A Viking Rhine River Cruise Review: Basel To Amsterdam

A Viking Rhine River Cruise Review: Basel To Amsterdam

Published August 12, 2022

After two long years of pandemic restrictions, Europe is fully open again! I’m lucky to have an extended family of fellow travel enthusiasts, and we’ve all been looking forward to a reunion vacation in Western Europe for a while now! A Viking River cruise seemed like the perfect offering for a group of eight people spanning three generations. This post is a review of my time on the Viking Hermod as it sailed down the Rhine.

Viking offers various Rhine River cruise itineraries, and the one we booked was called the “Rhine Getaway.” As of summer 2022, this cruise is eight days long and spans four countries: Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. We traveled from Basel to Amsterdam, but it can be booked in the opposite direction as well.

Day Trip Itinerary

The first half of this post is a review of the Rhine Getaway ports of call. I liked all of the cities we stopped in, but some were more impressive than others. To learn more, read on! To skip down to the second half of this post (a review of the ship and its amenities), click here.

Day 1: Boarding in Basel 🇨🇭

This cruise began in Basel, a quaint little town in Switzerland right on the border of both Germany and France. If you can spend a day or two in Basel before your cruise, I highly recommend it. We booked a walking tour with a local guide (independent of Viking), and I’m really glad we did.

Viking allowed us to board the Hermod in the early afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to get acquainted with the layout of the ship. Our first dinner was served, and finally we were off in the early evening. We passed through our first of many river locks on this night, which is one of the most noteworthy aspects of a Rhine River cruise.

Inside a lock on the Rhine River

If you’re wondering how we made it to Basel, we flew from Chicago into Zürich and then booked a private car transfer. Zürich Airport is the nearest major international airport to Basel, and the drive is about an hour. There are also frequent trains that run between Switzerland’s largest city and its gateway to the Rhine.

Zürich, Switzerland

Day 2: Breisach 🇩🇪

The Hermod pulled into its first port of call very early in the morning, which meant we had a full day to explore Breisach, a small village in Germany. I actually decided to skip the included tour (a bus trip to the Black Forest) in the morning and walk across the French border to the village of Neuf-Brisach. I did this completely on my own; it wasn’t a part of the Viking itinerary at all.

Breisach, Germany

Neuf-Brisach is a sleepy little French town that is surrounded on all sides by a visually stunning series of fortified walls. These walls were designed by French architect Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban to help protect border outposts from invasion. You can’t make out the geometry of the walled city from the ground level, but you can explore the city streets and get some sense of their architecture.

In the afternoon, I went back to Breisach and explored its most famous landmark: the Breisacher Münster St. Stephan, a beautiful brown church that towers over the rest of the town.

The interior of the Breisacher Münster is interesting, but my favorite part of this cathedral is its view from the top of the hill overlooking the village.

Apart from the church, Breisach feels pretty touristy. If you have extra time and want to walk around the town, feel free to. But if you don’t have time or want to rest on the ship instead, you probably won’t miss out on too much.

Day 3: Strasbourg 🇫🇷

Strasbourg is a fascinating city that’s much larger than Breisach. Due to its location on the Rhine, Strasbourg has a unique mix of French and German cultural elements. It’s also home to a number of European Union institutions, although the Viking itinerary doesn’t include any tours to these government offices. They are clustered in an outlying district of the city.

Instead, we explored Strasbourg’s historic center, based mostly on Grande Île. Here you’ll find the famous Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, a staggering gothic cathedral that was actually the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874!

The other area I really liked in Strasbourg was Petite-France. This tiny neighborhood is split up by canals that are lined with gorgeous half-timbered homes (the iconic style of German architecture with wood beams on the exterior). We walked through here on our guided tour, and I came back afterwards to enjoy the views for a bit longer.

Strasbourg was probably my favorite day trip on our cruise, so I’ll be writing a separate blog post about the city soon. Once it’s done, I’ll link it here in case you want to learn more about this beautiful city!

