Welcome to our guide to the best Rhine River towns to visit.
The Romantic Rhine is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe. The river winds its way through a steep narrow gorge, with medieval towns eking out whatever space they could below the vineyards and many castles.
Some of the Rhine towns are among the most beautiful in Europe, their wonky half-timbered houses home to many a winery and restaurant. And their town walls hint at a time of great wealth, made from charging tolls to the passing ships along the river.
In this article I cover the towns along the river Rhine within the Upper Middle Rhine Valley World Heritage Site area. This is between Rüdesheim am Rhein, at the southern end, at Koblenz, 65 km (40 miles downriver to the northeast. I begin at Rüdesheim, continuing northwards in order to Koblenz.
Rhine River Towns – A Few Tips
Most of the Rhine towns are small, and you could comfortably see most of each in a day. You could see some – such as Kaub and Braubach – in a few hours.
Rüdesheim and Bacharach are the two most popular, and there’s enough to do in each of these to warrant a second day’s visit.
Boppard and Braubach are two of the most picturesque towns on the Rhine river.
The smaller Rhine river towns are better places to stay than Koblenz, giving you much more of a convivial feel than the larger city.
These are the best towns on the Rhine River to visit
1. Rüdesheim am Rhein
Before visiting the Rhine Valley the first time 40 years ago, I had visions of half-timbered houses and taverns, riverside castles, steep hillside vineyards. Rüdesheim turned out to have all of this and more.
It’s the most touristed over the Rhine river towns, but don’t miss it. It’s the one town on the river Rhine with plenty of atmosphere, the restaurants along its famous Drosselgasse constantly busy, aided by the endless flow of the local Riesling. But there are plenty more treasures to discover very close by.
Take a walk along the Drosselgasse, and stop by at one of the wineries around the town to sample a glass of the local Riesling.
Admire the superb medieval architecture throughout the town. There are some extraordinary half-timbered buildings, including the Klunkhardshof and Brömserhof.
And take the chairlift above the vineyards to the Niederwald Denkmal, one of the most famous landmarks in Germany. This Monument commemorates the Prussian victory over French forces in 1871, and also the unification of Germany which followed.
Try To See
There are several quirky museums in Rüdesheim worth exploring. The best of these is Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Cabinet, a wonderful collection of over 400 instruments, housed in the spectacular Brömserhof building. You’ll need to book your time slot in advance.
The excellent Rheingau Wine Museum, in the Brömserburg Castle near the train station, is also worth visiting but check their website to make sure it has reopened after restoration.
There is also a small medieval Torture Museum – there are similar ones in Cesky Krumlov, San Gimignano and The Clink Museum in London.
Rhine Castles Nearby – The ruined Burg Ehrenfels is a two-mile (3 km) walk through the vineyards, overlooking the Rhine. It’s also close to the Binger Mäuseturm, located on an island in the middle of the river.
Tip – Take a boat trip along the Rhine from Rüdesheim, taking in some of the best Rhine River Castles. They usually go as far as Rheinstein Castle, one of the earliest Rhine Castles to be restored during the Romantic Revival of the 1820s.
Time Needed – Two days is enough to cover the main things to do in Rüdesheim, though it’s worth sending longer there. It’s one of the best bases for exploring the southern end of the Rhine Gorge. And it’s also within reach of other places to visit outside the World Heritage area, including the cathedral city of Mainz and the picturesque town of Eltville.
Bingen is the largest town in the Rhine Gorge after Koblenz. It’s sprawled across the last stretch of open land on the Rhine before the river squeezes into the narrow gorge just downstream. It’s the hometown of medieval mystic, composer and polymath Hildegard of Bingen, but she, like the vast majority of visitors, also ended up across the river in Rüdesheim.
The town’s main landmark is Burg Klopp, the medieval castle which now serves as the main office of the town council. It’s well worth heading there to climb the tower between April and October.
I also suggest heading to the riverside park to see the Binger Mäuseturm, the toll tower on an island in the middle of the river.
Try To See
If you have time, it’s worth seeking out some of the viewpoints around Bingen. The Kaiser-Friedrich-Turm, south of Burg Klopp, is the highest. And the Prinzenkopf and Elisenhohe viewpoints are just to the west of the town.
