Rhine Valley Attractions
The Rhine (German Rhein, Celtic Renos, Roman Rhenus, popularly "Vater Rhein", "Father Rhine") is Europe's most important waterway and scenically its most beautiful.
With a total length of 1,320km/820mi, it rises in the eastern Swiss canton of Grisons, where the Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein unite to form the Alpenrhein (Alpine Rhine). It then flows through Lake Constance, goes over the Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen and continues on its way to Basle as the Hochrhein (High Rhine). There it turns north and, as the Oberrhein (Upper Rhine), flows through the Upper Rhine plain. Between Mainz and Bingen it turns west again and then bears northwest through the Rhenish Uplands as the Middle Rhine. Below Bonn it is known as the Lower Rhine. Within the Netherlands it divides into a number of arms which flow separately into the North Sea.The widest stretch of the Rhine is between Mainz and Bingen (between 400m/440yd and 800m/880yd). In its passage through the Rhenish Uplands it narrows to 250m/275yd at the Binger Loch (Bingen Hole) and 90-150m/100-165yd at the Loreley Rock. At Cologne it widens again to around 350m/380yd.The river tends to wander a little and form islands (called "Aue" above Bingen and "Werthe" below) which add variety to the scenery.NavigationNavigation presents the greatest difficulty between Bingen and St Goar on account of the considerable gradient and the narrowness of the channel. The river authorities devote much effort to maintaining the navigability of the river by dredging and the blasting away of dangerous rock faces. The artificially created shipping channel is marked by buoys, beacons and floating booms, and at points where visibility is restricted the traffic upstream and downstream is regulated by warning signs (lights, flags, balls, revolving signs). Navigation on the Rhine, which within German territory is subject to the authority of the Federal Minister of Transport, was internationalized in 1831.RoadsOn both banks of the Middle Rhine there are railroads and roads (on the left bank B 9, the Rheingoldstrasse; on the right bank B 42, the Loreley-Burgenstrasse), which carry heavy traffic.
The Upper Rhine plain, a rift valley some 30-40 km/20-25 mi wide, is bounded on the east by the Black Forest, the Kraichgau and the Odenwald, on the west by the Vosges, the Haardt and the uplands of the northern Palatinate. Its lose soil makes it a fertile fruit- and vine-growing region (Markgräflerland, Kaiserstuhl, Ortenau, Deutsche Weinstrasse, Bergstrasse).In its middle course the Rhine flows between the Rheingau (on right) and Rheinhessen (on left) for some 100 km/60 mi. Both of these areas lie within the western Mainz basin, which forms the northern termination of the trough-like depression of the Upper Rhine plain and, like it, was the result of a rift in Tertiary times. The Rheingau and the Rheinhessen uplands were at one stage submerged by water and were separated from one another only in geologically recent times. How far the water extended at one time is shown by the interesting fossil-rich deposits which can be seen in sand and marl pits at Gau-Algesheim, Sprendlingen, Messel and Weinheim.At Bingen the river, which at Mainz had come up against the wall of the Taunus and made a sharp turn westward, changes its course again and flows through the Rhenish Uplands against the grain of the rock, cutting across the hard quartzites of the Hunsrück and the Taunus. In this resistant rock it is confined to a narrow gorge-like valley. The hills rose slowly from the Tertiary onwards, while the Rhine cut its way in stages into a pre-existing trough, creating a terraced landscape pattern. As a result boulder clay deposited by the Rhine is found at varying altitudes.The passage through the Rhenish Uplands, with its changes of gradient, also creates difficulties of navigation - at the Binger Loch (Bingen Hole), the legendary Loreley Rock and St Goar. In the more open loess basins between these places there is room for prosperous settlements, for the growing of vines and fruit. These variations, together with the castles crowning the steep hills on either side and the islands in the river, produce an ever-changing pattern of scenery.Below Koblenz, where the Mosel flows into the Rhine at Deutsches Eck, the valley opens out into the little Neuwied basin, where there has been a vigorous development of industry. Shortly before the river enters the Lower Rhine plain it passes on the right an outlier of the Westerwald, the distinctively shaped Siebengebirge (Seven Hills), forming a striking landmark at the lower end of the Middle Rhine.The river then enters the Cologne or Lower Rhine lowlands, a gently undulating region. The Lower Rhine really begins at Duisburg. Then at Elten, below a hill crowned by a monastery, the Rhine crosses the frontier into the Netherlands.
Situation and characteristicsThe Pfälzer Wald (Palatinate Forest) is an upland region of Bunter sandstone on the left bank of the Upper Rhine, immediately north of the Vosges. With an area of some 1,350sq.km/520sq.mi, it is one of the largest expanses of forest in Germany: even the towns of Kaiserslautern and Pirmasens are almost completely ringed by forest.LandscapeThe hills rise very gradually from the Saar basin in the west and then fall steeply down to the Rhine plain in the east. At the east end, in the Haardtgebirge, are the highest peaks (Kalmit, 673m/2,208ft). Here the hills are crowned by numerous ruined castles.
Situation and characteristicsThe modern city of Ludwigshafen lies on the left bank of the Rhine, immediately opposite the town of Mannheim in Baden. It is internationally known as the headquarters of BASF, the Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik.In the city center, at Berliner Strasse 23, is the Wilhelm Hack Museum, with a colorful facade by Joan Miró, which contains the municipal art collection (20th C. European painting; Late Roman, Frankish and medieval art).
Königswinter is a popular resort at the foot of the Siebengebirge. A rack railroad runs up to the summit of the Drachenfels, on which stand the ruins of a castle built in 1147 and destroyed in 1634. There are good views, extending as far as Cologne.On the Petersberg is the former Petersberg Hotel, now a government guesthouse.
The Castle Drachenburg, finished in the 19th C., has a wonderful view of the Rhine Valley. In legend, the hero Siegfried is said to have slain the dragon Fafnir for the Rhinegold at this location.
The Rheinhessen extends from Bad Kreuznach in the west to the Rhine in the east. Its northern boundary is at Mainz and its southern boundary at Worms.There is significant variety in the soil types and climates across the region.
Some 25km/15mi northwest of Worms is Alzey, the Roman Altiaia, an important town.In the east of the Old Town stands the Schloss (oldest parts 11th century; much rebuilt 1902). In the Fischmarkt is the Renaissance Town Hall (1586; carillon). In the Rossmarkt, to the north, is an unusual fountain. Farther north, the old Amtshaus houses the Municipal Museum (history of the town, folk traditions, geology, paleontology).
Bodenheim is one of the most atmospheric villages in the Rheinhessen. Its vintners' houses were built between the 15th and late 19th centuries.
Biking along the Rhine
Extensive bike paths along the Rhine are one of the better and more scenic biking opportunities in Europe. The many small villages offer plentiful accommodation and gourmet meals.
Map of Rhine Valley Attractions