Frankfurt is one of Germany’s financial hub cities, but despite the modernity that brings, it also has a varied history and well established cultural scene, making a broad range of experiences open to travellers. Here are some of the more unique things to do in Frankfurt.
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, 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.
Mingle with high society at Frankfurt Opera House
Although Frankfurt is Germany’s financial powerhouse, that doesn’t mean it’s a case of “bring your own entertainment”. The Opera House is Frankfurt’s crowning cultural glory, and 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 spanning eras from early Baroque to the present day, along with avant-garde works. You could say it’s one every visitor to Frankfurt should add to their ‘must-see’ liszt.
Take a guided walking tour of the Old Town
Fascinating and picture-perfect as it is, one may be even more surprised to learn that much of Frankfurt’s Old Town, or Altstadt, has been painstakingly reconstructed after it was levelled by bombing during WWII. This remarkable section of Frankfurt is still packed with history however, and a guided tour is a great way to find out more about the city’s past in these buildings and alleyways than meets the eye. A good option is this tour from Get Your Guide. The 90-minute walk takes in highlights of the Altstadt such as St Paul’s Church, Emperors’ Cathedral and the Römerberg square region.
Get close to rare and protected species at Zoo Frankfurt
Lions, rhinos, crocodiles, apes – to get a taste of the world’s diversity and natural beauty, visitors to Frankfurt do not have to travel far. Nestled in the heart of the city, Zoo Frankfurt 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 important educational insight about the animal kingdom and what we can do to protect it.
Learn about one of Europe’s great writers at 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.
Großer Hirschgraben 23-25
Shop until just before you drop at 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 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!
Explore the city in more depth on a 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 Frankfurt is no different. Bicycle 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 to a mix of famous landmarks, such as the Römer, the European Central Bank, and Goethe House, and out to lesser known attractions including quaint streets and the characterful painters’ corner. Tours end with a stop-off at a traditional cider tavern. GetYourGuide is a company that arranges organised bike tours around the city. You can learn more about one of their more popular three-hour bike tours of Frankfurt by clicking here.
Discover Frankfurt’s medieval architecture around the Römerberg
Right in the heart of the Altstadt is the Römerberg market square. This unique portion of the city is a world away from the glass and steel high rises further west. The Römer, a medieval building, is one of the most unique structures on the square and has been the City Hall of Frankfurt since 1405. The salmon-coloured facade facing the square has three roof peaks, each with a stepped gable. There are many other fascinating buildings on the square, some with half-timbered facades. Another notable medieval building on the Römerberg is the small Gothic Old St Nicholas Church. The square is well lit at night and is a good spot to have a meal at one of the many restaurants around the edge.
Hunt for bargain curios at Schaumainkai Flea Market
Taking place on roughly two Saturdays per month is the open-air flea market known as Flohmärkte Schaumainkai. This hugely popular bric-a-brac-athon fills part of the Schaumainkai Street, which hugs the southern shore of the River Main and is best known at other times as the museum street. From here you can get one of the better views of the city, whenever you’re not browsing through heaps of clothing, bags and homeware, that is. After strolling through the market, there are a couple of riverside cafes that are great spots for a refuel before heading on to your next site.
Get a good view from 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.
Neue Mainzer Str. 52-58
Observe centuries of European art at 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 Renaissance, Baroque and early Modern art. Masterpieces 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.
Aim for fiscal responsibility at 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. Known as Geldmuseum der Deutschen Bundesbank, the museum offers 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 are 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.
Sip cider in a traditional kneipe pub
Apfelwein isn’t exactly cider, per se, but it’s close. The cloudy, tart concoction is a traditional drink in Frankfurt. It’s even the state drink, officially, superseding beer. The area known as Sachsenhausen (not that one) to the south of the River Main is the best place to try it. Here you will find a good number of traditional kneipen, or pubs. Apfelwein-Wirtschaft Fichtekränzi and Apfelwein Dax are two popular, genuine kneipen in which to give it a try. In the summer months, check out the Ebbelwei-Express, a small tourist tram that stops at major tourist sites, plays drinking music, and has a hop-on, hop-off ticket.
Take a walk along Berger Strasse
When it comes to pin-pointing the heart and soul of Frankfurt, there is an argument that Berger 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 Berger 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.
Taste authentic regional dishes on a food tour
Exploring the culinary scene of anywhere on the planet tends to offer as unique a travel experience as any you can get. The dishes typical to the Frankfurt region tell a tale of the region’s history, its agriculture and its natural environment too. The food hopping taste & tales tour is a 2.5-hour treat for the taste buds combining stories about the city with six tastings that include frankfurters (of course – although this is broad term for any sausage made in the Frankfurt area) and Grüne Soße, the green sauce made with seven different herbs, like sorrel and chives, mixed with sour cream, mustard and hard boiled eggs, among other things. You can learn more about the tour and make a reservation by clicking here.