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5 dreamiest places to visit on Rhine River cruise

Rhine River cruise vacations take you through a magical wonderland of beautiful towns and divine scenery – here are some of the best spots to explore.

Words by Barbara Balfour

What do cuckoo clocks, Black Forest cake and one of the world’s largest collections of mechanical instruments have in common? They’re some of the highlights travelers can uncover along a Rhine River cruise!

This summer I hopped aboard a Riviera Travel ship for an enchanting journey spanning seven stops across three countries – and uncovered a treasure trove of history and culture at every destination.

Here are some moments on my Rhine River cruise that left an indelible impression on me and the five dreamiest places you can visit.



Our Rhine River cruise commenced in the charming town of Koblenz, where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet. Stepping ashore, a short stroll along the flower-lined riverside promenade took me to the area known as the Deutsches Eck, or German Corner, where a monument of former German Emperor Wilhelm I on horseback [above, left] commands attention due to its sheer size.

I then took a cable car ride to Europe’s second-largest fortification, the 19th-century Ehrenbreitstein Fortress perched high above the city, where I was met with breathtaking panoramic views of the town 118 meters below.

Later, a guided historical tour led by a local resident took me through the maze of medieval buildings and cobbled streets of the old town, including the region’s oldest church, the Basilica of St. Castor, which dates back to the 9th century.

All that walking worked up an appetite, so I took shelter from the rain on the veranda of a fourth-generation cake shop, Cafe Werrmann, and indulged in a decadent slice of iced hazelnut torte and a cup of tea on elegant porcelain dishes.

Hot tip: when in Germany, always factor in extra time for cake, as the patisseries are countless and too tempting to resist.

Craving some “big city” amenities, including a reliable internet connection for a work-related call, I soon found I was in luck: Koblenz recently acquired a sprawling Starbucks in its downtown shopping mall, offering the most reliable wifi I would be able to access all week long during my Rhine river cruise.



Our next stop was Rüdesheim. Located in the heart of the Rheingau wine region, this lively town is an oenophile’s paradise and also the namesake for a wonderful flambéed brandy-spiked coffee I got to try earlier while on board my Rhine river cruise ship.

I paid a little extra to hop aboard the Rüdesheimer Winzerexpress, an adorable blue and white mini train that picked us up near the river cruise dock, winding its bumpy way through the town.

We meandered past the Drosselgasse, a narrow alley lined with quaint wine taverns, restaurants and shops, on our way toward the final destination: Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet.

This whimsical museum definitely deserves a closer look if it’s part of the itinerary on your Rhine cruise. A mesmerizing wonderland no matter your degree of musical inclination, it’s only open to groups on a guided tour, and I felt very lucky to have had the chance to visit.

Home to an astounding collection of more than 400 self-playing, automated and hand-cranked musical instruments spanning three centuries, the museum was first opened in the late 1960s by late German collector Siegfried Wendel and is now run by his family.

During our 45-minute tour, a guide led us through the galleries with live, interactive demonstrations. We heard enchanting melodies from different eras on a gramophone, a tiny songbird music box that could fit in the palm of your hand, and an automated orchestra the size of a minibus that suddenly sprung to life, producing symphonies that took up the entire room.

The attention to detail in these mechanical marvels is nothing short of awe-inspiring and could keep you there well past the end of your tour. Bonus: the building that houses the museum is a 15th-century knight’s manor, and several of its rooms still bear the original fresco paintings on their vaulted ceilings.

After the tour, I stopped at the gift shop to peruse the largest collection of music boxes I have ever seen for sale – and also the most expensive, with price tags going all the way up to thousands of euros.



After the hustle and bustle of Speyer and Strasbourg, our second last stop on our River Rhine cruise provided a serene interlude. First, a tranquil morning exploring the town of Breisach, often referred to as the gateway to the Black Forest, the site of much-loved children’s fairy tales such as Snow White and Hansel and Gretel.

I made my way past impeccably landscaped flower gardens and pastel-colored houses to a neighborhood bakery, where generous slices of creamy – what else? – Black Forest cake beckoned from the display window.

This infamous regional specialty – chocolate sponge cake with multiple layers of tart kirsch-infused cherries, whipping cream and chocolate shavings – quickly made its way onto a plate and into my very happy belly.


Lake Titisee

After lunch we drove to the idyllic Lake Titisee, a crystal-clear oasis formed by a glacier at a time when woolly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers roamed the earth.

As the area is also ground zero for cuckoo clock making, naturally we were treated to a demonstration of this 17th-century tradition in a local workshop. There I learned the clocks are uniquely carved from the Linden trees native to the region due to the wood’s resistance to splitting.



A cultural gem in its own right, our final destination, Basel, was a great opportunity to experience world-class amenities. I skipped the optional day trip to Lucerne and the Bernese Overland in favour of exploring Basel’s charming old town and admiring some of the collections of Matisse, Picasso and Gauguin housed in the world-renowned Fondation Beyeler and the Kunstmuseum.

I’m also a sucker for a teddy bear, so I would have been remiss not to visit the world’s largest collection of them at Toy Worlds Museum, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2023. Stepping into a fairytale world of 6,000 vintage toys, dollhouses and miniatures spread across four floors kept me busy for a while… until I remembered to get back out into the daylight again.

Strolling along the vibrant promenade, I nibbled on some Läckerli, a local sweet I picked up made from candied peel, almonds, hazelnuts, and Kirsch. To cap off my Rhine River cruise odyssey, I splurged on lunch at the magnificent Hotel des Trois Rois.

As I whiled away the afternoon at a table overlooking the water, I felt this grand city provided the perfect finale to my journey with Riviera Travel cruises – a seamless blend of timeless traditions, simple elegance, and uniquely curated experiences you’d be hard-pressed to arrange on your own.

Published 12.11.23