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Marburg
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Barnyz

The 5 best day trips from Frankfurt

Wine country, medieval villages, luxuriant forests... for a truly rural retreat, try one of these day trips from Frankfurt

By Christie Dietz and Huw Oliver
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Sure, there may be a whole host of brilliant things to do in Frankfurt itself, but excellent public transport networks make Germany’s financial capital a fantastic base from which to explore the surrounding countryside, too. From wine country and sprawling forests to medieval villages and riverside towns, fast local and national trains make a huge range of day trips possible. In less than 90 minutes, you could find yourself visiting a shrine to a Hungarian princess, bathing in natural thermal baths or inspecting a Russian spacecraft. For the lowdown on the coolest bars, restaurants and other things to do nearby, here’s our pick of the best day trips from Frankfurt.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Frankfurt

Best day trips from Frankfurt

Mainz
Mainz

Mainz

Built on the site of a Roman citadel where the Rhine and Main rivers meet, Mainz has long been an important trading centre, particularly for wine. The city was heavily bombed during the Second World War, and much of the city has been repaired or rebuilt since. Although the gorgeous cobbled Old Town, imposing Romanesque cathedral and some Roman ruins remain intact, much of the city is modern – and not particularly pretty. But what Mainz lacks in good looks, it more than makes up for in personality: as Germany’s wine capital and a lively university town, the capital of Rheinland-Pfalz is known for its warm, friendly locals who gather in wine taverns or at festivals, at the Mainz 05 football stadium and during Karneval, throughout the city, to have a really, really good time. Mainz is a straightforward 40-minute train ride from Frankfurt.

EAT

Local specialities here are generally hearty snacks for accompanying wine, usually bought by the glass. Head to a traditional wine tavern such as cosy, half-timbered Weinhaus Spiegel to try Handkäse mit Musik (a hard, sour cheese marinated in vinegar and caraway), Spundekäse (a cream cheese dip with crunchy pretzels) or a platter of Winzerteller (local cold cuts).

DRINK

Mainz was once famous for its beer as well as its wine. At the Eisgrub-Bräu, you can drink beers brewed on site, sharing the rabbit warren of rooms with the beer-making equipment itself. Try the aromatic Helle Märzen, which they’ve been brewing here since 1989. 

DO

The Gutenberg Museum is named after the German printer Johannes Gutenberg, credited with inventing modern typography. Tucked away in the square behind Mainz Cathedral, the museum is devoted to the history of writing, printing and books, with exhibits that include medieval manuscripts, old printing presses and two 15th-century Gutenberg bibles.

STAY

The award-winning Hyatt Regency isn’t cheap, but that’s because it’s very central, and boasts a spa, restaurant, beer garden-cum-riverside terrace and comfortable, modern rooms, some with fabulous views of the Rhine.

If you only do one thing...

Go to Liebfrauenplatz on a Saturday between March and November to experience Mainz’s legendary market breakfast (Marktfrühstück). Bag a seat at a shared table and enjoy Weck, Wurst und Woi (a bread roll, Fleischwurst and glass of wine) with the locals.

Wiesbaden, Germany
Wiesbaden, Germany
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Pascal Bergmann

Wiesbaden

Across the river from Mainz sits the Hesse state capital of Wiesbaden, one of Europe’s oldest spa towns and one of the richest cities in Germany. Many of Wiesbaden’s elegant buildings date to the beginning of the 19th century, though it wasn’t until 100 years later that it became a popular destination for the wealthy. Wiesbaden is famous for its natural hot springs and the casino at which Dostoevsky won and lost vast sums of money before penning ‘The Gambler’. An easy 40-minute train from Frankfurt, Wiesbaden is a beautiful place to stroll away a day through beautiful streets, a cobbled Old Town and some lovely green spaces. Every August, the Rheingau wine festival takes place in the centre and provides an excellent opportunity to taste the region’s finest wines.

EAT

Weihenstephaner on Taunusstrasse is Wiesbaden’s answer to a Bavarian beer hall; there may be beers and shared tables, but there are chandeliers, too. The menu will please both meat eaters (they serve the best pork knuckle around) and vegetarians alike (try Eier mit Grüne Soße, or eggs with Frankfurt green sauce).

