Frankfurt is a great European destination, but it’s also close to many other wonderful places to see. After you have enjoyed all the exciting sights in Frankfurt, you can take one or more easy day trips to discover a variety of other towns within a short drive of your home base. Whether you love history, architecture, wellness, art, or just wandering around exquisite places, there are several spots that are well worth your time.
These seven fabulous day trips within 2 hours of Frankfurt offer distinctive features that will enhance your trip while making the most of your time.
About a half hour from Frankfurt is Wiesbaden, the second-largest city in the state of Hesse. One of the oldest spa towns in Europe, it is well known for its thermal springs. In fact, Wiesbaden means “Meadow Baths,” a reference to the town’s healing waters.
But Wiesbaden is also an architecture lover’s paradise. Some of the most interesting buildings in the city include the regal Hessian State Theatre and the neoclassical Kurhaus, both commissioned by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Beautiful parks and plazas provide a lovely view of this vibrant city. Historic castles like the Schloss Freudenberg offer gorgeous grounds and interesting cultural programs. And for those looking for souvenirs, fantastic shopping areas like the Goldgasse and the Langgasse pedestrian zone offer an incredible variety of boutique retailers, large department stores, restaurants, and cafes.
Oenophiles will be happy to learn of Wiesbaden’s reputation as a gateway to the Rheingau, the surrounding wine region famous for its riesling wines. You may be tempted to explore the entire region and taste wine at the many excellent vineyards, as we did on a river cruise. Alas, we’re talking about quick day trips here, so we’ll simply say that you can find delicious examples of Rheingau’s viticulture at many establishments in Wiesbaden.
Some 40 minutes north of Frankfurt is a German town that is just, well, adorable. Idstein is one of those places you want to amble through oohing and ahhing as charm gushes from every half-timbered building along the darling cobblestone streets. The buildings here are colorful and enchanting. One of them, the Schiefes Haus (“Crooked House”) is Idstein’s own Leaning Tower of Pisa. The building’s leftward slant was caused by structural changes made in the 18th century. They adversely affected the house’s bracing system but made it a local highlight.
Idstein has more than just cute and crooked buildings. Even though the town is infamous for its burning of purported witches in the 17th century, the iconic Hexenturm (“Witches’ Tower”) didn’t actually house any witches. Rather, as the oldest building in Idstein, dating to the 12th century, it has become an iconic symbol of the town. If you’d like, you can go to the tourist office, ask for the medieval key, and climb the tower yourself.
Art nouveau buildings shine in Darmstadt, half an hour south of Frankfurt. Darmstadt’s glory days were in the 18th century, during the rule of King Ludwig I; a huge statue of the king still stands in the city. Fans of royal history will enjoy the Palace Museum, which houses artwork, furnishings, tapestries, and other artifacts associated with the royal residence dating from the 16th century through the early 20th century.
The Darmstadt-Kranichstein Railway Museum offers working engines, steam train rides, and interactive displays. Guided tours are available at appointed times.
Known as a center of scientific discovery because of its technical university, Darmstadt also revels in the arts. Nowhere is this more evident than on the Mathildenhohe, home to an artist colony that has been around since the early 1900s. A visit to the colony’s museum will provide insight into their fascinating stories and artwork.
If you’ve got a little extra time, you might want to head down the road a bit to visit the 750-year-old Frankenstein Castle overlooking the city of Darmstadt. Mary Shelley visited the area in the early 1800s, not long before she published her famous novel. Though we don’t know whether or not she visited the castle, it’s a curious coincidence that Johann Konrad Dippel, one of its notorious residents, experimented with potions in search of the elixir of eternal life.
Bibliophiles may already be familiar with Mainz, the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the world’s first movable-type printing press. He printed the famous Gutenberg Bible in Mainz in the mid-1450s. Two of the remaining original copies can be viewed at the Gutenberg Museum, along with many other literary treasures.
Also impressive is the massive Mainz Cathedral, built between 975 and 1009. Near the city center, the cathedral exhibits centuries of renovations, additions, and architectural influences. Another exciting attraction is the Museum of Ancient Seafaring, home to well-preserved remains of fourth-century Roman warships and full-size authentically rendered replicas.
As full of fascinating history as Mainz is, it is also a beautiful living city filled with art, cuisine, and fun. The Chagall windows in Saint Stephan’s Church are dazzling. And when it comes to dining, Mainz is full of delicious opportunities. Cheese is high on the list, and dining options range from cheap and cheerful to downright glamorous. As always, we recommend giving some of the local dishes a try, along with the regional wines. And save room for some German pastries at the local bakeries all around the city.
Rudesheim is an enchanting small town just under an hour from Frankfurt. Known for its winemaking prowess, this town of about 10,000 residents captures hearts with its charm. A stroll down Drosselgasse in the old town delights with shops, taverns, cafes, wine gardens, and restaurants. Live music often plays here as well.
If you happen to be visiting around Christmastime, the Christmas market winds through the town in a festive display of beautiful lights and decor. One of the best ways to see it all is by riding a cable car over the area. To warm up, be sure to try one of the local specialties: Rudesheim coffee made with Asbach brandy.
One of the quirkiest of the town’s attractions is Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet, which houses a huge collection of musical instruments, from music boxes to pipe organs. On a more somber note, the Medieval Torture Museum covers methods of punishment from the Middle Ages as well as Germany’s witch-hunting history. Rheinstein Castle is just one of the area’s romantic castles. When it comes to outdoor activities, Rudesheim offers hiking, cycling, Segway tours, and even a summer bobsled run.
The gorgeous town of Heidelberg is an hour’s drive from Frankfurt. Located along the Neckar River, Heidelberg is home to the well-respected Heidelberg University, which dates to the 14th century. One of the town’s main attractions is its castle overlooking the city. With its extensive gardens, the castle grounds are popular for local weddings and events. Another interesting highlight is the Heidelberg Tun inside the castle’s Barrel Building. It’s known as the world’s largest wine barrel. The story goes that the winemaking residents of the area paid their taxes in wine, which was combined in the 220,000-liter barrel.
The city’s Old Town is located beneath the castle. A hub of activity, it offers beautiful architecture, lively pubs, restaurants, and shops. The main pedestrian street, the Hauptstrasse, is a great place to shop and pick up tasty treats like schneeballen, local pastries made in the shape of snowballs that come in a variety of flavors.
After dining at any of the delicious eateries in Heidelberg, visitors often walk off the calories with a stroll along the Philosophers’ Walk. Be sure to see the monkey statue on the Old Bridge, which crosses the Neckar River and joins the two sides of this famously beautiful city.
For a journey near the 2-hour mark, consider a trip to Baden-Baden. This famous spa town at the edge of the Black Forest was an important wellness resort in the 19th century. Today, the picturesque town offers everything a day-tripper could want. Shopping here is an elegant affair, with international names and quality items. There are cultural institutions aplenty, including Festival Hall, beautiful theaters, and a philharmonic orchestra. Baden-Baden’s unique museums include a Roman Baths Museum, Faberge Museum (complete with the renowned jeweled eggs), and Brahms House, where the famed composer lived and worked.
Unsurprisingly for a glamorous city like Baden-Baden, the culinary scene is full of delicacies. The fertile region offers fresh produce, and the cuisine reflects the local love for wine as well as for mushrooms, meat, fish, and more from the Black Forest.
Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit and enjoy the restorative thermal springs that made Baden-Baden the gem that it is today.
Though we’ve only scratched the surface of fabulous day trips from Frankfurt, Germany, we hope that these ideas inspire you to explore the surrounding area during your next visit to the financial center of Germany.