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The Emerald Experience > River and city guides > Main River Guide

Main River Guide

Guide to the emblematic river that cross the whole Germany

The 330-mile-long Main may be a tributary of the Rhine, but it certainly deserves tribute of its own twisting through some of Germany’s most beautiful countryside and visiting stunning cities and towns. Located entirely within Germany, the Main River transports you right into the heart of the country.

As the largest river held entirely within Germany’s borders, the Main explores the states of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse. The Main begins life when the Red Main and the White Main combine near Kulmbach in Franconia.

Beautiful Pit Stops

Exploring some of the most quintessentially German parts of the country, the Main winds its way through towns and cities which rely upon the river for their livelihood, demonstrating how the body of water has shaped the history and culture of central Germany. 

Mainz

Often mistakenly believed to have derived its name from the river; Mainz is actually located on the confluence of the Main and the Rhine. The strategically-positioned Mainz was, historically, a Roman fort city commanding the west bank of the Rhine.

The city boasts some of the continent’s best-kept Roman landmarks. Jupiter’s column, Drusus’ mausoleum, a theatre and an aqueduct all remain – paying homage to the city’s history as the Roman Empire’s northernmost frontier.

Frankfurt

Officially Frankfurt am Main, the German city provides an eclectic mix of classical German culture with world-leading industries. Recognised as a global city, Frankfurt hosts the world’s largest motor show and one of the world’s largest trade shows, and hosts the headquarters of some of the world’s largest firms, including Deutsche Bank and Lufthansa Airlines.

Despite this progressive economy, the city can trace its history back to the 1st century, when Roman settlements were established – slowly developing as one of the most important cities in the Holy Roman Empire.

The medieval building Römer is one of the city’s must-see sites, a complex of nine beautiful houses making up the Frankfurt city hall.  

Bamberg

The historic centre of the Bavarian town of Bamberg has attained UNESCO World Heritage Site status, demonstrating the beauty and cultural significance of the town. Located on the confluence of the rivers Regnitz and Main, Bamberg was historically a much sought after town – offered as a seat of inheritance to the Roman Empire’s favoured families.  

As you’d expect from an ancient Bavarian town, Bamberg is well known and well-loved for its beer. A visit to one of the Bamberg’s nine breweries and one brewpub is an absolute must when exploring the city. If you’re lucky enough to visit the city during Sandkerwa, you’ll be able to enjoy the city’s finest beers during the five-day celebration.   

Würzburg

Follow the Main to the west from Bamberg and you’ll stumble upon Würzburg; a Bavarian city dominated by the Würzburger Residenz, a UNESCO World Heritage Site palace which took 24 years to complete and boasts the largest fresco in the world.

History buffs will have plenty to pore over in Würzburg, with the city able to trace its heritage back to the Bronze Age before the area became a settlement for the Celts, then the Alamanni (a confederation of Germanic tribes) and the Franks in 6th century. Each of the civilisations left an indelible mark upon the beautiful city which can still be seen and felt to this day.

Countries of the Main

Unlike the Rhine which snakes out of the country, through neighbouring nations before emptying into the North Sea, the Main is a loyal river – sticking entirely within Germany.

Germany – The river begins life in Kulmbach in Franconia where the Red Main and White Main meet. The Red Main originates from the Franconian Jura mountain and range, and the White Main starts out as a trickle in the mountains of Fichtelgebirge.

The Main runs through the valleys of the German Highlands before crossing through the Lower Main Lowlands, where it eventually discharges into the Rhine. 

Fast Facts

A handful of facts about the Main River, from its etymology to its role in German recreation:

  • The river’s name derives from the Latin, Moenus
  • There are 34 dams and locks along the Main
  • The river is part of Corridor VII, the inland waterway link between the North Sea and the Black Sea
  • The 370 mile Main-Radweg cycle path which runs alongside the river was the first long-distance cycle path to be awarded five stars by the General German Bicycle Club
  • Part of the river was canalised in 1992, creating the Main-Danube canal
  • Thanks to this, it is possible to travel from the Black Sea to the North Sea
  • The Main River has nine tributary rivers
  • The Main was first mentioned in the German Saga ‘The Song of the Niebelungs’ from around 1,200AD

Top Tips

Make the absolute most of a trip atop the Main with these helpful tips:

  • The river is pronounced ‘Mine’
  • The Frankfurt stretch of the river is a major working river, so expect to see a lot of transport vessels
  • Always pack comfortable shoes, to explore the ancient (and often unevenly-paved) cities and towns
  • Look out for sights such as the Johannisburg Palace and Würzburger Residenz which can be glimpsed from the river
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