Direct trains from Darmstadt take you to Frankfurt’s city centre in less than 20 minutes. The cobbled alleys and plazas of the old town are seamed with timber-framed houses and form a stark contrast to the highrises of the financial district in the background. Frankfurt offers the best of both worlds: you can tour Goethe’s birthplace, marvel at the Gothic cathedral and soak up the historic atmosphere of the iconic Römerplatz square before you browse the shops of the futuristic MyZeil shopping centre and sip on a chai latté at Sugar Mama or the Holy Cross Brewing Society.
If you’re into history, the 30-minute drive or train ride to Mainz is certainly worth it. Founded as a Roman military post in the 1st century BC, the beautiful city is studded with historically important sights, including a museum dedicated to the life and work of the city’s most famous inhabitants: Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the movable type printing press. The rest of your day is best filled with visiting a couple of the city’s gobsmackingly beautiful churches – from the imposing Mainz Cathedral to the mythical St. Stephan’s Church and the pompous St. Augustine’s Church – and by sampling some local food and wine.
Wiesbaden is located just across the Rhine River from Mainz and can be reached within 45 minutes via train from Darmstadt. Just like its neighbouring city, Wiesbaden is home to a number of interesting historical sights. Don’t miss out on a stroll past the State Theatre, the City Palace and the rusty-red market church. Other highlights of a day trip to Hesse’s capital are a railway ride up the Neroberg hill and a stroll down past the Russian Orthodox Church.
What can be translated to ‘sea of rock’ describes the surreal Felsenmeer landscape in the Odenwald forest, 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) southeast of Darmstadt. A sequence of geological processes created countless boulders, which have carved their way through the densely forested area. A local saga provides a less sober explanation, however. According to the story, two giants who lived on opposing sides of the valley threw the rocks at each other in a feud, until one of them collapsed and was buried under the large boulders.
English novelist Mary Shelley visited Darmstadt and the surrounding region back in 1814, and is said to have found inspiration for her most famous piece of work in the area. Merely 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) south of the city centre stand the crumbling ruins of a hilltop castle. Enshrouded in myths and entwined in stories revolving around cults, witches, ghosts and a mad alchemist who lived in the castle, the decaying walls may well have inspired Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein, which was published only two years after her visit.
One of Germany’s oldest cities – if not the oldest – is Worms, which you can reach within an hour-long train ride from Darmstadt. The city is primarily known for two things. Firstly, the impressive Roman Imperial Cathedral of St. Peter, which was built in the 12th century and sits perched upon the highest hill around overlooking the historic old town. Secondly, the city’s mention in the epic saga of the Nibelungs, which picks up the motifs of love, betrayal and murder and revolves around dragon-slayer Siegfried. A city-centre museum is dedicated to the saga and its cultural reception.
Enchanting river views, unspoiled medieval and Renaissance architecture, a quaint old town and the ruins of a hilltop castle make Heidelberg a hard-to-beat choice for a day trip from Darmstadt. A fast train takes you from Darmstadt to Germany’s most romantic city in under 40 minutes. Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Goethe all roamed the streets and found inspiration for their writing in this gem of a city, and a day in Heidelberg is enough to follow their path and explore the major sights. A tour of the castle is a must, but make sure to plan enough time to explore the sights of the old town.