Viking longship on the Rhine River passing Rheinstein Castle, near the town of Trechtingshausen. [Viking]
Viking longship on the Rhine River passing Rheinstein Castle, near the town of Trechtingshausen. [Viking]

REVIEW: Viking Cruises,Treasures of the Rhine

I’ll be honest. I never thought I’d embark on a cruise.

The very concept was enough to raise the blood pressure. Tacky entertainment, screaming children, unimaginative food, and the inability to find five minutes’ peace? For the sake of sanity, I’d rather stay at home.

But that was before I was introduced to Viking Cruises, an adults-only Norwegian-owned line that prioritises the ‘cultural enrichment’ and comfort of its passengers. As we meandered down the River Rhine aboard Viking’s Alruna longship, I revelled in the quiet luxury of the lounge with a glass of Champagne. My sweeping generalisations had, I realised, been wholly inaccurate.

After a 10-day river cruise, following the Treasures of the Rhine itinerary – which sails through Switzerland, Germany, France and The Netherlands – I’m a total Viking convert. Here’s why.

Treasures of the Rhine longship passing Cologne, Germany. [Viking]

THE VIKING EXPERIENCE: ‘Welcome to Alruna.’

Guests receive the red carpet treatment (quite literally).

You’re whisked from the airport to the ship; cumbersome suitcases are deposited in your stateroom; and itineraries for the following day are popped neatly on your bed. All you have to do is bed in.

The longship is quite simply made for relaxing, for partaking in al fresco aperitifs, or for indulging in post-excursion feasts that could feed the five thousand. The décor is Nordic-inspired, meaning that ‘serene’ and ‘light-filled’ are the watchwords.

A communal lounge boasts floor-to-ceiling windows (ideal for people watching); the library and restaurant have clean lines and wooden accents (minimum fuss and maximum luxury); and the Aquavit Terrace (a personal favourite) offers a bright, intimate breakfast and lunch space. Meanwhile, a sun deck with walking track and putting green provide tranquil recreation.

Alruna holds just 190 guests in 95 staterooms, so by the end of your trip you’ll know many of your fellow passengers. Fear not though – if you’re needing downtime in complete solitude, there’s plenty space to spread out.

Top tip: Book a room with a veranda (Stateroom B and above) so you’ve got a private outdoor retreat.

A stateroom with veranda is a good option for those who want a private outdoor space for reading. [Viking]

WHERE YOU’LL VISIT: ‘It’s very “Vianne Rocher”.’

The 10-day Treasures of the Rhine journey goes from Basel to Amsterdam, or vice versa. It sails past fairytale castles, spectacular cathedrals and the world-class wine regions of the Middle Rhine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Basel, Switzerland – the gateway of Swiss Rhineland where Swiss, German and French borders meet – has all the magic of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat novel. The sense of venturing into uncharted territory, I soon learned, was a daily joy of this incredibly well-organised cruise. The majority of the sailing is done overnight, so each morning you can open your curtains and drink in the new surrounds.

From Basel, you’ll sail to Breisach in Germany where you can explore the enchanting Black Forest region. You’ll then sail to the gorgeous city of Strasbourg, home to exquisite wines, before heading to Heidelberg which boasts impressive castle ruins and charming streets lined with artisan cafés. Famed for its Gutenberg Museum of printing, you’ll visit Mainz, then sail to Cologne to see its famed Gothic cathedral. Nijmegen in The Netherlands is the next pit stop (a boutique shopper’s paradise), and the adventure comes to an end in colourful Amsterdam.

Top tip: You’ll have the option of doing a guided walking tour in each location (included in the price of your cruise). Do them! They last two to three hours at most and are a great way of finding your bearings.

Basel, Switzerland, where Rosie’s Treasures of the Rhine journey began.

INCLUDED TRIPS NOT TO BE MISSED: ‘There’s so much, I don’t know where to begin.’

Without Viking’s wonderful Programme Directors (like Emilie Boey) a trip like this could easily feel overwhelming. Thankfully, she and the crew are there to organise your day and remove any FOMO once and for all.

If, however, you’re looking to get ahead of the game, I suggest booking plenty of included excursions, i.e. those that are incorporated into the price of your cruise. Among my favourites was the Basel walking tour. Sauntering through the beautiful cobbled streets of the pharmaceutical capital of the world with our guide, Brendan, was a total joy. From the famous Basilisk fountain (which is said to add 25 extra years to the life of those who drink from it), to Sprüngli (the home of life-changing hot chocolate), and on to Mystifry (which Brendan ensured us was ‘like Crispy Creme on steroids’), it’s a city of exciting contrasts.

The Black Forest excursion was an equally enriching experience. You’ll be taken by coach up winding roads with magnificent viewpoints and past historic farmhouses, before ending up at beautiful Hofgut Sternen (an inn where Marie Antoinette is said to have stayed when on her way to marry King Louis XVI of France). I opted to go for a walk in the Black Forest itself in the hope of spotting the resident red squirrels, but others attended a cuckoo clock demonstration. We all then had the chance to sample the region’s famous Black Forest Gâteau, as well as delicious bratwurst and glühwein.

If it’s a cathedral you’d like to see, save yourself for the Cologne walking tour where you’ll be taken to the third largest Gothic-style cathedral in the world. Standing at an extraordinary 157 metres, parts of the building date back as far as 1248. Mohammed, our energetic guide, also provided us with a sensitive, profound history of the city during the war. If you’re looking for a cup of tea afterwards, Mohammed suggests heading for Café Reichard for the ‘best cake in Cologne’. Alternatively, sample the city’s cold, thirst-quenching Kölsch beer at Peters Brauhaus or Haxenhaus.

