Most people think of luxury when they think of Rhine Valley, however it’s possible to visit this beautiful region without breaking the bank. I absolutely love castles and vineyards, however I don’t have the money for a Viking River Cruise (I wish!). This is a guide to visiting the beautiful UNESCO Heritage site of the Upper Rhine Valley without sacrificing thousands of euros for a river cruise.
The biggest key to getting low prices is to avoid high season: Late May, June, & July. This is when the cruisers are in town and prices will JUMP. I promise it’s just as lovely in the other months and you’ll love exploring uncrowded castles and picturesque little towns.
This is simple: castles, wine, charming towns, and nature. Your trip has gone horribly wrong if you don’t end up seeing at minimum 2 castles while in Rhein Valley. For wine lovers, the famous German Riesling from close-by Mosel & Rhine Valley is cheap and easily available. The beauty of the region surprised me, and there's plenty to do outdoors. Lastly, find out how to save money while staying in a castle.
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A lot of castles are in the UNESCO protected region of Rhein Valley(the highest number within the world!}, albeit some are more expensive to visit, however you can admire almost all of them for free from below or across the Rhine. That said, there are some castles that are definitely worth seeing and that aren’t too expensive either.
Castle Stolzenfels. It’s the fairy tale castle, straight out of your childhood stories and it’s only five euros to enter with a free tour included. The castle was originally built in the 13th century, however it fell into disrepair. The Crown Prussian Prince, Frederick William, decided to renovate this castle after many of his family members were rebuilding castles in the Rhine valley. In order to get to this castle, you park at the bottom of the hill and hike up a gorgeous hillside before passing a “mini-castle” close to the entrance. The vista, gardens, overlook and the church are absolutely stunning.
Castle Pfalzgrafenstein. Incredible view from afar. This lovely castle was used as a toll booth from the 14th century to the 19th century for any ships passing on the Rhine. They had a long metal chain to prevent boats from passing by without paying the toll and whenever traders would refuse to pay, they would imprison them in a well until someone would pay a ransom for them. Interestingly, Stolzenfels itself was used as the protecting castle for this toll booth. You don’t need to pay anything to admire this castle from the banks of the Rhein.
Castle Marksburg. Despite being one of the most famous castles in the region, it’s still only seven euros for entry. You must go with a guided tour, which used to be only in German, however there are tours in English now. Just plan ahead of time. This is the only castle in Rhine Valley that was never destroyed and it’s worth enjoying the décor. You will need to cross the river to go here by ferry [more below] if you stay on the West side of the Rhein.
The real reason for coming to this area. Just in case you were not aware, Riesling is the main wine produced in the region from its namesake grape. There are different varieties and degrees of dryness. My favorite is the semi-dry Riesling, which are a bit more acidic than the Riesling that I’m used to from the United States. Some are slightly higher in sugars and therefore a bit sweeter—and there’s always the dessert Rieslings for those who prefer a sweeter taste. For more information about Riesling varieties in the Rhine, read more here and here is a list of all the wineries in the region.
Unfortunately, if you’re driving yourself, it makes it a bit tricky to do more than sample wines knowing you need to drive. There ARE (expensive) tours to do this, however if you’re a wine lover, just call your favorite to see if you can do a free wine tasting.
Even easier and potentially cheaper if you're guilty of buying too many bottles from wineries: Stay in one of the charming towns in Rhine Valley, find a good wine bar, bring cash [as the bar might not take cards], and ask about all the wine on the menu. I paid between 2 and 4.40 per glass [with large pours] for top quality Riesling with a little introduction about the wine from the waiter at a local bar. Most bars will let you sample wine that is by the glass.
For the ultra frugal, you should visit the local supermarket for a bottle. A lot of the small towns don't have large supermarkets, but you can also head to one of the largest cities, including Koblenz or Frankfurt to pick up a bottle on your way.
There are many towns famous for the wine along the Rhine. If you stay in one of them, you can enjoy the cobblestone streets, the view of the Rhine, and the assortment of wine bars available. In low season, fewer might be open, but after exploring Boppard and Oberwesel, I can definitely recommend staying in a town instead of one of the hotels directly on the Rhine because you can walk the cobblestone streets at night and wander into local-only bars that will be less expensive to drink in. We mistakenly crashed a German birthday party at a bar in Oberwesel.