DRINK

Stop for coffee or hot chocolate at Maldaner, a traditional Viennese café on Marktstrasse that first opened its revolving door in 1850, and is hugely popular mid-morning and afternoon for the exquisite cakes and patisseries that fill its long glass counter.

DO

In the summer months, take the Nerobergbahn funicular up the hill to the Opelbad, where you can enjoy a drink on the restaurant terrace or take a dip in the Bauhaus-style lido, built in 1934. The venue offers stunning panoramas over the city, and on clear days, you can see as far as Frankfurt. 

STAY

If you fancy a treat, splash out on a room at the five-star Hotel Nassauer Hof, built in 1813. Just across from the Kurhaus, the Nassauer Hof is home to Wiesbaden’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, the Ente, and Germany’s only rooftop thermal pool.

If you only do one thing...

Visit the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme, a thermal bath and spa built in 1920 and restored 60 years later to preserve some of the features of the Irish-Roman baths. Facilities include a Russian steam room, Finnish sauna, cold pool and a warm bath of water sourced from Wiesbaden’s second largest thermal spring. Bathing is nude; Tuesdays is ladies only.

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Speyer germany
Speyer germany

Speyer

In the Palatinate (Pfalz), a region famous for its wine, figs and almonds, you’ll find one of Germany’s oldest cities, founded in pre-Celtic times and expanded by the Romans. Now it’s a pretty market town located on the German wine route. You’ll need to take a combination of local and Intercity-Express trains (changing once) to get to Speyer from Frankfurt, but once you’re there, it’s easily manageable on foot, and is a relaxing place to spend a day. The main, pedestrianised shopping street, Maximilianstrasse, is lined with shops and cafés, and stretches from the city’s western gate, the 13th-century Altpörtel, to the magnificent cathedral. Take a stroll along the Rhine or through the small, characterful quarter known as the ‘Hasenpfuhl’ (rabbit puddle); visit the ruins of the Speyer synagogue, the oldest remaining Jewish place of worship in Europe; or enjoy a drink in a beer garden or meal in one of the town’s many traditional restaurants. 

EAT

The Wirtschaft Zum Alten Engel is a dedicated supporter of the Slow Food movement, promoting good, clean and fair food. The menu boasts Pfälzer specialities including Leberknödel (liver dumplings) and Saumagen (stuffed pig’s stomach), all made using high-quality local ingredients from trusted producers.

DRINK

On a sunny day, head towards the river, grab a seat in the beer garden at the Alte Hammer and order a Rheingönheimer Weizen, a classic malty, fruity Pfälzer wheat beer that comes in a flip-top bottle. 

DO

Built on the site of the former Palatinate aircraft works, the Technik Museum is home to over 2,000 exhibits, from vintage cars to a Russian BURAN orbiter and a Boeing 747; you’ll also find Germany’s only IMAX DOME movie theatre here. Tickets to the museum include entry to the Wilhelmsbau Museum, which houses 19th and 20th-century rarities such as mechanical musical instruments. 

STAY

The Hotel Domhof is a three-star hotel that, thanks to its friendly atmosphere and wonderful attention to detail, feels more like a four-star property. It’s located just around the corner from the cathedral, with a lovely restaurant and beer garden next door, and offers an excellent breakfast served in an impressive hall. 

If you only do one thing...

Visit the Kaiserdom. This imposing Romanesque cathedral, a Unesco world heritage site built between 1030 and 1061, is worth the trip here alone. Reconstructed to almost its exact original condition in the 1950s, it contains the largest crypt in Germany, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens.

St. Elizabeth church, Marburg
St. Elizabeth church, Marburg
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Andreas Trepte

Marburg

The pretty town of Marburg on the river Lahn offers stunning panoramas all the way from the riverside right up to the castle on top of the hill. Barely damaged during the Second World War, when the entire city was used as a hospital, Marburg is a lovely place to spend the day exploring steep, winding streets (many of which are essentially just staircases) and the Old Town, strolling through the botanical gardens and sitting outside a café on the Marktplatz watching the world go by. Marburg University, founded in 1527, ensures the town has a lively atmosphere and even provides a little romanticism in the form of two of its former students, the Brothers Grimm, who studied German folktales here. You can reach Marburg in just over an hour from Frankfurt on a double-decker Regional Express train. 

