The Main River is the longest river (entirely in Germany) and flows through central Germany in the states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse before joining the Rhine River near Mainz. Due to its navigability, many towns, fortresses and castles were founded along its shores. The river is also often considered the northern border of southern Germany, with its predominantly Catholic population. These days, it’s a popular touristic route: visitors can visit many of the places along the Main by train, boat, car and even by bicycle (the Main Radweg or Main Bicycle Route). I had the opportunity to embark on a road trip along the Main River. During this trip across the Franconia region, I discovered many picturesque towns, historic and cultural attractions, nature parks and countless vineyards! Here’s my Main River Franconia road trip guide, including the best places to visit along the way:
This Franconia travel guide contains links to three services I often use myself and can recommend: Booking.com (for hotel bookings), Rentalcars.com (for car hire) and GetYourGuide (for easy-to-book tours). If you make a booking via one of these services, I will receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you). These commissions help me to maintain my blog and share more travel experiences with you.
I kicked off my Main River road trip in Frankfurt-am-Main, before continuing to Aschaffenburg. From there, I followed the river to, amongst others, Miltenberg, Würzburg and Bamberg before ending in Bayreuth. The route crosses a large part of Franconia, a region characterised by its distinct culture and dialect. Historically founded by the Franks, an ethnic group, Franconia stretches across numerous states.
Situated in northwest Bavaria, less than an hour’s drive from Frankfurt, Aschaffenburg is famous for its imposing Schloss Johannisburg (castle).
I recommend a stroll around the compact old town, a visit to Schloss Johannisburg and a walk along the walls to the Pompejanum (a 19th century replica of a Roman house found in Pompeii). The views from the Pompejanum of the Main River and the castle are stunning. Then head down to the river bank for a local beer just under the castle, before tucking in for dinner at Zum Fegerer, a terrific Franconian restaurant in the old town. Search for hotels in Aschaffenburg (Booking.com).
Miltenberg is arguably one of the most charming towns along the Main River. Its old town is packed with about 150 gorgeous half-timbered houses, giving it a fairy-tale like appearance.
Don’t miss the Alter Marktplatz (old market square), the views from the hilltop castle (Burg Miltenberg), the old town hall (you can’t miss its beautiful red-stone façade) and a stroll across the Mainbrücke (Main bridge).
For a meal, head to the Faust brewery for great local food and beers. I also recommend a stay in one of the two historic inns in Miltenberg: Zum Riesen (one of the oldest inns in Germany) or Hotel Schmuckkästchen (the double room on the second floor has gorgeous views of the old market square). Search for accommodations in Miltenberg.
Located about a 5-minute drive or 10-minute bike ride along the Main River from Miltenberg, Bürgstadt is famous for its wineries. As you enter the village, you’ll soon spot them. The wineries take turns opening to visitors for tastings and food. For an overview of the local wines (and a schedule of the wineries’ opening times), head to the wine store Churfranken Vinothek, located opposite the town hall. They can also help to arrange a wine-tasting in a nearby vineyard up in the hills.
Bürgstadt is also home to the 10th century Martinskapelle (St. Martin’s chapel) with its stunning frescoes. Don’t miss a visit to this chapel – if the doors are locked, inquire at the florist next door or at Churfranken Vinothek.
Bürgstadt can also be reached from Miltenberg by boat (there’s a frequent ferry service). For the active ones, you can hike the Fränkischer Rotwein Wanderweg (Franconian Red Wine Hiking Trail) from Miltenberg.
If you love exploring castle ruins, then you shouldn’t miss the imposing Henneburg Castle! Located in the town of Stadtprozelten, near Wertheim-am-Main, this imposing 12th century castle overlooks the Main River.
The most northerly town in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Wertheim was founded in the 8th century at the confluence of the Main and Tauber rivers. These days, it’s well-known for its medieval old town and castle. As you exploe the town, look out for the Wertheim Optimist, the colourful symbol of the town.
Climb up to the castle for panoramic views of the town and drop by at the café for a drink/meal while you take in the view. Search for accommodations in Wertheim.
One of the largest cities on the Main River, Würzburg is a vibrant university city with numerous historic monuments. Founded at around the 6th century, Würzburg was heavily damaged during WWII. The locals, mainly women, painstakingly rebuilt the city’s most treasured monuments. The result of their work is simply amazing!
There are lots of things to do in Würzburg. Don’t miss the:
- 18th century Würzburger Residenz palace (inspired by Versailles), a UNESCO World Heritage site,
- Dom (Cathedral) and the adjacent Neu-Munster (New Cathedral). Another church that shouldn’t be missed is the beautiful Käppele in rococo style, located on a hill just outside the city centre,
- Juliusspital winery. Founded in the 16th century, this huge winery has a 250 meter long wine cellar! I can also recommend their restaurant for a meal.
