Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrFrankfurt am Main is Germany’s business and finance hub one of the world’s most lively cities. It ranks 7th in the global index for the quality of life it offers inhabitants, although is not normally regarded as a tourist destination as such. That’s a pity, considering that aside from its impressive collection of ultra-modern skyscrapers, the sprawling city is also brimming with a myriad of historical, cultural and natural attractions. It’s also one of the country’s most multi-cultural hubs, with over 180 nationalities fused into its most-modern core. This diversity makes Frankfurt a very vibrant and very young city, where both the gastronomic and nightlife scenes are absolutely world-class.
Traversed and dissected by the River Main, Frankfurt’s main center is an eclectic mix of old and new, with the city’s eye-catching medieval cathedral still demanding full attention, despite it being flanked by vertiginous new edifices. So whether you’re visiting Frankfurt on business or pleasure, do include a few extra days here and discover this immensely interesting city. It’s bound to leave you pleasantly surprised.
- The Frankfurt Stock Exchange opened in 1843 and is now ranked in the world’s top 10
- The city boasts the third largest European, and world’s 10th busiest, international airport
- The Zeil is Germany's longest shopping street
- The Botanical Garden is the largest of its kind in the country
- Frankfurt is home of the world’s largest book fair every year
- The European Central Bank is based here
- This is the birthplace of famed writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
- The Zeil - The country’s longest stretch of commercial trade is also one of its oldest. People have been maxing out their credit cards here for almost two centuries. Department stores and international brand boutiques make up the great majority of retail spaces. Zeilgalerie is particularly lovely as it’s home to many local German stores, and a gorgeous cafe and viewpoint on the last floor.
- Neue Kräme - Less mainstream and trendier than Zeil, Neue Kräme is the place to head if you prefer one-off boutiques by local designers and charming little cafés.
- Goethestrasse - Über-luxurious street, arguably the most upmarket address in Frankfurt. A window shopper’s paradise.
- Kaiserstrasse - Popular with students and backpackers alike, this is a vibrant multi-cultural street where you’ll find unusual souvenirs and great food at very reasonable prices.
- NordWestZentrum - One of those shopping malls which can easily keep you enticed for an entire day, this is one of the loveliest centers in town, revered as much for its look as for its contents. This very large mall boasts a plethora of shops and eateries and its glass-ceiling almost makes it feels like you’re outdoors. Ideal as a rainy day destination.
- Old Town - Everything around the Cathedral is a little more expensive, but also a little nicer. Beautiful antiques and local handcrafts sold in charming shops along quaint little alleyways.
- South Bank - Head to Sachenhausen on a Saturday and you can enjoy one of the largest outdoor market sin all of Frankfurt. Flea market treasures and plenty of fresh produce on sale.
Brief HistoryFrankfurt has always held a very strategic position within Western Europe and was one of the most important cities in the Holy Roman Empire. Frankish Emperor Charlemagne , or Charles the Great as he is more commonly known, was the man accredited for uniting Western Europe and resided in Frankfurt, where he built an Imperial Palace, for more than a year. Many historians will agree that Frankfurt is where the foundations of modern-day Germany and France were carved.
Trade fairs have been held here since the 11th century and throughout the city’s tumultuous history, from the dissolution of the Roman Empire to the invasion by the Prussians, Frankfurt has always held on to trading as its main forte. Nowadays, this is the financial and business heart and soul of Germany.
It is then unsurprising to learn that Frankfurt was targeted for extensive bombings during WWII and although most of its Old Town was destroyed, and over 6,000 of its inhabitants killed, the city managed to rebuild itself rather remarkably. Much like Regensburg, Dresden and Berlin, all cities which suffered major destruction and made admirable reconstructions, Frankfurt has rebuilt its shell and continues to lead Europe in almost every sense imaginable. When it comes to finance, arts and culture, Frankfurt remains an unrivaled European powerhouse.
City OverviewFrankfurt is a widely spread out city, dissected in two by the River Main. The great majority of attractions are found on the northern half of the city, stretching east from the central Train Station (Hauptbahnhof) for about 4kms all the way to the zoo. However, the city’s best museums are found along the shores on the southern side of the Main, so you’ll no doubt be covering quite a lot of distance so see the major landmarks and attractions. Frankfurt’s most comprehensive Tourist Info Center is located inside the main train station, and is open from 8am until 9pm on week-days and 9am to 6pm on week-ends.
