While not the capital nor the largest city, Frankfurt is arguably the most important city in Germany. It is the economic hub. (Click here to read about Frankfurt’s relationship to finance.) It has the largest airport. And for tourists, it is often the gateway to one of Europe’s coolest countries.
But what exactly is there to do in Frankfurt other than fly in? This guide will give you a brief overview of some of the highlights of this world-class city. Remember to click on the links spread throughout for more detailed looks into specific aspects of Frankfurt.
If you enjoy this guide, click here to read all of our Ultimate Guides from all over the world.
Frankfurt has the busiest airport in Germany, and one of the busiest in Europe. If you are flying into Germany, the odds are decent you’ll end up here. There are direct flights from most major US gateway cities, both on American carriers and Lufthansa. From the airport, it is a quick train ride to the central train station.
If you are arriving by train, you’ll come into the hauptbanhof, the central train station. Multiple subway and tram lines, as well as every surface rail line, come in here to zip you to wherever you might be going in the city.
So let’s talk about those transit lines. Frankfurt has four sources of public transit: buses, trams, subway (called U-Bahn), and surface rail (S-Bahn). A single ticket is good for two hours and allows unlimited transfers, although only for a one-way journey. A day pass is basically the cost of a round trip ticket. (Weekly and monthly passes are also available, and group rates exist.) The U-Bahn and S-Bahn are the quickest ways to get around the city, with trams and buses as a supplement to get closer to a specific destination if needed.
Given the prevalence of these modes of transport, there is zero need to ever rent a car unless one is leaving the city, and even then Germany has a solid regional and national rail system. Within Frankfurt, public transit can get you to within a 5-10 minute walk of pretty much anywhere.
Uber also exists here, as do cabs, in case the walk is a burden, or weather means you don’t want it.
Where to Stay
To be totally honest, it probably doesn’t matter geographically, as the aforementioned public transit is so accessible. Every American brand has properties here. On my trip, I stayed at the Hampton Inn Messe, which is about a fifteen minute walk from the central train station. (The area directly adjacent to the station is the only part of Frankfurt I would recommend against staying.) My hotel was comfortable, inexpensive, and near plenty of food options, as well as transit.
Most of the sights you’ll want to visit are in or near Frankfurt’s altstadt, the old city, so you can consider staying there, although it is more expensive, as is the banking district, just west of the altstadt and just east of the rail station.
What to Do
Frankfurt isn’t known for its touristic activities, but there is a lot to see here for a city that is considered more a business destination. There is certainly more than enough to give yourself a couple days here after flying in.
Tourism will center on the altstadt, headlined by Romerberg, the old town square rebuilt to look like it would have in the city’s storied past. While here, visit the Frankfurt cathedral, and the Alte Nikolaikirche. (Click here to read a more detailed guide to the altstadt.)
If you enjoy history, consider the Frankfurt History Museum, a surprisingly large facility full of interesting exhibits. Or check out the Judengasse Museum for a walk through remains of Frankfurt’s Jewish ghetto. You can also learn about Johann Wolfgang von Goethe at his childhood home. (Click here to read about Goethe’s life in Frankfurt.)
What about art? Frankfurt’s Stadel Museum has one of the finest collections in Germany. And though I didn’t visit, I have heard good things about the Museum MMK if you like modern art.
The observation deck at the Main Tower is the best way to get a view of the city from above. You can also consider a cruise down the Main (pronounced mine) River to see Frankfurt from the water. Boats leave from the altstadt.
If you like gardens, the Palmengarten is lovely and huge. Or just enjoy one of the city’s many parks, or the beautiful riverfront, which is mainly park on both sides.
What to Eat
While I will get to some of the regional specialities in a moment, it is worth noting that in addition to German food, Frankfurt has a huge selection of both Asian and Middle Eastern eateries due to large populations of both living here. As German food tends to err on the heavier side, it’s good to break it up with something else.
Ok, now for the German stuff. It’s Frankfurt, so you must have a frankfurter, the original hot dog. Here it is not served in a bun, but rather generally with either bread or (for slightly more) potato salad. As the potato salad here is mayonnaise-free, opt for that. And make sure to use good German mustard.
With your frankfurter, consider trying apfelwein. Literally apple wine, it is more like cider (yes, alcoholic) and comes in several varieties ranging from sweet to sour. Both apfelwein and frankfurters can be found all over the altstadt, and especially in Romerberg.
Frankfurt is known for a dessert called Frankfurter Kranz, literally Frankfurt crown, dating back to when German emperors were crowned here. It is made of a heavy sponge, buttercream, a red berry jam, and topped with caramelized hazelnuts. I got mine at ConditCouture just off Romerberg.
If you enjoy food stalls, the altstadt’s Kleinmarkthalle is a lovely place for lunch. It has a wide variety of options, though if you enjoy sausage, it is worth waiting in the longest line for fleischwurst, a thick sausage served with mustard and a roll. The pastries here are also great, and there are so many stalls and restaurants I didn’t get to try.
Other Useful Information
Germans are known for following the rules to a T. That goes for traffic signs. Overwhelmingly, without a green walk signal, Germans will wait at intersections rather than jaywalking or crossing against the red. While little is likely to happen to you if you break that rule, you will be looked down upon. It is also worth noting that lights change quickly here in Frankfurt, so be careful and walk fast through intersections.
If you order water at a restaurant, you’ll be purchasing bottled water. If you try to order tap water, you’ll generally be ignored, with the possible exception of having it in addition to another paid drink. I’ve found it easier to just drink a beer (it is cheaper than water anyway) and to have a water bottle tucked in my backpack.
Frankfurt is an incredibly international city. You’ll hear many languages, and see many types of people. So if you are studying German and don’t understand a word of a conversation around you, it might just be in Russian or Polish or Czech.
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much from Frankfurt. It was just a place that happened to be my entry point into the country, something I feel is true for many people. But I was pleasantly surprised. The vibe here is laid back, but with a business tone, and the sights – while not as exciting as in some places – are certainly worthy of a few days. Don’t make the mistake of flying in and immediately hopping on a train for Berlin or elsewhere. Stop and enjoy this cool city!
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