River Cruises in Germany
More than a dozen cruise lines make it easy to tour
Germany and neighboring countries by ship.
ABOVE: A view of Emerald Star from Burg
Landshut, a ruined fortress above Bernkastel and the Moselle River. (See our
Emerald Waterways cruise review,
which includes a day-by-day photo diary of a cruise on the Main-Danube Canal and
the Main, Rhine, and Moselle Rivers.)
More than a dozen cruise lines offer cruises of a week or
longer on the rivers of Germany and neighboring countries. Such cruises are an
increasingly popular alternative to touring on land, since they let travelers
visit cities and towns over a large area without having to sit on a bus or
change hotels every night.
River ships vary in size, depending on the canals and locks they're
designed to traverse, but even the largest carry no more than about 190
passengers (or roughly 5 percent of the passenger load on a typical oceangoing
megaship). On many itineraries, the ships are able to tie up in the middle of
the towns and cities that they visit, making it easy to reach local sightseeing
attractions and shops on foot.
In Germany, the most popular cruising areas are:
The Rhine, which runs from
the Swiss Alps to North Sea. A typical Rhine cruise takes about a week
and goes from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland (or vice versa), with stops at
cities such as Cologne, Düsseldorf, Koblenz, Heidelberg, and the French
city of Strasbourg.
The Moselle (a tributary of
the Rhine) is also popular, often in combination with a Rhine cruise. Towns of
interest include Trier, Rüdesheim, and Cochem in the Moselle winegrowing region.
The Main runs across Germany and is connected
to the Danube (see below) via the Main-Danube Canal. Ports of call typically include
attractive small to medium-sized German cities such as Würzburg, Bamberg, and Nuremberg.
The Danube is the
longest river in Western and Central Europe, running from the Black Forest
to the Black Sea. In Germany, cruises along the Danube and Main-Danube Canal
often begin or end in Nuremberg or Passau, with a stop at the delightful
small medieval city of Regensburg.
(Most Danube cruises include Vienna and Budapest.)
Finally, the Elbe (in
Eastern Germany) is a scenic but little-known river for English-speaking
travelers. A typical cruise between Berlin and Prague might include stops at
Magdeburg, Lutherstadt Wittenberg,
Meissen, and the beautifully-restored Baroque city of
Dresden in Saxony.
How to pick a cruise:
Think about what you want to see and do: Big cities that
you'll have a chance to sample (like goodies on a chef's tasting menu), or
smaller cities and towns where you won't feel rushed? Local sightseeing on foot or by tour bus? Would you prefer
an itinerary that's mostly within Germany, or do you want to visit as many
countries as possible during your time on the river?
Consider ease of access. For example, Amsterdam or Frankfurt
is likely to have more convenient flight connections than Nuremberg or
Passau. (This won't matter so much if you book a cruise-land itinerary: for
example, a cruise from Passau might begin with a land tour from Munich,
which is one of Europe's leading airports)
Do you want a cruise only, or a "cruise tour" (see example
above) with cities and attractions that aren't readily accessible by cruise
ship? The latter can extend your touring possibilities, but it will mean
spending a day or two (or more) traveling by coach.
Would you prefer a cruise that's tailored to
English-speaking passengers, or a cruise that mostly attracts German- or
French-speaking travelers but also caters to English-speaking guests?
For help in making such decisions--and in finding an itinerary
that strikes your fancy--we suggest visiting the cruise lines' Web sites by
clicking on the links below:
Cruise lines for English-speaking passengers:
(see our cruise review)
Grand Circle Cruise Line
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise
Continental cruise lines that also welcome
Lüftner Cruises (Amadeus)
touring Germany on your own and would like to take a day cruise from
a city that you're visiting, check with the tourist office to learn about local
For example, KD
(a.k.a. Köln Düsseldorfer Deutsche Rheinschiffahrt) operates roundtrip
sightseeing trips from Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Frankfurt, plus
point-to-point services on the Rhine and Moselle.
Other examples of local
excursion services include Klinger
in Regensburg and Dresden's
which claims to have the oldest and largest fleet of paddlewheel steamers in the