Last Updated on 26th March 2019 by Sarah and Justin
And here we are at the end. 13 months after we set off from our apartment in Brooklyn, we would complete our trip around (some of) the world journey in Mainz, Germany. It may seem an odd place to end. After all, Mainz isn’t the most popular destination in Germany. But we came up with the idea when we left Cologne in the middle of our trip. Some slow planning had put us on the slow train to Frankfurt Airport. On that train ride we were wowed by the views of the towns along the Rhine River. So we made a plan to return and seven months later we were taking the train from Nuremberg back. We wistfully enjoyed our time visiting this small city and the Rhine River Valley. There are plenty of things to do in Mainz, as well as some really great Mainz restaurants, and we’re here to tell you what they are. We’re also sharing our experience taking a Rhine River cruise. So read on!
Why visit Mainz, Germany
Mainz is often overlooked as a tourist destination. And we think that’s too bad given everything the city has to offer. It has a prime location super close to a major international airport (Frankfurt) and is right on the banks of the Rhine River. So Mainz is absolutely a great base from which to explore the beautiful Rhine River Valley. In fact, it’s also a great place to start or end a Rhine River cruise.
Its major sights are diverse and offer something for all different types of travelers including: historic Roman ruins, stained glass church windows created by the artist Marc Chagall, and a museum dedicated to the inventor Johannes Gutenberg. And it has some of the best wine in the country! But of course, maybe we enjoyed our time in Mainz so much precisely because it isn’t so popular. After being surrounded by other tourists in Nuremberg, we were happy to end our trip in a much more relaxed, real seeming city like Mainz.
Things to do in Mainz
Walk through the Mainz Altstadt
We’re going to be straight with you: we didn’t actually do or see most of the above-listed activities in Mainz. Being that this was the last stop on our 13-month adventure, our time there was bittersweet. We weren’t in the mood to go see any big sights or museums. We did however walk through almost every inch of the Mainz Altstadt (the loveliest place in the city), admiring the architecture and scenery and overall German-ness of the place. Here are some of the highlights.
The Markt in Mainz is the big square in the middle of the city. On one side, there are buildings painted in different pastel colors with intricate details.
In the middle of the square stands a gorgeous Renaissance era fountain, Marktbrunnen. It’s elaborately sculpted and decorated.
The imposing Mainz Cathedral is on the other side of the Markt. It has been restored and updated over the years (having been damaged in fires and wars), but its foundations were laid over 1000 years ago!
Nearby, the Gutenberg Museum – where you can learn all about the invention of printing – is housed in another beautiful building, Zum Römischer Kaiser. And right outside is a lovely garden with sculptures of printing letters.
The most picturesque section of the Mainz Altstadt is the Kirschgarten, a small area where the streets are lined with half-timbered houses. We actually only stumbled into this area on our last day in Mainz and wish we had found it sooner. It’s so picturesque.
Explore Mainz beyond the Altstadt
There are a lot of lovely places outside the main Altstadt that are worth exploring. We would definitely recommend a walk along the Rhine. Though the Electoral Palace, which sits right on the water, is best viewed from a Rhine River cruise (more on that below!).
Another striking pink building (and now we’re wondering why so many buildings in Mainz are pink!) is St. Peter’s Church. Its black domes stand out especially on a fine sunny day. And Christuskirche is at the top of a small park that’s nice for a stroll.
Take a Rhine River cruise
We did do one major activity in Mainz: a Rhine River day cruise. It was a wonderful way to spend a sunny summer day, and turned out to be one of the highlights of our whole 13-month adventure.
We took a ferry with KD from Mainz to Sankt Goar and then took the train back. You can do a round-trip, but given the timing of the return, we would have felt really rushed in Sankt Goar. The train is more frequent and also significantly cheaper.
Note, KD offers assistance for passengers with limited mobility. You can read about their accessibility services here.
Castles are the highlight of the cruise. They just pop up on either side of the river throughout pretty much the whole ride. The most chock-full-of-castles part of the trip is from Bingen to Sankt Goar. We hurriedly scurried from one side of the boat to the other snapping hundreds of pictures.