Day 4: Speyer and Rüdesheim am Rhein 🇩🇪

This was my least favorite day of the cruise, mainly because we only had a few hours in both Speyer and Rüdesheim. I feel like we did get to see slightly more of the former than the latter, but both stops were rushed.

Speyer

Speyer is a small city on the western bank of the Rhine. Some notable landmarks include the Dom zu Speyer (Speyer Cathedral) and the Altpörtel (Old Gate) directly west of there. The two are connected by the short Maximilianstraße, which serves as the main street in the historic district.

Maximilianstraße looking towards the Altpörtel in Speyer, Germany

Viking offered a short included tour, then we had about an hour or so to explore on our own. There are some other interesting churches a little further inland, or you could check out the many side alleys that branch off of the Maximilianstraße.

Speyer seemed like an interesting town. I would’ve enjoyed spending more time there. However, as I mentioned above, this is only a half-day stop. Before lunch, we met in the Domplatz and boarded buses that brought us back to the ship. We sailed for a couple hours before making our second stop of the day in…

Rüdesheim am Rhein

At this point in the cruise, the Rhine starts to become much more scenic. Beautiful villages and vineyards can be seen in all directions. Rüdesheim is a touristy town known for its wineries and historic center, called the Drosselgasse. Viking doesn’t offer an included tour here, so I explored on my own. However, since we docked in the late afternoon, time felt even more limited here than in Speyer.

I took a short walk through the Drosselgasse, but I was much more intrigued by all the hilly vineyards overlooking the town. There’s even a chairlift that goes up, hinting that the views up there would be good! I walked up the Oberstraße, which turns into the Germaniastraße. Finally, I turned left onto this paved trail. The panoramic views were indeed incredible!

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Day 5: Cruise through the Rhine Gorge; Stop in Koblenz 🇩🇪

As you leave Rüdesheim, the Rhine River goes from picturesque to spectacular. This day of voyaging through the Rhine Valley is the centerpiece of the entire trip. The surrounding landscape becomes more dramatic. I loved seeing the patchwork of vineyards on the steep mountainsides, but the coolest part of the day is seeing all the castles.

There are so many of them! You truly pass one castle every few minutes once you enter the Rhine Gorge. Our cruise Program Director also provided a running commentary on all of the things we were seeing as we sailed by. There’s something incredible about seeing these archaic stone structures from various angles as you move along the water.

Since we spent the first half of Day 5 cruising, the city of Koblenz was another half-day stop. However, our time here didn’t feel as rushed as the whirlwind tours on Day 4. Koblenz is a tourist hub that’s noticeably bigger than Speyer and Rüdesheim. I walked all over the Altstadt (Old Town), which is right next to the Viking River Cruises Dock.

The other main activity in Koblenz is taking the cable car to the other side of the river. Here you’ll find Festung Ehrenbreitstein, a sprawling nineteenth century fortress that overlooks the town. Visiting the fortress was interesting, but there didn’t seem to be much signage in English, so I don’t feel like I learned a lot about its history while I was there.

One other noteworthy attraction on the southern edge of the Altstadt is Kurfürstliches Schloss Koblenz. This ornate white palace is surrounded by impeccably maintained gardens that seem to serve as a public square for the city.

Day 6: Cologne (Köln) 🇩🇪

Cologne is the largest city this cruise stops in, so there wasn’t enough time to explore all that I wanted to. With that said, we at least had a full day docked here. The included Viking tour served as a brief introduction to the riverfront and Kölner Dom, the city’s massive iconic cathedral. After that, we had the rest of the day to explore on our own.

I thought the main sanctuary of the cathedral was stunning, but I actually didn’t really like climbing the church tower. The views from the top were fine but not as stunning as some of the other panoramic views I saw on this cruise (e.g. in Breisach or Strasbourg). More importantly, the climb is essentially one long spiral staircase – with visitors going both directions on it! It felt kind of dangerous. Frankly, being on a spiral staircase for that long with only the occasional narrow gothic window was disorienting and dizzying. If you want to climb a church tower, I suggest going up to the top of the Notre-Dame in Strasbourg instead.

