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The Rhine in December

My husband and I will be visiting Germany in December. We want to explore the Rhine before heading into France. We will have about 6 days. This will be our first time in Germany. We are anxious to explore and see some of the Christmas markets. Just wondering where the best place to base ourselves would be. We will have a car. Is Cologne worth staying a night or two? Any recommendations would be much appreciated.

Posted by
293 posts

Cologne will have a Wonderful market! oh, how I miss Christmas in Germany and Belgium. you'll find Gluehwein, burnt candied almonds, wonderful ornaments, iced gingerbread, oh gosh, what else? you'll love it! there will probably be a Christmas mass of some kind in the great cathedral, organ playing, incense burning, families, a huge Christmas tree inside with a thousand ornaments, etc...

Posted by
15 posts

The Rhine valley between Bingen and Koblenz is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many pretty little towns along the way. We stayed in Bacharach and visited St. Goar (in the summer). You will have flexibility with a car.

We didn't visit Cologne, but beware that that city has a Low Emission Zone, where only low-pollution cars (identified by a green sticker) are allowed.

Posted by
9041 posts

The Rhein in December will have many, very deserted towns. Businesses simply shut down in the winter. There may be one ship per day but you need to contact KD to see if it is running that day.

If you know your dates of travel you can look up the towns you want to visit to see when their Christmas Markets will be held. Other than Rüdesheim, they will just be on one weekend in towns like Bacharach, Boppard, St. Goar, Eltville, etc.

Rüdesheim will be the liveliest small town market. Mainz and Wiesbaden will have large, month long markets. Farther down, in Strasbourg, you have again a lovely market if you want to go in that direction. Cologne and Dusseldor have great markets spread out over the city.

Posted by
6797 posts

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley (which Al describes) is mostly a summertime destination. But there is a certain stark beauty about the place in winter, especially if there's a little snow, and of course the castles still dot the rugged hillsides and make for great scenery. Cruising is just not a very good idea - it's too cold to be very enjoyable as a rule and there is only one boat per day leaving Rüdesheim at 10 (and only if enough people pre-register on that day.) Roads and train tracks serve both sides of the river, however, connecting all the riverfront towns. And ferry crossings (no bridges between Mainz and Koblenz) will be open here and there. One of those Rhine towns is Braubach, the home of Marksburg Castle, a must-see medieval castle if you visit the MRV and open daily year-round (with a holiday exception or two.) Braubach is a small but very attractive old-world town with a Christmas Market on 12/8 & 9.

MRV map

You can stay in small towns like Braubach in winter - I have done so - but dining choices will be fairly slim as they tend to hibernate in winter and you will generally feel a bit isolated there. Mainz (south of the scenic river part, a major city with all you would need and a lively Christmas market) is my favorite winter-home for this area. (It's a significant train hub as well, making outings very simple.) With a car in winter, however, I might prefer to stay in Rüdesheim - the only small town in the scenic zone with enough tourist infrastructure in wintertime. It offers a daily Christmas market and attracts lots of visitors even at this time of year. Also, Rüdesheim is a better place if you have a car as it's not congested like Mainz would be, a good base for drives around the MRV to see the towns and castles, or around other nearby areas... Limburg in the Lahn River Valley, the Mosel River Valley, and the Nahe River Valley, all Rhine tributaries, come to mind.

Rüdesheim is also a good base for visiting Mainz, but don't take the car - the train ride will take you on a trouble-free ride into the heart of town.

With 6 days I'd suggest spending 4 in either Mainz or Rüdesheim. After that, I'd drive to Trier, near Germany's border with Luxembourg on the Mosel River. Trier is a city of decent size with many things to see and do but unique in this area for its collection of UNESCO World Heritage sites and Roman historical sites. It also has a nice Christmas market - and it puts you very close to France.

Posted by
1116 posts

My brother (who spent three years in Mainz) would tell you to go to Koblenz. I'll just say that the valley around Idar-Oberstein is really pretty with a little snow. As for Rudesheim, I think you'll be better served getting a hotel on the river in Bad Kreuznach.

Posted by
136 posts

Bad Kreuznach and Idar-Oberstein aren't on the Rhine, but on the Nahe which flows into the Rhine at Bingen. Both aren't good locations for visiting the Rhine.