Travel guide for your vacation in Wiesbaden, Hesse, and Mainz, Rhineland Palatine – two capitals which can be easily combined in one trip. With typical local food, public transport options, activities and everything you need to do a self-guided walking tour – including a map!
We spent last weekend exploring the two beautiful but very different cities Mainz and Wiesbaden. Right next to each other, on opposite sites of the Rhein River, they are the perfect combination for a long weekend or simply two day trips from Frankfurt am Main. We'll give you an itinerary that starts with an overview of both cities, a map to do a self-guided walking tour, and our favourite restaurant and bar options to make your holiday in this German region perfect. As a bonus, we introduce the Taunus mountains as a getaway from the getaway.
Wiesbaden is the capital of the German Bundesland (or federal state) Hesse, Mainz is the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate. Hence, the atmosphere and food are quite different although they are less than a 30-minute drive apart. They are both parts of the same public transport system, the Rhein-Main-Verkehrsverbund (RMV). You can travel between the cities for 2.90 € or buy a daily ticket for only 5.80 € (July 2021).
You'll probably reach this area via Frankfurt am Main – be it via flight or train. From there, it's quick, easy and cheap to take the S Bahn – a single ride costs as little as 8.80 €!
We chose to base ourselves in Wiesbaden but in our honest opinion, both choices are equally appealing. We can't tell you which city is "better" or which city to chose if you only have one day. Yes, the centre of Wiesbaden is more optically pleasing because it was less destroyed during World War II and they have a long history of being a spa town behind them. But Mainz is closer to the River Rhein, which offers a great opportunity for some relaxing walks. We found nice restaurants and bars in both towns and the price level is similar. Visit both cities and decide for yourself which one you prefer!
When you arrive in Wiesbaden, the historic trolley Thermine is a great way to get an overview of the city of Wiesbaden with its history and stories. They leave several times a day from Castle Square and the tour is also offered in English. You'll learn about Wiesbaden's history as a spa town, about some of its famous inhabitants (both historical and recent) and see the most famous sights.
Hop off at the Nerobergbahn, Germany’s oldest water-powered funicular railway. The tramway is a sight in itself but there's also the Neroberg at the top with some amazing views over Wiesbaden. Make your way to the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Elizabeth with its amazing golden towers. Here, you can hop back on the train Thermine and finish the tour.
There are two main areas with sights in the city centre: The Kur or spa area and the Schlossplatz or Castle Square area.
You enter spa area via the Bowling Green, a nice green area with a fountain, lined with columns on both sides. Of course, it is a must to visit the Kurhaus or spa building itself. The interior is just splendid. It also houses the casino, which we didn't check out ourselves. On the right side, you'll find the neo-baroque Hessisches Staatstheater, the theatre. The Kurpark or spa park is behind the spa building. It features lakes, where you can rent boats, open green spaces and flowers on an area of 75.000 m² (810,000 square feet). In general, you'll find many lovely parks in Wiesbaden.
Along Castle Square, you can find the neo-Gothic Marktkirche (Market Church), the Marktbrunnen (Market Fountain), and the old and new town hall. Additionally, there is the Wiesbaden City Palace with the Hessischer Landtag, the government of Hesse.
Other noteworthy mentions in Wiesbaden's city centre are 1) the largest Cuckoo clock in the world (technically the second largest, because they built a bigger one in the Black Forest), 2) the oldest building in Wiesbaden, the Heidenmauer with the Römertor (Roman Gate), built in 370 A.D. by the Romans 3) the Kochbrunnen (Boil Fountain), a sodium chloride hot spring with a water temperature of about 66 °C (151° F) – if you bring a cup you can taste this water (we thought it tasted like rusty saltwater 😅).
The most popular drink in Wiesbaden and all of Hesse is Apfelwein (apple wine). You can drink it pure or "gespritzt", either sour (with sparkling water) or sweet (with lemonade). Additionally, Wiesbaden is next to the Rheingau wine region. You should definitely taste some of their white wines like Riesling!
Famous dishes are Handkäs (hand cheese), a sour milk cheese (similar to Harzer) and Frankfurter Grüne Soße (green sauce) – a cold sauce with finely chopped herbs, served with eggs and potatoes.
We decided to try our traditional foods in the restaurant Bäckerbrunnen in the city centre. For drinks, Scotch 'N Soda is an excellent choice. We based ourselves in the Business Hostel Wiesbaden PRIME, which has a lovely rooftop terrace, where can bring your own drinks and enjoy a cheap nightcap!
Rather than taking the train to Mainz main station, it might be nice to drive to Mainz-Kastel. You can check out the old Reduit with the Museum Castellum and learn about 2000 years of history or simply relax on the banks of the River Rhein – there's even a beach bar. Make your way over to the Theodor-Heuss-Bridge to the city centre of Mainz. You'll have great views over the Rhein and can see where the Main joins the Rhein in the distance.
On the other side of the bridge is the Deutschhaus, the seat of the Rhineland Palatinate Landtag, the government of Rhineland Palatinate and the Kurfürstliches Schloss (Electoral Palace). Again, you'll have plenty of opportunities to stroll the promenade along the Rhein and there's a lovely beach bar.
The highlight of the city centre is the market square. Make sure to come on a Tuesday, Friday or Saturday between 7 am and 2 pm to start your day in style. A big part of Mainz culture is the Marktfrühstück (market breakfast) with "Weck, Worscht und Woi" (buns, sausages and wine). Revitalized by the delicious food, you can explore the other highlights on the market square like the Marktbunnen (market fountain) and the Nagelsäule monument. Another highlight is the Mainz Cathedral. During the Middle Ages, many German kings and queens were crowned here.
The cityscape of Mainz is rather odd. 2000 years of history are very visible with Roman ruins like the Isis temple underneath the Römerpassage, the Roman theatre, or the Drususstein in the Citadel. During World War II, 80 % of the city were destroyed by bombings. Therefore, the city centre is a mixture of modern and historic buildings. A beautiful historic area can be visited around the Ballplatz with the Älterer Dalberger Hof, the Osteiner Hof, and the Marienkapelle.
Another big part of the Mainz culture is the carnival called Fastnacht. If you're not in town for this particular season, you can visit the Fastnachtbrunnen (carnival fountain) and the Fastnachtmuseum (carnival museum) all year round.
The Mainz equivalent to Handkäs is the Spundekäs, cream cheese with curd, seasoned with pepper, salt and paprika powder as well as onions.
My favourite dish in this area is the Saumagen or sow's stomach. It is literally a pig's stomach filled with sausage meat and other goodies like chestnuts, similar to sausages or the Scottish Haggis. While it doesn't sound too appealing, I find it unique and delicious.
Of course, wine is the drink of choice in Mainz, as it's part of the wine region Rheinhessen. Different than in Wiesbaden, you cannot only find white wines like Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau, or Weißburgunder. Red wines like Dornfelder, Spätburgunder, and Blauer Portugieser are also delicious.
We had our dinner at the Weinhaus Ehrenfels right in the city centre and I must say the food and service were amazing. For after-dinner drinks we went to the Zenz Wirtshaus, where we had a typical Mainzer Schoppe, a huge glass of white wine spritzer.
If you are looking for even more of a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the cities, check out the Taunus mountains. They are rather rolling hills than mountains, their highest peak is the Feldberg with only 878 m (2880 ft). Most places can be decently reached via public transport and they are a true hiker's paradise. We found the views with the meadows and hills to be rather unique.
If you are looking for even more relaxation, this area is also known for its geothermal springs and mineral waters. In places like the Kneipp Spa town Bad Schwalbach you'll find plenty of wellness options with a long spa history.