8 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in the Rhine Valley
The Rhine is not only one of Europe's most beautiful rivers, it's also one of the most important waterways, flowing some 1,320 kilometers from Switzerland all the way to the Netherlands and the North Sea. One of the most appealing sections of this mighty river flows through Germany's Rhine Valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty that draws large numbers of tourists each year. The stretch of river extending from Mannheim in the south to Koblenz in the north boasts scenery so spectacular that a large section of the Rhine Valley has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its many castles and historic towns, this stretch of the Rhine has, for centuries, influenced artists, authors, and composers. These days, it's as popular among day-trippers as it is with those staying for longer visits, offering numerous long-distance trails and bike routes, along with a wide variety of river excursions.
1 The Many Museums of Mainz
The old cathedral city of Mainz lies on the west bank of the Rhine opposite the mouth of the River Main, just 44 kilometers west of Frankfurt. In the middle of many of the most important Rhine Valley attractions, Mainz is an ideal location from which to explore this wonderful region. South along the Rhine are the picturesque old towns of Worms (famous for its cathedral) and Mannheim (famous for its medieval architecture), while to the north is the spectacular UNESCO World Heritage site of the Middle Rhine Valley. Mainz itself has a rich heritage dating back to Roman times, much of it recorded in excellent museums such as the Roman-Germanic Central Museum, and the Museum of Ancient Navigation with its stunning full-scale replicas of Roman galleons. Another highlight is the Gutenberg Museum with its fascinating displays depicting the life and times of the inventor of the moveable metal type printing technique, born here in 1398.
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2 Worms Cathedral
The cathedral city of Worms, located on the west bank of the Rhine, is one of the oldest towns in Germany. A highlight of a visit should be the 11th-century Cathedral of St. Peter. With its four towers and twin domes, this spectacular old building ranks along with the cathedrals of Speyer and Mainz as one of the finest achievements of the High Romanesque style. The nave is particularly impressive, rising some 27 meters, while its domes reach heights of 40 meters. Other highlights include five Late Gothic sandstone reliefs from the old cloister, its fine choir stalls, and a superb Baroque high altar. Other buildings of note in Worms' Marktplatz are the early 18th-century Trinity Church with its fine interior and the 10th-century St. Magnus' Church.
Address: Domplatz, 67547 Worms
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Thanks to its favorable location on the east bank of the Rhine, along with having one of Europe's largest inland harbors, Mannheim is relatively new by European standards, laid out in the 17th and 18th centuries on a grid of rectangles, much like North American cities. Pedestrian-friendly and fun to explore, the cultural center of the city revolves around the historic Marktplatz with its Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) and the Lower Parish Church (Untere Pfarrkirche) erected in 1723, along with the nearby Jewish Center (Jüdisches Zentrum) with its Synagogue. The shopping areas focus on the Planken and the Kurpfalzstrasse, which intersect in Paradeplatz. Be sure to spend time exploring the port area with its harbor cruises and the historic paddle steamer, Mannheim, now a museum dedicated to the history of navigation on the Rhine.
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4 Editor's Pick The Palatinate Forest
The Pfälzer Wald, or Palatinate Forest, is a heavily wooded upland region on the left bank of the Upper Rhine. Covering an area of 1,770 square kilometers, it's one of the largest expanses of forest in Germany, and completely surrounds towns such as Kaiserslautern and Pirmasens. The hills rise very gradually from the Saar basin in the west and then fall steeply down to the Rhine plain in the east, with many of the highest peaks, such as the Kalmit at 673 meters, crowned by the ruins of old castles. Much of the region has been designated as parkland with many excellent trails, making it a wonderful place to spend time hiking and biking.
On the eastern border of the Palatinate Forest lies the little town of Wachenheim known for its grape-growing traditions and old world charm. Here, the top attractions are the ruins of the Wachtenburg castle, with spectacular views over the Rhine Valley and surrounding forests, as well as Schloss Wachenheim, dating from 1730. Southwest of Wachenheim, the Kurpfalz-Park is home to an assortment of big game as well as a summertime Toboggan run and other fun activities. Mere minutes from Wachenheim, the spa town of Bad Durkheim is also along the grape-growing route and is famous for its curative mineral springs.
5 Spa Town: Wiesbaden
Wiesbaden, capital of the Land of Hesse, lies at the foot of the wooded Taunus hills and is as famous for its many thermal springs as it is for its beautiful surroundings. Traces of its long history as a spa town are evident everywhere, from the spectacular Fountain Colonnade in Kurbezirk to the famous Kurhaus, an imposing building with a massive Ionic portico built in 1907. Beyond the Kurhaus is the Aukammtal spa district with its numerous thermal baths and saunas, along with the Kochbrunnen, home to 15 springs with average temperatures of 66°C, and the Kaiser Friedrich Baths dating from 1913. Also of interest is the magnificent Biebrich Schloss, built between 1698-1744 and a superb example of Baroque architecture, and the Neroberg, a 245-meter-high hill with its conspicuous Greek Chapel and the Opel Baths.
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Koblenz, the former residence of the Electors of Trier, lies in a beautiful location at the junction of the River Mosel and the Rhine. This old town boasts numerous well-preserved historic attractions, from the spectacular fortress of Ehrenbreitstein to the Neoclassical Koblenz Schloss, built in 1786 by the last Elector. Other historic highlights are St. Castor's Church, founded in 836 AD and where the Treaty of Verdun was signed in 843 AD that divided up the Carolingian empire. One of the city's most famous locations, however, is the German Corner, or Deutsches Eck, the narrow tongue of land between the Rhine and the Mosel. Watching these two mighty rivers converge here is a truly inspiring sight, one that's marked appropriately by the Monument to German Unity. Also of interest is the Deutschherrenhaus, the remains of a castle of the Teutonic Order and a popular spot during the summer for its evening music concerts.
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7 Braubach and Marksburg Castle
In the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage section of the Rhine Valley, the picturesque old town of Braubach, on the east bank of the river, is the most northerly of the region's many pretty towns. With its wonderfully crooked old streets and alleyways lined with medieval half-timbered buildings, it's a delightful place to explore. At the center of the town, perched high atop a hill that towers over the surrounding area, sits the Schloss Marksburg, built in 1117 and the only hilltop castle in the Rhine Valley to have survived intact. Visitors can spend hours exploring the castle and its grounds, highlights of which include its four-story chapel tower, the great hall, and batteries of old cannons. Guided tours are available.
Address: Marksburg, D-56338 Braubach
8 Boppard's Roman Legacy
The Rhine's importance to the Romans is nowhere more evident than the town of Boppard where, some 2,000 years ago, they set up a fortress to guard the river. Evidence of this and later Roman fortifications can still be seen in the Roman Camp, widely considered one of the best-preserved late-antiquity fortresses in Europe. Highlights of this 4th-century site are the remains of its 28 semi-circular towers as well as the large sections of old wall that rise as high as nine meters. In its heyday, this once massive structure covered an area of 12 acres. The town's first Christian church was also here, a site now occupied by the late Romanesque St. Severus Church. Another old building to visit is the 15th-century Ritter-Schwalbach-Haus, the former home of members of the town's aristocracy.