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TRAIN TRAVEL

Five European cities you can reach in under five hours from Frankfurt

Frankfurt's not just a bustling international city - it's also a great location from which to explore Europe. Here's our guide to the best cities you can visit in under five hours simply by hopping on a train from Germany's banking capital.

Frankfurt Central Station
Trains pull out of Frankfurt Central Station in the early hours of the morning. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

With nine diverse nations sharing a border with Germany, it’s not hard to get out and explore new parts of Europe – even if it’s just for a couple of days. And there’s no better way to do this than by taking advantage of the fast and extensive train network in and around the country. 

Though train fares may not be quite as a cheap as a budget airline ticket, opting for train travel is generally a quicker and much more pleasant way to travel. 

For one, you can avoid the luggage chaos and endless queues that have been plaguing Europe’s airports over the past few months.

Secondly, you can often get a much more comfy and spacious seat on a long-distance train, and even surf the internet and work on your journey (if the Wifi works). And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy whiling away an hour or so in the dining car, sipping coffee and watching the world go by? 

If you’re lucky enough to live in Frankfurt, you’re in a prime location to access a number of Germany’s neighbouring countries by train. From the central station, you can even reach some famous destinations in well under five hours, which is ideal for a short break or weekend away. 

To help you plan your trip, we’ve picked five unmissable locations that are closer to Frankfurt than you may think. Here are some reasons to visit each of them, and how you can get there.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: The best websites for cross-Europe train travel

Zurich 

Zurich city centre

Zurich city centre. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/KEYSTONE | Ennio Leanza

For residents of Frankfurt – the financial capital of Germany – visiting another big banking city may seem counter-intuitive. Nevertheless, there are plenty of reasons to plan a trip to Zurich beyond its business credentials.

Nestled above sweeping Lake Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city has all the cultural attractions you’d expect from a major European hub. But with just over 400,000 residents, it also has something of a small-town feel. 

For art fans, the Kunsthaus Zurich is well worth a visit, and anyone who wants to learn about Switzerland’s fascinating history should also take a trip to the National Museum. Of course, no visit to Switzerland would be complete without chocolate, so be sure to stop by the magnificent Lindt Home of Chocolate, which houses the largest Lindt shop in the world. 

If you go to Zurich in winter, there are also countless ski resorts nearby, making it the ideal place to spend a night or two before hitting the slopes.

You can get there in just under four hours on the IC73 or IC77, or by taking an ICE train to Basel and switching to an IC or ICE train in Switzerland. If you book well in advance, it’s possible to get one-way tickets for around €20, while last-minute tickets are likely to cost around €40-60.  

Paris 

Paris skyline

The Paris skyline. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Ute Müller

If you’re looking for a romantic weekend away, there’s no better destination than the so-called City of Love. With its famous chalkstone buildings, wrought-iron balcony and leafy boulevards, Paris exudes a romantic atmosphere that’s a joy to soak up, even on a cold autumnal day. 

No visit to the French capital would be complete without seeing famous sights like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, but it’s also worth rubbing shoulders with the local in its bustling bistros and candlelit wine bars. 

Literary lovers should also stop by Shakespeare and Company: an iconic English-language bookshop located on the bohemian Left Bank. Alternatively, see some of the greatest artistic masterpieces in the world at the Louvre or Musée de l’Orangerie

You can get from Frankfurt to Paris in just 3 hours and 45 minutes by taking a TGV train to Gare de L’Est, a train station in the east of Paris. You can find single tickets for around €45 if you book in advance, but €80 is more realistic for last-minute bookings. 

READ ALSO: ‘Deutschlandticket’: What you need to know about Germany’s new €49 ticket

Brussels 

Brussels City Hall and Grand Place

Brussels City Hall and Grand Place lit up in rainbow colours. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Olivier Hoslet

As the home of the European Parliament, Brussels needs no introduction – but there’s much more to the capital of Belgium than EU politics. 

If you pay a visit, be sure to spend some time on foot soaking up the stunning gothic architecture in the city, from the breathtaking Grand Place to the imposing Palace of Justice. If you’ve never been to Paris, you can also visit another famous church by the name of Notre Dame, which was built way back in the 15th century and extended with two new chapels in the 17th century. 

For a more modern – and even futuristic – attraction, a visit to the Atomium is also a must. This mindboggling feat of architecture is by the far the most popular attraction in Belgium. Part building, part sculpture, the enormous structure is shaped like an iron unit cell, or nine iron atoms. Visitors can peruse exhibitions inside it, eat in the restaurant and take in the best views in the city. 

Of course, a tour of the EU parliament should be on your to-do list, and don’t forget to enjoy a tipple (or two) at the aptly-named Delirium Cafe, which has over 2,000 beers on the menu.

To reach Brussels from Frankfurt, you can hop on the direct IC14, which will take you to the Belgian capital in just three hours. Book several weeks in advance to snap up one-way tickets for around €20. Closer to your travel date, a single will set you back between €50 and €80 on average. 

Amsterdam 

Amsterdam canal bridge

The UNESCO protected canals of Amsterdam. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Andrea Warnecke

With its winding canal ways and buzzing nightlife, a weekend trip to Amsterdam should be on everyone’s bucket list – and for people in Frankfurt, it takes less time than it would to get to Berlin.

When they think of the Dutch capital, foreigners often think of the city’s famous “coffee shops” – special licensed cafes where weed is sold. But Amsterdam is much more than just a stoner’s paradise: it’s home to world-famous music venues, quirky breweries and even the largest flea market in Europe.