If desired, the ferry will take you all the way from Mainz to Koblenz. And there are a lot of places to get on or off along the way. We chose Sankt Goar based on where it was and how adorable it looked (and it was a good choice!). We had a nice time walking around the town. It’s got its own castle (of course) and is also known for cuckoo clocks and German beer steins (we did quite a bit of window shopping).
There are two special cheeses to eat in Mainz. Handkäs mit Musik and Spundekäs. The latter is a soft cheese spread served with pretzels. We preferred the former, a hard cheese marinated in and served with vinegar, onions, and herbs. That’s the “Musik” and you should Google why it’s so named. It actually reminded us of the Olomoucké tvarůžky we had in the Czech Republic.
We ate this tasty specialty at two small local spots where we had two delicious dinners in Mainz.
The first was at Am Holztor, which is named after the old city gate that stands down the street. It’s a little bit outside the touristic center of Mainz, but easily walkable. Along with Handkäs mit Musik, they’ve got great Schnitzel and wine (Mainz is the largest wine-growing district in Germany). We sat outside on the small terrace at a communal table, alongside a couple massive, but super friendly and cute dogs.
Our second dinner was at Weinstube Hottum. This cozy spot is right in the Alstadt, down a super picturesque cobblestone street. We again sat at a communal table, this time with a couple from the Netherlands (amazingly, Rotterdam!). And again, we enjoyed a starter of Handkäs mit Musik.
Our last night (our last, sad night), we checked out the local micro-brewery, Eisgrub Bräu. The beer (both light and dark varieties) was great. For food, well, we’d recommend you stick to our other two recommendations. Still, it was a good way to end (although you couldn’t tell it from Sarah’s face).
How to get from Mainz to Frankfurt Airport
Regional trains run frequently between Mainz and Frankfurt Airport. On average, the journey takes about 25 minutes. You can take an ICE train that’s about 17 minutes but for the additional cost, it doesn’t seem worth it to us. You can buy a regional ticket from a machine before boarding the train. And you can check timetables at DB Bahn.
So that was it. We can’t believe we’re (finally!) done writing about all the places we visited on this big journey.
Read next: planning a world trip itinerary >>
34 thoughts on “Exploring Mainz, Germany and taking a Rhine River cruise”
Thank you. We had a very quick visit to Mainz in 2016. It was August and most of the town had closed for the summer break.
Looks gorgeous…I really love european architecture, streets and ambience 🙂 The pink thing is interesting…it reminded me of a small town I visited in China that was also predominantly pink! 😉
I loved Germany when we visited during a European tour a few years ago, the old architecture is beautiful and I’d love to spend more time there. We never visited Mainz but it looks like a great place to explore with we are lucky enough to go again. We are off to France to visit Carcassonne this year and I can’t wait, however it’s my first time abroad with MS and a toddler so it won’t be without it’s difficulties!
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Lovely photos as always! I really need to get back and explore more of Mainz/Wiesebaden…and all the castles/wine in the area! 😉
I would still love to go to Wiesbaden… truly regretting passing up a spa town that was so close!
Thank you for bringing back so many memories from my childhood. I lived in Wiesbaden from 1961-1963. Each year our school would take our river pilgrimage from Mainz to Sankt Goar. We are leaving for Germany in a few days , and our trip ,like yours , will culminate with a river cruise past the Lorelei and Mouse Tower at Bingen before going to Sankt Goar. Then it’s back to Frankfurt and on to Paris.
We are also going to Neuschwanstein Castle and Linderhof Palace. Then it’s a short trip to Oberammergau for the Passion Play. Afterward it’s a couple of days in Salzburg and a Mozart concert. We will also go to the Eagles Nest at Berschtesgaden before going to Munich. The Passion Play is only performed every 10 years and has 2000 actors. We were to attend it two years ago but Covid caused them to postpone it for two years.
I have been to all these places before ,but they may have changed. You think? If you have any suggestions of places to go to along the way. We would appreciate your info. Thanks again. You will always have such fine memories.
