Not far from Frankfurt lies a hidden gem among fairy-tale like towns in Germany – Gelnhausen. If you are stopping in Frankfurt and looking for ideas what to do and see around the city, a day trip to Gelnhausen will do the trick.
Best things to do in Gelnhausen
Take a guided tour
Now that we travel with a 2-year-old Ren, we try to avoid the guided tours, as our little explorer is just too curious to stay put so long. Nevertheless, we decided to do an individual guided tour in Gelnhausen and had such amazing guide, I would recommend it to everyone (ask for Waltraud Speiker at the tourist info point). Traveling with kids to Gelnhausen or not, she was great and well prepared for our munchkin. During the 2-hour long tour her bag was filled with crops for Ren, connected to attractions we have visited. She explained the history of the town on such way, we would easily take in some more. I always enjoy hearing about history through different stories and fun and interesting facts. The tour took us through the old town center of Gelnhausen, down the town’s old underground water system in which Ren made a paper boat with the help of Waltraud and let it go on the canal journey. We climbed up the old town walls and visited the closed town museum and witches tower.
Gelnhausen is extremely rich in history – it was established by Friderik I. Barbarossa (Holy Roman Emperor and German king) in 1170. For that reason, Gelnhausen got his nickname as the Barbarossa city. The town was once known as a very wealthy town, full of traders and rich stone city dwellers, who lived in the magnificent stone build houses. Unfortunately, and due to the Thirty Years’ War we can hardly see any stone houses left, which were replaced with the half-timbered houses. Half-timbered houses might look charming now, but they actually were farmer’s and poor men homes. All the houses that you see now, are original ones, as Gelnhausen was not destroyed during the WW2 due to lack of industry.
Enjoy the views from the old town walls
The old town of Gelnhausen was once completely protected by the town walls – with two of them actually. The space between both of them was used as pastures for livestock during the attacks. Some part of the town wall is still protected and can be climbed on to enjoy the amazing views over the town and all the way to Frankfurt if the weather is nice and clear.
Church of St. Mary (Marienkirche)
Ever since Simon and visited Romanesque sights in Germany, which can be found on Transromanica list, we are more aware how important this period in architecture was. The church of St. Mary in Gelnhausen is an excellent example of Romanesque style, interlacing with the Gothic period. The church was once a Rome-catholic, but it is now an orthodox church, where still Rome-catholic influence can be seen.
Get to know the history and visit the town’s museum
It is always so nice to see how a place can get greater value and new things just because of motivation, ideas and hard work of some individual people. If the town’s museum was just an ordinary museum once, it is now re-done in kid’s friendly museum, where young explorers can touch things, wear different costumes and using their imagination of how life once was. Kids are indeed our future and it is important they also know their past.
A special room can be found in the museum, where enlarge model of an ear is on display. Everyone can see how an ear is constructed, but showing this as a slide in the ear, is even more fascinating for kids. The reason why the ear is on display is Johann Philipp Reis – one of the fist inventors of the telephone, which was born right here in Gelnhausen.
Enjoy the German Fairy Tale route
The German Fairy Tale route is a product, which was established in 1975 and connects different towns, areas, national parks with legends, fairy tales and the famous brothers Grimm. It is 600 kilometers long and connects the city of Hanau in the center of Germany to the city of Bremen in the northern part of the country. The road runs also through Gelnhausen. Not far from the town lies even a smaller town Steinau an der Strasse, which is actually best known for brothers Grimm. You will find their museum in a house where for some childhood period the brothers Grimm, together with complete family, lived. The museum is nicely done, but unfortunately everything is just in German. We have visited it anyway, as it started to rain and the museum was a good hide-away on a rainy day.
I would recommend you a short walk around Steinau, as the old town center is nice. Pass the main market with cafes and enjoy the views over the castle – symbol of the town. If you are visiting Steinau with kids, make sure to stop at the playground, set behind the castle walls – one of the most beautiful settings for playgrounds for sure.
Have fun at the Adventure Park Steinau
Just around 10 kilometers from Gelnhausen, on more than 25 hectares, an adventure park can be found. With its numerous attractions it is made for kids between 3-13 years old. Our Ren was just 2,5 years old when we visited it, but he took a shine on it immediately. Simon and I were both extremely happy to finally find a perfect match for our traveler. He really enjoys all kind of slides, trains, cars, sandpits, trampolines and he sure found his paradise here. We all had spent an amazing day in the park and Ren was so busy with everything, he did not sleep and hardly eat everything, being afraid he will miss something out. We also liked the fact that all attractions were included in the ticket price and that the parking for our car was free of charge too. Inside of the Adventure Park Steinau also BBQ spots scan be found, where you can prepare your own food and enjoy a picnic – bring your own charcoal.
Take a barefoot path (Barfusspfad)
Between Gelnhausen and Steinau lies a park, where the whole family will enjoy for sure. It is done as a 4 kilometers circled barefoot path. Test yourself and your feet on different surfaces and have fun doing it. We unfortunately had to skip this due to bad weather.
Where to eat and sleep?
Hotel recommendation: There are not many hotels in Gelnhausen, but we stayed in Hotel Burg-Muhle for 2 nights. The hotel location is great, as it lies on the outskirts of the old town, but still close enough to reach it in 5-10 minutes by foot. The hotel has spacious rooms and a big free parking lot. If you are traveling to Gelnhausen with kids, a nice outdoor playground is close to the hotel too. Check out more about hotel here.
Recommendation for lunch / dinner: Staying in Gelnhausen or Steinau or just visiting the Adventre Park, a great location for lunch or dinner is the Brathähnchenfarm. This special Gasthaus is extremely popular among locals and as soon as you will step inside, you will realize why. Their specialty are grilled chickens and when they are served you will get quite a show, as they are brought to you on a long steel sticks. They served different type of meet too and the prices are very affordable, the staff is quick and friendly and most importantly, we loved the food. Just a warning – if you are not a meat lover, this place might not be ideal for you. They also offer few nicely decorated rooms for overnight stays, so this is also a great option for your accommodation. You can see more photos of the place here.
We visited Gelnhausen as part of our German road trip. We did not plan to go all the way to Frankfurt at first, but a visit of Gelnhausen and its surrounding was sure one of those surprises, for which it was worth to do some more miles than first planned.