For about 2 centuries now, the mighty Rhine has attracted visitors from around the world, who come to enjoy the romantic scenery of hilltop castles, medieval towns, and vineyard-covered slopes. The Rhineland, the area along the river’s west bank, is a treasure-trove for tourists, with Cologne, the Rhineland’s largest and most important city, sitting right on the river. Possessing the largest cathedral in Germany and filled with a fascinating assortment of museums and cultural venues, Cologne makes a wonderful headquarters for exploring the Rhineland. There are many day trip options from Cologne, including Aachen, one of Germany’s oldest cities, the Mosel Valley, covered with meticulously tended vineyards, and river trips on the Mittelrhein (Middle Rhine), the river’s most scenic stretch, where you can glide by castle-crowned summits, stop at riverside wine towns, and finally see that rock—the Loreley—that you’ve heard so much about. But this chapter begins not on the Rhine but on one of its tributaries, the Main, and in another city, Frankfurt, becuase Frankfurt-am-Main is where so many journeys to Germany begin and end. Frankly, Franfurt is not as appealing as Cologne, which lies 117 miles northwest and is less than an hour away by train. Frankfurt with its high-rise towers and emphasis on business and banking, lacks Cologne's human scale, historic charm, and fun-loving heart. But it has several renowened museums, is a shopping mecca, and a transportation hub for all of Germany. Like Cologne, Frankfurt offrers a host of nearby and easily accessible day trips, including the historic town of Mainz, the spa town of Wiesbaden, and the beautiful Rheingau wine district.
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