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Cruising the Rhine

Planning a cruise on the Rhine River in September 2020 from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam.
I would like suggestions on what Rick Steves' tour books to take.

Also ideas for day trips to Lucern or other Swiss must-see sights from pre-cruise stay in Basel, Switzerland. What are the must-see sights in Amsterdam I need to know about? Stopping in several cities on the Rhine.....would love recommendations for Basel, Switzerland; Breisach, Germany;Strasbourg, France; Speyer, Germany; Koblenz, Germany; Cologne, Germany; Kinderdijk, The Netherlands and Amsterdam.

Would like suggestions for tours, must-see sights, shopping....gifts and local foods to try.
Also suggestions for Rick Steves' guidebpooks to order and pack!!
Thank you!!!

Posted by
4485 posts

lecanter, we did such a cruise (Viking) in 2018, but in the reverse direction. Are you taking into account the included and optional excursions that the cruise offers? We didn't bother taking any RS books with us, since all our time in ports was occupied with the excursions. They also do a briefing every evening about the places you will be visiting the next day. The morning excursions are timed (usually, unless its a longer one) so as to get you back to the ship for lunch. The evening excursions are usually timed to get you back in time for dinner. Some people preferred to go put on their own occasionally, but that gives up the included excursions. Yes, its not fun to be part of a stereotypical big bus convoy marching through a castle following the flag, but it is time efficient and hassle-free. We've done enough independent travel to recognize that we would not have seen as much or got as much detail on our own. Nevertheless, time in port is limited: we tell people that a river cruise is seeing "Europe Lite".

I think going to any of those places on your own will be costly. The ship often docks at an industrial port far from the main part of town (exceptions: Cologne, Kinderdijk). In some cases, it drops off the excursion group and then goes on, to rendezvous with the buses up/down river. One guy missed the ship when he went out on his own and couldn't get a taxi back in time.

It certainly doesn't hurt to read up on the specific places you want to see (esp. Heidelberg, Alsace) so you know something about them ahead of time. But we didn't have time to do anything independently. I'd suggest taking a close look at the excursions, and the wording in the descriptions of what they will include.

Local foods: Kolsch beer in Cologne, after the walking tour. Gouda cheese - we stopped at a cheese farm/factory.

Luzern is worth visiting and staying in if you can. You can stay in Switzerland and Amsterdam independently for a lot less than the optional extensions they offer.

Posted by
10701 posts

Hi lecanter -
You've a nice adventure planned for next year!

First question? Could you post a link to the itinerary for the cruise you'll be taking? It'll give us an idea of just how much time you're going to have in each place. I would imagine only 1 day aside from Basel and Amsterdam? How many nights will you have in Amsterdam?

Editing to add: is this your cruise?
https://www.vikingrivercruises.com/cruise-destinations/europe/rhine-getaway/2020-basel-amsterdam/index.html

If your trip isn't until next fall, you have a lot of time to plan! I'd head to the library and check out guidebooks from multiple publishers for the countries/cities you'll be visiting. Look for the type of attractions you usually enjoy doing on your trips and make a list. Additionally, most cities have official online tourism websites, such as this one for Koblenz (can recommend 3 of that city's churches as well as a couple in Speyer, if into that sort of thing):

https://www.koblenz-tourism.com

Nothing at all is a "must see", and no tour is a "must take" unless it's a must-see/must-take for YOU so you'll be the best person to make those choices! You'll also want to make note of days/hours attractions might be closed, should those closures coincide with the days you're scheduled to be in town.

Also editing to add: These comments from Stan are significant as it sounds like they took essentially the same tour:

"I think going to any of those places on your own will be costly. The ship often docks at an industrial port far from the main part of town (exceptions: Cologne, Kinderdijk). In some cases, it drops off the excursion group and then goes on, to rendezvous with the buses up/down river."

"But we didn't have time to do anything independently. I'd suggest taking a close look at the excursions, and the wording in the descriptions of what they will include."

Posted by
4767 posts

Planning a cruise on the Rhine River in September 2020 from Basel,
Switzerland to Amsterdam. I would like suggestions on what Rick
Steves' tour books to take.