Tip – Some people opt to stay in Bingen because it has good transport links and is less expensive than Rüdesheim. The regular ferry is the quickest way to get between the two, stopping around 200 metres from Rüdesheim train station.
The Binger Mäuseturm is on an island in the Rhine, and Burg Ehrenfels, between Rüdesheim and Assmannshausen, are both visible from the park next to the main station (Hauptbahnhof).
Rheinstein and Reichenstein Castles are two miles further downstream, south of the village of Trechtingshausen.
Bacharach is the most beautiful of the Rhine river towns. French author Victor Hugo loved the place, and two visits – almost 40 years apart – have made me feel the same.
Bacharach is tiny, and we regard it as one of the most beautiful villages in Europe. It’s one of the best places to see the traditional Rhine Valley architecture – particularly its half-timbered houses – and there is also a beautiful ruined Gothic church on the hillside above.
Spend plenty of time exploring the streets of Bacharach, wandering the narrow lanes lined with half-timbered houses from the 16th century.
Enjoy a meal at one of the many wineries and restaurants around the town centre, including the Altkolnischer Hof and Altes Haus next door.
Also make time for the short walk to the Malerwinkel quarter. It’s a small artists’ quarter surrounded full of half-timbered houses next to the town walls.
Try To See
Take a walk behind St Peter’s Church up to the Wernerkapelle, the ruined chapel overlooking the town. From there, the path continues up the hill to Burg Stahleck, a medieval castle now repurposed as a youth hostel with outstanding Rhine river views.
For the best view of Bacharach, climb the Postenturm (Post Tower), part of the town wall circuit, in the vineyard just to the north of the town.
Rhine Castles Nearby
The famous Pfalzgrafenstein Castle (see below) is around two miles (3 km) downstream from Bacharach, close to Kaub and Oberwesel.
Fürstenberg Castle is around a mile south of Bacharach, above the village of Niederheimbach.
Kaub is one of the smaller Rhine River towns. It’s basically one long street with a Castle at either end – Schloss Pfalzgrafenstein on an island in the river, and Burg Gutenfels on a hill above.
There’s not a great deal to see, but its location on the B42 road, railway and its cross-river ferry to Engelsburg (between Oberwesel and Bacharach) make it a good base for exploring the Upper Middle Rhine Valley.
Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, the white Baroque island fortress, is one of the most famous landmarks in Germany. It looks fantastic from either bank of the river, one of the most picturesque castles along the River Rhine.
Try To See
If military history is your passion, it’s well worth paying a visit to the Blücher Museum in Kaub. Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher led the Prussian Army across the river in January 1814, and he would go on to fight alongside the British against Napoleon the following year.
This small Museum captures this episode of local history in time. Blücher’s quarters are decorated as they would have been at the time, and there’s also a detailed exhibition on the crossing.
If you’d love to stay in a Rhine River Castle, Kaub might be just the place for you. Burg Gutenfels, located high above the northern end of the town, has accommodation in spacious apartments, and you can also use the historic communal areas of the Castle.
A few hours, perhaps half a day, is ample.
Oberwesel isn’t the most picturesque of the Rhine River towns, but it’s one of the most absorbing to visit. Its two main churches and town walls are powerful statements of its trading wealth. And the vineyards around the town have many more delights beckoning you.
Oberwesel is the best of the Rhine River towns for lovers of medieval churches. The Liebfrauenkirche and Martinskirche at opposite ends of the town – are wondrous 14th-century Gothic churches, a reflection of the wealth Oberwesel enjoyed at this time.
The Oberwesel town walls are also exceptional, and you can walk the circuit around the town.
I also recommend a wander up the hill to the Gunderodehaus, a winery and restaurant with an outstanding view over the river Rhine and the town. The house was used for part of the Heimat 3 German TV series, and has subsequently been moved to this amazing hilltop location.
Try To See
One of the most unusual sights we came across in the Rhine Valley is the Meteorite Museum in Oberwesel. It’s the only one of its kind (that we can find) in Europe, a private collection of meteorite fragments, impact rocks and more. My son was so disappointed he had a quiet day with Mama instead of coming with me the day I visited, but I’ve promised we’ll return.
