Bingen am Rhein, Germany: Castles, Wine, Cake, and More

IMG_1816My parents both grew up in Bingen am Rhein, a town along Germany’s scenic Middle Rhine. They took my sister and me to the Fatherland often. We weren’t thrilled about these trips, filled with boring visits to see ancient great aunts and weird little cousins. The mid-afternoon ritual of buttercream kuchen (cake) got me through. I suspect the local wine was my father’s saviour. It wasn’t until much later that I came to appreciate the charms of Bingen—part of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site and gateway to medieval castles, fairy-tale towns, luscious vineyards, and delectable kuchen.

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Bingen town square—C.Helbig

Bingen is often overlooked as a place to stay by tourists who flock to Germany’s Middle-Rhine Valley. Granted, it does not have the romantic charm of neighbouring Bacharach, or the kitschy appeal of Rüdesheim, across the river. But, for visitors looking for a more authentic town where locals go about their daily business, and long-standing eateries are free of bus tour groups, Bingen fits the bill. I was amazed that many of the restaurants that I ate at as a kid in the 60’s are still around. For a great value, “time stood still” experience, try Zur Alten Post. One of the waitresses has been serving there for 47 years!

The Mauseturm near Bingen am Rhein.

The Mauseturm near Bingen am Rhein.

The town has a lovely waterfront path where you can stroll along the Rhine, watch the busy boat traffic, and see iconic landmarks like the Mäuseturm (mouse tower), which sits on a small island just off shore. Legend has it that the cruel ruler Hatto II was eaten alive by the mice in the tower. Ponder this legend while sampling some amazing local wines at the waterfront Vinothek

Bingen’s shopping district is compact and much of it is found in the cobblestone streets of the pedestrian zone, in and around the pretty town square. You’ll find an abundance of cute cafes with mouth-watering displays of kuchen. Check out Café Röthgen. It’s filled with goodies and has a very nice ambiance.

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Bingen waterfront with Vinothek in foreground and Burg Klopp above—M.Helbig

Burn off some calories with a walk up to the Rochusberg.  This peaceful wooded area above Bingen has pleasant trails and a couple of worthy attractions. Burg Klopp, a restored castle originally built in the 13th century has stunning views to the town and Rhine valley. The castle is home to a good but pricey restaurant. The Rochuskapelle (Chapel of St.Roch) is an impressive neo gothic style church built in 1895, and happens to be where my parents got married.

In close proximity to Bingen, there’s much to explore. Here are some things you shouldn’t miss:

Visit a castle:  The 65 km World Heritage site between Bingen and Koblenz is home to some of Europe’s most interesting castles and fortresses—40 of them in fact, scenically perched on hilltops overlooking the Rhine Valley. Some of them are open to visitors —Markburg in Brauback is the best preserved medieval castle in the region and offers guided tours; the massive ruins at Rheinfels above St Goar are great for exploring.

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Overlooking the town of Bacharach—C.Helbig

Take a day-cruise on the Rhine: Float past imposing castles, pretty towns, and gorgeous vineyards that cling precariously to the steep sided banks of the river. Köln-Dusseldorfer (KD) has a ticket office along the Bingen waterfront and offers daily excursions of varying length. If you have time, cruise all the way up to Koblenz (almost 4 hours) and return via train. With less time, the section between Bingen and St. Goar is especially scenic and only takes about 1.5 hours. Bacharach is my favourite fairy-tale town along the route and is definitely worth a stop.

Hop over to Rüdesheim: This town, accessed by 15-minute boat trip across the Rhine, is the antithesis of Bingen. Rüdesheim’s most famous street, the Drosselgasse, is the king of kitsch, home to every stereotypical German souvenir, all made in China. It’s fun to walk through but be sure to visit the quieter streets too. On a nice day, walk or take the gondola to the Niederwalddenkmal, a 38 m structure erected in 1883 to commemorate the foundation of the German empire. The views to Bingen and beyond are wonderful.

Raise a glass of local Riesling to Bingen and this beautiful, culturally rich region…zum Wohl!

If you go:

  • Bingen is less than one hour via direct train from Frankfurt airport. From the Bingen Hauptbahnhof (main train station) it’s simple to get both local and long-distance connections to cities in Germany and beyond.
  • The biggest, most modern hotel in Bingen is NH Bingen. It’s nicely located right on the river and an easy walk into town. For a more personal experience, the Café Konditorei Köeppel has some guest rooms. It’s a charming place in the middle of town. It fills up fast, so book early.
  • There are loads of places to eat in Bingen. In addition to those mentioned above, I enjoyed the Gaggianer, a casual, very atmospheric spot with a large menu of well-priced German specialties. Zum Geschwollenen Herz is another long-standing establishment with a cosy room and hearty German fare.
  • There are several great festivals in Bingen. The Winzerfest is one of the biggest and longest running wine festivals in the region. It takes place over 11 days in late August and early September. The Rhine in Flames is a fireworks spectacular that happens in July. The international jazz festival, Bingen Swingt, occurs in late June.
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