Frankfurt am Main in southern Germany has a bit of a reputation for being full of banks and boringness, and while I love an afternoon along the Main sampling biergartens or a wander through the museums, there are so many great places to visit near Frankfurt. It’s such an easy place to fly into, it would be a shame not to use your time there to explore some of the amazing things about south western Germany. Here are some great options for day trips from Frankfurt.
It’s on every list, and for good reason. As a Heidelberg resident, I’m not going to disagree! Our little city features the gorgeous castle ruins, of course, but don’t stop there. If you take the historic funicular to the top of the Königstuhl (the castle is only halfway up) you can take in a falconry demonstration, and let the kids burn off some steam at Märchenparadies, a little amusement park in the trees. Our Altstadt, or Old Town, is full of beautiful little streets. I think our favourite thing to do is head down to the Neckarwiese to hang out in the playgrounds and splash park. Read my full post on what the locals do around Heidelberg for more ideas. Heidelberg is about 1 hour from Frankfurt by train.
Mespelbrunn Water Castle
This tiny but beautiful water castle in the Spessart forest east of Frankfurt makes for a magical day trip. Deep in the forest where the Brothers Grimm found so many of their stories, you can feed the fish that swim in the moat surrounding the castle, and watch the swans serenely glide across the pond. Inside, the interiors have been beautifully preserved from the last renovations in the mid-1500s. The same family still owns the castle, and lives in one wing, while keeping the main rooms for visitors to explore. Tucked away in the forest, this castle escaped the destructive fate of which so many Rhine castles suffered during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Definitely make time for a leisurely snack from the cafe across the pond from the castle, we had an excellent Eiskaffee, which is not an iced coffee but a cup of coffee with scoops of ice cream in it and dollops of whipped cream on top. Getting to Schloss Mespelbrunn takes about an hour and a half from Frankfurt by train and bus.
Whenever I post photos of Schwetzingen, people ask me if I’m in Italy. Oh no, this is still Germany! This little town is dominated by the incredible salmon-pink summer palace of the Prince Elector. The manicured gardens go on and on, and the photo opportunities are endless. Mozart visited these gardens at least once, so imagine him wandering through, thinking on his music. Be sure to make your way to the Garden Mosque, it’s my favourite spot. The big draw here is the gardens, the buildings are not open except on guided tours – the only English language ones happen on Sundays at 2:15pm, so plan ahead if you want to see inside. On sunny days, it’s easy to find space at the all the pubs and restaurants that put out tables on the square right in front of the palace. Schwetzingen is about 1 hour from Frankfurt by train.
The Gutenberg Museum is the big reason to visit – you can see one of the original Gutenberg bibles, as well as replicas of the original printing press. A walk around the lovely old town is well worth it. Check out the cathedral dating from the 10th century, and Wood Tower and Iron Tower – medieval structures that used to form part of the old city wall. Mainz is on the Rhine river, so you could catch one of the river cruises from here, or just enjoy a walk along this historic waterway. Mainz is an easy 30-40 minutes by train from Frankfurt. I have a whole post over here on what to do with kids in Mainz for the day.
There are several different ways of seeing the middle Rhine valley (pictured at the top of the post), full to bursting with castles. Take a Rhine river cruise (affiliate link), and relax with a coffee or a glass of wine while you watch this UNESCO World Heritage site go by. You could also rent a car, which allows you to stop off at the smaller castles and investigate. Or take the train to Koblenz or Cochem, the bigger towns in the valley, and relax and enjoy the view as the train follows the river. The sides of the valley are nearly all carpeted with vineyards, and it’s a breathtaking sight with castles perched on the hilltops in the autumn as the leaves change, but it’s beautiful in the summer too. It’s worth noting that not all the castles are open to visitors.
Bacharach am Rhein
If you want to pick one town on the middle Rhine for a picturesque afternoon, Bachrach is an excellent choice. You can still see parts of its town wall from 1344, as well as beautiful half-timbered houses throughout the small town – the oldest house still standing is from 1368 (pictured above). You can follow the old Roman road to Burg Stahlbeck above the town. Originally built in the 12th century, this poor castle was captured eight times through the Thirty Years’ War, but was not completely destroyed until 1689 during another war with France. It was rebuilt in the 1920s, and has been a youth hostel ever since. You yourself can stay overnight in Burg Stahlbeck, waking up to gorgeous views over the Rhine. You can catch a direct train from Frankfurt, and it takes about an hour and 15 minutes – look for the direct route, there are other options but they will take much longer!
Hessenpark Open-Air Museum
About an hour on the train from Frankfurt is the glorious Hessenpark. Over 100 historic buildings have been moved to this site over the past 50 years and painstakingly reassembled using appropriate materials. There are shops, restaurants, exhibitions, and interiors set up to show you what life was like in this region 200-400 years ago. There’s even a hotel on-site so you can wake up to the sounds of regional roosters crowing. Open-air museums are terrific with kids, as they can run around and explore at their own speed. There’s a great playground and farm animals all over. Read my full guide to visiting the Hessenpark.
The famous spa town of Baden-Baden is at the top of the Black Forest. Take advantage of the natural thermal springs with a leisurely tour through the Caracalla Therme. A full complex of pools, steam rooms, and saunas, you pay a day or half-day rate for access to whole site (with a bit higher rate if you’d like to take in the clothing-free German spa area). Downstairs where everyone wears bathing suits, you can swim into the outdoor portion of the pool, or stay inside, trying out the hot pools, cold pools with waterfalls, the hammam steam room or the brine inhalation room. Once you’re sufficiently cleansed, wander the town looking in the windows of the upscale shops, and have a meal on one of the terrace cafes. If the thermal baths aren’t your thing, there is also the excellent modern art gallery Museum Frieder Burda, and the famous casino. Baden-Baden is about an hour and half by train from Frankfurt.