Boat cruises on the Rhine River, especially the Mittelrhein with the famous Loreley Rock, are popular day-trip tours from Frankfurt am Main, Airport, Cologne (Köln), Rüdesheim, and Koblenz.
A day-trip excursion including a pleasure cruise on a riverboat on the Rhine River is for many travelers a highlight of a German vacation. Few tourists can afford luxurious, multiple-day riverboat cruises on the Rhine River (Rhein) but shorter day cruises are more common and fairly cheap. The Loreley Rock (Die Lorelei) is the most popular spot along the romantic UNESCO-listed Mittelrhein — many riverboats cruise this section of the Rhine River. Great public transportation links bring the Rhine within easy day-trip reach from Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt International Airport (FRA), Mainz, Wiesbaden, and Cologne (Köln). Rüdesheim and Koblenz are probably the best towns from which to depart on Rhine River day-trip cruises. Many cruise lines have special savings offerings for children, pensioners, birthdays, anniversaries, and even cyclists.
Best Parts of the Rhine for Day Tips and Day Riverboat Cruises
The Rhine is 1,230 kilometers (765 miles) long but the best part for day-trip cruises is the Oberes Mittelrheintal (Upper Middle Rhine Valley) between Rüdesheim / Bingen and Koblenz. Here the Rhine Valley is at its most beautiful and most romantic. Statistically, a castle or castle ruin can be seen every two kilometers (1.2 miles).
The Middle Rhine was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. The whole valley is beautiful with quaint wine-producing towns and of course numerous castles. The most famous spot is the Loreley Rock where the Rhine Valley is at its narrowest and the river flows at its fastest. Many boats pipe in the music of the famous Heinrich Heine poem Die Lorelei set to rather slow, moving music. According to legend, the beautiful Loreley enchanted sailors with her beauty and singing leading to their doom in the rapids of this dangerous part of the river.
Best Times to Cruise the Loreley Valley
The high season for Rhine day cruises is May to September when the most boats ply the Rhine River and frequent departures make unplanned cruising easy. Boats are often very busy during school vacation periods – mostly July and August. Few who can avoid traveling during these two months will regret rather sailing the Rhine in June or early September. The weather may be even more pleasant and crowds much less even on weekends.
Rhine riverboats usually cruise the Loreley Valley from late March to late October. Boats in winter are rare but it is always worth enquiring especially during the advent Christmas market season.
Saving Time when Cruising the Middle Rhine Valley
Spending a full day on the Rhine is pleasurable but if time is limited, it is worth considering some of the following. With a bit of planning the best of the Rhine may even be seen on a long stopover at Frankfurt Airport.
- Rhine riverboats cruising downstream cruises (Rheinabwärts) (Mainz in the direction of Koblenz and Cologne / Köln) are much faster than upstream (Rheinaufwärts). Mainz to Koblenz takes 5h30 while the upstream cruise takes three hours longer. (The cruise price is according to distance traveled so remains the same, although returns are much cheaper than single cruises.)
- The absolute must-see section on any Rhine River cruise is the Loreley Rock (Lorelei) seen on the Oberwesel – St Goar section of the cruise. (Disembark in St Goarhausen to climb to the top of the Loreley Rock for marvelous views but St Goar with castle ruins is a more interesting town.) The steep valley and vineyards are the main attraction rather than the rock itself.
- The best day trip goes from Rüdesheim or Bingen to St Goar or St Goarhausen — around 90 minutes downstream (almost double upstream), or continue further downstream to Boppard or Braubach. The Rhine Valley here is the most beautiful and most romantic.
- Cruising from Mainz to Rüdesheim and the sections closer to Koblenz is still beautiful but less interesting and only worth it if time is not pressing.
- Trains run along both sides of the Rhine River making it easy to reach a departing port or return to larger centers. Depart from Mainz or Bingen for towns on the left bank and from Wiesbaden / Rüdesheim for towns on the right bank. Not all trains, especially on the left bank, stop in all towns.
