It's possible to see the best part of the Rhine River without taking an expensive river cruise. Short, scenic excursions run through the Rhine gorge between Mainz and Koblenz multiple times per day. Trips range from just an hour or two to a full-day excursion.
Between Bingen and Boppard you'll pass a gaggle of castles, including one in the middle of the river, and navigate through the Loreley, the narrowest part of the river. For centuries boatmen feared having to pass through this section, where many of them came to ruin after being distracted by Loreley, a beautiful maiden who sat on the cliff combing her hair (or maybe it was the swift current and rocky shoals that caused their ships to founder).
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Bacharach is a sleepy little wine village on the Rhine River, that becomes a little less sleepy when river cruise boats dock nearby. But on just about any day you can wander down a path at the base of the cliffs that rise above the village, and find the 'Painter's Corner' (Malerwinkel), with a babbling brook, flowers in bloom, and the quiet rush of the wind through the trees.
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