HighlightsTaking a walking tour of the city on your first day here is an excellent idea, as it’ll help you get your bearings and introduce you to a city which may, at first, seems like yet another bustling business hub with not much to offer tourists. In reality, however, Frankfurt boasts enough interesting landmarks to fill in quite a few days. Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy a river sightseeing cruise as the view of the city from the water is really quite spectacular.
Here are the Frankfurt’s most famous landmarks:
RömerbergFrankfurt Old Town Center (Römerberg or Alt Stadt) is where you’ll find most of the historic landmarks, most of which date back from the 14th century. Although many were destroyed during the Allied bombing in WWII, they have been meticulously restored. Römerberg is the name given to this most ancient core of Frankfurt, and derives from the name of the Town Hall (Römer), which you’ll find on its homonymous square (Römerplatz) along with the city’s magnificent cathedral. Römer is a stunning medieval building and has been the city’s civic hall for more than six centuries. Nowadays, it is still a popular wedding venue. Hub of social activity both day and night, the square is stupendous of an evening, when all the buildings and street-level shops and restaurants are beautifully lit. The 19th century Eisener Steg stone bridge connects the square to the main Museum Quarter (Museumsufer) on the southern side of the river. The pedestrian-only bridge offers fantastic city views, so if you don’t have time to enjoy a leisurely cruise do make sure to head here and enjoy a stroll instead.
Frankfurt CathedralConsidering the amount of modern skyscrapers which dot the skyline in Frankfurt, it’s quite amazing to discover that St. Bartholomeus Cathedral is still such an imposing landmark. This stunning Gothic masterpiece with its dominating spires and attention-grabbing façade made of red bricks, was built in the 1300s and was the site of coronation of Roman Emperors for well over two centuries. This is one of only a rare few churches in Germany which were designated as Imperial Cathedrals. The 100m tall tower boasts a vertiginous spiral staircase which visitors can ascend for a modest fee. The 15th century sculpture of the Crucifixion, made by Hans Backhoffen , is just one of the many priceless relics you can admire in the cathedral’s interior.
Other major churches of interest, both in and around Old Town, are the charmingly colorful Old St Nicholas Church (Alte Nikolaikirche) on the edge of Römerplatz, and the much more subdued and less impressive-looking St Patrick’s (Paulskirche). The latter is of utmost historical and political importance in Germany, as this was where the founding constitution of the new democratic country was drafted, back in 1848. Sure, it may not hold much aesthetic appeal, but its significance in modern-day Frankfurt is nothing to dismiss.
HauptwacheFrankfurt’s second most famous square is named after the striking 18th century guard’s house which was built to accommodate the military back when the city was an independent free state. Nowadays, it is a charming café and one of the most atmospheric corners in old town, with Zeil, the most famous commercial strolling street, starting from here.
Main TowerThis impressive glass-façade skyscraper has a rooftop restaurant and observation deck on its 56th floor. You can access the viewing deck by paying €7 ($7.48) and ascending up a lift for merely 40 seconds. The all-encompassing views from here, on a crystal clear day, are simply breathtaking. The Main Tower is one of Germany’s tallest buildings and the only one in Frankfurt which offers public access to a viewing deck, so make sure you don’t miss visiting!
Alte OperThe 19th century Frankfurt Opera House is on the north-western end of Old Town and is only one of many historical buildings framing the very pleasant Opera Square (Opernplatz). Although almost completely destroyed during WWII, this most pivotal of cultural landmarks was very intensely reconstructed in the 1970s and, albeit the inside hall is quite modern, it is nevertheless revered as one of Europe’s most prized music halls. It was here that many famous operas, including Carmina Burana made their world debut.
Goethe HouseThe Goethe House is the family home and birthplace of Goethe, one of Germany’s most prolific and celebrated writers and poets. Fans of his work can take a peek into his bedroom and study, and meander through three floors of Goethe family history. Perhaps an attraction aimed specifically at Goethe lovers, although even if you’ve barely heard of Goethe in passing, the audio guide will certainly help you appreciate all that you see.
