One of Europe’s most legendary rivers, the Rhine meanders through a storied landscape dotted with castles, vineyards, and medieval towns. On an 8-day cruise, journey to four countries linked by this fabled waterway, discovering their intertwined histories and cultures. Set out from Switzerland to encounter Strasbourg’s charming half-timbered houses, glide along Amsterdam’s iconic canals in the Netherlands, and marvel at Germany’s magnificent castles and cathedrals from Heidelberg to Cologne. Pass through the dramatic Rhine Gorge—a UNESCO World Heritage site of stunning natural beauty—and take in panoramic views while biking along the river.
Arrive in either Zürich or Basel, Switzerland, and transfer to the ship this afternoon. At this evening’s welcome reception, raise your glass to the journey ahead as we set sail on the Rhine.
Scenic Jewel, Crystal, or Opal
This morning, venture ashore at Strasbourg, the capital of France’s wine-growing Alsace region. Our exploration begins with a tour of the canal-laced La Petite France district, where artisans lived and worked during the Middle Ages. Then stroll through the Old Town, designated a World Heritage site for its wealth of architectural gems, including half-timbered houses, Alsatian winstubs (taverns), and Strasbourg’s Gothic Cathédrale Notre-Dame. Alternatively, journey to the village of Mittelbergheim and sample some of the distinctive wines for which the Alsace region is known. Or opt to go hiking in the dense woodlands of Germany’s Black Forest region, which is believed to have inspired the Brothers Grimm when they were researching and writing their famous fairy tales.
Home to the oldest university in Germany, Heidelberg also boasts a rich literary history. Join a local guide on a tour of this delightful city, which inspired 19th-century German Romantics as well as Mark Twain, who recorded his observations of the city in A Tramp Abroad. Stroll through the Altstadt, or Old Town, and visit Heidelberg’s sandstone castle—a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. Or take a funicular up the hill, enjoying spectacular views as you hike back down to town. Alternatively, embark on an excursion to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Grube Messel, a fossil site that was featured in a February 2000 National Geographic magazine story. “Ida,” the most perfectly preserved primate fossil in the world, was discovered here in 1983 and later analyzed by National Geographic Emerging Explorer Jorn Hurum and his team in 2009. This evening, enjoy a private concert at a baroque palace.
Arrive in Rüdesheim and board the Winzerexpress mini-train. At Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Cabinet, peruse a large collection of mechanical musical instruments, which includes a vast array of music boxes. Then ride a cable car high above the city to the Niederwald Monument, built between 1877 and 1883 to commemorate the unification of Germany. Alternatively, go hiking through the vineyards of Rüdesheim, enjoying picturesque views. This afternoon, our ship continues to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, often called the Rhine Gorge. This 40-mile stretch of river flows past medieval towns, castles, and vineyards, and has been designated a World Heritage site for its historical importance and natural beauty. Later, arrive in Koblenz.
Spend the day exploring Koblenz, an ancient Roman city that straddles two of Europe’s most beautiful rivers—the Rhine and Moselle. Discover the highlights of the Old Town, including the 13th-century Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) and the 18th-century Rathaus (town hall), which was formerly a Jesuit college. Or venture to Cochem, a medieval gem situated on the banks of the Moselle. Discover this fairy-tale city on a guided tour that includes a visit to the 1,000-year-old Reichsburg Castle, which presides over the valley from a hilltop perch. Alternatively, you may opt to visit a winery or go biking along the river.
The largest city on the Rhine, Cologne boasts an intriguing blend of ancient and modern architecture. Here, amid the cobblestoned streets of the Old Town, Roman ruins mix with Romanesque churches and contemporary museums. Enjoy a scenic ride on Germany’s oldest cog railway and discover Schloss Drachenburg, or Dragon Castle, which overlooks the Rhine Valley. Or stroll through Cologne’s historic quarter and get up close to the filigreed twin towers of its Gothic cathedral—one of Germany’s most famous landmarks. Alternatively, visit the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, located in the valley where the bones of an Ice Age human—a Neanderthal—were recovered for the first time.
Known as the “Venice of the North,” Amsterdam is a vibrant city with an arts scene that has flourished since the Middle Ages. Cruise through the city’s picturesque canals, which form a ring of waterways that has collectively been designated a World Heritage site. You may instead choose to go biking on the outskirts of the city, or take a guided visit to the renowned Rijksmuseum to examine masterpieces including Rembrandt’s Night Watch. National Geographic’s book The 10 Best of Everything ranks the Rijksmuseum among the top 10 museums in the world. Alternatively, discover the fishing village of Volendam, with its unusual raised homes and quaint wooden church. Then head to charming Edam and sample some of the round cheese for which the village famous.
After breakfast, disembark and transfer to the airport for your flight home.
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