WanderlustSix of the best day trips from Frankfurt

Explore the cultural and scenic beauty of rural Germany

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Just outside Frankfurt there are fairy tale towns, sweeping Rhine Valley vineyards, and age-old settlements, ripe for exploring. Here’s our pick of the best day trips from Germany’s capital of culture and commerce.

 

Mainz

Distance: one-hour drive

An hour west of Frankfurt, the ancient city of Mainz has almost two millennia of wine-making history, thanks to the Romans who settled on the Rhine’s left bank and established its vineyards. The star of the show is the Romanesque sandstone cathedral, with its cavernous basilica, and treasury resplendent with artworks. Pay a visit to the Gutenberg Museum for a fascinating journey into the history of the printing press (Johannes Gutenberg invented printing from movable metal type in Mainz) and make sure you try the local delicacy spundekäs; a smooth cheese paste seasoned with pepper, salt and sweet paprika.

 

Frankenstein Castle and Darmstadt

Distance: 45-minute drive

Set on a wooded hilltop just south of Darmstadt, and long considered the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s namesake 19th-century novel, Frankenstein Castle embodies Gothic splendour and rugged drama. After exploring its atmospheric architecture, enjoy a pleasant walk along the surrounding nature trails and take lunch in the castle’s Burg Frankenstein Restaurant. On your way back to Frankfurt, pay a visit to the city of Darmstadt. The town was central to the Jugendstil – the German art nouveau movement of the late 19th century – and a number of architectural examples have survived, including the Five Finger Tower by Joseph Maria Olbrich, the Russian Chapel, a number of exhibition halls and a handful of glamorous private villas.

 

Cochem

Distance: two-hour drive

Located in the Mosel Valley to the west of Frankfurt, Cochem is a picturesque town framed by steep, sloping vineyards. At the base, rows of guild cottages and timbered buildings sit along the waterfront, presided over by a 12th century castle. Spend the morning wandering through the winding alleyways and medieval city gates before stopping for lunch at Marktplatz, overlooking the baroque town hall. Moselpromenade offers a great vantage point to marvel at the magnificent views of the Mosel Valley, and if you like hiking, there are trails that lead through the vineyards to Koblenz and Trier.

 

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Distance: two-hour drive

Plucked from the pages of the Grimms’ fairytales, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a medieval Bavarian village, southeast of Frankfurt with quaint architecture and a quiet charm. Spend the morning meandering through its narrow, cobbled lanes and admiring its pretty timber-framed buildings. Head back to Frankfurt via the town of Heidelberg in the afternoon, and explore the baroque architecture and grandiose red-sandstone ruins of Heidelberg Castle, a hilltop fort whose earliest structures date back to 1214. 

 

Rhine River Valley

Distance: start from Frankfurt

To get a real flavour of this scenic region, take a boat through Germany’s wine country. A number of tour operators offer cruises on a traditional steamer along the romantic Rhine. You’ll glide past undulating vineyards growing Riesling and Pinot Noir, historic locales and hilltop castles. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Rhine Valley is an enchanting place to explore landmarks such as Loreley Rock and the wine-making town of Rüdesheim am Rhein.

 

Saalburg Museum

Distance: 40-minute drive

North of Frankfurt in the Taunus Hills, Saalburg was once a Roman fort, home to more than 600 soldiers. Thanks to years of restoration, it’s now a fascinating archaeological park that recounts the region’s rich Roman heritage. It’s also one of the best day trips from Frankfurt for families. Discover what life was like in a Roman garrison, walk the ramparts and browse the ancient pottery and bronze artefacts. Children will love taking archery and javelin-throwing lessons, and the museum’s interactive experiences.