Xanten: A Little Roman Holiday on the Rhine

Sponsored by Avalon Waterways

As the old saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” But did you know that when you’re in Xanten, Germany, you should do as the Romans “did?”

As weird as that might sound, there’s an explanation. This little German town is famous for its Roman heritage. For one thing, it is the only Roman town north of the Alps that was not “subsequently covered with a medieval town.” Xanten is also home to an open-air archeological park — one of the largest in the world — that will transport you back to ancient Roman times.

This city, which is one of the oldest in Germany, also boasts several other smaller claims to fame. For example, it’s the only German city to have a name that starts with an X (keep that in mind for your next trivia match). And Xanten is also said to be the birthplace of Siegfried the dragon-slayer, a famous hero in German legends.

Heading to Xanten? You definitely won’t want to miss out on the following top five things to do while visiting this charming city on the Rhine River:

Explore the Archaeologiepark Xanten

Journey back 2,000 years to a time when this area was home to an ancient Roman town known as Colonia Ulpia Traiana. This open-air archeological museum features a number of recreated full-scale buildings, including a 12,000-seat amphitheater where gladiators once fought, city walls, houses, public baths and a temple.

Archaeologiepark Xanten also includes a playground that looks like a Roman fort to entertain children and areas where you can enjoy hands-on experiences. For example, you can learn how to play the various Roman games that were popular in Colonia Ulpia Traiana. Some cruise lines also offer extended experiences.

Avalon Waterways, for instance, offers a Roman Clothes Workshop where you can learn about the clothing worn during this time period and also get a chance to dress up in authentic Roman attire. Archaeologiepark Xanten also boasts the LVR Roman Museum, which contains more than 2,500 exhibits, including many original findings discovered during site excavations.

St. Victor’s Cathedral (Xanten Cathedral)

Built between 1263 and 1544, St. Victor’s is an impressive structure and is, in fact, the biggest cathedral between Cologne and the North Sea. It is named for St. Victor, a member of the Theban Legion who was allegedly executed because he refused to worship Roman gods.

The interior of this Gothic-style cathedral is breathtaking. It contains a five-aisle nave, boasts beautiful stained glass windows and fine wood carvings and is definitely a must-see if you’ll be in Xanten.

Night Walk 

The deep shadows and moody lighting at night give a historic city like Xanten a deeper, richer texture. You might even feel the ghosts of the past rise around you as a guide walks you through this city’s streets while sharing with you Xanten’s many legends and stories.

This special lantern lit tour is offered as an optional excursion by Avalon Waterways and is a unique way to learn more about this fascinating little burg.

Pedal Power

If you truly want to experience the beauty of the Lower Rhine and the scenic German countryside, consider taking a bike tour. You’ll get to enjoy plenty of fresh air, lovely scenery and some welcome exercise as you pedal along the river and past Xanten’s landmarks. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy your next meal with less guilt knowing that you have spent at least a few hours burning calories aboard your bike.


Located not far from the Xanten Archeological park, the Kriemhildmuehle is an old windmill that has turned into a bakery. This is a popular spot with both locals and travelers in need of a little refreshment or who want to purchase fresh baked goods.

If you’re feeling a bit adventurous or want to exercise off some of the goodies that you might have consumed, consider taking a climb up to the top of this beautiful windmill.

Are you ready to go deep? Find a certified river cruise Travel Specialist to help you plan your vacation.