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Help with Southern Germany Road Trip

Hey all! I am looking to plan an adult family road-trip by SUV through Germany beginning and ending in Frankfurt this June. (Those parameters are pre-set for us.) Our interests include cute towns, history lessons, pretty scenery, cool castles, and good wine.

I pulled some ideas from RS and this forum, but am having a hard time narrowing options and picking durations. After so long lurking on this site to plan trips, I decided to finally write in to gather some opinions. For context, I lean towards leisure but have to balance that with my travel companions desire to see a lot of the area. For example - spend more time on the upper Romantic Road or around greater Stuttgart to catch the nearby castles, palace, and car museums?? Any thoughts on the below itinerary (numbered by day) are MUCH appreciated.

  1. Base of Heidelberg -- Plan: Arrive, drive to H'berg
  2. Heidelberg -- Explore locally
  3. Heidelberg -- Explore the outer area, like seeing Schwetzingen or going to the Technik Museum
  4. Obernai -- Leave H'berg, drive through Strasbourg then on to O'nai
  5. Obernai -- Explore locally
  6. Obernai -- Explore the lower route de vin, like down to Colmar
  7. Tübingen -- Leave O'nai, drive to T'gen, either via A8 or B28
  8. Tübingen -- Explore castles or the palace nearby
  9. Nördlingen -- Leave T'gen and drive to N'gen, stopping for sites along the way
  10. Würzburg -- Meander along the 'Romantic Road' until arriving in W'burg
  11. Würzburg -- Explore locally, maybe adding a Bamberg stop if enough time
  12. Airport -- Drive from W'burg to FRA in the morning to catch our flight back
Posted by
33116 posts

you're missing all the fabulous villages and towns around Frankfurt, Amanda..

The Hexenturm (witches tower) at Idstein. Idstein is a great little town just west of Frankfurt.

Idstein is on the Deutsche Fachwerkstraße, German Half Timbered Buildings Road, which doesn't get much play among Americans, and Rick's older books (I don't have any new ones so I don't know about now) don't even mention it, preferring to take everybody down the very touristy Romantic Road (by the way, not named for lovers but for the Romantic age of music, such as Wagner).

The Fachwerkstraße has the most wonderful little villages and towns all along it, just meander. Braunfels (for which New Braunfels in Texas is named) has a really neat castle in the woods.

Germany is honeycombed with these routes, in this area in addition to the Romantic and half timbered routes, there is a route tracing fairytales and another the Roman roads.

Eltville is on the Rhine for a view of that part. Are you not interested in the Rhine Valley castles?

If you're going to have a car, stop and smell the roses along the way - Germany is the gift that just keeps giving, in the very best way.

Your number 11 - Würzburg to Bamberg (via Nuremberg) and back to Würzburg is a L-O-N-G day. It really is the long way around.

And day 12, I'd have thought that Würzburg is a long way to FRA including dropping the car unless your flight is very late in the day...

Posted by
7804 posts

Not sure where you plan to pick up the Romantic Road? I suggest you include Dinkelsbuhel and Nordlingen, as well as Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Wurzburg.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you all for the advice! Super helpful!

I will need to do some added research into the villages and towns around Frankfurt. I like the idea of less toursted and Idstein and Braunfels certainly peak my interest. As a plus, making room for sites closer in could relax the pacing or assist with dealing with the airport.

We were definitely considering stopping by the Rhine as well. Half of the group had previously done a trip cruising the Rhine and Mosel Valley, so we gave slight precedence to new sites. But they fell in love with Burg Eltz and Cochem, and didn't get to see as much on the Rhine side, so we've definitely discussed that. It might be worthwhile for me to worry less about a few hours in the car to see more. Would you recommend staying overnight to see this area, or would a day trip be worth it?

For the Romantic Road, I was planning using day 9 to get to Nördlingen, starting there. I would definitely include going through Dinkelsbühl and Rothenburg odT before landing in Würzburg. Is the one overnight in somewhere like Nördlingen and then Würzburg enough to do this area justice though? We've all been to Füssen before, but not any of the other southern sites, such as Augsburg.

For day 11, I think y'all are right. I just thought Bamberg was really neat, but I should probably just commit to that or to Würzburg, unless I make more room elsewhere. I do think I'll look into staying by the airport that night so that Day 12 we don't have to deal with the long route before our noon flight.

It's hard to pick and choose from so many awesome places for one trip! I know I am definitely keeping notes for a round two haha.

Posted by
6735 posts

"Our interests include cute towns, history lessons, pretty scenery, cool castles, and good wine."

