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DISCOVERY GERMANY

Nine of the best day trips from Frankfurt with the €9 ticket

If you want to explore the area around Frankfurt this summer, there are plenty of destinations you can reach in under two hours. 

Visitors climb over the large rocks of the Felsenmeer.
Visitors climb over the large rocks of the Felsenmeer. The rocky landscape is a popular destination for excursions in the Vorderer Odenwald mountain range. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

Germany’s €9 monthly ticket, which launched in June, is also available throughout the whole of July and August. It can be used on all local transport across the country, as well as on regional trains. 

If you’re based in Frankfurt, or heading there on holiday, these destinations can all be reached on regional transport in under two hours, making them an ideal day or weekend getaway. 

READ ALSO: €9 for 90: Everything you need to know about Germany’s cheap travel deal

1. Heidelberg

People sit in front of the Old Bridge at the Neckar river in Heidelberg.

People sit in front of the Old Bridge at the Neckar river in Heidelberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Uwe Anspach

With its arched Old Bridge and castle on the hill, it’s no wonder Heidelberg is known as one of Germany’s most romantic destinations. The castle, which dates back to the 13th century, was even immortalised by English romantic painter William Turner in a famous painting from the mid-19th century. 

Stroll the winding gothic streets, pay a visit to Germany’s oldest university and visit have a coffee in the historic centre which still bears witness to the medieval layout of the city.

To get to Heidelberg, take the RB68 direct from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof in 1 hour and 40 minutes.

READ ALSO: Is Frankfurt a good place for foreigners to live?

2. Hessenpark

Historic half-timbered houses and an old fountain in the market square of Hessenpark, a popular excursion destination in the Taunus region.

Historic half-timbered houses and an old fountain in the market square of Hessenpark, a popular excursion destination in the Taunus region. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Take a step back in time in this fascinating open-air museum. With over 100 reconstructed historic buildings across 160 acres, the park gives visitors a close-up look at 400 years of rural life in Hesse. 

Amongst the highlights are the market place which boasts buildings from the whole state of Hesse; a 15th-century church and an austere school room from the turn of the 20th century.

With lively demonstrations of crafts and agriculture, exhibitions, colourful markets, the museum theatre and themed tours, a trip to Hessenpark makes a great day out for all of the family. 

To get there, take the RB15 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Wehrheim Bahnhof and from there, hop on the 63 bus to Neu-Anspach-Anspach Hessenpark. In total it should take you 1 hour and 15 minutes.

3. Darmstadt

A man walks through the Mathildenhöhe UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A man walks through the Mathildenhöhe UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

A day trip to Darmstadt is a must for art and architecture lovers, as Hessen’s fourth-biggest metropolis is home to some particularly interesting cultural sights. 

The former artists’ colony on Mathildenhöhe, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most important Art Nouveau sights in Germany and the Wedding Tower and the wacky ‘Waldspirale’ (forest spiral) are well worth a visit.

Also on Mathildenhöhe is the richly decorated Russian Chapel where one of the sisters of Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig married Nicholas II, the last Russian Tsar. 

You need only half an hour to reach Darmstadt, with a direct ride on the S3 from Frankfurt (Main) South station.

READ ALSO: Less traffic, more ticket sales: How the €9 ticket is impacting Germany 

4. Königstein (Taunus)

The Königstein castle ruins are a landmark of the Hochtaunus town and are among the largest castle ruins in Germany.

The Königstein castle ruins are a landmark. They are among the largest castle ruins in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

At an altitude of around 300 metres on the wooded slopes of the Taunus lies the health spa town of Königstein. 

Königstein has been a climatic health resort since 1935, thanks to the purity of the air in the region and is home to various health clinics. 

Daytrippers can soak up the tranquillity in the parks or in the picturesque city centre.

The ruins of Königstein Castle, which date back to the first half of the 12th century, are also well worth a visit. 

There are several routes to get you to Königstein from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof in under 50 minutes, the fastest being the S5 to Oberursel, followed by the X26 bus to Königstein.

5. Wiesbaden

The Kurpark in Wiesbaden.

