This old imperial city on the River Main – hence its full name, Frankfurt am Main – is, by virtue of its central situation, an important commercial and economic center. The city’s skyline, dominated by the great cluster of high-rise buildings in the banking quarter, has a distinct North American flavor, earning Frankfurt the nicknames “Mainhattan” and “Chicago on the Main.” Considered a global city – it frequently ranks in the top ten best cities to live and do business – Frankfurt has also long been an important center for cultural and tourism activities. Its huge trade fair complex, Messe Frankfurt, hosts important events such as the Frankfurt Book Fair (the world’s most important publishing event). The city is known for its exceptional number of fine museums covering art, science, and history.
1 The Römerberg: Frankfurt’s Old Town Center
In the heart of Frankfurt’s Old Town (Altstadt), the Römerberg is an irregularly shaped square with the Justice Fountain (Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen) at its center. Not only is it Frankfurt’s most picturesque public square, it’s the city’s busiest pedestrian zone and home to numerous tourist attractions and things to do. These include its many open-fronted shops, once common throughout the old town, and the Römer, with its 11 lovely buildings, faithfully reconstructed in 1954 from original 15th- to 18th-century floorplans. The historic Wertheim House survived the 1944 air raids that destroyed much of old Frankfurt.
The area also includes the Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus), with its Imperial Hall (Kaisersaal), once the scene of splendid banquets, and other notable buildings include the New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) from 1908; the 14th-century Gothic Church of St. Leonhard; and St. Nicholas Church, with its carillon. Also of interest here is the Historical Museum (Historisches Museum), founded in 1878, with its collections related to Frankfurt’s rich cultural history from medieval to modern times, and the six traditional-style buildings of the Ostzeile.
Address: Römerberg 27, 60311 Frankfurt am Main
2 The Museum District
Frankfurt’s Museum District (Museumsufer), on the south bank of the River Main, is a first-rate collection of separate museums, many of them of international standing. Highlights include the Museum of World Cultures (Museum der Weltkulturen), regarded as one of Europe’s top ethnological museums. Founded in 1904, its collections include more than 65,000 artifacts from as far afield as Asia, Africa, and North and South America.
Another important museum is the Museum of Ancient Sculpture (Städtische Galerie Liebieghau) in the 19th-century Liebieghaus, home to a large collection of Asian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sculptures, as well as pieces from the medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. The Icon Museum (Ikonen-Museum der Stadt Frankfurt am Main) is a rare institution housing a treasury of more than a thousand Christian Orthodox images from all over the Orthodox Diaspora.
Other museums of note are the German Architectural Museum (Deutsches Architekturmuseum), focusing on architectural design and offering more than 200,000 plans, drawings, and models; the Film Museum (Deutsches Filminstitut), with exhibits relating to the Lumière brothers and the history of the cinema; and the Museum of Applied Art (Museum Angewandte Kunst), or MAK for short, with its displays of more than 30,000 objects representing European and Asian decorative art.
The Städel Art Museum, with its excellent collection of paintings from the 14th century, is probably the top-ranked among this group of world-class museums. Its collections include works by old masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Goya and into the later centuries with Monet, Degas, Beckman, and Picasso. The more contemporary works include those by Bacon and Baselitz. The collection also includes prints and drawings from Durer and Cezanne to Pollock and Ernst.
Address: Schaumainkai, 60596 Frankfurt am Main
3 The Palm Garden
On the Bockenheimer Landstrasse is the beautiful 54-acre Palm Garden (Palmengarten), the largest botanic garden in Germany. An instant hit with the public upon its opening in 1871, it attracted some of the top performers from around the world, including Buffalo Bill, who visited with his Wild West show in 1890. Highlights are outdoor botanical exhibits laid out according to their geographical location, along with a number of greenhouses containing subtropical and tropical plant species. The gardens also offer boating, a children’s playground, and picnic spots. From Palmengarten, the Europaturm – a telecommunications tower also known as the Tower of Europe – is just a short walk away, and worth visiting for its viewing platform and restaurant.
Other Frankfurt parks of interest are the 72-acre Grüneburgpark Botanic Garden and the even larger Nidda Valley People’s Park (Volkspark Niddatal) covering some 415 acres on the outskirts of the city.