I realize it's just an outline, but there's not much detail related to those specific interests within your itinerary. It's often the case that verbs like "explore" and "meander" indicate some uncertainty about what the traveler is actually going to do. The Technik Museum (Speyer, right?) is the only specific mention, and it's hard to guess which other places/sights you'll be visiting. Sorry, I don't wish to sound negative here, but my honest impression is that it's driven not by such specifics but mostly by the idea of driving a hefty number of miles on a lengthy driving loop. Not that your towns aren't nice places, but as Nigel points out, you may just be driving right past a large number of good travel targets for the sake of moving to a distant travel base somewhere else. Which "cool castles?" Which history lessons? What do you hope to see/do between Tübingen and Nördlingen?

Heidelberg (pop. 150,000) might be worth a visit, but it's not a "cute town" exactly, and its castle tour doesn't compare favorably with certain others (like Burg Eltz, or Marksburg Castle on the Rhine.) If you keep as your base, in the interests of your own and the public's safety, you'd probably be well advised not to drive that stretch in unfamiliar territory right after a long transatlantic red-eye flight. The train goes there. But it goes other nice places too. How many of you are there?

Michelstadt: cuter than cute! €36/4 from FRA on a Hessenticket day pass. Check out the photos on this page. When you then proceed by train to Heidelberg for a day outing (or for a stay) you could pick up the car in Heidelberg. From Michelstadt, Miltenberg isn't far to drive.

Heppenheim: cute + wine! and quite close to Heidelberg. €36/4 on the same day pass. PHOTOS. Proceed from there by train to Heidelberg for a visit and your car pick-up; €30 for all of you for this 35-minute trip on a VRN group day ticket.

Both places offer dining and lodging options, naturally.

I would think the western portion of the German Castle Road would interest you, at least between Heidelberg and Heilbronn. Pay attention to Guttenberg Castle at 1:10 in the above video.

Map of the Castle Road

And if you make it to Heilbronn, Besigheim, a little further along the Neckar River, with it's ultra-steep vine-clad hillsides, is right out of a winemaker's fairytale.

I'd recommend reducing your travel radius; see more by traveling less. Drop outlying destinations, aim to base yourselves for 3-5 nights in 3 towns.

Posted by
6 posts

Hey Russ - thank you so much for the detailed review and response. Not negative at all - exactly what we need!

You are right that there's not a lot of detail on the specific sites due to uncertainty. We have found things that fit our interests around and between each place, but perhaps we should plan that out more before trying to pick where to base ourselves. And our group of five's car rental is flexible, so we can arrange that accordingly, as you make a good point there.

Your pacing advice makes a lot of sense to me. If I outline what we can do in each area, since there is so much, it should still be a plenty full itinerary to satisfy my family.

Posted by
6735 posts

Couple more thoughts... Stuttgart / Tübingen area

Tübingen is quite a nice place, but not a small town either at 90,000 inhabitants, though it in fact feels that way at times in the old town area. Nigel's disappointment in the omission of the "Fachwerkstraße" (Half-timbered House Road) in Rick's materials is a feeling I share. The unusual thing about this "Road" is that it's not just a single driving route but instead a huge collection of small, attractive old-world towns that cluster regionally both in the north and the south of Germany. Here's the grouping around Stuttgart / Tübingen / Black Forest:

Place your cursor over the red dots on the map to see where the listed towns are located. You could of course base yourselves in one of these smaller towns if you wished. If you stick with a Tübingen base, maybe this list will be useful for organizing a day outing to one or more of these. There's no rule saying you have to drive these exact routes - just study up and figure out which if any interest you strongly. Besigheim, which I mentioned before, is one of these towns (and just a short distance north of Stuttgart.)

Castles / Palaces / Gardens / Monasteries: These places make it easier to get in touch with the area's history.

Clickable Map

Posted by
8 posts

Hi Amanda,

if you are near Heidelberg, there is Speyer with its cathedral, the ancient city gate from which you have a beautiful view over the city and the Historical Museum of the Palatinate . Not far away is Neustadt an der Weinstrasse with the Hambach Castle. Here you also have a great view over the whole region and a lot of history. Depending on when you are there, there are many different festivals in the area. In Speyer the Brezelfest (largest festival on the Upper Rhine), the Middle Ages Festival or the Kaisertafel and of course the altstadt fest ( old town festival). The area offers several options that might be interesting for you especially for a quick trip.

Posted by
14580 posts

I absolutely recommend Obernai, well worth seeing as a "cute town." I did a day trip there from Strasbourg, a short train ride. Most likely you'll see numerous German tourists in tour groups.