The Rhine has been one of Europe’s principal trade routes for millennia, and the wealth it brought is clear in the soaring Gothic cathedrals of Strasbourg and Cologne, stunning collections of Old Masters and modern art, and playful garden palaces. Behind this rich cultural legacy, however, is a complex history that is easily missed on a superficial visit: Roman settlement at Cologne, Charlemagne’s capital at Aachen, medieval abbeys, Renaissance intellectual centres such as Gutenberg’s Mainz, and the birth of modern Germany in Goethe’s Frankfurt. Delve into the riches of the Rhine and its fascinating history on this 13-day tour.
Magnificent medieval architecture: Charlemagne’s Palatine Chapel in Aachen, Gothic cathedrals in Strasbourg and Cologne
Old Masters at Strasbourg’s Museum of Fine Arts and Frankfurt’s Staedel
Western Germany’s finest modern art, including Cologne’s Museum Ludwig, Dusseldorf’s Kunstsammlung and Baden-Baden’s Freider Burda
The little-told story of the Northern Renaissance: Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany’s oldest university in Heidelberg
Varied landscapes, from Alsace’s vinecovered hills to the scenic Middle Rhine, its spectacular riverside castles and medieval abbeys
Days 1–3: Transfer from Zurich airport to Strasbourg, explore the medieval city and its excellent collections; day trip to Colmar.
Days 4–5: Visit Baden-Baden; discover Speyer, where Holy Roman Emperors are entombed; and enjoy Heidelberg, the beautiful university town on the river Necker.
Days 6–8: Rococo palaces, Renaissance Mainz, Frankfurt’s exceptional art galleries.
Days 9–13: Cruise the Middle Rhine, lined with spectacular medieval castles, then uncover Cologne’s history from Roman origins to thriving modern culture. Day trip to Dusseldorf, the pre-eminent centre of modern German art, then explore Charlemagne’s capital at Aachen.
The tour starts at Zurich airport and finishes at Dusseldorf airport. Emirates and Singapore Airlines offer direct flights between Australian cities and Zurich and Dusseldorf for the beginning and end of this tour. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B and D.
Wednesday 26 May: Arrival
The tour starts at Zurich Airport at 2pm this afternoon, from where we travel by coach to Strasbourg. After settling into our hotel, we take an orientation walk around Strasbourg, followed by dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Strasbourg. (D)
Thursday 27 May: Strasbourg
Strasbourg cathedral is a landmark of Gothic architecture – it was the tallest building in Europe until the Eiffel Tower, and its spire, visible across Alsace, is a testament to the wealth and power of Strasbourg throughout the Middle Ages. We tour the cathedral and the town centre in the morning, ending with the fine collection of Old Masters in the Musée des Beaux Arts. In the later afternoon, we visit Strasbourg’s gallery of modern and contemporary art, whose collection includes a music room designed by Kandinsky and numerous works by Jean Arp, Strasbourg’s most eminent artist, and Gustave Doré. Evening at leisure. Overnight Strasbourg (B)
Friday 28 May: Colmar
Alsace is renowned for its medieval heritage and Colmar is its best-preserved town. We travel by coach to Colmar today, where we explore its medieval streets and churches, including the beautiful canal district known affectionately as Little Venice. After a break for lunch, we visit the Unterlinden Museum, whose galleries are set in a medieval monastery and which has recently expanded with a new building designed by Herzog & de Meuron. Among its works is the exceptional Isenheim Altarpiece, painted in the 1400s by Matthias Gruenwald. In the mid-afternoon, we return to Strasbourg along the scenic route through the vineyards. Evening at leisure. Overnight Strasbourg (B)
Saturday 29 May: Baden Baden
Today we travel to Heidelberg, stopping in Baden Baden, formerly one of Europe’s premier spa towns, where we visit the Frieder Burda collection. The museum, designed by Richard Meier, houses the private collection of a printing magnate who is one of Germany’s leading art collectors. After a break for lunch and time to stroll around Baden Baden, we continue to Schloss Favorite, the opulent 18th-century summer residence of the Margravine of Baden Baden who, among other things, had an entire room decorated with extremely expensive Florentine pietra dura. Arriving in Heidelberg in the early evening, we enjoy dinner in a local restaurant. Overnight Heidelberg (B, D)
Sunday 30 May: Heidelberg
Heidelberg was one of the intellectual centres of the German Reformation and hosts Germany’s oldest university. This morning we tour Heidelberg Castle, an impressive accumulation of fortifications and state rooms of the Prince Elector of the Palatinate, one of the most influential figures in the Holy Roman Empire. After our tour and a break for lunch in the Old Town, we travel the short distance to Mannheim, where we visit the Kunsthalle – an excellent museum with a very good collection of New Objectivity, the post-WWI art movement born in Mannheim. Returning to Heidelberg, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Heidelberg (B)
Monday 31 May: Speyer and Schwetzingen
Today we explore the history of the central Rhine region, on our way to Frankfurt. In the morning we visit Schwetzingen Palace, the 18th-century summer residence of the Prince Electors. After touring the apartments, we enjoy the extensive gardens, which fuse elements of the French formal garden with the new craze for the English landscape garden. We continue to Speyer, where, after a break for lunch, we visit the impressive Romanesque cathedral, built by the Holy Roman Emperors and used as their burial chapel. In the mid-afternoon, we make our way to Frankfurt. Dinner and overnight Frankfurt. (B, D)
Tuesday 1 June: Frankfurt
