the Rhine, Danube, Elbe, Vistula or anything in between is sure to provide for a memorable and educational experience.