The 5 best day trips from Frankfurt

Explore the surrounding wine country, sprawling forests and medieval villages just a short drive or train away
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Barnyz Marburg, Germany
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Frankfurt has plenty to offer both short and long term visitors, but as a city that’s centrally located and boasting excellent public transport networks, it’s also a fantastic base for exploring the surrounding regions, from wine country and sprawling forests to medieval villages and riverside towns. The airport may connect Frankfurt with the rest of Europe and the world, but the excellent local and national trains make possible a huge range of options for day-long adventures, whether you’re a food-lover, a history buff or a tech or culture nerd. In less than 90 minutes, you can find yourself visiting a shrine to a Hungarian princess, bathing in natural thermal baths or inspecting a Russian spacecraft. From the seemingly endless options for day trips from Frankfurt, the following suggestions are all much-loved for their food and wine, individual culture, sites and history.

Day trips from Frankfurt

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 World War II, 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 has a reputation 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 using the local railway network.

EAT:

The local specialities here are generally hearty snacks for accompanying wine, which is usually bought by the glass. Head to a traditional wine tavern such as cozy, half-timber 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 the premises, sharing the rabbit warren of rooms with the beer-making equipment itself. Try the aromatic Helle Märzen, which they’ve been brewing there since 1989. 

DO:

The Gutenberg Museum is named after the famous German printer Johannes Gutenberg, who invented 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 a centrally located hotel with a spa, restaurant, beer garden-cum-riverside-terrace and comfortable, modern rooms, some with fabulous views of the Rhine.

If you do one thing...

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

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

Wiesbaden

Across the river from Mainz sits the Hessen 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 back 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 the Russian author Dostoyevsky won and lost vast sums of money before penning his classic novel, The Gambler. An easy 40-minute train journey from Frankfurt on the local train network, Wiesbaden is a beautiful place to stroll away a day through beautiful streets, a cobbled old town and some lovely green spaces. In August each year, the Rheingau wine festival takes place in the centre of town and provides an excellent opportunity to taste still and sparkling wines from the region. 

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 funicular railway, the Nerobergbahn, up the hillside to the Opelbad, where you can have a drink on the restaurant terrace or take a dip in the Bauhaus-style lido, built in 1934. The venue offers a stunning panorama 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 5-star Hotel Nassauer Hof, built in 1813. Situated 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 do just one thing...

Visit the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme, a thermal bath and spa built in around 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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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 the top of its hill. Barely damaged during World War II, when the entire city was used as a hospital, Marburg is a lovely place to spend the day exploring the steep, winding streets (many of which are essentially just staircases) and old town, strolling through the botanical gardens and sitting outside at 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-timber restaurant that offers a menu of regional, seasonal mains such as wild garlic Flammkuchen (tarte flambée) as well as wonderful snacks and desserts. There’s a list of fifty German and European wines to choose from, and you can even buy bottles to take home. 

DRINK:

Stop for a coffee (and a slice of cake) at the the very traditional Viennese coffee house, Café Vetter, a local institution. The outdoor and glassed terraces offer 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 as a cultural museum housing weaponry and regional art and pottery, and it’s worth the trek up the hill for the views alone. Join a guided tour to visit the witches’ tower and see the casemates in the castle.

STAY:

The historic half-timber 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 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 do just one thing...

Visit the Elisabethkirche (St. Elizabeth church), which marks the burial site of the Hungarian princess St Elizabeth, who died in Marburg in 1231 at age 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.

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, pedestrianized 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 old town 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 a 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 specialties 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, find yourself 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; it’s also home to Germany’s only IMAX DOME movie theater. Ticket price to the museum includes entry to the Wilhelmsbau Musem, 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. The property is located a stone’s throw from the cathedral, with a lovely restaurant and beer garden next door, and offers an excellent breakfast served in an impressive hall. 

If you do only one thing...

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

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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 Marienburg mountain, where a Celtic stronghold was established in 1000 BC. The Festung Marienberg (Marienburg fortress) that stands there today has been home to prince-bishops for the last 500 years and is today the symbol of the city. Würzburg was almost entirely destroyed a matter of weeks before the end of the second world war, but 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 charmig, lively atmosphere; the city is also well 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 still and sparkling Franconian wines at the small, friendly mainwein, situated 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 the 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 Marienburg Fortress.

STAY:

The centrally-located 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 do only 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 work and Venetian painted ceilings; some weekend guided tours include wine tastings in the palace cellars.

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