Along the Rhine, there are plenty of charming towns that will make you step back in time. Bacharach is undoubtedly for me, one of the prettiest of the Rhine villages.
The last time I visited Bacharach was in February, and I was lucky enough to have a snow day. This small German medieval town is definitely a must during any season, but you can’t deny that the snow adds a little something else.
Wondering through Bacharach by itself is already an amazing experience. Bacharach is a charming small town behind a 14th-century wall, with narrow cobblestone streets, and historic buildings with half-timbered mansions involved by imposing vineyards.
The Stahleck Castle marks it’s presence up from the hill, with a breathtaking view of the Rhine river.
There are several paths leading up to the castle and down to town. It can be a bit steep and slippery in places with the snow and the ice, but the views are worthy. The courtyard of the castle overlooks the Rhine and the valley of Lorelei.
The tiny Bacharach is easily reachable by train. The train journey stretches along the Rhine river, and the journey is simply amazing dotted with castles, vines and, small historical towns.
The Rhine Gorge is like something out of a fairytale with castles dotted as far as the eye can see, medieval towns, and great wine.
Personally, I recommend Bacharach as a day out. Because there will be more and better options for accommodation and food elsewhere, plus the train journey is easy, comfortable and the views a delight.
If you do decide to overnight, there are plenty of options including the castle. Yes! it’s true, they transformed the 12th century fortified castle into a hostel.
Cologne is mostly known for its beautiful Gothic cathedral and crazy carnival, and I was lucky enough to experience both. Cologne is also a major cultural center.
After Düsseldorf I took the train down to Cologne, the largest city of the German Bundesland of North Rhine-Westphalia, during carnival time (Karneval).
Carnival is a big deal in Germany, and the city of Cologne was unrecognizable when I arrived. There was a festive spirit in the air, lots of alcohol, music, fun, noise, crowds and thousands of people dressed up. Cologne’s Carnival is the biggest in Germany and has a long and rich history which I did not know much about, until then.
The City of Cologne
Cologne is a fairly walkable city, but if you are more of a bus person, a single ticket costs €2.80 a day pass is €8.60. Cologne also has a dense network of bike routes along the Rhine.
The river runs through the heart of old town so you can also take a cruise along the river.
Altstadt (The Old Town)
Cologne doesn’t really impress with its old town since only a tiny area of historic streets survived the World War II. The reman streets are colorful and great for a wander around.
The Köln’s Dom
The world-famous Gothic cathedral, is located right next to the train station, in the center of Köln, is the fourth-tallest in the world, and luckily survived the war. The construction and details are quite impressive, and I do recommend going in the morning before everyone else arrives. Visiting the cathedral is free.
The South Tower, is 157 meters high, with 533 steps, (4€) if the weather is good you have a great panoramic view all the way over and around Cologne and the Rhine river.
The Belgian Quarter
Located outside old town, is kind of a pot mixing bits and pieces of France, Belgium and Germany. Here all the street are named after cities in Belgium, like Brüsseler Platz, a beautiful scare surrounding a church.
There is a huge variety of local and international boutique shops, ethnic markets, restaurants, and local cafes to discover.
It’s another area outside old town that deserves to be explored. A few years ago some well-renowned covered Ehrenfeld with stunning murals.
Art Museums & Street Art
Cologne has a number of excellent museums, like The Ludwig Museum with an impressive Pop Art collection with work from the well known Warhol and Lichtenstein, and great street art to be found around the city. For instance, in Ehrenfeld, or Eigelstein, the key is to leave old town and walk around back streets, side streets and all the roads in between the main ones.
Some other museums are quite unusual, such as the German Olympic Museum the Chocolate Museum or the perfume museum.
If you do like museums, its best to buy the MuseumsCard (€18)
This is one of twelve gates of the medieval city wall located in Rudolfplatz.
Skulpturen Park Köln (sculpture park)
It is a relaxing and interesting place that combines art and nature. Artists have been commissioned, to create work that interacts creatively with the surrounded nature. The entry is free, and the park combines permanent and temporary exhibition.
Located in the north of the city, next to the zoo. It’s a great place to visit during summer and spring. The park is very well maintained, and the entrance is free.
Cologne’s streets are home to an exceptionally large number of flea markets, there you may find amazing and affordable vintage items. Even if you don’t want to buy something, it still is a nice place with a special atmosphere, to walk through looking at the antiques. If you are there to buy bargaining is a must, most of the markets also have food and beverage stalls.
The panorama tower, Köln Triangle
this impressive high-rise KölnTriangle offers a good 360-degree panorama view of Cologne, to go up they charge a €3 fee.
Love Lock Bridge
The Hohenzollern Bridge or Love Lock Bridge is completely covered with tens of thousands of padlocks, each one engraved with names, dates or something romantic.
From Old Town, you can cross one of the numerous bridges that separate the two parts of the city. From this side, there’s a great view of old town and the Cathedral.
If you have time:
Take a train and pop into some of the many picturesque towns outside of Cologne along the Rhine.
Drachenfels has a spectacular castle, called the Dranchenburg Castle. 1 1/2 hours by train.
Aachen is a university-town great for history-lovers, and it is close to Belgium. 1 hour by train.
Koblenz, is a town full of ancient history, 1.5 hour by train.
