With its steep sided banks lined with pretty half-timbered buildings and topped with medieval castles, it’s no wonder that UNESCO declared the 65 kilometre stretch of the Rhine River from Koblenz to Bingen/Rudesheim a World Heritage Site.
This stretch of the Rhine, known as the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, is jaw-droppingly beautiful and offers plenty for the visitor to see and do.
It's a popular destination for river cruises and many of Europe's best tour companies visit the region as well - but it's also perfectly suited to independent travellers.
The following five-day itinerary of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, Germany, is based on my own self-drive road trip and can be easily adapted to suit your own interests.
With the region located very close to Frankfurt, a visit to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley is a popular day trip from Frankfurt. (Click here for details of an organised day tour.)
Although I travelled by car, this Rhine Valley itinerary could also be travelled by train.
Cologne is also a good starting point for the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. If you're travelling with your family, this post on Cologne with kids is worth a read.
Day 1: Frankfurt to Boppard
Distance: 115 kilometres / 90 minutes by car, or 90 minutes by train
After travelling from Frankfurt, arrive in Boppard and check in to your accommodation. I chose an apartment at Bellevue Rhein Hotel, with a balcony overlooking the Rhine, for my four-night stay. Click here for current prices.
Spend the remainder of your day wandering around the town centre and strolling along the riverside promenade.
Where to eat in Boppard? The Severus Stube serves hearty, traditional German meals including pork knuckle and Wiener schnitzel, whilst the Bellevue Rhein Hotel's Le Bristol restaurant offers a good a la carte menu featuring some German favourites in a more formal setting. I enjoyed excellent meals at both restaurants.
Day 2: Exploring Boppard
After a leisurely breakfast, head to the local Tourist Office (on Market Square) for sightseeing ideas and maps, explore the shops or visit some of the historic buildings in town.
The Bodobrica Roman Fort, a short walk from Market Square, dates back to the fourth century when Boppard was one of the most important Roman settlements on the Middle Rhine. Although only the ruins of this magnificent structure remain today, it is possible to see what an obstacle it was to potential invaders.
With walls up to ten feet thick and boasting twenty horseshoe-shaped towers, the original fortress covered around 4.7 hectares.
The 55 metres of walls that still stand today are considered the best preserved in Germany.
The twin-towered St. Severuskirche, a 13th century Catholic church, is worth a visit to admire the frescoes inside.
If you wander along the riverside promenade you’ll notice the Elector’s Castle. Initially serving as a fortress to control the town, then a toll station for traffic on the Rhine, today it houses a museum.
The museum contains an exhibition on the town’s medieval and early modern history as well as an extensive collection of bentwood furniture by Michael Thonet, a Boppard local who invented this popular style of furniture.
To work up an appetite before dinner, why not hire bikes and ride along the path that runs beside the Rhine? Bikes and e-bikes can be hired in town. (See the Tourist Office for details).
TIP: Although it’s touted in Boppard’s tourist brochures as one of the attractions of the area, I’d give the Hunsruckbahn a miss. This is a train that travels over the Hunsruck mountains behind Boppard to Emmelshausen, along a line that passes over two viaducts and through five tunnels and promises ‘spectacular views’.
As the railway line goes through forest for much of the trip, I found the views mostly to be blocked by trees and the trip certainly wasn’t as picturesque as the brochure had described it.
On the return journey from Emmelshausen, we disembarked at Buchholz and planned to follow the Hunsruckbahn Wanderweg (walking path) back to Boppard. The brochure promised some good viewing points of the viaducts along the way but we somehow took a wrong turn and ended up on a scrubby, overgrown path that looked rarely used.
We did find our way back to Boppard but were disappointed with the signage along the path.
Day 3: Explore the towns of Bacharach, Oberwesel and St. Goar
Distance: 55 kilometres Boppard to Bacharach and return by car / Trains also run on this line approximately hourly, stopping in each of the towns mentioned
The banks of the River Rhine are dotted with gorgeous villages watched over by castles that are worth a visit. Today you’ll be touring the Rhine by car, heading as far as Bacharach, the furthest village from Boppard that you’ll visit today.
As soon as you enter the village of Bacharach through a gate in the old town walls, you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.
The village, with a population of just 1800, is wedged between the Rhine River and steep hills planted with grapevines, and is proudly watched over by Burg Stahleck fortress.
Despite its small size, visitors flock to Bacharach to admire the fairytale-like medieval half-timbered buildings which line the cobbled streets. As you wander the streets you almost expect Hansel and Gretel to appear from the ‘gingerbread’ houses!
To enjoy the best views of Bacharach, join the Footpath Stahleckpfad from the Church of St. Peter and climb the one hundred steps to Werner Chapel, a ruined 13th century chapel.
From there the path continues on to Burg Stahleck, once an important castle and fortress and now a Youth Hostel. The views over the Rhine and the surrounding vineyards from the courtyard are magnificent. If you are in need of a reviving drink after the steep walk to Burg Stahleck, the café sells drinks and light refreshments.