Address: Siesmayerstraße 61, 60323 Frankfurt am Main
4 Senckenberg Natural History Museum
In Frankfurt’s Senckenberg Gardens, the Senckenberg Natural History Museum (Naturmuseum Senckenberg) is one of the most modern museums of natural history in Europe, and the second largest of its kind in Germany. Along with its numerous displays relating to our planet’s biodiversity and the evolution of organisms, the museum houses Europe’s biggest exhibition of large dinosaurs, making it particularly popular with families (a number of life-size replica dinosaurs greet guests in the museum’s forecourt). It’s also home to the world’s largest collection of stuffed birds, along with an extensive exhibit outlining the development of mankind. English language tours are available, and you can rent audio guides.
Address: Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt am Main
Official site: http://www.senckenberg.de/root/index.php?page_id=5256
5 St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral
Roman Catholic St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral (Frankfurter Dom, or Dom St. Bartholomäus) was built of red sandstone in Gothic style between the 13th and 15th centuries, and at 95 meters, still manages to stand out in this city of skyscrapers. One of only a handful of churches in Germany to be designated as an Imperial Cathedral, it was here from 1562 to 1792 that the coronation of Emperors took place in the Election Chapel. Beneath the tower is the magnificent Crucifixion by Hans Backoffen, sculpted in 1509, while in the Marienkapelle is the Maria-Schlaf-Altar from 1434. Other highlights include the grave-slab of King Günther von Schwarzburg, who died in Frankfurt in 1349, as well as numerous carved side altars dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. The cathedral’s most important relic is the skullcap of St. Bartholomew, kept in the Late Romanesque Bartholomew’s Choir.
Address: Domplatz 1, 60311 Frankfurt am Main
6 Kleine Markthalle
Markets are always a good place to get a feel for a city, and Frankfurt’s Kleinmarkthalle, where many locals shop daily, is no exception. The present hall dates from 1954, and its 1,500 square meters house 150 market stalls selling some of the finest foods in Germany. This is a good place to try out the famous Frankfurt “Green Sauce” (Frankfurter Grüne Soße), a traditional condiment made of seven herbs, sour cream, and egg. You can also savor local specialties like sausages, cheeses, and pastries.
Address: Hasengasse 7, 60311 Frankfurt am Main – Altstadt
7 Goethe House and Museum
Frankfurt was the birthplace of Germany’s greatest writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His family home, Goethe House, where Goethe was born on August 28, 1749 and lived until 1765, shows how the well-to-do family and their staff would have lived. You can see everything from the sumptuously decorated dining room on the main floor to Goethe’s writing room on the top floor, where he penned many of his early works and where he played as a child with his puppet theater. Next-door is the Goethe Museum, a 14-room gallery showcasing artworks from the writer’s time, including masterpieces of the Late Baroque and Romantic periods. (Family guided tours of both properties are available.) Other Frankfurt attractions that testify to the writer’s fame are the Goethe Tower, a 43-meter-tall wooden structure offering superb views of the city, and Goethestrasse, a high-end shopping area with many fine boutiques, art galleries, and cafés.
Address: Großer Hirschgraben 23-25, D-60311 Frankfurt am Main
8 The Hauptwache
In the middle of the city and one of Frankfurt’s busiest pedestrian areas, the Hauptwache – literally translated, the Main Guard – is famous for its mix of fine historic buildings and modern structures. The most notable building here is the old Baroque Guard House after which the square is named. Built in 1730, it once housed the city’s militia, a prison, and later, a police station, and now serves as a café. The square itself is one of Frankfurt’s main shopping areas, complete with a large underground mall. It’s also the point from which the city’s main shopping and commercial streets radiate. Pedestrian-friendly Zeil heads east, and Kaiserstrasse, with many places of entertainment in its side streets, runs southwest past the Rossmarkt and Kaiserplatz to the Hauptbahnhof. This is the city’s main train station, built in 1888 and one of the largest stations in Europe.
Address: An der Hauptwache 15, 60313 Frankfurt am Main
9 Art City: The Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art
The Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art (MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt) is widely regarded as one of Europe’s most important galleries of contemporary art. Opened in 1991 in a stunning post-modern building in the heart of the city, the museum includes in its vast collection some 5,000 fine examples from more than 450 leading artists. Spanning from the 1960s to the present, works are by artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Francis Bacon. The museum also operates MMK Zollamt, a satellite exhibition space featuring works by younger and as yet unknown artists; the Frankfurt Museum of Applied Art (Museum für angewandte Kunst), with more than 30,000 items of European and Asian applied art, including furniture, tapestries, glass, ceramics and books; and Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, showing both modern and contemporary art.
