Mainz to Cologne by Train

The Rhine Valley is one of Germany’s most scenic regions. Medieval castles, immaculate vineyards, and historic towns line this short stretch of the iconic river Rhine from Mainz to Cologne. There’s no better way to experience this all than by rail.

How to get from Mainz to Cologne by train

The most scenic stretch of the Rhine Valley that you can see by train lies between the cities of Cologne and Mainz. You can experience the beauty of this route in either direction.

There are several daily trains running every few minutes between the two cities – just be careful to select the correct one. Though roughly of equal length, the train route that goes via Frankfurt bypasses much of the scenic beauty of the Rhine Valley. As such, make sure you hop aboard the train to that goes via the small ancient city of Koblenz. Use the Eurail online timetable or mobile app to locate the most convenient route that follows the Rhine River.

Koblenz and Rhine river | Mainz to Cologne by train

The journey between the two cities takes under 2 hours. If you wish to break it up, consider a stop in Koblenz – you may need to change trains there anyway. It’s a beautiful ancient city with stunning scenery, several museums, and a cable car up to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress. It’s also a good location to sample a glass or two of Rhine Riesling wine.

Seat reservation on the route is optional for Eurail Pass holders, but not necessary given the high volume of trains that service it.

Pro tip: To ensure that you get the best views, sit on the river side of the carriage. That’s on the right from Mainz to Cologne, and on the left if you’re traveling in the other direction.

What to expect

Rudesheim vineyards and Rhine river| Mainz to Cologne by train

The Rhine Valley scenic rail route from Mainz to Cologne is one of the most enjoyable in Germany, and on a par with many in Europe. Though shorter than some you might find in Sweden, France, or Italy, there’s a mythical charm to this route that makes it truly captivating. It’s much more accessible than many other popular rail routes. It’s also easy to complete as a short day trip from several cities in the region.

The river setting alone would be enough to make it worthy of inclusion in your next rail trip. The rapid waters seem to churn and gurgle over the valley floor, with the occasional boat or ferry chugging along beneath the towering tree-lined cliffs.

Ehrenbreitstein fortress in Koblenz | Mainz to Cologne by train

There’s a calm monotony to this tranquil river scene, until suddenly a compact medieval castle breaks through the dense foliage. These are often perched on steep slopes or impossibly precarious outcrops high above the waters and train tracks. A quaint village, fertile vineyards, and more enthralling castles may follow. Just as you catch your breath as you pass this surreal setting, you’ll glide through another just a few miles down the tracks.

If anything, the biggest fault of this scenic rail route is that it’s all over too quickly. You’ll likely find yourself arriving in either Mainz or Cologne wondering where the time went and wanting to relive it. And given that it’s just a 2-hour journey, there’s no reason why you can’t do it all over again.

The stations

Cologne

Cologne cathedral and train station | Mainz to Cologne by train

Cologne Station (Köln Hauptbahnhof) is in the heart of the city. It’s an important local and international rail hub for Germany. As such it has all the features and amenities you could wish for in a modern station. There are several restaurants and fast food chains, lockers and a range of stores. And the best part is that it’s located right in the middle of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, including the famous cathedral, which is just a few feet away from the entrance.

Mainz

Mainz railway station | Mainz to Cologne by train

Mainz Station is smaller than Cologne’s, owing to the smaller population of the city. But as a Category 2 station it has all the facilities you should require. It’s an efficient, clean, and modern little station. Lockers are available if you’re only visiting the city for the day.

The cities

Cologne

Cologne on a sunny day | Mainz to Cologne by train

Cologne, situated on the banks of the Rhine, is the fourth largest city in Germany. In medieval times it was the largest city in the Holy Roman Empire. Today just over one million people live there. There are several notable attractions throughout Cologne, but none as dramatic and celebrated as the city’s Kölner Dom, or Cologne Cathedral, which sits right in its center. The city also has two popular parks, a scenic harbor, several notable museums and a dozen Romanesque churches dotted throughout.

Mainz

Mainz city center | Mainz to Cologne by train

Mainz has an intriguing mix of small-city charm and big-city functionality. It dates back to the 38 BC, when Roman settlers built a small citadel in the region. Today its vibrant student population helps to keep the town intriguing and relevant, and several bars, restaurants, clubs and activities along the river cater towards the city’s younger residents. Mainz’s old town is small and easily walkable, but there are also superb scenic bike rides in either direction along the Rhine nearby. Though many tourists overlook Mainz for more famous German cities, there’s an energy and exuberant atmosphere there that makes it well worth a stop.

Rhine Valley train and ship | Mainz to Cologne by train

The scenic rail route from Mainz to Cologne is surely one of Germany’s most enchanting. And when you consider how accessible and cost effective it is, combined with the intriguing cities enroute and on either end of the route, it should be an easy one to include on your next German rail journey.


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