The gorgeous Kurpark in Wiesbaden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hannes P Albert

​​Nestled in a beautiful valley between the Rhine and the mountains of the Taunus lies Hesse’s capital Wiesbaden. 

There are plenty of things to see on a day trip to the city, including the English-style landscaped garden of the Kurpark, the neo-Gothic Market Church on Schlossplatz and the Hessian State Museum.

Those who fancy trying their luck should pay a visit to the Casino Wiesbaden – one of Germany’s oldest casinos in the former wine salon of the Kurhaus. 

Wiesbaden is also known for its thermal baths and no trip is complete without a hot tub and sauna visit. 

READ ALSO: Weekend Wanderlust – Getting my feet wet in. Wiesbaden

You only need around 50 minutes to reach Wiesbaden from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof with the S1 or S9 to Wiesbaden central station.

6. Felsenmeer

Hundreds of visitors climb over the rocks of the Felsenmeer , which is a popular attraction in the Odenwald.

Hundreds of visitors climb over the rocks of the Felsenmeer , which is a popular attraction in the Odenwald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

Around 60 kilometres south of Frankfurt is a true natural wonder that will delight nature lovers of all ages. 

The Felsenmeer, which literally translates as ‘rock sea’ is a mass of boulders across Felsberg in Oldenwald. The rocks are hundreds of millions of years old, and at the information centre at the foot of the hill, you’ll find all the geological, historical and practical information you need to make the most of a hike through the sea of rocks. 

At the top of the hill, you can reward your exertions with a tasty snack at the kiosk on the summit. 

A trip to the Felsenmeer will take you around an hour and 40 minutes with the RB82 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Reinheim Bahnhof, followed by the M02 bus to Reichenbach, Felsenmeer.

7. Limburg (Lahn)

A view of the Lahn river and the cathedral in Limburg.

A view of the Lahn river and the cathedral in Limburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

A visit to Limburg in the west of Hesse, is a bit like travelling back in time to the Middle Ages. There are dreamy castles, palaces, charming half-timbered houses and ancient legends swirling around the city’s cobbled streets.

A particularly visit-worthy ancient relic is the imposing St. Lubentius Basilica. Perched on an outcrop of limestone rocks on the west bank of the Lahn river, it was the region’s most important church until the 13th century.

You can reach Limburg in just over an hour with the RE20 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.

8. Mainz

A glass of wine stands on a table near the cathedral in Mainz during the Johannisnacht festival in 2019 held in honour of Johannes Gutenberg.

A glass of wine stands on a table near the cathedral in Mainz during the Johannisnacht festival in 2019 held in honour of Johannes Gutenberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

A short train ride away from Frankfurt, you’ll find the city of Mainz on the Rhine River. Known as Germany’s wine capital, there’s plenty to explore in the cobblestone streets of the Altstadt. Mainz has a steep history after being founded by the Romans.

For more than 1,000 years, the city’s skyline has been dominated by the cathedral.

We’d also recommend checking out the the Gutenberg Museum – one of the oldest museums of printing in the world. And of course, make sure to visit a little wine bar – known as a Weinstube.

Get to Mainz by taking the RE4 from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof.  It takes just over 30 minutes. 

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

9. Walldorfer See

People enjoy a dip in the Badesee Walldorf.

People enjoy a dip in the Badesee Walldorf. Photo: picture alliance / Daniel Reinhardt/dpa

What better way to cool off this summer than to head to a lake? The beautiful Walldorfer See, south of Frankfurt, is known for being a little less busy and calmer than the nearby Langener See, which is the biggest lake in the region. 

On the southern shore at the entrance is the large sandy beach which has a snack bar, toilets, plus a beach volleyball and barbecue area. You can also explore the forest around. 

Keep in mind that the lake is near the airport so you will also see some planes overhead (which might be fun, especially if you have kids with you!). 

Get there on the S7 or RE70 from Frankfurt Haubtbahnof, and then jump off at Walldorf (Hess), and get the the 67 or 68 bus in the direction of Frankfurt airport to Mörfelden-Walldorf-Egerländer Straße. It’s then an 18 minute walk to the Badestelle Walldorfer See.

With reporting by Rachel Loxton

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TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

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