Frankfurt has been Germany’s banking capital since World War II – and its largest trading centre throughout the Middle Ages – and its art collections match its status. This morning we visit the Städel, an exceptional art museum with masterpieces by Jan Van Eyck, Vermeer, Botticelli, Picasso, Bacon and Baselitz. In the afternoon, there is time to explore the other excellent galleries along the riverside, visit the Goethe Museum or Frankfurt’s Museum of Modern Art. Overnight Frankfurt (B)
Wednesday 2 June: Mainz
While Frankfurt has been a centre of the printed word – Gutenberg sold his first Bibles here – it was medieval Mainz where the magic happened. Mainz’s contribution to history goes beyond Gutenberg, however: it had been the religious heart of northern Europe in the Middle Ages and the centre of Imperial administration, and there was perhaps no city north of the alps with more scribes. Our tour of Mainz today includes the excellent Gutenberg museum (which has two Gutenberg Bibles and many other early printed works on display), the mighty Romanesque cathedral, and the stained-glass windows made by Marc Chagal at St Stephens. Returning to Frankfurt, the evening is at leisure. Overnight Frankfurt (B)
Thursday 3 June: The Middle Rhine
The Middle Rhine is most spectacular: cliffs, forests, vineyards, castles, and the enchanting Lorelai Rock. We tour this section of the Rhine today by boat, from Rudesheim to Boppard, where we disembark to enjoy lunch in the medieval town. In the afternoon, we continue by coach to Cologne, stopping to visit Maria Laach, one of the most beautiful Romanesque abbeys in Germany. After arriving in Cologne and settling in, we have dinner together near the hotel. Overnight Cologne (B, D)
Friday 4 June: Cologne
Cologne was founded by the Romans as a key part of their defensive network to protect their Empire from the Germanic tribes. It quickly became, however, a major trading city and the gateway between Roman and German worlds. This morning we explore the city’s Roman and German past on a walking tour, including the spectacular Cathedral which houses priceless works of art, such as the 12th-century Reliquary of the Magi by Nicholas of Verdun and stained-glass windows designed by Gerhard Richter. In the afternoon, we visit the world-class Museum Ludwig, which has the third largest collection of paintings by Picasso in the world, the largest collection of Russian modernism outside of Russia, and an excellent collection of contemporary European art. Overnight Cologne (B)
Saturday 5 June: Dusseldorf
Cologne and Dusseldorf have a centuries old rivalry – they even brew beer using different methods. While Cologne’s museums are certainly impressive, Dusseldorf has been the pre-eminent centre of German art after World War II – Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Keiffer, Candida Hoffer and Andreas Gursky are just a few of the leading artists among its alumni. Today we explore the city and its exceptional collections, including visits to K20, the Kunsthalle and the Kunstpalast. Each gallery has a distinct collection, interesting history, and quite wide-ranging special exhibitions. We return to Cologne in the early evening. Overnight Cologne (B)
Sunday 6 June: Aachen
This morning is free to enjoy Cologne, and you may want to visit some of its other museums, such as the Wallraf Museum’s collection of Old Masters, or the Romano-German Museum near the hotel. In the early afternoon, we take the short coach journey to Aachen, the capital of Charlemagne, whose empire defined the political borders of Europe. The Palatine Chapel, the private chapel of the Emperor, is modelled on the Byzantine chapel of San Vitale in Ravenna, and is among the finest examples of early medieval architecture. After visiting the Palatine Chapel, we visit the museum of the chapel, which conserves some of the many gifts and bequests, from medieval manuscripts to carved ivory, jewellery and goldsmithing. Returning to Cologne, there is time to freshen up before we meet for our farewell meal. Overnight Cologne (B, D)
Monday 7 June: Departure
The tour ends this morning in the hotel. Please check your individual travel arrangements for your onward journey. (B)
Dr Nick Gordon
A cultural historian with a PhD in History, and practicing painter who brings this passion to the visual arts.
Dr Nick Gordon is a cultural historian and artist, with over 10 years of experience leading tours to Europe. He has strong interests in art, history, philosophy and architecture, from the ancient world to the present.
Nick holds a University Medal and PhD in history from the University of Sydney. He taught medieval and Renaissance history at the University of Sydney, the history of political thought at the University of Western Sydney, and architectural and Australian history elsewhere. He continues to teach at the Centre of Continuing Education, and gives occasional lectures on topics ranging from Classical Rome through to Australian and contemporary art. Nick has lead tours for Academy Travel since 2007, and designs study tours, residential tours and art-focussed tours, such as the Venice Biennale, Art Along the Rhine, Art Basel, and Amsterdam to Paris: Van Eyck to Van Gogh.
Nick is also an artist and his firsthand experience of art complements his academic expertise, through his knowledge of materials and the processes behind how an artwork is made, and his well-practiced eye for reading art.
We asked Nick, what do you enjoy most about tour leading?
“One of the things I enjoy most about touring is helping people understand more about what they’re seeing. This happens through a combination of background lectures exploring different contexts, cultural commentary on the road, and especially by being able to explain what is going on in an artwork with the artwork in front of us.”
“The aim of all of this is to help people see more for themselves, independently, both on tour and beyond. Some of the best moments for me on tour are when this happens, and you get to be part of something bigger as people start adding their own knowledge and experience to what we’re looking at. It makes each experience unique.”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity