Cologne (Köln in German) is full of top German sights. But one you've gawked at the massive cathedral, sampled the wares of the chocolate museum, and walked the Rhine Promenade, you might wonder what else you should see in this beautiful region.
The state of North Rhine-Westphalia and nearby Hesse have many cultural treasures just a short drive (or train ride) away from Cologne. Or you can make your home base in Frankfurt, Bonn or other nearby cities and enjoy these lesser-known German destinations. Here are the best towns to visit on a day trip from Cologne.
A destination since the days of Lord Byron, Drachenburg Castle is located on Drachenfels in the seven hills of Siebengebirge within sight of the city of Bonn. Known in German as Schloss Drachenburg (or "Dragon's Rock"), it a relatively modern take on a castle from 1882.
The castle looks down at the Rhine from a height of 1,053 feet (321 meters). Inside, ornate furnishings show what people in the 1800s thought a castle should look like.
A historic funicular (Germany’s oldest rack railway) takes visitors straight to the castle, or all the way to top to view the ancient ruins of a much older castle.
Transportation: 1 1/2 hours by train - Regular departures by regional trains; 40 minutes by car - A-59 south; Regular stop on Rhine River Cruises.
More than just a gateway to Germany with its busy international airport, Frankfurt is worth staying a while.
It has an unusual skyline for Germany with skyscrapers rising high above the river Main. Modern and bustling, it is a counterpoint to all the fairy tale villages found throughout Germany.
Transportation: 1 hour by train - Departures hourly by ICE or regional trains; 2 hours by car on the A-3 which goes directly from Frankfurt to Cologne.
The area around Ruedesheim am Rhein is German wine country. The Rhine Gorge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the Romans began growing grapes over two thousand years ago. The Germans have since perfected the practice.
Visit in high season (April to the end of October) to see the town in full tourist bloom with tasting rooms every couple of feet.
Transportation: Just over 2 hours by train - hourly departures in the morning with return trains in the evening; Two hours by car - A-3 south
A pristine medieval hill town (much like the ever-popular Rothenburg ob der Tauber), Marburg has the narrow cobbled streets and half-timbered houses visitors to Germany dream about. Jacob Grimm said: "I believe there are more steps in the streets than in the houses.”
Transportation: Two and half hours by train - Several departures during the day; Two hours by car - A-4 & A-45 east.
This dramatic city is located on the Deutsches Eck (German Corner) where the Rhine meets the Moselle. On the point lies a monument to German unity, bedecked with a giant national flag as well as flags for the 16 länder (states).
The city's history predates the Germans, however. The city was founded in 9 BC by the Romans. Explore this ancient history with a trip to the Alte Burg (castle) from the 13th century or take a look at impressive Festung Ehrenbreitsteinfortress (fortress).
Transportation: Just under an hour to over an hour and half depending on if it is a regional or ICE train - regular departures every hour; 1 hour by car - A-3 southeast.
Mainz has a history that spans over two thousand years and includes its time as the birthplace of Johannes Gutenberg and his world-changing printing press. The Gutenberg Museum honors him and his miraculous invention.
Visitors will also spend time looking up at the Dom (cathedral) that was begun back in 975. Its bronze 1,000 year-old doors open to matching choirs, a crypt, and a tomb. To step into daily Mainz life, visit the pedestrian-only Markt (farmers' market) in the center of the city on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Transportation: 1.5 hours by train - Departures hourly by ICE or regional trains; 2 hours by car - A-3 southeast.
The closest city to Cologne, Bonn makes for an ideal day trip and a worthwhile venture into a smaller German city.
This oft-forgotten German city is best known as the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven and former capital of the Federal Republic of West Germany. Today's city features a relaxed atmosphere of cafes and beer gardens in the summer and classic weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) in winter.
Transportation: 25 to 30 minutes by train - regular departures more than once an hour by ICE or regional trains; just over 30 minutes by car - A-5553 south.
This old spa town frequented by royalty is now open to us common volk (people). This is one of Germany's best spa parks.
Stop in Kurpark with the hot springs and take advantage of the spas and the kurhaus after trekking around the 14th-century weisser turm. This castle offers guided tours of the summer residence as it looked during the residence of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Transportation: About an hour and 40 minutes by train - regular departures every morning with return service; Two hours by car - A-3 southeast.
Stop to take a picture of the rathaus (town hall) - one of the most photographed buildings in Germany. This is also the site of a fountain that has been pleasantly gurgling since 1575.
Next, leave the city limits for forest walks filled with historical attractions. Most notably, the 13th-century Schloss Fürstenau is now a private residence (imagine living in a castle!) that's exterior is open to the public and includes a small museum.
Transportation: Three and a half hours by train - several departures throughout the day; Two hours and 45 minutes by car - A-3 southeast. For a more scenic route take the B-47, known as the Nibelungenstraße from Worms to Wertheim.
This industrial center and Cologne rival is easy to miss among the other cities of the Rhine-Westphalia region. But it is not just its proximity that warrants a visit.
Walk lovely tree-lined königsallee (nicknamed kö) for high-end shops and cafes that serve patrons the requisite kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake). The Goethe Museum covers the life of the great writer and the marktplatz (central square) is home to both the picturesque rathaus and a equestrian sculpture of elector Johann Wilhelm II. This square centers the altstadt (old town) and here you can wander the cobbled streets and find an old-school tavern that serves the city's distinctive Alt Bier.
Transportation: Under an hour by train - regular departures every hour; 1 hour by car - A-57 south.
Elegant Wiesbaden has always drawn a classy crowd, from rich Romans to today's cultural elite. The neoclassical Kurhaus now offers a different type of fun with a casino and the beautiful kurpark provides scenic walks through English garden style landscape. There is also a stunning red brick Marktkirche (church), city palace, and endless charming streets to wander down.
Transportation: about 2 hours by train - Departures hourly by ICE or regional trains; almost 2 hours by car - A-3 southeast.