After visiting the cathedral, I walked across the Hohenzollernbrücke, which is one of the most notable “love lock” bridges in Europe. Yes, I know this is a trend that’s swept almost the entire world, but the number of locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge is still a sight to behold.

The last thing I did in Cologne was visit the Museum Ludwig. It was hosting a fascinating temporary exhibit featuring the works of Isamu Noguchi. I’m not the biggest museum enthusiast, but the Ludwig ended up being very captivating.

Day 7: Cruise through the Dutch Countryside; Stop in Kinderdijk 🇳🇱

In all honesty, the Rhine (which turns into the Waal) is less scenic in the Netherlands than it is in Germany. You’re no longer surrounded by hills, vineyards, and castles. Instead, the riverbanks are flat and sandy here.

Our final shore excursion ended up being a really fascinating one: a guided tour of Kinderdijk, a ‎UNESCO World Heritage Site on the outskirts of Rotterdam famous for its windmills. Our tour guide did an excellent job of introducing us to the history and purpose of mills in the Netherlands.

The landscape here is so pretty, and one of the highlights of this visit was being able to see the inside of a mill. All in all, a short visit to Kinderdijk was a great way to wrap up our final full day on the Viking Hermod.

Day 8: Disembark in Amsterdam 🇳🇱

The Netherlands is a small country, and Kinderdijk is only about 95 kilometers (59 miles) away from Amsterdam. As such, the Hermod was already passing through Utrecht by bedtime. We docked at Amsterdam very early in the morning on our final day.

There were no day tours of Amsterdam organized by Viking on Day 8, but we were allowed to stay on the boat until the late afternoon (with lunch included). However, we did have to vacate our staterooms by 8:00 a.m. so that the cleaning crew could start preparing for the next cruise.

After checking out, guests are free to go on their way. I assume that most people flew out of Amsterdam within a day or two of ending the cruise. However, we stayed for five extra days in Amsterdam and met up with a few more family members there! I had mixed feelings about this bustling Dutch metropolis, which I’ve written about in a separate blog post.

Cruise Review

Now that you’ve seen the itinerary for the Rhine Getaway, the second half of this post will include some information about the actual cruising experience on Viking.

Impressions of the Rhine River

If you’re considering booking this cruise for yourself, you might be wondering: what is the Rhine River actually like between Basel and Amsterdam? Well, in my opinion it seemed to have three distinct sections. From Basel until Speyer (Day 1 to Day 4), the Rhine feels very industrial. It’s lined by factories, and to be honest, the river is not amazing here (although the cities along it are). Luckily, the boat sailed at night through the Upper Rhine, so it’s not like we really missed out on much.

From Speyer to Cologne (Day 4 to Day 6), the Rhine River is incredibly scenic. Viking did a great job of scheduling so that passengers could enjoy the view from the boat during the day on this portion of the trip. The vineyards, villages, and castles of the Middle Rhine are undoubtedly the river’s most unique offerings.

In the Netherlands, the Rhine (or Waal) has a rural vibe to it. We passed cows cooling off in the shallow riverbanks, a few small Dutch villages, and not much else until we approached Amsterdam. The Lower Rhine is not as industrial as the Upper Rhine, and it’s not as picturesque as the Middle Rhine.

The Viking Cruise Ship

The most noteworthy thing about this cruise ship is its capacity: only about 200 passengers. There are four levels, and each room has a window. The ship has one single dining room that can accommodate all passengers at one time, an indoor lounge, a terrace, plus an open-air deck on top that runs the length of the ship.

Food and Drink

The meals on our Viking Cruise were consistently amazing! I really looked forward to coming back on board after each excursion or tour to enjoy whatever was being served that day.

What’s more, Viking offered specialties from each region we were passing through. I loved the fact that I got to try Swiss, German, French, and Dutch food all onboard! They also have a permanent menu that includes classics like Caesar salad, steak, and burgers, but I ordered most of my meals from their rotating menu.