Rick Steves books tend to be oriented toward the independent traveler rather than cruise groups - and they are selective rather than comprehensive. If you have chosen to do this cruise, you'd likely do better to consult other guidebooks and other sources which are more complete. I doubt that Rick's recent works have much to say about a place like Speyer, which has a number of good things to see and do, things you can read about on Tripadvisor, for example (my older copy of GAS has nothing on it.)

If you are still "planning" rather than already booked, take into account that much of the cruise route scenery is pretty dull, and that you will miss out on day trip destinations that don't fit neatly into the cruise schedule. The truly scenic part of the Rhine between Bingen and Boppard is filled with old-world towns and castles and vineyards on the cliffsides - you might want several days there - but it's compact and it can be day-cruised in about 2 hours. This segment is about 1/3 of the yellow segment on this map. The towns in this section are very charming and can serve as good bases for outings by boat, train, or car.

So... it's a pretty simple matter to plan one's own stay and transport in different spots on/near the Rhine from Switzerland to the Netherlands if you wish to. It's a lot easier to explore the Alsace, the Black Forest, the Neckar River Valley, and other popular destinations near the Rhine if you can make your own schedule - and you can surely get some good tips on this forum for making such plans.

Posted by
378 posts

Over the last 20 years we have travelled independently and more recently with small groups either through a university travel group or with Viking. There are advantages and disadvantages to either option and everything is a trade off. Since you have chosen to travel with a river cruise company you will give up your independence in some cases and your ability to just sit a while or poke around if you want. On a Viking river cruise you will have some free time but it is limited so I do not think you will need a Rick Steves guide book. Rely on your local guides at each stop for dining and shopping recommendations if time permits. We ended a river cruise in Basel and spent a week on our own in Zurich, Geneva and the Swiss Alps. Maybe a combination of planned travel with a group and independent travel would work for you as well. Switzerland is spectacular!

Posted by
3241 posts

We did a Rhine cruise with Viking from Basel to Amsterdam. We arrive a couple days prior to the cruise and spent time in Basel. Contact the Basel Tourism office for a great walking tour and other info on the lovely town. I also highly recommend Luzern as a lovely little city to visit. The last I saw, RS doesn't include info on Basel in his guide. Don't think its not a lovely town, however. Its a pretty, colorful town situated on the river.

I did a fair amount of research for our trip, just as I do for other trips. I typically copy or pull pages from guides, mostly RS, for our travels. We found with our tour that we had a couple hours of free time or sometimes up to a half day. I wanted to be prepared for that time so I pulled together info on each port destination and organized into large ziplock bags so that It was all organized and prioritized so we could take off and do some exploring at our first opportunity.

I always like the RS walking tours offered in the guides. Some of these are on his app, and work well to discover areas not otherwise covered on the tour. We did not do any optional cruise tours. We felt they were pricey and we could do the same activities on our own.

EDITED TO ADD:

Breisach. Facing the town from the river, there are two hills. To the left is the cathedral. We hiked up to the cathedral and walked around the old town. Just down the hill was a sparkling wine producer that does tasting. We then walked up thru grape vines to the other hill to the right as you get off the boat for fantastic views of the cathedral.
Strasbourg. We did the cruise tour in the morning, went back to the ship for lunch and then went back on our own to wander around the town.
Speyer-Our cruise did not go here, we went to Heidelberg. As I recall Speyer has a beautiful church.
Rudesheim-Really touristy town. There was an optional tour to a winery which we skipped. Avoid the touristy street along the river with all the shops that sell the same stuff. Walk up above the city for views of the Rhine. Consider walking to the monument or taking the gondola. It also appeared that you could take the gondola to the neighboring town, Assmanhausen which appeared to be quite charming.
Koblenz-Confluence of the Rhine and Mosel. I had a walking tour of the town which was quite interesting. There is a gondola going to a castle that looked like it could be quite interesting.
Cologne-We had a walking tour in the morning with a visit into the cathedral. After lunch on the ship, we went back into the old town and ended in a bar to taste the kolsch, easy and inexpensive to do on your own.
Kinderdijk-We took the scheduled tour in the afternoon. Very pretty area. Some folks took an optional tour for cheese making. We choose to stay on the ship while it cruised through the Netherlands. We stayed a couple extra days in Amsterdam and tasted cheese there.

My advice to you would be to collect info on each of your ports. Prioritize what you'd like to do in each area and organize the material into packets.