Address: Domstraße 10, 60311 Frankfurt am Main
Official site: http://mmk-frankfurt.de/en/home/
10 Zoo Frankfurt
Home to more than 4,500 animals representing at least 450 different species, Zoo Frankfurt covers 32 acres near the city’s old Friedberger Tor. Founded in 1858, it’s Germany’s second oldest zoo and is noted for its excellent animal houses, including the unique Grzimek House with displays of Madagascar’s diverse fauna. Also of interest is the Exotarium, with animals from different climatic regions, including marine life, reptiles, and crocodiles. The Borgori Forest has a superb ape house in an authentic jungle setting. Other highlights include the Nocturnal Animals House and the Bird Hall. A variety of events and programs are offered, including family festivals, exhibits, and themed tours.
Address: Bernhard-Grzimek-Allee 1, 60316 Frankfurt am Main
11 The Old Opera House
In the heart of Frankfurt’s Opera Square (Opernplatz), the Old Opera House (Alte Oper) was constructed in 1880 in the style of the Italian High Renaissance. Destroyed during World War II, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1981 as one of the city’s most important concert venues. The city’s new opera house, Oper Frankfurt, and the drama theater, Schauspiel Frankfurt, share a contemporary, state-of-the-art venue known as Opern-und Schauspielhaus Frankfurt, about half a mile away on Willy-Brandt-Platz, near the river.
Address: Opernplatz, 60313 Frankfurt am Main
12 The Eschenheimer Tower
The Eschenheimer Tower (Turm), built in the early 1400s, remains the finest relic from Frankfurt’s old town walls. At 47 meters high, it still impresses with its dimensions and dominates the Eschenheimer Gate district. Today, the tower houses a café and meeting rooms used by local historical societies. Also of interest is the nearby Stock Exchange, built in 1879 and the largest in the country.
Address: Börsenplatz, 60313 Frankfurt am Main
Where to Stay in Frankfurt for Sightseeing
If you want to sightsee in Frankfurt, one of the most convenient places to stay is the city center. Many of the top tourist attractions are found here, including the Frankfurt museum embankment (Museumsufer), historic churches, quaint shops, and the Old Town (Aldstadt) with its lovely half-timbered buildings and picturesque town square (the Römerberg). Below are some highly-rated hotels in the city center:
Luxury Hotels: In a fantastic location near the shops of Zeil Street and a short stroll from the Römerberg, Jumeirah Frankfurt offers modern luxury in the heart of the city, while the Hilton Frankfurt overlooks a lovely park, about a 12-minute walk from the Old Town. If you’re looking for a hotel with historical charm and don’t mind staying a 20-minute walk from the city center, Villa Kennedy exudes all the elegance of its former life as a grand family home.
Mid-Range Hotels: Roomers and The Pure are two upper mid-range hotels with contrasting styles and convenient locations near train stations in the city center. Pure is an eco-friendly property awash in soothing tones of white, while the contemporary Roomers appeals to hip travelers with its sleek, dark decor. Another good value mid-range hotel is the Best Western Hotel Plaza, in a central location between the River Main and the main train station.
Budget Hotels: Within walking distance of the main train station in the city center, Hamburger Hof Hotel and Ibis Frankfurt Centrum, which overlooks the River Main, are great options if you’re watching your wallet. About a 10-minute walk from the Römerberg, EXPO Hotel is another popular budget property, near shops, art galleries, and restaurants.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Frankfurt
Sightseeing: The most convenient, single-day sightseeing tour is the double decker, open-air Frankfurt City Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour. This tour allows you to get off at any of the 14 stops to explore some of the top attractions or stay on the bus and listen to the audio commentary and get acquainted with the city and sites.
Day Trips: If you have time to explore the countryside, there are some wonderful day trips from Frankfurt. One of the most popular is the Rhine Valley Trip including a Rhine River Cruise, with full-day and half-day options available. This is a coach tour through the scenic Rhine Valley and a steamboat cruise along the Rhine River, complete with a guide and lunch. Another good option is a Half-Day Trip to Heidelberg, with coach transportation, plenty of free time to explore this medieval city, and free entrance to the Heidelberg Castle. Combining two popular tours and visiting one of Germany’s most famous castles, the Frankfurt Super Saver: Neuschwanstein Castle and Rothenburg Day Trip is a great option. This tour includes skip-the-line admission to the Neuschwanstein Castle and a guided tour of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, as well as time to explore the medieval streets on your own.