It’s possible to walk along part of the original town walls and if you follow the signs from the castle to Steeger Tor, you’ll trace the footsteps of Bacharach’s former residents.
Steeger Tor is just one of numerous original town gates in Bacharach. The path along the town walls continue on from Steeger Tor, beneath steep slopes planted with grape vines. A climb up the Postenturm (tower) rewards you with great views.
Back in Market Square in the village centre, you’ll see why Altes Haus (the ‘Old House’) is one of the Rhine’s most famous half-timbered buildings. Its brightly coloured façade attracts attention and the meals that are served there today receive good reviews.
Like to stay the night in Bacharach? Click here for accommodation prices in Bacharach.
Your next stop is the village of Oberwesel, just seven kilometres from Bacharach. The town itself is very neat and compact and offers a few sights worthy of a look.
The medieval town wall, with its 16 fortified towers, is the best preserved in the Middle Rhine region. The wall has been restored over the centuries and it’s possible to walk along large sections of it.
For a town with a population of just over 2,000 you’d hardly expect it to be home to a church as magnificent as the Church of Our Lady. The Gothic exterior is impressive enough but it’s inside that the real treasures can be found.
The walls of the Church are adorned with 25 original medieval paintings, and the interior also features the golden altat, one of the oldest high gothic shrine altars in Germany.
Also in town are the ruins of a Franciscan monastery, and a Culture Museum, but the highlight for many visitors to Oberwesel is Schönburg Castle.
The castle sits high on a hill overlooking Oberwesel and is best reached by car. There is a walking path from the town but it quite steep.
Schönburg Castle dates back to the 12th century but was destroyed in the late 17th century. In 1885 a German-American banker fell in love with the ruins and restored the castle to its former glory. Today it houses a Youth Hostel and a hotel and is regularly featured in lists of the 10 best castle hotels in the world.
Guests of the hotel have access to a private garden but anyone visiting the complex can visit the Tower Museum which is housed in an old gate tower. The top level of the tower is an observation deck providing the views that helped Schönburg’s former residents to defend the castle in years gone by.
You don’t need to be staying the night at Schönburg Castle to enjoy the gourmet meals on offer. The restaurant serves both lunch and dinner in two beautifully furnished rooms, and on the terrace (weather permitting). (Closed on Mondays and limited opening times mid-October to mid-January.)
Like to spend the night at Schönburg Castle? Click here to check current prices here.
TIP: I highly recommend you make Schönburg Castle your lunch stop today. I enjoyed a sumptuous lunch on the terrace overlooking the Rhine. The meal and the views won’t be forgotten in a hurry!
Just seven kilometres from Oberwesel is the town of St. Goar. Like Bacharach, Oberwesel and Boppard, it sits on the western bank of the Rhine.
St. Goar’s main claim to fame is the Lorelei rock, which is just upstream from the town. The Lorelei is a steep slate rock face on the eastern side of the rivee that has inspired many myths and poems over the years.
The most popular myth comes from Heinrich Heine’s 1824 poem “Die Lorelei”, in which he describes Lorelei as a female siren with golden hair. According to the poem, Lorelei sits on the cliff above the Rhine combing her hair and singing, and unwittingly distracts shipmen, causing them to crash on the rocks.
The Lorelei is best viewed on a Rhine River cruise (see more details below).
Another of St. Goar’s attractions is the Rheinfels Castle. Built in 1245 to protect the town’s tax collectors, the castle is the largest on the Rhine. The sheer size of the castle and its labyrinth of tunnels and trenches (many of which can still be visited today), saw it withstand many attacks over the centuries. Whilst Schonburg Castle was destroyed in 1689 by Louis XIV’s troops, Rheinfels Castle survived.
A museum, located in the former chapel, showcases the military history and cultural importance of Rheinfels. The castle is open daily from early March until late November. Visit the official website for opening hours.
It’s worth spending a bit of time wandering the town’s medieval streets – where you’ll find plenty of touristy souvenirs – but to me the town centre doesn’t have the same ‘kerb appeal’ as Bacharach or Oberwesel.
End your Rhine River road trip for today by returning to Boppard.
The video below was taken as we cruised past St. Goar and St. Goarhausen on our Rhine River cruise.
Day 4: Rhine River Cruise and amazing views of the Rhine Bend
During your stay in Boppard you will have seen plenty of river cruise ships plying the Rhine with many of them docking in town for the night. The views from the river give you a real appreciation of the steep banks on either side and the number of castles (many now in ruins) that were built to defend the waterway.
Two-and-a-half hour Upper Middle Rhine Valley cruises depart a couple of times a day from the dock on Boppard’s promenade, travelling as far as the Lorelei (just past St. Goar) before returning.
This is a leisurely way to see the Middle Rhine Valley from the water.
Returning from your cruise, it’s time to see the river from above again and enjoy two of the most spectacular views available.
There are two ways to reach the viewing points at Gedeon’s Corner – either by car or by chairlift. The chairlift (Sesselbahn in German) starts at the Muhltal station and in 20 minutes you are whisked up over the vineyards to a height of 240 metres.
