Frankfurt am Main, in the state of Hesse, is not to be confused with Frankfurt an der Oder, which lies on the Polish border. Frankfurt am Main is probably best known for its international airport, Europe’s second largest and a major transportation hub. Frankfurt’s second claim to fame is that it is the financial hub of the Eurozone, with most international banks represented in the city. Because of its gleaming skyscrapers and its location on the Main, it is known as Germany’s Manhattan. It even has its own take on the Wall Street Bull: Bull and Bear, located just outside the stock market.
While all that might be impressive, it does not necessarily draw travelers to the city. The vast majority of visitors transit through the airport without giving a stopover a second thought. So here are some very good reasons to get out of the airport and enjoy a couple of days in Frankfurt. You will enjoy a great setting, plenty of history, medieval lanes and architecture, modern art, a selection of top museums, and seriously good food and drink.
Things To Do In Frankfurt
Dating to Roman times, Frankfurt was a busy center during the Middle Ages and was once home to Germany’s largest timber-frame old town. Alas, toward the end of World War II, the historic city was almost completely leveled. What you see today -- apart from a few survivors such as the Eschenheimer Turm and the Old Saint Nicholas Church, which were only slightly damaged -- has been painstakingly restored to its former glory, and done so well that you would never notice.
While it offers plenty of historic sites, the city is also a very cosmopolitan one, with expatriates from all over the world living here side by side. It makes for a superb atmosphere with lots of good shopping, a thriving art scene, and plenty of international eating and drinking, with many restaurants having outdoor terraces from which to enjoy the hustle and bustle.
But if you have limited time, here’s what to do on a weekend in Frankfurt.
Stroll Around The Medieval Romerberg
This is Frankfurt’s loveliest square, hemmed with restored medieval gabled buildings -- most famously, the Romer, the slightly pink three-part stepped building that has housed the city hall for the past 600 years. The square is filled with cafes around the Fountain of Justice and the Old Saint Nicholas Church, and it hosts a lovely Christmas market in December each year.
Museum-Hop Along The Museumsufer
Along both sides of the Main is a stretch called the Museumsufer, where you’ll find some 16 museums either right on the riverside or in close proximity to it. You can museum-hop on one bank to learn about everything from applied art to film to German architecture and more, and across the river, you can continue on with the Jewish Museum and Historical Museum, with many others nearby. It pays to research what you are most interested in and then plan where to spend most of your time. Admission ranges from 4 to 12 euros unless you have a Frankfurt Card, which allows you free public transport and reduced entry to many attractions.
Learn About Germany’s Top Bard
Frankfurt is home to the house where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of Germany’s most famous writers, poets, statesmen, and all-around talents, was born. Even if you have not read his works, such as Faust or The Sorrows of Young Werther, the Goethe House, restored after World War II, is a perfect example of a well-to-do family home of the late 1700s, and as such is full of interesting historic artifacts.
Walk Down The Aisle At The Frankfurt Cathedral
This red sandstone cathedral stands out among Frankfurt’s churches, and not just because of its unusual color. Its spire, which is more than 300 feet tall, reaches up between the modern skyscrapers, and its history speaks for itself. The Saint Bartholomew Cathedral, also known as the Frankfurt Cathedral, is one of only a few churches in Germany that have been designated imperial cathedrals, and between 1562 and 1792, the region’s emperors were crowned right here in the Election Chapel. It must have been quite a spectacle!
Reach For The Sky At The Main Tower
One of Frankfurt’s shiniest and tallest skyscrapers, the Main Tower has a viewing platform some 650 feet above street level that can be reached by elevator in 45 seconds. It offers fabulous views across the city and surrounding countryside, as far as the airport. Binoculars allow you to get your bearings and find out where to go next. Buy a ticket online to save yourself time in line.
Discover Your Green Thumb In The Palmengarten
One of three botanical gardens in Frankfurt, the Palmengarten is arguably the nicest, with 54 acres of gardens and more than 75,000 square feet of conservatory showcasing plants from around the world and from different climate zones. The old greenhouse is simply stunning and very reminiscent of Gustave Eiffel’s work.
Catch An Exhibit At The Schirn Kunsthalle
Not just an architecturally interesting building, the Schirn Kunsthalle is a 1980s-era venue for temporary exhibits of modern and contemporary art. There is no permanent collection, so you will have to hope that there is something on when you arrive -- or you could plan your visit around an exhibit you particularly want to see.
Best Places To Eat In Frankfurt
Frankfurt is a cosmopolitan and international city that offers all the cuisines you could wish for. But Frankfurt also has some local specialties that are worth seeking out.
Dauth-Schneider is a traditional Hessian restaurant serving all the local specialties, from pork knuckle to handkase mit musik (“hand cheese with music,” a local cheese) to the famous green sauce served with egg and potatoes. Wash it all down with applewoi, a local apple wine, or cider. And yes, they also serve perfect Frankfurter sausages.
Is there any better insight into a region’s cuisine than a fresh produce market? This covered market sells everything from fresh bread and sausages to cake and sweets to wine and the famous apple wine, and you can eat as you browse.
Freigut is located on a boat on the river and boasts simply stunning views of the Frankfurt skyline. Come for a drink at sunset before walking along the river and checking out all the other floating restaurants nearby.
Where To Shop In Frankfurt
Frankfurt is a superb city for shopping. The pedestrianized center is convenient and fun, offering all the high street labels and luxury stores -- and then some. Head down the main drag of Zeil, which has all the big German names, and then pop over to Goethestrasse for some luxury window-shopping before checking out the alternative boutiques on Berger Strasse. Every Friday, Schillerstrasse transforms into a market selling absolutely everything.
Best Places To Stay In Frankfurt
Frankfurt offers all kinds of accommodations, from luxury hotels to hostels to Airbnbs. For a brief weekend, you will want to stay as close to the city center as possible, since it will save you time when everything is within walking distance.
Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof
If you can somehow fit it into your budget, treat yourself to a stay at this grand old dame of a hotel with its great location and superb building -- it’d be a true treat. Not cheap, but then again, you don’t have to go for the Presidential Suite that comes with its own sauna or visit the Michelin-starred in-house restaurant, do you?
On the opposite side of the spectrum decor-wise is The Pure. A minimalist’s dream, this hotel’s style is, well, pure. Everything is white, with the odd splash of color here and there, and everything is symmetrical and oh-so photogenic. If you ever post on Instagram or simply don’t like too much fuss, this is the place for you.
On the other side of the Main lies the Gerbermuhle, a stunning hotel in an old corn mill by the river. The inside has been completely revamped in a contemporary but tasteful style, and it has a beer garden and lovely nooks where you can sit and take a break from sightseeing. The hotel is a mere bridge-crossing from the old town.
Pro Tip: Be careful when you choose to visit Frankfurt, because the city is a huge trade-fair hub, and when a fair is in town, every single hotel room can be booked. It pays to be flexible.