Upper Middle Rhine Valley
The Upper Middle Rhine Valley is a cultural landscape that has been formed by the transport of means and ideas for over 2,000 years.
The Middle Rhine Valley stretches for 65km between Koblenz and Mainz, in central Germany. This area is full off medieval castles, historic towns and vineyards.
The rocky Rhine Valley was already a major traffic route in Roman times. During the Middle Ages, the many castles were built. Its owners levied tolls on the roads and the river, in return for protection against robbers.
Navigating the Rhine itself was also dangerous: there are many currents. Especially the Binger Loch was an obstacle. For a long time it took the power of 40 horses to tow a ship across this treacherous point.
And don't forget the Loreley. This is the most narrow and deepest point along the way. It's also famous for its echo, which features in many legends like the one about the siren Loreley who lures sailors with her voice.
Map of Upper Middle Rhine ValleyLoad map
Visit July 2003
By car I drove on the left side of the Rhine from Koblenz to Bingen. There I took a ferry, and drove the same 55 km back. This is a really great way to enjoy all the wonderful views in this area.
The funny thing is that you get the best views on the monuments on the opposite side of the Rhine. So when you see a really nice castle, the Rhine is always between the castle and yourself.
However, I did enter some of the most interesting ones. The Marksburg Castle is surely not to be missed. It still is quite intact, and there are guided tours that take you into the Middle Ages (at least for an hour or so).
Some of the best German memories I have are from the day I spent traveling through the Upper Middle Rhine Valley by boat between St Goar and Bacharach. The Rhine River cuts a gorge through this section of western Germany, and the steep hillsides covered with terraced vineyards were spectacular in autumn. The Lorelei rock near St Goar was pretty impressive as viewed from the river, even with its siren mythology that speaks of rivermen becoming distracted and crashing against the rock. All along the river were fortresses that highlighted the importance of river trade throughout the centuries, including Rheinfels Castle, Katz Castle, and Pfalzgrafstein Castle, which was built on an island in the river and served as a toll station for passing vessels. This section of the Rhine is incredibly memorable, and, like Klaus and Gatis, I am surprised it took until 2002 for this German cultural treasure to be inscribed as a World Heritage Site. I would highly recommend a trip along the Rhine to anyone traveling through Germany.
Logistics: The Upper Middle Rhine Valley can be seen by train, automobile, or foot, but I highly recommend traveling the river by boat.
The best way to really see this WHS is to travel along the river (although I did see a few people cycling the roads along the bank - also a good option).
I think many people go on organised cruises but you can also just get the ferries in between the different towns and explore on your own. I used the KD ship - started in Bacharach and finished at Koblenz, stopping at Sankt Goar for an hour along the way.
I stayed the night in Bacharach beforehand which was a really lovely spot. I used the youth hostel which is in an old castle at the top of the hill - quite spectacular accommodation!
Read more from Michael Turtle here.
For over 25 years I have been traveling to World Heritage Sites around the world. This is a film about the Rhine Valley in Germany (Swedish voice-over with English subtitles).
The Upper Middle Rhine Valley is an outstanding example of a European cultural landscape. The World Heritage Site comprises the 65 km long section between Koblenz and Bingen / Rüdesheim and the surrounding hills of the „Rheinisches Schiefergebirge“ (Rhenish Slate Mountains). The unique appearance of the landscape resulted from both, the natural course of the river and the human activities. During the last two millenniums, this section of the river was an important trade route, a border, the place of exchange between cultures, and battlefield in several wars.
Undoubtedly, a boat cruise is the best way to visit the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. On a hot summer day in August 2012 we started at 9 am in Rüdesheim with the first boat tour. The trip to Koblenz takes four hours, the return by train takes one hour. The boat ride is also available in the reverse direction, but upriver it takes two hours more. Sitting on the upper deck, we enjoyed the view to the steep vineyards, the castles, and the picturesque villages that lie on the narrow strip of the shore. Almost on every hill and cliff, there is a castle or ruin. We have not counted them, but according to our guide book, there are more than 40 of them.
The castles were built between the 12th and 14th Century, but most of them were destroyed in the following centuries, during the Thirty Years' War and the War of the Palatine Succession. Many castles were rebuilt in the 19th Century, in the period of the Rhine romanticism. Many are privately owned, but some can be visited. The most rewarding are the Marksburg (the only medieval castle at the Middle Rhine that was never destroyed), Stolzenfels Castle (in neo-Gothic style, a good example for the Rhine romanticism), and Pfalzgrafenstein (a former toll station on a small island in the Rhine, it can be reached by a small ferry from Kaub). However, I have visited these castles many years ago during a bike trip along the Rhine valley and I have only vague memories of the interiors. At that trip we stayed overnight in the Stahleck Castle in Bacharach and I can confirm the review of Ian Cade, that it's a fantastic place for accommodation.