Frankfurt Zoological GardensThe Frankfurt Zoo sits on 32 acres on the eastern fringes of the city center and is home to more than 4000 animals of 450 different species. Together with that of Berlin, this is Germany’s oldest zoo, originally founded in 1858. The zoo carries out important breeding work, most notably that of rare Black Rhinos, a beautiful African treasure which you can see here, among many other beasts of the savanna. A comprehensive reptile enclosure and aquarium (Exotarium) does a great job of enticing little ones, and the Borgori Ape House is bound to fascinate grown-ups to. The zoo is looking a little tired nowadays yet major restoration plans are underway.
PalmengartenLovers of the great outdoors should also include a visit to Palmengarten on their itinerary. This splendid botanical garden is one of two in Frankfurt, and the largest such nature reserve in the whole country. You’ll find countless walking trails past hothouses where endemic and international flora species are kept, a fun water park for kids (great if visiting in summer!) and even a great little chocolate museum. In such a business driven city, where amazing old treasures are overshadowed by modern skyscrapers, the gardens make for a wonderful escape into nature.
MuseumsuferThe Museum Quarter lies on both banks of the Main although the most coveted showstoppers are located on the southern side. History, art and culture lovers may want to invest in a Museum Pass, which allows unlimited museum entry for 48 hours. It’s certainly worth it if you wish to visit more than two museums.
A total of 12 major museums are here, including the city’s top two:
Museum der WeltkulturenIn theory, the Museum of World Cultures is Europe’s foremost ethnological museum with an astounding number of incredibly varied collections. In reality, the amount of recent construction, aimed at expanding the museum into several adjacent buildings, has resulted in a great many collections being stored away and out of public’s views. In a few years, when works are complete, we may well expect this to become the city’s foremost museum space.
The StädelFor many years the Städel has been rated as Germany’s most important and impressive museums, home of almost 3,000 paintings, 60,000 sculptures and almost 100,000 prints, only a fraction of which are on display at any given time. This splendid museum boasts works by Monet, Rembrandt, Wermeer, Picasso and Giacometti among many others. The garden is also quite lovely and a great place to relax if the museum visit leaves you a little tired. Thanks to the in-house art school, the museum café actually offers great food at very reasonable prices, so you can easily spend quite a few hours here alone.
Naturmuseum SenckenbergThis Natural History Museum is one of the country’s largest of its kind and found about 3kms north-west of the old town center. Particularly ideal if travelling with children, the Senckenberg showcases a very impressive dinosaur as well as many other life-size animal displays. Due to its distance from the core of town, it is one of the least visited by tourists, making it also one of the most enjoyable.
CuisineFrankfurt is often rated as one of the world’s best gastronomic capitals. Much of this has to do with the city’s superlative economy and its multi-cultural inhabitants. Not only will you find literally everything here, but all of it will be of top notch quality. And as all foodies will attest, this is a truly a winning combination. Between the fusion of all nationalities, as well as many local specialties, eating your way through Frankfurt should be considered an ‘attraction’ all of its own.
What does Frankfurt do best? Head to these places to find out:
FreßgassLiterally translated as ‘Snack Street’, this section of Kalbächer Gasse (between (Opernplatz and Börsenstrasse) is chock full of restaurants, food stalls, cafés and specialized delis. With many establishments setting up outdoor tables, this street is much more Rome than Munich and everyone seems to love it that way. This ‘culinary road mile’ boasts some of the highest rents in town, so food will have corresponding prices, yet it is here that you’ll arguable find the best quality treats in all of Frankfurt. Aside food, this is a place which has been at the heart of the sociable core of the city for more than a century.
KleinmarkthalleThis indoor grocer’s market is a sight to behold and perhaps, even reason enough to choose a holiday rental apartment over a hotel. The sheer variety of fresh food, spices and deli items from all over the world, are enough to send any culinary aficionado into a head-spin. More than 60 stalls are found here, selling everything from delectable baked goods to delicious sliced meats, mouth-watering cheeses, 1010 different types of bread, preserves and pickles of every kind. Luckily, many of the stands also sell ready-made food like salads, cooked sausages, filled baguettes and potatoes cooked in every which way. Being so close to the historic center makes this a top lunch-on-the-go spot.
Following are just some of the special dishes you ought to look out for:
Handkäs mit MusikOne of the most beloved and arguably one of the strangest meals originating in Frankfurt, is this ‘hand-made cheese with music’, which consists of a sour milk cheese marinated in oil, salt, pepper, caraway seeds and vinegar, and topped with a healthy serve of sliced raw, red onions. The onions are the ‘mit musik’ part so feel free to ask without if you prefer. A bit of an acquired taste perhaps but if you want to eat like a local then you must try it at least once.
