Every American who has ever watched a travel program on public television has seen the advertisement that features a couple standing high on a picturesque bluff gazing at a river cruise boat while romantic music softly serenades. Imagine how nice it would be to take that fantasy cruise. I know Jamie and I were tempted. That is until a friend organized a group to cruise along the Danube. We had a look at the cost and blanched. We couldn’t imagine spending several thousand dollars for the experience.
We passed on the opportunity. And I'm glad we did. I’m glad because this past summer we organized our own version of cruising the Rhine (and Moselle) at a tiny fraction of the cost our friends incurred. Really. We spent a quarter of the cost of an organized cruise and ours included excursions and plenty of Riesling with strawberries.
I know that comparing our expenses to a seven night, non-balcony premium cruise on a line like Viking River Cruises is like comparing apples to oranges. But, even if one steps it up with comparable fine dining and deluxe hotels, the savings in building your own trip are meaningful. Instead of spending $2,500 per person on a seven-day cruise (plus gratuities and shore excursions) we spent $643.48 per person for eight nights and eight days. Plus we had an unregimented trip that allowed us to linger along the way doing what we really wanted to do when we wanted to do it.
Our Expenses for Two People in US Dollars
Food and Drink
Restaurants and Groceries
Double, eight nights
Two self-organized excursions: Excursion 1: Eltz Castle in Moselkern. $25.00.
Excursion 2: A day trip from Bacharach to Beilsheim $37.76 with Mosel Tours.
*Promotion rail passes available during the summer of 2022.
Cruising the Middle Rhine on K-D Cruises
The sidewheel riverboat Goethe.
We’d just finished a pet sit in northwest Germany and needed to make our way to Frankfurt where we were to join a group volunteering at Englischhausen, a week-long English immersion program. We had twelve days to fill. At first we thought about making a dash across Germany to spend time in Berlin, but settled on cruising the middle Rhine when we worked out how easy, inexpensive, and relaxing it was going to be. So we hopped on a train and began our trip in Cologne.
Cologne to Linz am Rhein
Two days and two nights in Cologne gave us plenty of time to explore the city, check off yet another grand cathedral, and find wonderful off-beat neighborhoods for lingering.
While many people taking an organized cruise will book-end the trip with a longer visit at either the departure city or the arrival city, we decided to do both since we had twelve whole days to play with.
Arriving early in Cologne also gave us time to explore the waterfront and double check the sailing times of the various upstream river boats. There are several companies with boats that head upstream from Cologne each day. Apparently things were not quite back up to pre-Covid schedules and all of the cruise lines had some gaps. We selected K-D Cruises because it had the most robust schedule and even then we couldn’t get all the way to Koblenz at the confluence with the Mosel River, which was our desired destination. This was no problem for us because we filled the gap with short train trips which you can too, but probably not at the all inclusive price of nine euros a month!
About 9:00 am we walked to K-D Line Berth Three and boarded the Goethe, a handsomely restored paddle steamer from 1913 and set out to Linz am Rhein. One of the stewards helped us find a place to stow our bags and we were free to enjoy the journey unencumbered by suitcases.
The weather was sunny and pleasant so we headed up to the top deck (like all of the other passengers) and found a table to share with Jurgen and Susanne, a delightful German couple. We enjoyed a couple hours of pleasant conversation about German theater and the country’s reunification after the fall of the Soviet Union. The conversation lapsed frequently as we all just enjoyed the scenery slipping gently by. The Goethe made several stops along the way and our new friends got off at Konigswinter where they planned to have lunch and take the return trip to Cologne. Most of the people on the boat were out for a round trip excursion.
Our destination was Bad Breisig, a small spa town on the Rhine but our boat trip was going to end at Linz Am Rhine. We knew we’d have to take a train from Linz to Bad Hönningen, both on the right side of the river, then take the ferry to Bad Breisig on the left side of the river. I’m explaining all of this because it’s part of booking your own trip. You can make mistakes. A lot of them.
Linz to Bad Breisig
The trains are frequent from Linz and a quick seven minutes later we were in Bad Hönningen. All is well so far. But, then we discovered that the ferry crossing in Bad Hönningen is way outside of town and it crossed over way outside of Bad Breisig. Two hours of dragging our suitcases up one side and down the other side of the river wasn’t what we’d had in mind as a pleasant end to our first day of cruising but we sure did enjoy our showers at the end of it. It wasn’t raining and our little departure from good planning was the only trouble we made for ourselves.
We stayed in Bad Breisig for two days so we had ample time to recover.
One of the reasons we booked two days is because we read that the ONLY cruises down the Mosel River were on Fridays. So, we wanted to position ourselves in Koblenz at the confluence of the two rivers on Thursday night for a morning cruise.