EAT

If you’re hungry, head to Weinlädle, a traditional half-timbered restaurant that offers a menu of regional, seasonal mains such as wild garlic Flammkuchen – a sort of German pizza – as well as wonderful snacks and desserts. There’s a list of 50 German and European wines to choose from, and you can even buy bottles to take home. 

DRINK

Stop for a coffee (and slice of cake) at Viennese-style Kaffeehaus Café Vetter. The outdoor terrace offers spectacular views even by Marburg’s standards.

DO

The Landgrafenschloss was built as a fort in the 11th century. Today it’s used as an event location and houses a museum of regional art, pottery and weaponry. Frankly, it’s worth the trek up the hill for the views alone. Join a guided tour to visit the witches’ tower and check out the casemates.

STAY

The historic Hotel Hostaria Del Castello, with its spacious, traditional rooms, is the best of the limited options in Marburg’s gorgeous Old Town. It’s not one for those who require total silence to get to sleep – it’s close to the city hall clock, and you should ask for a room at the back if you don’t want to be disturbed by night-time revelry on the streets below.

If you only do one thing...

Visit the Elisabethkirche (St. Elizabeth church), which marks the burial site of Hungarian princess St. Elizabeth, who died in Marburg in 1231 aged 24 after being widowed by her German husband and dedicating her life to helping the poor, founding a hospital and living in poverty. Her golden shrine can be found in the church along with plentiful religious art and statues.

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Würzburg
Würzburg

Würzburg

It’ll take you between 60 and 90 minutes on a direct Intercity-Express (ICE) train from Frankfurt to reach the Baroque city of Würzburg, which is located on the Main river and surrounded by hills in the northern Bavarian region of Franconia (Franken). The origins of the city lie atop the Marienberg mountain, where a Celtic stronghold was established in 1000 BC. The Festung Marienberg (Marienberg fortress) that stands there today has been home to prince-bishops for the last 500 years and is still the city’s most emblematic sight. Würzburg was almost entirely destroyed a matter of weeks before the end of the Second World War, but extensive reconstruction has returned the majority of the city’s sights to their former glory. The wine festivals that take place here throughout the summer here add to Würzburg’s lively, charming atmosphere; the city is also known for its annual classical music festival, the Mozart Festival Würzburg, which takes place in early summer.

EAT

Most German cities have a traditional restaurant in their town hall, but they’re not all as good as the Würzburg Ratskeller. There’s solid Franconian cooking on the menu here, from Sauerbraten (sour pot roast beef) with red cabbage and potato dumplings to Blaue Zipfel, sausages cooked in a spiced, vinegary broth and served with bread. 

DRINK

Sample some of the very best Franconian wines at the small, friendly Mainwein on the Alte Mainbrücke. Some complain the wine prices are inflated, but it’s worth paying a little extra for the ambience and the view, especially in summer.

DO

The Alte Mainbrücke is one of Würzburg’s most famous landmarks. Built between 1473 and 1543, with 12 statues of saints added almost 200 years later, the bridge was Würzburg’s only river crossing until 1886. Open only to pedestrians and cyclists, it’s worth walking over at least twice to take in the extraordinary panoramas, which include a fabulous view of the Marienberg Fortress.

STAY

The central Hotel Würzburger Hof is walking distance from the train station, the Residenz, and come Advent, the Christmas markets. It’s traditional, comfortable and charming, and the breakfast’s good to boot.

If you only do one thing...

Visit the Unesco world heritage Residenz, an impressive palace designed by Europe’s greatest baroque architect, Balthasar Neumann. Completed in 1780, it’s one of Europe’s most sumptuous palaces. Explore the lavish rooms decorated with Italian stucco and Venetian painted ceilings; some guided tours include wine tastings in the palace cellars.

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