Some of the best views of Oberwesel are from the Burghotel auf Schönburg Oberwesel, high above the southern end of the town. The Schönburg is one of the best Rhine castle hotels, offering 4-star luxury in the main Castle building and romantic cottages and outbuildings around the site.
The Castle was first built in the 12th century, and stayed intact until French forces destroyed it – and most other Rhine castles – during the War of the Palatine Succession in 1689.
A day is plenty to see the best of Oberwesel.
6. St Goar
St Goar is a handy ‘halfway house’ in the Rhine Gorge, useful for hopping back and forth across the river on the ferry. So it’s convenient for exploring both sides of the river, whether you’re driving or relying on the trains to get around.
It’s a pretty small town in the shadow of Rheinfels Castle, by far the largest of the castles along the river Rhine. It’s also one of the livelier Rhine towns of an evening, with a few busy pubs, bars and restaurants filling the streets with outside tables in the summer months.
Rheinfels Castle is the largest, most extensive castle ruin in the Rhine Valley. It’s on the hill above the town, and parts of it are now a luxury star hotel, the Romantik Schloss Rheinfels Hotel.
St Goar is also one of the liveliest Rhine River towns in the evening, and the Rhein Chillen pop-up riverfront bar is a great place to wind down at the end of the day. The view across the river – to Burg Katz and St Goarshausen – couldn’t be better.
Try To See
The 15th century Stiftskirche near the station is well worth seeing, particularly for its superb ceiling frescoes. And you can’t really miss the world’s largest cuckoo clock on Heerstrasse, the main street.
Don’t miss the small Museum in Rheinfels Castle, which delves into the more recent history of the town. It includes a recreated pharmacy and memorabilia from the Weimar Republic, including billion-deutschmark notes used to buy simple everyday items.
A day maximum, but at a push, you could combine Sgt Goar and St Goarshausen in a long day.
7. St Goarshausen
St Goarshausen is another small Rhine river town, one of the most scenic in the valley. It’s best-known as the nearest village to the famous Loreley rock.
The village is dominated by the sight of Burg Katz, one of the most romantic castles on the River Rhine. The walk up to the viewpoint high above, close to the Dreiburgenblick, will reward you with breathtaking views.
It’s also worth the short journey up to the summit of the Loreley rock just to the south of the village. There are some great Rhine river views from the top.
The cliff was made famous by the author Clemens Brentano as the site of the death of the mythical Loreley maiden, who leapt from the top having been spurned by a lover. She later returned as a mermaid who would lure sailors onto the treacherous rocks in the river.
Try To See
The Loreley Museum – if it’s open. And the Loreley statue – a long walk along a narrow peninsula in the river. Although you can see it quite well from the riverbank.
St Goarshausen is on one of the busiest Rhine river ferry routes – the short crossing to its twin village, St Goar. There are no bridges across the Rhine river for 65 km between Rüdesheim and Koblenz, so the five Rhine river ferries are an essential part of getting around this part of the world.
Burg Katz is above the town. Otherwise Burg Rheinfels is across the river above St Goar, and Burg Maus is two miles downstream on the right bank of the river.
Boppard is one of the most beautiful Rhine river towns, located on one of the most scenic stretches of the river. It has the best of everything – architecture, wine, restaurants and scenery – making it one of the best Rhine valley towns to stay in.
Take plenty of time to walk the backstreets of the Altstadt (old town centre), where architectural gems are everywhere to be found.
As well as the many late medieval houses, don’t miss the towering St Severus Church. Its twin spires make it one of the main Rhine Valley landmarks, and it’s a fine example of late Romanesque – having been completed in the early 13th century.
And allow time to take the Boppard Sesselbahn (chairlift) up the mountain, for superb views over the river. It’s one of the best viewpoints on the Rhine, overlooking a horseshoe bend.
The view from Gedeons Eck bar and restaurant is the best one. There is also a sign to the Vierseenblick – from there you get another great view over four sections of the river which look like lakes from the vantage point.