The Viking breakfast buffet is also excellent! The omelette station is absolutely worth waiting in line for, plus it moves along fairly quickly.

Of course, you could always eat at local restaurants while you’re exploring the cities along the Rhine. We did that once or twice, but the food on the ship was so delicious that I rarely wanted to pass it up.

Should you get the drink package?

You’ll have to make this decision for yourself, but beer and wine are included with each meal even if you don’t purchase the unlimited drink package. I did the math, and you’d basically have to drink two additional cocktails each day (outside of lunch and dinner) to make the package worthwhile. I enjoy drinking to be sure, but I would typically have wine with my meals and limit myself to one cocktail per day. My total bar tab came out to be about 90 euro for the entire trip.

Like the food, all of the alcoholic drinks on this cruise were expertly crafted. Everything tasted great, and they were never watered down or too strong. They even made a great White Russian, which is one of my favorite cocktails!

Shore Excursions

At every port of call, Viking offered one included (free) tour. These tended to be walking tours that lasted about two hours and introduced guests to the various cities. In general, I’d say these tours were pretty good. However, if you’d rather explore one of the stops on your own (or even stay on the ship), you are more than welcome to skip any of the tours.

Hohenzollernbrücke, Cologne, Germany

You can also pre-book one of many “Optional Excursions,” which are tours that you’ll have to pay extra for. I never did any of the Optional Excursions, so I can’t say if they were better or worse than the included tours.

Amenities Onboard

The Viking Hermod was not a massive vessel. As such, it didn’t have all of the amenities that some other cruise ships might. There was no pool, casino, food court, gym, bowling alley, nightclub, etc. Part of this is because Viking’s clientele seems to skew older: my cousin, my brother, and I (in our twenties or late teens) were the youngest passengers on board. Viking River Cruises does not allow minors, so there are no amenities specifically aimed at kids.

Despite this, the Viking Hermod had a beautifully designed interior. The atrium and dining room were both warm and inviting spaces. The lounge and front terraces were comfortable places to sit, relax, or sip a drink. The ship’s common spaces never felt cramped, even when all the passengers were gathered together (e.g. during dinnertime).

I also found the stateroom to be comfortably sized. There is lots of space to store your luggage, and I found that the bathroom and shower weren’t too small.

Entertainment and Activities

One thing I really loved about this cruise was that there were lots of fun optional activities onboard the ship in the afternoons and evenings. Our family group enjoyed game nights and musical performances, but you could also attend things like a glassblowing demonstration or a Q&A session with the captains of the ship.

Final Thoughts

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I don’t shy away from giving my honest opinion when it comes to travel. If an attraction is overrated, I will tell you that. If a tour is underwhelming, I will tell you that. With that in mind, I’m happy to report that this Viking River Cruise was an outstanding experience! I’ll cherish the memory of going down the Rhine with my extended family for the rest of my life.

Was the cruise perfect? No. I really would’ve preferred a little more time in fewer stops. If I could offer one suggestion to Viking, I’d say either choose Speyer or Rüdesheim am Rhein, and spend the entire day there. However, cruising through the Rhine Gorge the next day made up for it. Sailing past all those castles was the highlight of this cruise.

If you’re looking for an upscale travel experience in Western Europe, consider Viking’s Rhine Getaway. I had never been to Switzerland, Germany, France, or the Netherlands before this trip. Now, I can’t wait to go back and explore all four of those countries in greater depth! It’s safe to say this cruise inspired even more wanderlust in me. By that metric, I’d say it was a resounding success!

Have you ever been on a Viking River Cruise before? Are you about to embark on one? Leave a comment below and let me know! I’m curious if other travelers loved this cruise as much as I do!

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This post was published on Aug 12, 2022

This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. We have not yet done a river cruise. And the Viking River Cruise from Basel to Amsterdam sounds like a great itinerary. So many lovely stops along the way. I would love to see all the castles and palaces along this route. The Viking ship looks like a great way to travel on the rivers.