Mainz, its a nice little university town with a medieval center and an impressive cathedral. 1.5 hours by train.
Marburg is picturesque medieval hill town with narrow cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. 2.5 hours by train.
Mainz stretches along the Rhine at its confluence with the River Main. It’s a small university city that is more charming, beautiful and vibrant that the famous neighbors of Cologne and Frankfurt.
Mainz is part of one of the most scenic train rides in all of Germany, to say the least. So travel by train is mandatory. You really can’t miss it, I assure that the ride will be one of the highlights of your trip to Germany.
The train journey is along the banks of the river, its a relaxing journey that dazzles with its ruins of old fortresses, beautiful castles, small medieval towns, and countless vines. Most of the towns in this line are worth a visit if you have the time.
A good way to visit them is to stay in Mainz and do a return day journey to visit some of the most historic towns along the river.
Mainz has a charming and inviting Old Town, easily explored by foot. The historic streets impress mostly with it’s fantastic architecture, cobbled streets, beautiful half-timbered houses, small boutiques, appealing open squares, restaurants, wine bars, rustic taverns and interesting museums and churches.
The atmospheric square, where the weekly farmers market takes place is the place where the impressive Roman Catholic church from the 10th century is located. The beautiful Mainz Cathedral – Dom is perfectly situated in the heart of the city, facing the Gutenberg Museum.
This museum is one of the oldest printing museums in the world and was founded over 500 years ago. The exhibition is a journey through the writing and printing history.
Unlike the Dom, the Gutenberg museum is not free. The ticket is 5€ for adults.
From the museum when walking through the pedestrian street “Augustinerstraße” (Augustinerstrasse), you can still see some details of the magnificent cathedral. This street leads to a Roman theatre.
The St. Stephen’s Church It’s another church that deserves a visit, for its world-famous Chagall windows. They have that name because of the ethereal stained-glass created by the Russian-Jewish artist Marc Chagall, as a symbol of the Jewish–Christian reconciliation.
A walk on the promenade along the Rhine River banks is also great.
Mainz old town is a bit more than one kilometer from the train station.
Cycling is also an option in Mainz, you just need the install an app to use one of the many public bicycles around town.
Ryanair links several European airports with Frankfurt-Hahn airport, which is closer to Mainz than Frankfurt.
To reach the airport from the city or the city from the airport buy online a ticket from one of the low-cost bus companies. The bus is direct and takes 1.30h.
If you’re a fan of Carnaval you should go in February to take part in the traditional carnival festivities.
But destiny (and cheap flights) made me end up there, and I didn’t miss the opportunity to visit 🙂 I had no expectation about Düsseldorf. It had never really crossed my mind going there, so I was kind of surprised how pretty it was, and how Düsseldorf’s art scene was so amazing.
Dusseldorf is very close to the famous city of Cologne and is the capital of the German state North Rhine-Westphalia.
>> Düsseldorf old city center
Dusseldorf has a small charming area that is intact in the old city center (Altstadt), the rest of the city was mostly rebuilt after the war.
Passing over the Stadtgarden you can make your way into the old city and the boardwalk that runs along the Rhine River.
To explore the area is better by foot. Just walk randomly through the web of lanes. This district is known as “the longest bar in the world”, because the small Old Town has more than 300 pubs.
In the Old City Center, you will not miss the Marktplatz square with the Town Hall and the equestrian statue of Elector John William II. During the Carnaval and Christmas, this place is full flow.
The Castle Tower right on the banks of the Rhine is another important stop, as it’s the only remaining piece of the old castle that used to dominate the area.
Düsseldorf’s biggest church is called St. Lambertuskirsch. It’s not the Cologne cathedral but still beautiful and quite impressive, you will recognize it for its twisted tower.
>> The Japanese quarter
Dusseldorf has the third largest Japanese community in Europe, and the Japanese culture is very present around the Japanese quarter, centered around Immermannstr.
As a tourist destination, this area lacks in charm or atmosphere but you can find here Japanese shops, restaurants, tea shops, travel agencies, appliance stores, grocery stores, etc.. its kind of a little Tokyo or Japantown.
>> The Königsallee (King’s Alley)
This famous shopping street has beautiful stone walkways and a picturesque canal in the backdrop. It is literally a shoppers’ paradise, and for people like me, a place for a nice, long walk.
It’s called Kö by the locals, and it’s a great staring point to discover the city. Where the Königsallee Boulevard converges with the Hofgarten promenade, you have the sinuous Kö-Bogen; a large-scale office and retail complex. The Hofgarten promenade it’s a relaxing place to read a book, drink a coffee or do a picnic near the lake.
No matter which side of the Rhine you choose to walk through; the views are amazing. The Burgplaz marks the beginning of the promenade, wandering along the Rhine River from the Altstadt towards the Rhineturm, is a fantastic walkway ,watching the ship’s and tourists boats up and down the river and the surrounding architecture.
Rhine Tower (Rheinturm)
The Rheinturm is a 240.5-meter high concrete telecommunications tower, in the head of a modern district on the river. From the top, you have an overall look of Dusseldorf.
The Japanese Garden is a wonderful place for meditation, despite the distance from the city center, you can easily cycle there. The Volksgarten is another great park perfect for a summer picnic. It has a small beer garden open during summer months.
Have you ever been to Düsseldorf?
What did you like the most? Do you have any recommendations?