Anyone there for a couple of days would do well to hire a bicycle and head out to some of Amsterdam’s must-see attractions, from the Van Gogh Museum to the Royal Palace. A boat tour along the city’s UNESCO-protected canals is also a great way to explore the city: learning about Amsterdam’s history while soaking up the lively atmosphere along the waterfront at sunset is a truly special experience. And if it’s local art and trendy cafes you’re looking for, head to the Bohemian district of Jordaan or Westergas, a former industrial complex that is now a thriving cultural hub.

To get from Frankfurt to Amsterdam, just hop on the direct ICE126, which will bring you door to door in just four hours. You can snap up one-way tickets for around €28 if you book at least a month in advance, while last-minute single tickets will be around €50-80. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Germany’s long-distance train services will change from December

Luxembourg City

Luxembourg City

Luxembourg City. Photo: picture alliance / dpa-tmn | Bernd F. Meier

The capital of Luxembourg may be much smaller than other European capitals, but it more than makes up for it in history and charm.

This quaint medieval city is built along deep gorges and surrounded by rivers and hills, making it arguably one of the most picturesque cities in Europe. Public transport in Luxembourg is entirely free for both visitors and residents, but the size of the city means that it’s perfectly possible to explore on foot.

While you’re there, don’t forgot to take an obligatory photo or ten while walking along the Chemin de la Corniche (or the path of Corniche), which has been described as Europe’s most beautiful balcony. You can also learn all about Luxembourg’s fascinating history and culture at one of the seven museums that make up the “Museums Mile”, and peruse local shops and galleries at the historic Fëschmaart (or fish market). 

Though it may have a distinctly small-town feel to it, Luxembourg is also a hugely international and cosmopolitan place, so you’re sure to meet people from all over the world while enjoying some traditional Luxembourgish fare at a local bar or eatery. (In case you’re wondering, it’s kind of a hodgepodge of French, Belgian, German and Italian food…). 

The quickest route to Luxembourg from Frankfurt takes just 3.5 hours. Simply hop on the TGV train to Paris Est and change to the L40 train at Saarbrücken. It’s not hard to find one-way tickets for a bargain price of €22, even if you forget to book in advance. 

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Frankfurt with the €9 ticket

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FRANKFURT

Frankfurt ranked ‘second worst city for expats’ in new international survey

Frankfurt snagged the title of the second worst city in the world for expats to live in a new survey from InterNations. Does it deserve the title?

Frankfurt ranked 'second worst city for expats' in new international survey

In a survey released Tuesday by Munich-based InterNations, Frankfurt was ranked 49 out of 50 in the ‘Expat City Ranking 2022’, with only Johannesburg, South Africa trailing behind. 

Germany’s bustling financial capital, home to 790,000 people, was also placed last in the Expat Essentials Index. While no German city in the survey performed well in this category, Frankfurt ranked especially low, coming in 47th in the Digital Life category, 46th in Language, 45th in Admin Topics and 43rd in Housing. 

More than one in three people surveyed were unhappy with the availability of administrative services offered online (39 percent vs. 21 percent of global respondents) and the possibilities for paying with card instead of cash (37 percent vs. eight percent globally).

“The lack of clear instructions is insane when it comes to admin topics like taxes, TV license fees, or citizenship,” one French resident of Frankfurt told InterNations. 

READ ALSO: ‘A mega city on a smaller scale’: An insider’s guide to Frankfurt

Tell us what you think of life in Frankfurt. Does it deserve to be ranked so low?

 

Too high costs

Most expats surveyed found housing in Frankfurt to be too expensive (70 percent were unhappy vs. 43 percent globally) and simply too hard to come by (61 percent vs. 27 percent globally). 

A full 38 percent of Frankfurt-based expats surveyed worked in a senior or specialist position (versus 29 percent globally) and 23 percent earned between $75,000 to $100,000, versus 11 percent globally.

Yet Frankfurt was still the only German city to land in the bottom ten of the “Personal Finance Index”, which assesses how well expats can live in a city based on their own resources and the cost of living. 

More than half of the respondents found living costs to be too high (51 percent versus 35 percent globally).

The façade of the Römer, Frankfurt's historic city hall, is not lit up to save energy.

The façade of the Römer, Frankfurt’s historic city hall. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

Not easy to make friends in Frankfurt

Similarly to all German cities featured in the survey, respondents lamented how difficult it is to make friends in Germany’s financial capital, with 55 percent unhappy versus 37 percent globally.

Only 36 percent said they are satisfied with their social life (vs. 56 percent globally), with 30 percent find it difficult to get used to the local culture (vs. 19 percent globally). 

More than three in ten respondents (31 percent) said they lacked a personal support network in Frankfurt, compared to 24 percent globally. The city also ranked second to last for leisure options.

Of all German cities surveyed, Berlin came in the highest for overall quality of life (31st place), followed by Düsseldorf (33rd), Munich (38th), Hamburg (45th), and Frankfurt (48th).

No German city made it to the top ten cities for expats to live in. First place went to Valencia, Spain, and the only city in the German-speaking world to make the list was Basel, Switzerland, which came in at seventh place. 

A total of 11,970 expats worldwide took part in the annual survey from expat networking and resource group InterNations, over 50 of whom live in Frankfurt.

Is Frankfurt really all that bad?

Respondents of a Local Germany survey from this past summer reached a different consensus about Frankfurt, describing it as an international city with a small-town feel.

Richard Davison, 45, who lives in the Sachsenhausen area of Frankfurt, said: “In my opinion, Frankfurt is a special city as it is very international. As people come for work, it seems that it is very welcoming as many people are new, or have not lived in the city for a long time.

READ ALSO: Is Frankfurt a good place for foreigners to live?

The city even came in seventh place in a 2022 ranking by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) due to its lively hospitality sector, strong jobs scene and abundant surrounding nature.

It’s also commonly considered a city worth visiting, and has made it to the New York Times‘ annual 52 Places to Go list a few times in recent years.

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