  2. Peggy Bickel

    We are leaving September 7 for the Amsterdam to Lucerne cruise and staying over in Lucerne 2 days. You have described everything perfectly so I know what to expect. Just praying they get rain between now and then.

    1. Colleen Myrick

      Peggy did you get rain? Did you have to disembark for a day and go on a sister ship?

  3. Mike Dobrowolski

    A Glowing review of Viking River Cruising. However you were fortunate to travel on a longship from destination to destination, we just completed are first Viking River Cruise and we had quite the opposite experience and picture you describe so charmingly above. Having arrived back a week ago from the Grand European Tour, Budapest to Amsterdam we were exhausted and could have done with another holiday. It would be to long for me to go into all the details, I could fill a book, but now looking back Viking should really have given us an update on the current River conditions. Basically they didn’t, and there lies the problem, yes we knew about the possibility of low and high water but had no idea how bad it was before we arrived, only to be told by a fellow passenger when we boarded ship of the current situation, having to maybe change boats half through our tour. Well we were prepared for that we could handle it and enjoy ourselves what unfolded was problem on problem on problem. Pack unpack pack unpack get the picture, inordinate bus journeys on a longship leisurely cruise, you’d be lucky. hotel stays in Vienna Köln & Amsterdam, Viking docking areas that were waste or industrial sites and nowhere near a village never mind town or city. We changed boats 4 times and even never left on the one we boarded in the first place, most of the excuses were obvious low water etc etc, but then when you have just got off a coach because you couldn’t travel down the Danube or Rhine because of ‘Low Water’ but then you hear from another Viking tour group that you just crossed paths with that they travelled down on that same stretch of water with no problem or we’re about to travel down the stretch water that you just spent 2 hours on a coach because we were told we couldn’t, makes you think what’s go on and who’s telling the truth? Don’t get me wrong the-programme director and staff on the first week were great and worked tirelessly, the 2nd half not so much, funny that! Anyway I could go on on, but there doesn’t seem no point, we were promised that Viking would contact on our return, still waiting a week on, but having trawled the internet and Viking Customer websites I won’t hold my breath in getting anywhere with that approach if what I hear is all true! I always thought Viking was a leading light in River Cruising, shows you how wrong you can be.

    1. Theresa Cherry

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for your honesty. We are due to board Viking’s Rhine River Cruise on 9/9, two years after canceling twice because of the pandemic. However, with all the news of the drought and low water levels in Europe, we have sadly decided to cancel once again. We will rebook in the late spring when the River is at a higher level. .Speaking with Viking, they made it sound like it was probably only a bus ride between two ports and that there hasn’t been a problem so far. However, your post has given a more honest picture of what actually happened, validating our decision to cancel. Thanks again for your post.

  4. Kendra Reed

    Just did the Rhine on the Viking Mani mid April with my mom. It was my 1st cruise and first time « across the pond » Did you get to see the parrots in Cologne? It was an amazing sight to see them flying over the longboat to roost for the night.
    I made some Rudensheim coffee during one of the exhibits on the boat. I had the adventure of my dreams on this cruise.
    The pre-excursions on Lake Lucerne were amazing. The Pearls of Switzerland excursion was worth the extra money but be prepared for a 13 hour tour. The Alps we’re breathtaking and I got to make CHEESE (and bring some back to the states?

  5. Maggie

    I’ve always wondered about Viking cruises! I see their ads all the time. The only cruise I’ve done is on the Nile River; big cruise ships don’t appeal to me, but I don’t mind the much smaller river boats and more frequent shore excursions. This really sounds like a lovely way to see a lot of Europe!

  6. Dorothy Albin

    Think twice about cruising now. We just returned from the Rhine Get Away Cruise. We had to do a “ship swap” due to low river levels which meant packing up and getting out of our cabin at 8am the next morning. We also spent 5-6 hours on a coach bus to get to our next destination. The scenic castle tour advertised was not possible. Viking offered a $50 on board credit for our inconvenience. In addition, both my husband and I left the ship sick and tested positive for COVID. I’m disappointed that Viking never checked to make sure passengers were vaccinated. There were many people that were coughing and appeared to be sick on this cruise.

