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Photograph: Courtesy Historisches Museum Frankfurt

The 10 best attractions in Frankfurt

Want to see the best of the best? From markets to museums, these are the most unmissable attractions in Frankfurt

Written by
Huw Oliver
&
Veronica Zaragovia
Contributors
Danielle Goldstein
&
Alex Floyd-Douglass
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What are the attractions in Frankfurt that you simply cannot miss? Well, read on and find out, intrepid explorer. Much of this marvellous city was obliterated during the Second World War, meaning many of its magnificent constructions aren’t quite as old as they look, but the modern side of Frankfurt offers spectacular architecture too.

Germany’s financial capital is home to a great restaurant scene and a museum quarter that demands attention, and fabulous embellishments to the many attractions here that take centre stage. Frankfurt is, quite frankly, fabulous.

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Best Frankfurt attractions

  • Museums
  • Art and design
  • price 2 of 4

Frankfurt has some 60 museums of varying sizes, and 13 of them are by the Main river in what’s known as Museumsufer, or Museum Embankment. Here you’ll find the Städel, with its vast art collection housed in a striking building and new extension. This is Germany’s oldest museum foundation, boasting a collection spanning roughly 700 years of European art. Works date from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Baroque periods to the present. The contemporary works are housed in the spacious underground extension (which cost €52 million) beneath the gardens, where you can check out Andy Warhol’s 1982 silkscreen of German literary giant Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was born in Frankfurt. Consider downloading the free app, which has information on roughly 100 artworks. After your art tour, stop for a bite at the museum’s acclaimed restaurant, Holbein’s.

  • Museums
  • History
  • price 1 of 4

There’s no better place to learn about Frankfurt than at this historical museum. It has hours’ worth of interactive exhibits that delve into the city’s past, including a model showing how much of the centre was flattened during the Second World War. Visitors can also learn about the Main river (which explains the city’s official name, Frankfurt am Main), or check out a city model based on input from real locals, not curators. The museum interviewed 1,166 Frankfurters about their city (think favourite and least favourite places, etc) and incorporated all the input into a dense city model. If you’re in town on a Saturday, take note: admission is free every last Saturday of the month, except in August and December.

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  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • price 2 of 4

Nothing in Frankfurt is quite as vibrant as this two-storey produce market. Sure, it can pack out on Saturdays, but it’s well worth braving the crowds. As with much of the city, bombs destroyed the original neo-Renaissance hall in 1944; the building you see now was finished in 1954. It’s long been an institution beloved by locals for its bounty of fresh meat, cheese, dried fruits, flowers and other produce. Stand after stand overflows with local specialities like Handkäse, a plethora of Wurst types and wholegrain German bread. On the first floor, the Marktstubb café serves hearty regional dishes. You can take food to go or eat in, though a seat is not always easy to find.

  • Attractions
  • Parliament and civic buildings

After the Nazi regime’s collapse, the Frankfurt Stock Exchange closed for six months, before reopening in September 1945. Today it’s one of the biggest in the world. You can see the trading floor on tours running from Monday to Friday; included is a view from the visitors’ gallery onto the trading floor below. For €125, you’ll get a presentation that includes the history of the stock exchange – be sure to request English if you need it. Outside the beautiful collonaded building, check out the two bronze figures, the Bull and Bear by Reinhard Dachlauer, which represent the ups and downs of the world’s stock markets.

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  • Attractions
  • Cemeteries

Frankfurt’s Jewish cemeteries date back to the Middle Ages (the oldest surviving gravestone is from 1272). You’ll find tombstones leaning in all directions here – those that remain, at least, since both the Nazis and the bombing destroyed many graves during the Second World War. Today fewer than 200 tombstones are in good condition, but the sites are still worth a visit. One cemetery wall was turned into a memorial in 1996 as a tribute to the city’s Jewish history. Inscribed are the names of some of the 10,000 Frankfurter Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Another Jewish cemetery, on Rat-Beil-Straße 10, contains hundreds of graves of Jews who committed suicide between 1938 and 1943. Despite the tragic history that pervades these graveyards, they’re now peaceful places of contemplation, with tombstones covered in moss and tall trees offering shade and places to sit and reflect.

  • Attractions
  • Towers and viewpoints
  • price 1 of 4

Frankfurt takes pride in ranking high on lists of the world’s most sustainable cities, and you can find an example of its energy efficiency at the Main Tower. Standing 200 metres tall, the building has 2,550 windows that can open outwards to circulate air and avoid the need for a full air-conditioning system. In 2011 the building received a LEED Gold certification for sustainability, the first German high-rise to receive the award. Other attractions include a restaurant, lounge and Europe’s highest fitness club. In less than a minute, a lift takes visitors up to the 56th-floor observation deck – or, if you really fancy it, you can walk up the 1,100 steps.

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions

Half-way across the Alte Brucke, or Old Bridge, sits Portikus, a tall, narrow, red structure that’s impossible to miss. Founded in 1987, this free contemporary art space has exhibited major established artists like Dan Graham and John Baldessari, as well as emerging ones. It’s the exhibition space of the Städelschule, the state academy of art in Frankfurt, whose name comes from businessman and banker Johann Friedrich Städel, also of the Städel Museum. Check out artist Olafur Eliasson’s light installation in the roof gallery exhibition space. During the day, enjoy the sight of swans convening near the building. At night, the lights from Eliasson’s work create a beautiful reflection on the water.

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites

The IG Farber building, designed by German architect Hans Poelzig and completed in 1931, is a breathtaking behemoth, but behind that vast, Travertine marble facade lies a dark past. Not only did the IG Farber chemical company manufacture the gas that murdered millions in Nazi death camps, but they also relied heavily on slave labour from Auschwitz to make it. Thankfully, the building is now in safe hands, Goethe University to be precise, who have renamed it the Poelzig Building. Learn all about its history in the university's permanent exhibition, or simply go to marvel at the impressive interior and ride the paternoster elevators, which move continuously and don't have doors.

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  • Things to do
  • Walks and tours

Despite being dubbed the financial capital of Germany, Frankfurt isn't all shimmering glass skyscrapers. Over in the Römerberg district, you'll find charming cobblestones and timber-framed houses. Walking down these streets feels like stepping into the past, but don't be fooled, as the Altstadt ain't all it appears to be. A lot of old Frankfurt was razed to the ground in both World Wars, so much of the area has been reconstructed, starting in the 1950s and continuing right up until 2018. Apart from the beautiful sights, Römerberg is also home to attractions such as the Museum of History, Schirn Kunsthalle (for contemporary art) and the annual Christmas market.

  • Attractions
  • Historic buildings and sites
  • price 2 of 4

The original Opera House was finished in 1880, but the grand building you see today was reconstructed and inaugurated in 1981 after the old building was destroyed in the war. The new structure boasts an ultra-modern mahogany-panelled concert hall, where you can catch one of the 300 shows they put on a year. The venue no longer stages full operas, but arias and duets are performed regularly, and other concerts span jazz, symphony orchestras, chamber philharmonics, pianists and cellists, and so on. The Alte Oper, as it’s called in German, is the centrepiece of a scenic square with a large fountain and ornate lamp posts. The square makes the perfect spot for a break or quick meet-up; from here, walk down the Große Bockenheimer Straße, a pedestrian shopping street with a number of high-end shops and cafés.

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