If possible, you should make also a detour uphill to some of the numerous viewing points. There are several places where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Rhine Valley. I can recommend the following: the „Rheinblick“ in Patersberg (photo, view to the famous Loreley, the Castle Katz and St Goar), the Stahleck Castle in Bacharach (the most beautiful town in the valley), the restaurant „Gedeonseck“ near Filsen (view to the Boppard Loop where the Rhine makes an impressive curve).
If you are travelling by car, you should note that there is no bridge over the Rhine between Mainz and Koblenz. But you can cross the river by one of the ferries.
I visited this WHS in September 2010. The Rhine Valley is best viewed by car meandering down the German roads from one small town to the next. Some of the highlights of my trip were Bacharach, Heidelberg and Burg Eltz.
After having travelled the Rhine valley by train a couple of times I realised that I had missed a lot. So last year I took the KD boat from Bingen to Koblenz and saw both banks of the river from a moving vantage point in the middle. I didn't get off to visit any castles although it was possible. I would recommend this means of visiting this site.
31 July 2005, the Upper Middle Rhein was as beautiful as ever. Definitely worthwhile to take a boat along the river, then you can take the train back to your starting point (or, of course, round trip on the boat). You can get off and on the boat (be sure you get the right kind of ticket) and visit various towns/castles along the way. St. Goar was hosting a Ritterspiele (Knights' Festival) this weekend and there were hundreds of kids around, learning how to fight with broadswords and axes, dancing, music (and the ubiquitous wurst and Coke). All the activity made it a little easier to imagine 4,000 people living in the castle during a siege.
The Rhine Valley is THE classic German, and maybe even European, landscape, and should have been the first German site on the list, as suggested below. Well, in the early years UNESCO didn't accept cultural landscapes, but they made good in 2002. The site includes the most well-known stretch of the river between Koblenz (where the Moselle meets the Rhine at the Deutsches Eck) and Bingen. In between, there are countless small towns such as St. Goar and St. Goarshausen, connected by a ferry offering you a nice view of the vineyards on the shore. Close by is the famous Loreley rock, which is actually quite unremarkable today, because much of it was blown off in the early 20th century to make the passage easier for ships. I would have loved to see a castle or two, but it was raining too heavily, and the Rhine was almost at flood-level. It is obvious that the region's heyday as a tourist destination is over (I have never seen two more derelict train stations than in the two towns mentioned above), but it is still a very nice region that deserves a longer visit than most people give it.
We only managed to visit the Southern part of the valley, from Bingen to Bacharach, however we really enjoyed the experience, and felt we got a feel for the site as a whole.
We spent a night in Bacharach, in the fantastic Castle Stahleck, which sits on the steep hills above the village. The castle is a tourist site in it's own right featuring on most of the tourist literature for the valley, and well worth the sometimes treacherous hike up from the river. It is now a Youth Hostel, and ranks up there with the most impressive and unique budget accommodation I have stayed in (A cave under the Sahara-cum-Star Wars set in Tunisia, may just beat it though). It has a massively impressive wine list, testament to the incredibly steep vineyards that line the whole of the valley. These vineyards are an integral part of the landscape and culture, and a few glasses of the local Rieslings really complete the experience of visiting the valley.
The village of Bacharach is incredibly pretty with lots of half-timbered buildings (picture with vineyard in background), and cobbled streets. It was very quiet on a Thursday morning in January, but I gather it gets very busy in summer. We missed out on having a boat trip as we couldn't quite fit it into our itinerary, but this would really be a lovely way to experience the area.
The villages on the western bank of the river are linked by a great train line, which runs along the bank providing great views. There seems to be two trains an hour from most of the stations between Koblenz and Mainz.
I really enjoyed the southern half of the Valley and it is a very easy place to visit, within easy reach of Cologne in the north and Frankfurt in the south. It could take up as much time as you would like to give it, and Castle Stahleck is a real highlight and I can really recommend staying a night there.
After putting long list of different German monuments, which are not so interesting to my mind, finally in 2002 they remembered Rhine valley. It had to be one of the first to come from Germany!
If you drive a car (I had to), then it would be a problem. Road is winding, and you should be very careful all the time - but the views around are incredible! Nature has made deep and magnificent valley and people have developed here excellent landscape dotted with castles and lovely towns and villages. Here you can start to believe that there is harmony between man and nature - at least visually.
True - it is worth to drive also along the right coast of Rhine - less traffic and magnificent views. On some places try also the upper road along the right coast.
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Includes former TWHS Ehrenbreitstein Fortress Koblenz (1984)
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