Just a couple of minutes walk from the top station, you’ll find Gedeon’s Corner viewing point where you get spectacular views of the largest bend on the Rhine.
From Gedeon’s Corner, walk a few more minutes to the Four Lakes View. As the Rhine winds its way through the hills, it appears as four separate lakes rather than a river.
Both viewing points are well signposted and each has a restaurant (with outdoor dining in fine weather) where you can sit and admire the views over a drink or something to eat. A great way to finish your day.
Video: Views of Boppard and the Rhine from Gedeon's Corner.
Day 5: Boppard to Frankfurt via Kaub and Rüdesheim
Distance: 131 km by car / by train, first travel to Koblenz then to Rüdesheim
Check out of your accommodation and head along the route you travelled on day 3. A few kilometres past Oberwesel you will see the Engelsburg - Kaub ferry crossing point.
The car ferry crosses the Rhine very regularly and within 10 minutes will have you disembarking one the eastern bank at Kaub. The one way fare for a standard sized car and two passengers is around €5.50.
Just after leaving Kaub, you get great views of Bacharach perched on the opposite side of the river. There are a couple of lay-bys where you can pull in to take photos but they are a bit difficult to see, so keep your eyes peeled.
Continue on to Rüdesheim, a larger town and one that’s a popular stop for river cruise ships. Although likely to be pretty busy with tourists, Rüdesheim is well worth a visit.
Wander up the old town’s main street, Drosselgasse, which is lined with traditional wooden buildings adorned with pretty wrought iron and gold signs. The narrow cobbled street is barely wide enough for four people to walk side by side, and is home to a range of souvenir shops, eateries and wine cellars.
At the top of Drosselgasse you’ll find Oberstrasse, home to numerous hotels and restaurants, a range of shops – including a Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Shop – and the starting station for the Seilbahn (cable car) to Niederwalddenkmal.
I highly recommend you catch the cable car and spend some time at Niederwald, a beautiful park above Rüdesheim. Here you can admire the beautiful views over Rüdesheim, the vineyards and the Rhine, and visit the Niederwald-Denkmal.
The Niederwald-Denkmal is a UNESCO-listed monument built in the late 1800s to commemorate the unification of Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. Standing 32 metres tall, the monument can be seen from a long distance and is the landmark of the region.
You can either return to Rüdesheim the same way you arrived (by cable car) or take the ‘ring trip’ which includes a chair lift ride over vineyards to Assmannshausen and a boat trip on the Rhine back to Rüdesheim.
If you’re ready for some refreshments before you set off for Frankfurt, stop in at the lovely Rüdesheimer Hof Hotel on Drosselgasse. In good weather you can enjoy a meal or a drink in the courtyard, whilst the restaurant is open year round.
The Rüdesheimer Hof Hotel is also a great choice if you prefer to stay overnight in Rüdesheim. Click here for current prices.
After exploring Rüdesheim, make your way to Frankfurt, just 66 kilometres away, to end your five-day self drive Rhine Valley visit.
More things to do in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley
Visit the Rhine Castles
There are a huge number of castles in the region and many of these are open to visitors. Aside from Schonberg and Rheinfels Castles mentioned above, a couple of the more popular ones include Lahnstein Castle and Marksburg Castle.
Keen walkers can hike the Rhine Castles Trail for 200 kilometres between Bingen and Koblenz.
The banks on either side of the Rhine provide the perfect growing conditions for grapes, with 65% of the vines producing Riesling.
Local wines are readily available at restaurants and wine bars, in specialty wine shops and cellars.
From Rudesheim, you can enjoy a 1.5 hour Rhine cruise with wine tasting with a local winemaker. Click here for more information and prices
Day trip to Cologne
The city of Cologne is easily reached on a day trip from Boppard.
Cologne’s impressive cathedral, Kölner Dom, is the main attraction but there are also numerous interesting museums (including a chocolate museum), and an attractive Old Town.
To reach Cologne from Boppard you have the following options:
By car: 123 km / 1 hour 20 minutes
By train: 1 hour 30 minutes
Getting to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley
As mentioned above, the region is easily accessible by both car and train. Another option is to travel on the KD Line ferry which runs from April to October between Mainz and Koblenz and stops at 28 towns and villages along the route.
This ‘hop on hop off’ ferry offers a relaxing way to travel along the Rhine. Click here for more info and current prices
If time is limited and you only have a day to visit the Rhine Valley, you could join an organised day trip from Frankfurt. Click here for prices and details
Where to stay on the Rhine
I stayed in an apartment at Residence Bellevue, a sister property to Bellevue Rhein Hotel. The apartment block is located about 150 metres from the hotel itself and both properties are located on the river promenade.
Although called an apartment, there were no cooking facilities (just a sink, tea/coffee facilities, fridge) but breakfast was available at the hotel’s restaurant. Our apartment featured was quite roomy with a separate bedroom and a balcony overlooking the Rhine. Click here to check current prices for Residence Bellevue and for Bellevue Rhein Hotel here.
You can read my review of the Bellevue Rhein Hotel apartment here
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