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5 World Heritage Sites to Explore on a Rhine River Cruise

13th September 2017

Steeped in silent legends that wind along its history-laden banks, the ‘Father Rhine’ holds more secrets than we will ever know. From the lofty heights of Swiss Alps to the shores of the North Sea, this ancient trade route of the Holy Roman Empire beckons to intrepid travelers.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has honoured the preservation of culturally rich destinations along the banks of the Rhine with its World Heritage Site designation.

“World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world,” states UNESCO, “irrespective of the territory on which they are located.” A Rhine river cruise offers a flawless recipe for blending old-world travel, modern creature comforts, world-class destinations and like-minded wanderers from all over the world. 

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Neuf Brisach Rhine
The fascinating architecture of Neuf-Brisach, France

Neuf-Brisach, France

The star-shaped fortified town of Neuf-Brisach was originally built to defend the border between France and the Roman Empire. The red-roofed villas of the Old Town are encircled by impressive earthworks laid out in a star pattern that date back to the end of the 17th century.

The fortress was the final masterpiece of the military engineer Vauban, whose group of 12 works makes up the Fortification of Vauban World Heritage Site.

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Historic Centre Strasbourg
Petite France is set at the western end of the historic centre of Strasbourg and is one of the city's main attractions

Strasbourg, France

This cultural mosaic of a city is proclaimed for its serene clash of cultures that includes influences of the periods of Roman Antiquity, Rhineland Renaissance and French 18th century classicism.

The French-built Grande-Île (historic centre) is distinctively unified with the German-designed Neustadt (new town) which surrounds it. The result is a delightfully intriguing maze of stone alleyways, flower-trimmed canals and half-timbered little houses that you could swear have risen straight from the pages of a fairytale.

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Speyer Cathedral Rhine Germany
The Speyer Cathedral is the resting place of notable kings and emperors in Germany's history

Speyer, Germany

One of the region’s oldest cities, the streets of Speyer dance with the stories of Celtic settlers and Roman residents. Watching steadily over the merry town is the Kaiserdom – the Speyer Cathedral that is noted by UNESCO to be “historically, artistically and architecturally one of the most significant examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe.” The unique red sandstone walls of the cathedral were the burial place of Holy Roman and German emperors and house sculptures that date back to its origins in 1030.

Explore these wonders on a luxury voyage along the romantic Rhine with Crystal Cruises, now offering a range of fantastic-value packages for river and ocean cruising

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Cologne Cathedral Rhine Europe
The northern tower of the Cologne Cathedral soars to 157 metres

Cologne, Germany – Kolner Dome

Cologne, where revered antiquity meets contemporary design, presents an architectural feast for the eyes. From renaissance spires to avant-garde museums, the city is the cultural heart of the Rhineland.

One of Germany’s most iconic landmarks, the World Heritage Site of the Kölner Dom cathedral, was constructed without changes in design over a lengthy stretch of seven centuries. The wildly magnificent Gothic basilica protects the shrine of the biblical Magi - the Three Wise Men.

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Romantic Rhine Gorge
The Rhine Gorge produces its own micro climate and supports species not otherwise found in the region

Upper Middle Rhine Valley

Visually dramatic and culturally entrenched, the entire Rhine Gorge section of the river in Germany earned an emphatic UNESCO nod. Known as the “romantic Rhine”, the river has played the leading part in a time-honoured drama of battles and alliances between the civilizations of ancient Europe.

The walls of the gorge rise over 400 feet from the placid waters of the river, which give away no secrets of the powerful forces of nature that once carved the deep canyon. The steep banks are lined with folkloric castles, medieval villages and enchanting vine-covered terraces.

One particularly awe-inspiring feature is the Loreley Rock, a massive slate monolith that has inspired legends and myth still present in German culture today. Cruising through the past along the River Rhine, one can’t help but feel miniscule in the scale of the enormous geographic and cultural forces at play here.