On longer cruises, the KD Rhine Pass could be a great savings deal. It is not always available and not sold directly by KD but rather through resellers such as Get Your Guide. It cost around €35 and covers all regular cruises for a day. Note that the Rhine Pass is different from the KD RheinCard that gives a 50% discount on regular cruises for a year — also a great deal for frequent cruisers.
Timetable for Middle Rhine River Day Cruises
The following includes the most popular stops on Rhine River day cruises. Not all boats stop at all ports and some lines are faster than others. Times indicated here are those of the largest day cruise boat operator, Köln-Düsseldorfer (KD).
Rhine Town – Left (L) / Right (R) bank – minutes cruising downstream (minutes upstream)
- Mainz – L – 20 (25)
- Wiesbaden-Biebrich – R – 20 (20)
- Eltville – R – 50 (80)
- Rüdesheim – R – 15 (15)
- Bingen – L -15 (30)
- Assmannshausen – R – 20 (50)
- Lorch – R – 10 (10)
- Bacharach – L – 10 (25)
- Kaub – R – 10 (15)
- Oberwesel – L – 20 (30)
- ** Passing the Loreley Rock **
- St Goar – L – 10 (10)
- St Goarhausen – R – 25 (45)
- Bad Salzig – L – 10 (15)
- Kamp-Bornhofen – R – 10 (10)
- Boppard – L – 30 (55)
- Braubach – R – 10 (15)
- Rhens – L – 10 (10)
- Oberlahnstein – R – 10 (10)
- Niederlahnstein – R – 20 (30)
- Koblenz – L
Cruises may generally be interrupted without surcharge but stops must be specified when buying tickets. Köln-Düsseldorfer (KD) has the largest number of cruises and is the best choice when planning to make many stops en route. Some of the smaller lines may have only a single cruise per day.
Rhine Day Cruises from Cologne, Mainz, and Frankfurt
Traditionally, the longest day boat cruise on the Rhine River was from Mainz to Cologne (Köln) on a Köln-Düsseldorfer boat. This downstream cruise takes eleven hours but is not currently offered or possible in a single day. Even Mainz to Koblenz or Koblenz to Cologne cruises are rarely possible. Taking a train from Mainz, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and other cities to cruise on the Rhine from Rüdesheim or Koblenz is often the better option.
Only a small number of scheduled boat cruises are available from Frankfurt am Main to the Rhine River. However, plenty of trains to the Rhine are available for fast transportation from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof or Frankfurt International Airport (FRA) to the Rhine for day-trip excursions.
Several different Rhine day cruise lines operate on the Middle Rhine. Köln-Düsseldorfer (KD) is the largest operator of Rhine pleasure boats with the largest variety of special savings offers too. Numerous day cruises are available from Cologne and Bonn with the Rhine Valley near Bonn very picturesque too. However, for most day-trippers, departing from Rüdesheim or Bingen is likely to offer the best options.
More on the Rhine River
Day-Trip Excursions and Pleasure Cruises on the Rhine River:
- Middle Rhine (Loreley Valley) — UNESCO World Cultural Heritage-listed Area:
- Upper Rhine — Cologne, Düsseldorf, Bonn to Linz
- Special events: Cruises to Rhine in Flames Fireworks, Christmas and New Year’s Cruises in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, and Rüdesheim
- Moselle River Cruises (Cochem, Bernkastel-Kues, Trier, Koblenz, Burg Eltz)
- Cruises on the Main River in Frankfurt (or better By Train from Frankfurt to the Best Rhine Cruises)
- Cruises from Worms, Mannheim, Heidelberg (on the Neckar River)
- Cruises from Speyer
- Rhinefalls (Rhine Waterfalls, Schaffhausen, Stein am Rhein, Kreuzlingen)
Tips and Savings on Day-Trip Rhine Cruises
- The best part of the Rhine for day-trip excursion cruises in the Middle Rhine between Rüdesheim / Bingen and Koblenz. See Savings Tips and the Best Cruise Lines cruising in the Loreley Valley.
- Save with a KD Rhine Pass on Rhine River cruises (unfortunately not always available but a potentially good savings deal on longer day-trip cruises).
- Check train times for Germany (and most of Europe) at German Railways.