Try To See
The 4th century Roman remains of Baudobriga are very close to the railway station, and an interpretation board gives you more background on the history of this Roman outpost.
And try to fit in a visit to the Boppard Museum, if only to see the collection of works by furniture maker Michael Thonet. You probably don’t know it, but you have almost certainly sat on one of his inventions – the No 14 Chair – at least once in your life.
Boppard is one of the livelier Rhine river towns, with plenty of restaurants around the Altstadt and along the riverside promenade.
Boppard is in the middle of the one castle-free zone in the Rhine Valley. Travel a few miles and suddenly two appear at once. Sterrenberg and Liebenstein Castles are just 200 metres apart on the high ridge above the right bank of the Rhine.
Neither is open for guided visits, but you can stay at either, and both also have cafes where you can enjoy a drink or meal. They are above the village of Kamp-Bornhofen, but the best view of them is from across the river in the village of Bad Salzig.
Many people pass through or skirt Braubach, but very few of them get to explore this picture-perfect Rhineland gem.
It’s directly below the Marksburg, the most formidable of Rhine castles, so many visitors are whisked up there and back down with barely a glance at Braubach. Which is a pity, as it’s gorgeous. And quiet.
Marksburg Castle is one of the outstanding castles in Germany, and one of the best three castles on the Rhine (along with Rheinfels and Rheinstein) to visit.
It’s everything a medieval castle should be – imposing, dominating the landscape it was built to control. It’s a 20-minute walk up from the village, and there’s also a seasonal (summer) tourist train up.
The whole of Braubach village is gorgeous. It’s packed with fairytale half-timbered houses, mostly from the 16th century, and the relative lack of visitors makes it a joy to explore.
Try To See
Kerkertser Platte is a viewpoint to the north of the Marksburg and village. It’s a 15-20 minute hike from the village – and if you want to photograph the Castle, late afternoon and evening is the best time for this.
There’s no need to go all the way up to Kerkertser Platte – the best views of the Castle and Braubach are around ¾ of the way up.
Good to know – Many places in Braubach close on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I visited on a Tuesday when things were busier, but still quiet compared to somewhere like Bacharach.
Koblenz is one of the main Rhine cities, and by far the largest town we write about in this article.
Koblenz has a lot going for it. It’s on the confluence of two of the most beautiful rivers in Germany, the Rhine and Mosel. It is home to three castles on the Rhine river, and one of the great Romanesque churches of Germany.
Yet over several visits to Koblenz spanning almost 40 years, this is the one Rhine town that has always left me disappointed.
Don’t Miss – The Rhenish Romanesque Basilica of St Kastor is one of the finest churches in a region abundant in them (the twelve Romanesque churches of Cologne and Abbey of Maria Laach are both within an hour’s drive.
It was founded in the 9th century, but the present Basilica wasn’t completed until the beginning of the 13th century.
The Ehrenbreitstein Fortress (Festung) sits across the Rhine from the Basilica and Deutsches Eck (German Corner), the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel. There has been a Castle on the site for at least 900 years.
The previous one was under the control of the Electorate of Trier, and in the 17th century housed the prestigious Holy Robe relic now held in Trier Cathedral.
The Prussians built the present fortress in the early 19th century. It’s a sturdy, formidable work, which saw very little action. It now houses several museums, a youth hostel, and commands great views over the city.
Try To See – Schloss Stolzenfels is the white wedding cake chateau on the left bank of the Rhine, a few miles south of Koblenz.
Good to know – One big reason in favour of staying in Koblenz is its excellent transport links. You could follow the Rhine north towards Cologne or south towards Rüdesheim.
You can also follow the Lahn valley line from Koblenz Hbf to the spa town of Bad Ems and the stunning cathedral city of Limburg an der Lahn, one of the most beautiful small cities in Germany.
Rhine River Towns – Final Thoughts
I hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to the best towns to visit in the Rhine Valley. It’s a wonderful area to travel around, and hopefully this guide will help you plan your Rhine River vacation. Enjoy!
David Angel is a Welsh, photographer, writer and historian who has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 30 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, Condé Nast Traveller, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.