A golden autumn along Europe’s mighty Rhine River is surely a sight to see.
Autumn foliage along the Rhine peaks from late September to early October, and one of the ways you can revel in its splendor is by setting sail on an intimate river cruise, many of which ply through the Netherlands, Germany, France and Switzerland.
Watch from the deck of your cozy ship as it passes castle after storybook castle, especially in the fabled 40-mile Middle Rhine Valley, where centuries-old architectural wonders dot the riverbanks. The golden evergreens and colorful autumn leaves only add to their elegant charm.
Many Rhine River cruises begin or end in Amsterdam. The most populous city in the Netherlands is known for its 60-mile canal system and stunning Dutch golden age architecture. But it’s also one of the leafiest cities in Europe, with more than 400,000 trees lining the canals. Come October, a sea of orange and red leaves floods the cobblestone streets and waterways. There will still be plenty left on the trees as you bike around to find the perfect photo op or venture to the famed Rijksmuseum, which is home to several Rembrandts, including “The Night Watch.” When you set sail, fall colors will be on full display as you float past remarkable castles, terraced vineyards and historic fortresses dressed in an autumn backdrop. Outside the happy hustle of Amsterdam, Veluwezoom National Park in Gelderland is a dazzling place for hiking and cycling. Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, is loaded with innovative architecture that’s worth the trip, even if it is a tad light on the fall foliage.
The Rhine passes through populous German cities such as Mannheim, Cologne and Dusseldorf. Magnificent castles and castle ruins like Rheinfels Castle and Katz Castle are just some of the impressive structures river cruisers will witness wrapped in gold and orange cloaks come fall. During “Rhine in Flames” festivals in late summer and early autumn, castles along the river are illuminated and guests can enjoy fireworks, music and more. When docked in Cologne, take a guided walking tour of the city and be awed by the twin-spired Cologne Cathedral, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe. If you have time, some of Germany’s most beautiful colors can be found in the southeastern state of Bavaria. Neuschwanstein Castle, which was home to the former King of Bavaria, is a popular tourist destination that looks spectacular when the leaves change color. The Bavarian city of Munich also has the world’s biggest Oktoberfest, which draws more than 16 million visitors each year.
Many Rhine cruises stop in Strasbourg, France, the seat of the European Parliament and a popular transportation hub known for its manufacturing and engineering prowess. The city has the second largest port on the Rhine and its heart – the Grande Ile – is surrounded by cute canals and the Ill River. As the city empties out at the end of summer, its trees, parks and gardens glow with gorgeous fall colors. While in Strasbourg, visit the historic Petite France quarter. Stroll past the famous Strasbourg Cathedral, which was the world’s tallest building from 1647 to 1874. Wine lovers with a long stay in Strasbourg might consider a trip to the Loire Valley in central France, with its abundance of vineyards, cherry orchards and artichoke fields. It’s one of the world’s most renowned areas for wine production, known for producing crisp, fruity flavors. The chateaux aren’t too shabby, either.
The Swiss city of Basel is another popular starting and ending point for river cruises. Situated near where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel is also where the Rhine changes its westerly flow to a northerly one. That section of the river is called the Rhine knee, and its banks look sumptuous in orange and gold. In Basel, tour some of the 40 museums in the city, including the Kunstmuseum for modern art. You can also visit the Basel Paper Mill to see how paper was made by hand 500 years ago. In the fall, Basel holds an annual autumn fair. You can count on the smell of cinnamon in the air and about 1 million visitors in attendance. Try some magenbrot, a chocolate-ginger biscuit. Because of its proximity to Germany and France, many cruise providers also offer excursions from Basel into neighboring countries, which is perfect for anyone itching for a bratwurst or baguette. You might also find that perfect fall foliage photo as you hit the water or explore the countryside one more time.
The Rhine River is beautiful any time of year, but especially during the fall. While a river cruise is not the only way to see its brilliance, it will take you to several cities and dock you right at the heart of the action. After all, we all know how fast a vacation can go. Why not spend every second spotting something spectacular?
Can’t get enough leaf-peeping goodness? Visit AAA.com/NortheastFoliage for more fun fall foliage finds.