Kassler RippchenNow here’s a much more recognizable meal for you: smoked pork ribs! These marinated ribs simply fall off the bone and are usually served with tangy sauerkraut and either mashed potatoes or dark, spongy bread. Wash it all down with a jug of Ebblewoi and you’ll be right to go.
EbblewoiTraditional fermented apple cider, which is a particularly great accompaniment to ‘hand cheese with musik’ or any other traditional food in Frankfurt.
Grüne SoßeThere are quite a few countries in Western Europe which make ‘green sauce’ although versions can vary quite a bit. In Frankfurt, the sauce is made from a mix of seven herbs, including chives, parsley, chervil and sorrel, mixed ever so gently with sour cream, hard boiled egg yolks, vinegar, lemon and salt and pepper. You’ll find various dishes here served with an abundance of green sauce, including pan-friend potatoes (bratkartoffeln), hard boiled potatoes and eggs, and any broiled fish or meat.
Frankfurter WürstchenFrankfurt locals normally boast about being the ‘original masters of the hot dog’ and, if history is anything to go by, they’re certainly not wrong. The Frankfurter was indeed created here, and the local obsession with sausages has not abated in the slightest over the decades. The Original Frankfurter is a long, smoked pork sausage and is actually protected by law, much like Champagne. No other thin pork sausage can ever call itself by this name. Traditionally, the sausage is boiled and served with a fresh roll and a dollop of both mustard and horseradish.
ReibekuchenDelectable potato pancakes served with homemade apple sauce when ordered on their own, or as a side dish with meats and fish. Delicious either way!
NightlifeThe Big Apple may be most renowned as the city that never sleeps but anyone who’s been here will attest that New York certainly takes a lot more nana-naps than Frankfurt ever does. The nightlife scene here is as varied as the inhabitants and even its visitors. From university students, to business men, art critics, families, high-flyers and budget backpackers, everyone who heads here find plenty of sun and interesting things to do of an evening. There is always something going on, somewhere, so whether you’re up for a live jazz night, thumping house party or operetta, you're bound to find it here.
The area around Kleine Bockenheimer Strasse is renowned for its amazing jazz clubs, so much so that sections of it has been renamed ‘Jazgasse’. For special events and concerts, pick up copies of either Strandgut or Kultur News at the Tourist Info Center in town. Both are free of charge and are about the best and most updated guides you could find in Frankfurt, a city where many bars and clubs tend to open and close quite frequently.
ShoppingFrankfurt is chock full of shopping malls, commercial streets and fantastic markets.
Here are the most popular:
How to Get InFrankfurt is one of the top transport hubs in Europe and both its International Airport and Central Station being among the busiest in the continent. Consequentially, this is one of the easiest cities to reach, from anywhere and by every which mode of transport.
Frankfurt’s airport is connected to the city centre by bus (take number 61 to the southern train station (Südbahnhof) or S-bahn trains, which are super fast and super frequent. A ride into town should only take 15 minutes or so. International and domestic train connections abound, although do note that domestic high-speed trains depart from a different station (Fernbahnhof) which is located along the northern edge of the international airport.
How to Get Out and AboutThe city’s extensive underground and overground train system is the most convenient way to get around. Station ticket machines are loathed by locals and visitors alike, but with a bit of patience (and by clicking on the English icon) you’ll figure it out in no time. Locals are particularly helpful to tourists here so if you hang around looking lost someone will eventually come to your aid! The city center is within a single zone, so save yourself some hassle and purchase a day ticket for only 6.80 Euro or, better still, check out the Frankfurt Card which offers amazing discounts on entry to museums and landmarks and includes unlimited rides on public transport. The Frankfurt Card is on sale at the airport (look out for signs at the Arrivals Lounge), at both Tourist Info Centers (on Romerplatz and the Central Train Station) and all train stations. If you prefer, you can also purchase it in advance right here.
AccommodationGiven the sheer size of the city, it matters not where you choose to stay, as you’ll be needing to catch buses or hop on the tram/train to get to all the major landmarks. The biggest concentration of budget hotels and B&Bs is around the Hauptbahnhof area, while anything around Berger and Schweizer Straße will be much nicer, but also much more expensive.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Jul 20, 2015