Munich has its Bavarian traditions, Hamburg the edginess of a port city, and Berlin can boast one of Europe’s liveliest arts and cultural scenes. Frankfurt, on the other hand, has long been Germany’s financial capital and with that comes a conventional and straight-laced reputation that may place it lower on your list of must-visit destinations. It is, however, a surprisingly good place for city breaks with an abundance of museums (second only to Berlin), inviting bars pouring the signature local drink, apfelwein (apple wine), and countless other things to do beyond closing business deals. The city’s commercial status also makes it remarkably cosmopolitan while leisure travelers can find good deals on hotels that are busy Monday to Thursday, but often discount their rooms on weekends.
Frankfurt’s dining options run the gamut from expense-account favorites to casual pubs. Wherever you eat, you should try some of Frankfurt’s local specialties during your stay: green sauce (made with seven different herbs, eggs, and sour cream), Handkäs mit Musik (cheese marinated in onions and vinegar), and, of course, frankfurters.
A good place to start exploring Frankfurt’s culinary offerings is on Fressgass (literally “grazing street”), the informal name for Grosse Bockenheimer Strasse, which runs between two squares, Opernplatz and Hauptwache. The mile-long pedestrian zone is lined with greengrocers, delicatessens, cafes, bistros, and bakeries. Meyer’s Delicatessen, which opened in 1948, was one of the pioneers on the culinary strip and is still a good stop to shop for gourmet gifts, from local wines to their specialty sausages. In 1996 it was joined by a restaurant, with tables that spill out onto the street on sunny days. The menu changes frequently but you can expect pastas, steaks and a variety of fish dishes. Service can sometimes be slow, though much of the reason to visit Meyer’s is for its location, so you’ll likely enjoy the fact that you aren’t being rushed through a leisurely lunch.
Frankfurt sits amid some of Germany’s prime fruit-growing regions, and many of the apples harvested here end up becoming apfelwein. The best place to sample this signature drink of Frankfurt is Sachsenhausen. While it has long been absorbed into the city of Frankfurt, for most of its history Sachsenhausen was a separate town and the location of a number of markets. Although much of Frankfurt was leveled by bombing raids during the Second World War, Sachsenhausen’s half-timbered buildings and cobblestone streets were mostly spared. Today it offers a stark contrast to the skyscrapers of Germany’s commercial heart. By many counts there are around 100 apfelwein bars in Sachsenhausen. One perennial favorite and a good place to start your tasting tour is Adolf Wagner, which has been pouring apfelwein—and only apfelwein, no beer—since 1931. Wagner is also a good place to try some of Frankfurt’s signature dishes like handkäse mit musik or potatoes and hard-boiled eggs served with green sauce.
Frankfurt’s history as a commercial center dates back centuries—the first trade fair was held here in the 13th century and the stock market was first established in 1585—but not as well known is its importance as one of Germany’s cultural capitals. With around 60 museums, only Berlin surpasses it.
A good first stop is the Historisches Museum, which covers the development of Frankfurt from the earliest Celtic and Germanic settlements up to the present day. The construction of modern Frankfurt, after the city was almost entirely leveled during the Second World War, is especially fascinating. The museum’s buildings themselves provide an insight into Frankfurt’s history, with five different structures spanning some 800 years.
The single most important and famous museum in Frankfurt is the Städel, located on the opposite side of the Main River from the Historisches Museum, on a stretch of the Main known as the Museumsufer, or Museum Embankment. The Städel’s more than 100,000 works span seven centuries and while German artists such as Lucas Cranach the Elder, Albrecht Dürer and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner are well represented, the collection covers all of Europe, and beyond. You’ll also find works by Rembrandt, Degas, Warhol, and many others. The Portikus gallery, located on an island in the middle of the Main River, focuses on currently practicing artists, both German and international.
Another museum on the embankment covers a medium—film—where German artists have had an especially notable impact, from directors such as Fritz Lang and Rainer Fassbinder to stars such as Maximilian Schell. The permanent exhibition at the German Film Museum covers the technical development of movies, while screenings and temporary exhibits focus on notable works. The nearby German Architecture Museum covers the entire history of the field in a permanent exhibition while the annual DAM Prize highlights the most interesting new projects by German architects.
Frankfurt has been home to a significant Jewish community—second only to Berlin’s—since at least 1150, and while the Holocaust devastated it, with some 11,000 Jewish residents being sent to concentration camps, there are an estimated 7,000 Jews living in the city today. The Jewish Museum’s main location is currently being renovated and scheduled to reopen in fall 2020, though a second location, the Museum Judengasse, includes the remains of houses located in the original Jewish ghetto. Located nearby, the city’s two Jewish cemeteries also stand as testaments to the community’s long history and survival into the 21st century.
Frankfurt’s cultural riches extend beyond the walls and museums and galleries. The Alte Opera House, which first opened in 1880 and was then reconstructed and reopened in 1981, has a crowded calendar of performances, most of them classical although there are also forays into jazz, musical theater and other genres.
Frankfurt’s calendar is crowded with various trade fairs, focused on everything from automobiles and optical technology to the world renowned annual book fair in October, which attracts bibliophiles from all over the globe.
The Communication Museum is one of the many museums on the embankment. Credit: Anna Bulycheva The Frankfurt Opera boasts a crowded calendar of performances. Credit: Shutterstock
Toyoko Inn Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof
Some of the best hotel options in Frankfurt are located near the train station, which is also centrally located. The Toyoko Inn Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof has a somewhat surprising, though very loosely interpreted, Japanese theme. Rooms are on the small side, but designed for maximum efficiency. If the hotel is spare on the extra amenities—though the Japanese toilets stand out—the reasons to stay here are for the location and the competitive price.
Toyoko Inn Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof offers cosy rooms. Credit: Booking.com Toyoko Inn Frankfurt am Main Hauptbahnhof is a Japanese-styled boutique hotel. Credit: Booking.com
If you want to be in the heart of Sachsenhausen, Maingau is a good choice. It’s both central with many of the apfelwein bars just a short walk away, yet on a quiet side street overlooking a park. Also within walking distance are Römer Square (the heart of historic Frankfurt) and many of the city’s leading museums. The 73 rooms at this family-owned hotel have all been renovated in an understated contemporary style, and the generous breakfast buffet is one of the highlights for many guests. As with many hotels in Frankfurt, you’ll find rates from Friday to Sunday are often dramatically lower than Monday to Thursday, despite the fact that Sachsenhausen is at its liveliest on the weekends.
Maingau features homey, yet modern rooms. Credit: Booking.com The family run hotel is within walking distance of Römer Square. Credit: Booking.com