Your trip sounds wonderful! We have more information on Wiesbaden (which you may already know given your history. In addition, Munich and Paris. see below!
Ahhh this is so pretty!! Especially St Peter’s, wow! I must visit this lovely city next time I’m in Germany <3
What a lovely way to discover and explore a new place! I love that a train ride led you here, the city looks so charming and quaint! Must visit!
It was nice and great closure!
I sometimes feel that Germany is an underrated destination. I used to live very close to the Black Forest and loved exploring that region. Now the Rhine River Valley cruise sounds amazing, I would love to try it some day too.
Totally agree. Although it’s definitely gotten much more popular since we first started visiting in 2008. But it’s a gorgeous and really interesting country and should be on more people’s travel lists!
Gorgeous pictures ahh!!! A cruise along the Rhine River Valley sounds like the perfect way to enjoy the sunny weather. Love little-known destinations
Visited Cologne back in 2015 and I totally fell in love with Germany. I miss the weekend markets. Mainz looks amazing which is another reason to go back <3
Sure must of felt a little sad to know this was your last stop on your travelling journey!!
A little sad is putting it lightly. Devastated and confused are more accurate! 🙂
Yes, indeed it seems to be an odd place to end your journey. But the buildings look beautiful and the landscape of the valley looks wonderful.
Gosh, what a gorgeous little town! I absolutely love the colourful architecture and the river cruise also sounds fabulous – I may have to add Mainz to my ever-growing bucket list. Thanks for sharing!
I loved Rhine Valley as well as Mainz. Such a pretty city and lovely photos!
You won’t believe it, but Mainz was one of the places I ever visited on an international trip. I was still a student with no money, hungry for seeing new places and I loved it!!! It is such a cute little town, where many students live. This is where my love for Germany started. Thanks for this post!
That’s so cool! It seems like a nice intro as a first timer.
I am in love with Mainz after your blog post! The architecture of all the buildings is absolutely gorgeous – Electoral Palace is stunning! And that ferry ride, wow the Rhine River Valley is beautiful. I am so sold on visiting Mainz. Thank you for introducing me to this amazing city I must visit.
Yay! Mission accomplished then 🙂
That’s actually not the electoral palace, but the ducal palace in Wiesbaden, the city just across the Rhine (Biebrich Palace). The electoral palace is on the west bank in Mainz; unfortunately, the inside was totally destroyed in WW2.
I recommend the nearby Eltville. It has an electoral castle with a rose garden. We took our wedding pictures there in June 2017, it was marvelous.
Thank you for the clarification and additional information. Very interesting. We hope we are able to travel once again – and if we do, will definitely put Eltville on the list 🙂
Now I know those houses are “half-logged!” The architecture is inspiring & I’d love to do a Rhine cruise one day. How wonderful (measured) that to were able travel that long & I hope re-entry goes well.
Dear Sarah and Justin,
Can you please tell me what month you were in Mainz Germany? We are trying to choose a month to go to Germany in 2019 but don’t want to be there during high tourist season.
Hi Steph – we were in Mainz during the first week of July. Prior to that, we were in Nuremberg, which was pretty crowded. We personally love visiting Germany (and this part of Europe) in May, Fall, or December for Christmas Markets. Hope that helps!
I spent 3 years stationed in Mainz-Gonsenheim from ‘88-91. Here we are 30 years later and I’m finally going back. I know things have changed but a couple of my best memories were sipping gluhwein while walking in the Christmas Market and taking a tour of the Mainzer Dom.
Some of our favorite memories are from Mainz and MANY of our favorite memories involve Gluhwein and Christmas Markets!
How long does it take to cruise from Mainz to Sankt Goar, or even to Koblenz ? I can’t find the info from their website.
Sorry for the delayed reply! If you download the timetable you can find this information. It looks like it’s about 3 1/2 hours from Mainz to St Goar.
Have returned from trip to Germany. Going to the Rhine from Mainz to Sankt Goar brought back many memories. We lived in Wiesbaden 1961-63. Fortuitously the day we went on the river was supposed to be the last day by KD as the river was too shallow for passage. I don’t know the status now.