Frankfurt is the business and transport hub of Germany and while there is plenty to do in the city, there's even more to explore outside of it. Frankfurt's central location and international airport make it the perfect place to start exploring Germany.
With Frankfurt as a base, you are spoiled for choice. Within 2 hours of the city there are castles, spas, and medieval villages as well as some of the country's top cities. You can travel from the Rhine River to the Black Forest by car, train, or bus. This region is well-connected by rail and by road, with your best options pointed out below.
Heidelberg is everything that Frankfurt isn't: quaint, charming, and historic. It is one of the few German cities with perfectly preserved medieval and Renaissance architecture as it was spared WWII bombing.
The town's picturesque castle lies mostly in ruins, but still peers serenely over the Altstadt (Old Town). From there the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) extends over the Neckar river to the 300-year-old Philosophenweg (Philosopher's Walk).
The university was founded in 1386, making Heidelberg University the oldest in Germany. The bustling expat and student community means there is a youthful energy in the city, and endless opportunities for cheap and cheerful meals.
Getting There: It is quick, easy, and cheap to get to Heidelberg from Frankfurt by train. It takes just under an hour, versus nearly 1.5 hours driving, by heading southwest on the River Main. Heidelberg Hbf. is in the center of the city so you can walk or take local transport to explore the city. You may also visit the city by boat as there are many cruises that stop in the city.
Travel Tip: To reach the castle, you can climb the hill or take the bergbahn (funicular) if you are short on time or energy. You can also take the funicular all the way up to Königstuhl which offers unparalleled views of the city and surroundings.
The historic town of Hanau looks straight out of a storybook with its half-timbered buildings and cobblestone lanes. You can see how the imaginations of young Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were stoked growing up here, leading them to create stories that have entertained generations of children. Today's families can enjoy a statue of the town's most famous residents in the magnificent marketplace, check out the impressive Neustädtisches Rathaus (town hall) from 1733, and fill their eyes with visions of gold at the Goldschmiedehaus (goldsmith’s house).
Just outside of the town center, you can visit Schloss Philippsruhe, a Baroque palace that holds the Hanau Historical Museum. It includes an art collection as well as artifacts associated with the Brothers Grimm.
Getting There: Hanau is 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) east of Frankfurt, and the journey there takes just 20 minutes by train or 40 minutes driving. You can also reach it by flixbus for as little as 3 euros.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of the most visited and photographed walled towns in all of Germany. Perfectly preserved since its glory days in medieval times, it suffered under the Thirty Years' War, but now thrives as a top tourist destination.
Visitors can climb the stairs of the 13th century Rathaus, walk around the entire town on the ancient ramparts, gawk at the instruments of the Torture Museum, or visit the Christmas-themed Käthe Wohlfahrt headquarters year-round. Don't miss out on the chance to stay the night and go on the legendary Nightwatchman tour.
Getting There: The town is a 2-hour drive southeast of Frankfurt via the A3 and A7. It is not as easy a journey by train, requiring several transfers and at least 6 hours.
Travel Tip: This popular town is besieged with tourists during the day, but is much less busy in the early morning or late afternoon. For more lovely medieval towns in the area, visit the underrated towns on Germany's Romantic Road.
Burg Frankenstein: Castle of Myths and Legends
Who can turn down the chance visit Frankenstein's Castle? Known as Burg Frankenstein in German, this 750-year-old castle is part-ruins, but full of mystery.
Johann Konrad Dippel was an eccentric born in the castle in 1673. He is rumored to be the inspiration for English author Mary Shelley’s mad scientist in her famed novel, "Frankenstein." She visited the area in 1814 and released her book two years later. Today, the castle is open to visitors, and it and the surrounding woods are still associated with myths of crazed scientists, dragons, and a fountain of youth.
Getting There: The castle is about 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) south of Frankfurt and best accessed by car. The ride takes about 40 minutes via A5.
Felsenmeer, or "sea of rocks", is a sprawling expanse of uneven rocks. Formed millions of years ago, Felsenmeer's origin story involves two giants who lived on opposing mountains. In a fight, they threw rocks at each other, resulting in this unusual collection of boulders.
Getting There: The rocks are about an hour from Frankfurt driving south on A5. It is near impossible to reach by public transport.
Travel Tip: To get more from your visit, start at the Felsenmeer Information Center which is free and covers how the rocks were formed.
The spa town of Baden-Baden has been a source of relaxation since Roman times. Its therapeutic waters are famed for their healing powers, and are funneled through several luxurious, public spas. Friedrichsbad is the most famous of the spas. The Kurgarten and 19th-century Kurhaus are other top attractions.
Baden-Baden is also conveniently located at the entry to the Schwarzwald (Black Forest). This beautiful region in the southwest is a natural wonder with many small half-timbered towns; perfect for hiking and shopping for your ideal cuckoo clock.
Getting There: Baden-Baden is 149 miles (240 kilometers) south of Frankfurt, which is about a 2-hour drive on the A5. You can also take the train which takes about 90 minutes.
Travel Tip: Once you have gotten a chance to relax, you can raise the excitement at Casino Baden-Baden. Opened in the early 1800s, this casino was called the most beautiful in the world by Marlene Dietrich.
Koblenz is where the Mosel and Rhine river meet at the dramatic corner, Deutsches Eck (German Corner), topped by a monument with Emperor Wilhelm I. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the oldest towns in Germany with connections to the Order of the Teutonic Knights.
Getting There: Koblenz is a 90-minute drive or a slightly longer train ride northwest of Frankfurt. There is also an inexpensive flixbus option.
Travel Tip: If you want to reach the fortress, the Koblenz Cable Car is the most scenic way to reach the top with the best views of the point.
This isolated 12th century castle is perched above the Moselle River, surrounded by acres of forest. Eltz Castle has been occupied by the same family for an impressive 33 generations.
Visitors can tour the perfectly preserved historic site with many of the original furnishings and decor from the medieval kitchen to knight’s hall.
Getting There: The castle is best reached by car, although there is some bus service, including a public bus from the town center. Reach Burg Eltz by driving west on the A3 for about an hour and 45 minutes. .
Strasbourg: Cross into France
Just over the border into France, the Alsace region has been traded between the two countries over the centuries. Though it is claimed by France (for now) it still shares a lot of traits with its German neighbors and has its own international atmosphere.
It is the site of the headquarters of the European Parliament, home to a major university, holder of innumerable half-timbered houses, and has one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in Europe. It maintains a village feel despite its wealth of attractions and the delightful old town, called La Petite France, is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Getting There: Taking the train to Strasbourg requires advance planning as there are only three direct trains per day. Travelers should expect to pay around 50 euros each way. Direct trains take around 2 hours, while an indirect route takes 3.5-hours. Driving is much easier via the A5 for under 2.5 hours.
Travel Tip: Indulge in German-French fusion with local dishes like flammkuchen (or tarte flambée in French), which is like a thin-crust pizza with creme fraiche and bacon.