    1. Kathy Grein

      What trip did you take? We are planning on Basel to Amsterdam next July and wonder if that is the same as you. I am getting mixed information about the river level and the experiences. Any insight you could share would be appreciated.
      Thank you

  7. Patricia Edwards

    Viking, please address the concerns re the low tide. My cruise is Nov 13. Physically, I cannot do Bus Tours ior do extra packing and unpacking That is not what I signed up for. So if Viking plans on transferring passengers and traveling on busses….then they need to cancel the trip.
    I need and want a nice, peaceful, laid back River Cruise
    The President of Viking says he treasures HONESTY. Let’s put that to work.

    1. Colleen Myrick

      Did you get a response from Viking?

  8. Kathy Grein

    Good afternoon,
    We have plans on going on Viking in July 2023 from Basel To Amsterdam. I appreciate the honesty of some of these reviews. The river level is of great concern to my husband and me. And with weather conditions and forecasts being what they are, my fear is this issue will get worse over time not better. One huge attraction to a river cruise is the lovely scenery during the time on board as well as only unpacking one time in 8 days. I will be contacting Viking to ask about their issues this year and just how much disruption there has been to date. Also noting, I have read some other issues regarding the Rhine River. One issue appears to be the huge increase in traffic on the river. The container ships appear to be taking less tonnage, therefore, increasing the number of ships on the river. I appreciate the commentary and will be looking for more answers before we pay the balance of our scheduled trip for 2023.

    1. Colleen Myrick

      We are right on target to go July 2023. I hooe you got answers from Viking. We are very concerned about the water levels too! Thank you!

  9. Dorothy Albin

    Yes, that is the same cruise we were on. We did a “ship swap” due to low river levels. It was an inconvenience for sure packing up and getting out of the room by 8am. We spent quite a bit of time (I believe 6 hours or so) on a coach bus getting to our next destination. We also made a stop at and docked for the night at a port that was very industrial and unattractive. Viking did the best they could under the circumstances. We missed the scenic cruising through the castle gorge because of this ship swap. Keep an eye of river levels before paying for this cruise. I’ve heard that some cruises had to do this “ship swap” twice!

    1. Gina Wescott

      Just returned from the Romantic Danube Cruise – Budapest to Regensberg 8/28/22 with the Prague extension and a non-Viking extension in Amsterdam for my 60th birthday.

      It was an AMAZING experience!!!

      Our ship, ATLA, also experienced low water levels so could not dock at Regensburg and we had to take a bus to get to Regensburg. Thankfully we were able to get there because that was my favorite city of the entire tour!!!

      Viking is amazing and I loved every minute of it and cannot wait to go back for another cruise! They go all out – I felt supported and pampered with little to no stress! Everything is done for you – from the excursions to the food to the entertainment to having your room cleaned every time you turn around! All of the Danube cities are picturesque, clean and stunningly beautiful! And I found the pace great!

      The only thing I saw as a drawback, and agree with the Caffeinated, there was not enough time given in several cities for shopping and exploring. I paid for the extension to go to Salzburg to see the Sound of Music sites. Our guide was terrible! The guides on these excursions are so important and will make or break an excursion. We were rushed through and I even had to ask to go see the steps and fountain in the movie where the kids are running through the palace grounds!!

      I second the recommendation to Viking to allow a lot more time in some cities such as Vienna Regensburg, Passau, Salzburg etc. I also recommend a specifically focused Sound of Music tour for all of us old people who loved that movie!

      Despite some rushing and low water levels I would go back in a heartbeat!!!

  10. Kathy Grein

    Thank you for the feedback. I do appreciate the information. For the cost of the trip, I am starting to rethink it for sure. My feelings about climate change and seeing any dramatic changes for the good by next year are not too optimistic. We may tour Europe via another mode of transportation.

  11. Kathy Grein

    We have not addressed Viking directly as yet. My feeling is that they will most likely give the glowing reviews and how next year will be fine. I would much rather read information from guests and their experiences.

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