Onsite Review: Germany—A Cultural Tour of its Cities Along the Rhine

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Cologne Cathedral and the Rhine River.
Cologne Cathedral and the Rhine River.

Germany is a hot ticket when it comes to travel. From January to June 2014, U.S. travelers contributed over 2.3 million in overnight stays, a 4.5 percent increase compared to last year, and foreign visitor numbers overall increased by 6 percent.

And guess who was there to add to those visitor numbers? Recommend, of course. We were there for the annual travel trade show, the 3-day 40th GTM Germany Travel Mart, which brought together more than 600 tour operators, travel agents, and international journalists, as well as German exhibitors from the hospitality and tourism industries. But pre-Travel Mart, we got to hop on tours to experience the country’s culture, history, food, nightlife, museums, and hospitality so we could get a sense of what your clients would experience while vacationing in Germany.

The tours delivered a diverse and multilayered look at Germany. Here’s a tidbit of what I experienced during the Cities of Culture in Western Germany tour—an itinerary that maybe some of your clients have experienced via river cruising along the Rhine.

The first stop on this culturally focused tour was Bonn, Germany. A quaint town, and once the capital of Western Germany, Bonn is located along the Rhine River, and is the birthplace of composer Ludwig van Beethoven; I stumbled upon the Beethoven statue while strolling along the town’s winding cobblestoned passageways and squares. Bonn honors the famous composer with the annual Beethovenfest, featuring a series of concerts and events held in September and October.

Highlights: A must is visiting the Beethoven-Haus Museum, Beethoven’s birthplace in Bonn that was transformed into a museum dedicated to the composer. The 12 rooms in the museum give guests insight into his life and work with over 150 exhibits, including musical instruments. The museum also features a historic fortepiano—the instrument Beethoven used when composing his earliest musical compositions—on display in a cozy room designed for live musical performances. In Beethoven’s Footsteps is a walking tour that leads to all the spots in Bonn related to Beethoven.

Hotel Pick: Hotel Konigshof, part of the Ameron Collection and located along the banks of the Rhine, was my home base for the day trips to Cologne and Dusseldorf. It’s very close to Bonn’s center and my Deluxe Single room offered classic comforts (complimentary WiFi and bottled water, TV, comfy bed) and stunning views of the river.

The next stop on the tour was the city of Cologne, also referred to as the Holy City because of its 12 Romanesque churches, the grand and imposing Cologne Cathedral, its neo-Romanesque synagogue (burned down by the Nazis in 1938, the synagogue was rebuilt between 1957 and 1959), Protestant churches and a mosque. The city is steeped in history that goes back 2,000 years, and one is always taking a step back in time here, especially when viewing the Roman Dionysos Mosaic in the basement of the Roman-Germanic Museum.

Highlights: Exploring the area around the Cologne Cathedral and the Old Town. At first glance, the Cologne Cathedral is a breathtaking structure that demands everyone’s attention. The foundation of the cathedral was first laid out in 1248 and became one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Europe because of what it safeguarded, the shrine of the Three Wise Men. The cathedral can hold more than 20,000 people and was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. Another highlight was a tour of the warehouses built by the Romans underneath Great St. Martin Church. In the time of the Romans, the church was actually located on an island in the Rhine.

After touring Cologne’s winding, medieval streets and centuries-old churches, the next stop led us to Dusseldorf, a diverse city with high-end shops, crowded and lively pubs, open public spaces, and modern museums. Shopping aficionados will love strolling down Konigsallee, a picturesque street lined with designer shops and boutiques. Dusseldorf’s Old Town, Altstadt, is packed with restaurants, pubs, bars, dance clubs and restaurants—truly the heart of the city.

Highlights: After a bus tour around Dusseldorf, we were able to visit the Museum Kunstpalast, the city’s modern museum with an impressive collection of glass artwork. Afterwards, it was a leisurely stroll through Hofgarten, an immense 27-acre park with art installations, open fields, pathways for bikers, runners and walkers, towering trees, and playgrounds for kids.

contact information
German National Tourist Board: germany.travel or germany.travel/en/trade/trade.html


avanti destinations
One of Avanti Destinations’ most popular itineraries in Germany is an independent driving tour of the “Romantic Road.”

“Clients can start in either Frankfurt or Munich, and we include Wurzburg, Rothenburg, Augsburg, Fussen and Munich,” says Harry Dalgaard, Avanti’s president.

Come 2015, Avanti will be combining Germany with other countries, including on the “Alpine Connection itinerary that combines Munich, Salzburg, Innsbruck and Lucerne. Also, we will offer a pre-built itinerary—customizable, of course—that combines Berlin with Warsaw, Torun, and Gdansk—Berlin to the Baltic Coast.

Avanti has also created new regional itineraries that highlight Germany: Creative Berlin, focusing on the art and culture of Berlin’s creative neighborhoods; Historic Berlin—25 Years after the Fall of the Wall, highlighting Berlin’s history and featuring a Trabi-Safari self-drive tour along the Berlin Wall; and the Bremen Heritage itinerary focusing on the northern cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven where many Germans emigrated from to the U.S. The itinerary includes a tour to see the German Emigration Center.

Germany’s Christmas markets are also a big draw for travelers, and Avanti has a pre-built Christmas market vacation in Munich, which can also be tailored for the client. “It’s fun to walk around on your own, but these sightseeing tours are great for independent travel clients who want more information about the significance and history of the Christmas markets and to learn more about the traditions that locals celebrate during the Advent season,” says Dalgaard. (800) 422-5053; avantidestinations.com

Some quick facts about Trafalgar’s trips to Germany: The tour operator saw a significant growth of about 56 percent from 2012 to 2013; overall growth was lackluster in 2014, but Trafalgar did see a jump of 60 percent in its German Christmas market itineraries.

“Germany is a popular destination for our guests not only due to the places of historical interest, but also for its fantastic flora, fauna, great food, breathtaking scenery, contemporary cities, museums and exhibitions, and fun activities,” says Liesa Bissett, director of Europe Product.

These itineraries include the 13-day Best of Germany ($2,850 pp) and the 14-day Best of Germany & Austria ($3,395 pp). In the Best of Germany tour, travelers begin in Frankfurt before cruising the Rhine River to Germany’s fourth largest city, Cologne. The tour then leads them to Hamelin before visiting Hamburg, then it’s off to Berlin; other stops include Dresden, Nuremberg, Rothenburg and Munich.

Trafalgar’s 14-day Best of Germany & Austria itinerary begins in Frankfurt and leads travelers to Cologne, Berlin and Munich before crossing the border into Austria to Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Vienna.

“The reason why these are some of our bestselling itineraries, and the reason why people choose to travel with Trafalgar, is that we are the real insiders to the destination—we offer our guests choice, flexibility and ease of travel when they choose to experience the destination with Trafalgar,” adds Bissett.

For 2015, rather than add new tours to Germany, Trafalgar will continue to improve and expand on its existing bestselling itineraries, says Bissett. (866) 513-1995; trafalgar.com/usa or trafalgar.com/agents