We stayed in Oberwesel, the city of towers. The city began as a part of a Celtic settlement and it’s had quite an interesting history as it took part in trade over the centuries. There are numerous timber-frame buildings and 16 towers still intact, so much so that people still reside in them. The original city wall still remains and you can enjoy a scenic view of the city and the castle towering over the entire city from walking on top of it. It’s easy to imagine going back in time.
Get Into Nature
You will see numerous bikers biking around and along Rhine Valley. It’s an absolutely stunning bike ride along the Rhine if you’re into bike rides although you can also take the higher/more challenging route to reach nearby wineries and the forests close by. In spring you will see lots of canola fields in bloom.
For anyone who loves hiking, you can do the Oelsberg via ferrata, which is a challenging hike with a rope to helpyou along the steepest parts of it. Hiking will allow you to further appreciate the stunning beauty of this region, which surprised me to be honest. For those looking for an easier path can just enjoy a long walk around the Rhine.
Accommodations & How to Stay in a Castle On a Budget!?
For the Young, Cheap, Romantic, and Young at Heart: So, you’ve dreamed of castles… It’s actually possible to stay in a castle dating back to the 12th century, which is now a converted hostel. It may not be the most romantic castle, but it’s a castle. HI Bacharach Hostel is located in Bacharach and as long as you’re okay with school children, your dreams can come a reality for only $38 a night.
Low range hotel: Hotel Golden PropfenziherAfter reading through a million reviews, I loved the idea of staying in the heart of Oberwesel, a historic town on the Rhine. This hotel is family-run with a kick-ass restaurant/bar with friendly waiters AND fantastic Riesling by the glass for 2-4 euros. If you’re coming to Oberwesel in low-season, you won’t have too many options in terms of drinking and eating, which makes a good hotel bar even more important. From my room, I could see one of the historic towers of Oberwesel and a babbling brook. In high season, they’re 90 euros a night although I only paid 75 euros a night in low season, which included a very filling breakfast for two.
For those on a higher budget seeking the full castle experience, you will not want to miss the castle experience at Burghotel auf Schonburg. This castle is a 4* star hotel and is only about 115 for the luxury experience if you're open to a small splurge.
With so many hotels with reasonable rates under 80 euros (including breakfast), hotels are the way to go if you’re not traveling solo.
Getting There / Driving
First, fly into one of the nearby(ish) German or Dutch cities (Frankfurt, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Eindhoven, Antwerp). Frankfurt is the closest city an hour away, but if you’re looking for budget flights within the EU, you can fly into Eindhoven or Frankfurt. From any of these cities, it’s a pretty drive. There are trains and buses that go to this area, but you have more limited mobility if you don’t have a car, which limits your choices for staying on budget. I received a rate of 120 euros for renting a car for 6 days for a random week (including weekend) in September although you’ll pay a bit more for an automatic transmission.
Definitely drive along the Rhine. We found driving in Germany to be very relaxing compared to the US. If there’s a castle on the other side of the river, you’ll have a bit of difficulty crossing with a car over the Rhine as there aren’t ANY bridges between Koblenz and Wiesbaden. You can take a ferry with your car for about 7 euros with two people inside!
Know that most accommodation will serve a complimentary hearty breakfast that that includes meats, yogurt, cereal, breads, and spreads. Regardless of budget, the cheapest food that you will find will be Doner Kabab/Turkish food. We had it every day although if you don’t enjoy it/can’t eat it, you’ll need to find a supermarkets to cook or buy lunch from. It’s better to stock up prior to coming down into the Rhine due to limited supermarkets.
In sum, the Rhine Valley is incredibly accessible to ANYONE, not just wealthy cruisers. When I had read about possibly visiting this region, I was unsure if spending a weekend in Rhine valley was interesting, overrated, or affordable on my budget. However, a weekend away in this area is surprisingly affordable in low-season and absolutely stunning. You and the rest of the German tourists around you will feel like you're in on a big secret: the reason why so many people flock to Rhine Valley. The best part: you can appreciate the absolutely stunning beauty of this area without the crowds.
Have you visited the Rhine or another European wine region on a budget? If so, would love to hear about your cost saving tips and/or favorite wineries!
Karen and Jacob. American expats and cat lovers from New York City and Kentucky who lived in Amsterdam.... Now in Paris!
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