I’m about to tell you about another mishap, and I know I’m not making it sound rosy, but really it all worked out and it is truly how we like to travel. We savor surprises.
Koblenz to Cochem
Because there weren’t any boats stopping at Bad Breisig, we hopped on a train and 16 minutes later we were in Koblenz. We were only going to spend one night, so it was nice to arrive early. We immediately went to the riverfront to verify departures on the Mosel River cruise and buy tickets only to discover NO ONE was going up the Mosel from Koblenz. Not on Friday morning as scheduled, and not on any morning. That was disappointing. We decided to go up the Mosel on the regional train that runs beside the river. We were glad we took the detour because the Mosel was our favorite of the two rivers.
Our destination was Cochem for three nights allowing us plenty of time to investigate the area. We rented a lovely apartment on the side of the cliff with fantastic views of the Mosel. A cruise ship view could not have been lovelier. Cochem is a destination for day trippers who arrive by car and take an excursion on the river. We decided to take one as well and cruised to the tiny, upriver town of Beilstein. The cruise took us through some of the most scenic sections of the river and landed us in an absolute fairy-tale land for lunch and a little exploring before we caught the return boat.
On another day we took the train to Moselkern for an easy hike through beech forests to Eltz Castle, the oldest family owned and continually occupied castle in Germany open to the public. The combination train, hike, and castle tour made for a special trip since cruising the middle Rhine and Mosel River will display more than 80 castles in various conditions. Eltz Castle is fully intact with furnishings that have been in the family for more than 500 years.
Cochem to Bacharach via Koblenz
To return to Koblenz we once again took the train - an early one - to catch a 9:00 am K-D Line boat from Koblenz to Bacharach. It was a slow and sunny sail allowing for morning coffee and afternoon Weis Bier until we docked around 1:30 pm.
If our photos are any evidence, some of the most scenic places on our entire trip were in Bacharach. The town was quiet but there were still places to eat and things to do. We stopped in for a wine tasting at Zur Fledermaus and enjoyed the staff’s undivided attention and extra tastings.
We were not previously aware of the popularity of hiking on the Rhine River traveling from small town to small town through the stunning vineyards. We got a taste of it in Bacharach and could see that it was an alternate but also incredibly attractive way to explore the area. There are even services for transporting your pack. Next time.
Rüdesheim am Rhein
Our last stop on the Rhein was in Rüdesheim. Once again we spent two nights in order to thoroughly explore the area. Being expert vineyard hikers now we set off on a trail from Rüdesheim to Assmannhausen and then used our trusty train tickets on the return. We picked Rüdesheim because we thought it would be calmer than Mainz which is supposedly over-touristed.
Rüdesheim had its own busyness and lacked a little in the charm category compared to the other places we stayed. It was our least favorite but it is a great jumping off point for wine tastings that get you out into the vineyards. And it was an easy train ride to Frankfurt, our next destination.
Recapping the Trip
Since we took a page from the big river cruise lines (of which there are so many) to plan our trip, we thought this trip would be mostly cruising and nice dinners at night. We were so surprised at how much there is to do beyond being on the water.
The ports of call are plentiful. A journey can be broken almost anywhere and you can buy a ticket to your end destination and get off and get back on days later. We only did that once by buying the ticket from Koblenz to Rüdesheim with a stop in Bacharach but we are so glad the ticket agent suggested it because we were prepared to buy two tickets.
If you like hiking, be sure to investigate the 21 stages of the Rheinsteig Trail. Information is included in the resources.
Last, think twice before you decide to book a room on the opposite side of the river from where your boat is going to dock. The stars might not align and you may be walking like we did.
https://www.k-d.com/en/ Purchase tickets at the dock up to five minutes before departure.
https://www.moselrundfahrten.de/ The Kolb Line cruises the Mosel’s most scenic stretch
https://www.komoot.com/collection/776/the-21-stages-of-the-rheinsteig-trail-side-by-side-with-the-rhine This will provide information on both organized and self organized hiking adventures.
Susan writes about the things that make life meaningful for her. This includes places we’ve been and what we’ve experienced as nomads these last several years. And now, includes finding a place to call home.
As we come closer to a “settled” life, Susan will begin to emphasize aging gracefully with a plant based diet, plenty of yoga, and physical activity. She is certified to teach Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin yoga. Adaptive and Senior yoga certification is coming soon.
Jamie wants “life on gentle cycle” to be a story of enough rather than a search for more. His focus is on simplicity, quiet presence, low impact travel, and mostly on living gently. He also manages the technical aspects of GentleCycle.net