In Heidelberg, Germany, we were treated to glorious sunshine for our walking tour. Our guide took us to the funicular which whisked us up to the town’s castle ruins (where a Scottish princess, Elizabeth Stewart married Prince Frederick V in the 1600s). From here, you’ll be able to enjoy the most magnificent views of Heidelberg, a town that has inspired scores of Romantic poets and artists.

Views from the ruins of Heidelberg Castle.

OPTIONAL EXTRAS: ‘The best day we’ve had so far.’

On top of the included excursions, all Viking passengers have the opportunity to pay for on-shore extras. If I had to recommend one? The Flavours of Alsace tour in Strasbourg, a food and wine tasting day hosted by a fascinating lady called Patricia, is definitely one to consider. In fact, one of my fellow passengers (an experienced Viking cruiser) dubbed it one of the best days they’d ever had with Viking.

Patricia points out some of the historical highlights, including the gorgeous timber houses of La Petite France, before leading you to the epicurean hotspots of the city. All in all, we sampled over 30 flavours of Alsace including kugelhoff (a sweet cake topped with almonds and icing sugar), Munster cheese (the king of all cheeses in the region), bretzel d’Alsace from Westermann bakery, gingerbread from Mireille Oster, and scrumptious tarte flambée from Le Gruber. So if, like me, you believe that each day should revolve around your next meal, this one’s not to be missed!

Top tip: Book these additional excursions well in advance (ideally before you leave for your holiday) to avoid disappointment.

During the optional ‘Flavours of Alsace’ excursion in Strasbourg, we learned how to make tarte flambée (or flammkuchen).

WHO IS THE CRUISE FOR? ‘Aren’t you a little young for cruising?’

Viking cruises are for all adults over the age of 18 and are designed for ‘the thinking person’. What does this mean? Essentially, they are destination-focused and culturally immersive. They’re all about understated luxury, relaxation, and learning about new places and traditions.

There are no onboard distractions (forget casinos, glitzy evening shows or karaoke nights). Instead, you’ll find history lectures, talks about local delicacies, and even culinary classes onboard.

Top tip: Switch off from the noise surrounding who ‘should’ or ‘should not’ be cruising. It’s an enriching experience for all ages.

Viking cruises are an enriching experience for adults of all ages.

DINING: ‘We hope that you arrive as our guests and leave as cargo.’

‘Challenge accepted,’ I hear you cry. But believe me when I say that even I – a self-confessed glutton – struggled to keep pace with the sheer volume of food on offer. In the spirit of journalistic endeavour, though, I soldiered on with the decadent buffet breakfasts, and three-course lunches and dinners. The conclusion? More is indeed more.

Each day, for both lunch and dinner, there is a menu that stays the same (think succulent steaks, burgers, and chicken supreme) and one that changes daily according to regional delicacies. The favourite of the entire cruise was a braised Reisling wine chicken dish with herb mashed potatoes, served as we floated past Riesling vineyards. A German-themed night – featuring backhendl, sauerbraten, kasekrainer and sauerkraut – came close second.

Sinfully good desserts including key lime pie with Swiss meringue are there if you’ve room. If you’ve still got space leftover, there’s 24/7 access to a tea/coffee machine and cookie/pastry tray. What’s more, no request or dietary requirement is too much trouble for the Viking team.

I’d advise opting for the additional Silver Drinks Package – this includes a selection of premium local wines by the glass, cocktails, beers, specialty coffees, soft drinks and juices throughout the day, plus an open bar. (Complimentary house wines, beers and soft drinks with onboard lunches and dinner are still available to those who do not have this package, as is the 24/7 coffee/tea machine).

In short, hide your bathroom scales before you head for the airport. You’re on your holidays.

Top tip: Ask your tour guides for the best local food haunts. You may fancy having lunch/dinner in town once in a while, so it’s nice to have a few places up your sleeve.

Bratwurst and Kolsch at Haxenhaus, Cologne – the only night I forced myself to dine out!

BEFORE YOU GO: ‘Have you got your passport?’

I know. We all groan and roll our eyes when someone reminds you to pack your passport before heading for the airport. But if you’re a cruising novice, you might be glad of a few tips.

Packing check-list:

  • Aside from a sense of adventure and an enormous appetite, pack a good pair of walking shoes. I averaged 15,000 steps a day, and while shopping till you drop is not obligatory, I do highly recommend it. (It’s important to note though, you can do as much or as little as you want. Afternoon naps back on the ship are also an excellent idea).
  • Take a day bag. You’ll be glad of it for carrying water bottles and maps (which are provided daily by Viking), and spare jumpers, hats and gloves.
  • Layer up. This trip takes place during winter, after all.
  • Remember your camera. Believe me, the sightseeing is magnificent and you’ll want to take those memories home with you.

Don’t take the kitchen sink:

  • You don’t need your umbrella. I packed mine and it was a waste of valuable suitcase space. Viking provide excellent golf umbrellas for all passengers on drizzly days.
  • Body wash, shampoo, condition and body lotion. In your stateroom you’ll find luxurious Freyja toiletries that are topped up every day.
  • A towel. Clean towels are put in your room every morning while you’re at breakfast.

To find out more about the Treasures of the Rhine cruise, or to book your slot on one of the 2025 Viking sailings, please click here.

Alternatively, here are more top Viking cruises available to book now.

‘Scenic Sailing’: drinking in the views along the Middle Rhine from the longship’s sun deck.