- Haus zum Falken, a public library and tourist info office, with its ornate façade,
- Marienberg fortress, located on a hilltop facing the city,
- Alte Mainbrücke, the old bridge. Get there before sunset, join the locals with a glass of wine (there’s a café on the bridge) and enjoy the sunset!
In addition, I recommend walking the Steinweinpfad, a walking route in the Stein vineyard (one of Germany’s oldest and largest) located near the Central Station (Hauptbahnhof).
I recommend spending at least a night here. Search for accommodations in Würzburg.
This small town on the Main River makes for a tranquil stop on this Main River route. Located in the heart of the Franconian wine region, it’s a charming town with a compact old quarter. It’s also a great spot to enjoy activities on the Main River such as kayaking or stand-up paddling.
For a meal, drop by at Schlemmerei. If you plan to overnight here, I recommend the Deutsches Haus Hotel, which also has a lovely café!
Volkach is another charming town in the Franconian wine region. It makes for a lovely stop between Kitzingen and Schweinfurt. A stroll along the Hauptstrasse, with its wine boutiques, cafés and restaurants is a must.
Often listed as one of Germany’s most beautiful towns, Bamberg is a popular tourist destination. The old town was listed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993 for its well-preserved medieval buildings.
Founded in the 9th century, some of Bamberg’s best-known sights include the Old Town Hall, perched on an island in the river, the 12th century Bamberg Cathedral in Romanesque style, and Michaelsberg Abbey, a former Benedictine monastery. The best thing to do in Bamberg is to simply stroll around its gorgeous streets and soak up the atmosphere.
If you enjoy beer, you’re in for a treat! Famed for its Rauchbier (smoked beer), Bamberg is home to eleven breweries! Every August, Bamberg hosts the Sandkerwa Festival in which beer plays a central role.
Restaurants in Bamberg I can recommend include HENRII and the adjacent Henrietta (terrific pizzas) as well as Hofbrau, for local specialties.
Search for accommodations in Bamberg.
Kulmbach is another beautiful town, located near the confluence of the Red Main and White Main rivers. As you approach the town, you’ll undoubtedly spot its famous Plassenburg Castle atop the hill. This castle has a curious claim to fame: it’s home to the largest collection of tin soldiers in the world! The castle also offers terrific views of the town and the surrounding hills.
Another attraction in Kulmbach is the Bayerisches Brauerei- und Bäckereimuseum (Bavarian Brewery and Bakery Museum), which provides a fascinating look into traditional beer and bread production. Beer has been brewed here for more than 600 years! While you’re there, stop for a beer and a meal at the adjacent Mönchshof Brauhaus (brewery). Kulmbach is also famous for its bratwurst (pork sausage) and this is a great place to try some if you wish.
In the old town, look out for the beautiful Rathaus (town hall), the 14th century White Tower and the 14th century Badhaus (Public Badhaus).
The last place to visit on this Main River road trip route, Bayreuth, is an absolute gem! The city has its origins in the 12th century and experienced its heyday in the 18th century during the reign of Frederik and Wilhemina of Bayreuth. During this time, some of the city’s most prominent monuments were built such as the Margravial Opera House, the New Palace and the Sun Temple at the Hermitage palace. Nowadays, in addition to these famous buildings, Bayreuth is well-known for its annual Bayreuth Festival (a world famous opera festival).
There is a lot to do in Bayreuth. The major attractions include:
- the 18th century Margravial Opera House, one of the most beautiful Baroque theatres in Europe. Book a tour of this opera house for a jaw-dropping experience!
- the 18th century Hermitage complex that consists of various castles, the stunning Sun Temple and exquisite gardens,
- the New Palace (Neues Schloss) in rococo style and Hofgarten park,
- the Bayreuth Festival Theatre,
- Haus Wahnfried or Richard Wagner Museum (the famous composer’s lavish villa courtesy of King Ludwig II, who was a big fan of Wagner’s work. Read more about the famous castles of King Ludwig II),
- the Franz Liszt Museum (located in the house where he died).
Street art in Bayreuth
As you walk around Bayreuth, you may notice some interesting street art. These were commissioned by the city and produced by famous street artists from around the world.
If you love street art, I can also recommend visiting the Liebesbier Brewery and Liebesbier Urban Art Hotel.
Two restaurants I can recommend in Bayreuth are Oskar and Liebesbier. Search for accommodations in Bayreuth.
Suggested 7-day Main River (Franconia) itinerary
This 7-day/6-night self-drive Main River itinerary takes you past the best places in Franconia as described above. It starts in Frankfurt and ends in either Nuremberg or Munich. If you’re flying into Frankfurt/Munich/Nuremberg, I recommend picking up a rental car at the airport. This route can also be done by train using a combination of national and regional lines. Visit Deutche Bahn for more info.
1 night: Aschaffenburg
1 night: Miltenberg/Bürgstadt
2 nights: Würzburg
1 night: Bamberg
1 night: Bayreuth