At a glance, Frankfurt can appear something of an urban jungle. Although only fifth in size among German cities, it is the country’s financial powerhouse, evidenced by the skyscrapers that pierce the sky and dominate the topography.
But delve a little deeper and you’ll discover a city that is also teeming with character. Old coffee houses, chic European design houses and a historic market offer a taste of why its denizens appear so content – and visitors so entranced. There’s a rich cultural scene here, too, with a South Bank full of museums, an opera house, regular ballet and theatre productions, and remnants of medieval architecture and neo-Gothic houses dotted throughout.
Frankfurt’s identity also comes from its citizens too, with close to a quarter of residents foreign-born. This melting pot has contributed to the city shedding its formerly staid reputation; few cities in Europe can match Frankfurt for the diversity both of its people and its attractions.
1. Frankfurt Opera House
Although Frankfurt is Germany’s financial powerhouse, that doesn’t mean it’s a case of “bring your own entertainment”. The city’s cultural pedigree shouldn’t be overlooked, of which the Opera House is its crowning glory. It once hosted the opening of Carmina Burana (of Old Spice fame) but was then almost bombed to oblivion during WWII, earning it the nickname “Germany’s most beautiful ruin”. But thanks to a generously funded campaign by the city’s residents, it was faithfully rebuilt to its former splendour and re-opened to the public in 1981. It now hosts around 300 concerts and events a year covering everything from early Baroque to the avant-garde. You could say it’s one every visitor to Frankfurt should add to their ‘must-see’ liszt.
2. Goethe House
Politically and culturally, we live in fascinating and often tumultuous times, with the old world order increasingly challenged by a new breed of radical thinkers. In 18th century Germany, one man in particular drove a revolution in intellectual thought. His name was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany’s most famous author and poet, who was born in Frankfurt in 1749. Today, next door to the home in which he was born, is Goethe House, a museum that stands as testimony to his life and works. Built in typical 18th-century bourgeois style, the house is decorated with period furniture and paintings and attracts visitors from around the world, making it one of the city’s most noteworthy historical attractions.
3. Jet Fighter Flight
If you really want to surprise people who ask what you got up to in Frankfurt, then get in touch with MiGFlug, a company that offers civilians the chance to fly in a fighter jet. Offering flights in several destinations across Europe, clients get to experience all the thrills we associate with the world’s most dynamic and high tech aircrafts, including dramatic manoeuvres such as loops and rolls, and – depending on the aircraft and location – spectacular low-passes above the airfield, as well as supersonic flights. A pre-flight tutorial will introduce you to the flight deck instruments, while if you wish to do so, you will even get the chance to operate the jet by yourself. But fear not, if flying upside down isn’t your thing, pilots will adjust the flight to your wishes.
4. Skyline Plaza
Shopping is often thought of as a ‘rainy day’ option during our travels, but sometimes it can be a worthy tourist attraction in and of itself. Housed in a striking wave-like building, the newly-built Skyline Plaza is about as good as it gets when it comes to retail therapy. It is teeming with international brand names – enough to keep the most fervent shopper happy – and leaves little excuse for returning home without any presents. There’s also a modern spa and a Skyline Garden, a picturesque oasis of green featuring a children’s playground, an observation platform, a small vineyard and a restaurant. Bring on the rain!
5. Bike Tour
Germany is known as one of the most cycle-friendly countries in Europe – and for good reason. Even its most urbanised cities are teeming with bikes, and none more so than Frankfurt. GetYourGuide is a company that arranges organised bike tours around the city (and many others across the world), giving visitors the chance to explore Frankfurt in fun, sociable and active style. The tours, which take place along quiet roads and traffic-free cycle paths, suit both those who are familiar with the city and first-timers, taking guests across a mix of famous landmarks (the Römer, European Central Bank, the Goethe House) and lesser known attractions including quaint streets and the characterful painters’ corner. Tours end with a stop-off at a traditional cider tavern.
6. Main Tower
It is hard to imagine that as late as the 1950s, the tallest building in Frankfurt was an imperial cathedral. Today the city is dotted with skyscrapers, which stand as testament to Frankfurt’s position as a major financial centre. Among them is a building that is not just a money-making machine – it’s a popular tourist attraction too. At 200-metres high, Main Tower’s observation deck offers stunning views across the city. But more than a mere vantage point, the building is also a renowned dining destination, and also houses contemporary art collections in the foyer.
7. Frankfurt Zoo
Lions, rhinos, crocodiles, apes – to get a taste of Africa and other continents, visitors to Frankfurt do not have to travel far. Nestled in the heart of the city, Frankfurt Zoo is among the oldest zoological gardens in the world. In open cages and animal houses, it presents more than 4,500 animals and a total of 500 different species. One of the zoo’s main attractions is the Grzimek building, where visitors can observe nocturnal animals such as bats and African aardvarks as they go about their routines, while another draw is the Cat Jungle, where lions, Sumatran tigers and rusty-spotted cats can be found. But more than a home for animals, the zoo is also a fully-functioning nature and conservation centre, offering educational insights about the animal kingdom and what we can do to protect it.
8. Städel Museum
Established as a civic foundation in 1815 by the banker and businessman Johann Friedrich Städel, the Städel Museum ranks as Germany’s oldest museum foundation. Under a single roof, its collection offers a panoramic view of 700 years of European art, from the early fourteenth century to the present, with emphasis on the Renaissance, the Baroque, early Modern art and much more. Works by such illustrious names as Sandro Botticelli, Rembrandt van Rijn, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon all feature at this world class cultural institution.
9. The Money Museum
They say that money makes the world go round, but for a more sophisticated analysis of how and why, Frankfurt is arguably the place to be. The city is dominated by the presence of major banks, stock exchanges and a number of large financial institutions, and its fiscal heritage is celebrated at The Money Museum. Offering visitors an in-depth look at the world of monetary and foreign exchange policy, you can see how coins and banknotes are made and learn what functions money performs. There’s also interactive activities, including allowing you to try your hand at controlling money stock. Can you achieve price stability rather than inflation or deflation? Now’s your chance to find out – with no risks attached.
10. Berger Strasse
When it comes to pin-pointing the heart and soul of Frankfurt, there is an argument that Beger Strasse is pretty much bullseye. The city’s longest street, it is permanently lively and – like Peter Pan – always youthful. Modern bars and restaurants sit alongside small, specialist shops, creating a buzz of commercialism familiar to any city-goer. But Beger Strasse is not lacking in character either, with its north end giving way to an old village atmosphere where locals live in quaint four-story townhouses. It is, in a nutshell, Frankfurt at its most authentic.