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The best attractions in Frankfurt

Get to know the city's tragic past and vibrant present with pit stops at historical museums, sites and bustling plazas
Photograph: Courtesy Historisches Museum Frankfurt
By Veronica Zaragovia |
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Much of Frankfurt was pummeled beyond repair during World War II, so most of the buildings that look weathered – like the Old Opera House, for example – are in fact less than 50 years old. The destruction, though sad, has given way to a forward thinking, innovative city with plenty of things to do. Frankfurt is so much more than Germany’s business center and home of the European Central Bank. You can see the famous book fair in October, dine at one of the many amazing restaurants, marvel at the timber-framed architecture in the old town and spy the impressive graffiti around the skateboarding parks. The city has an entire museum embankment that puts some of the world’s top cultural institutions in the space of just a few blocks. As you go from attraction to attraction, you’ll notice the kindness of the locals that gives this city a small-town feel. Check out our selection of the best attractions in Frankfurt.

Frankfurt's best attractions

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Photograph: Städel Museum
Museums, Art and design

Städel Museum

Frankfurt has some 60 museums of varying sizes and collections, and 13 of them are by the Main River in what’s called Museumsufer, or museum embankment. Here you’ll find the Städel, with a vast art collection housed in a stunning 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 the Baroque periods to the present. The contemporary works are housed in the white, spacious underground extension (which cost 52 million Euros) 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. If you’re in town on the month’s last Thursday and Friday, the museum is open until 9 p.m.

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Photograph: Courtesy Rob Deutscher/Flickr
Things to do, Walks and tours

Römerberg

Away from the towering high-rise structures that Frankfurt is so renowned for is the quaint district of Römerberg. It's here you'll find cobblestone streets, timber-framed buildings and other features that feel like they belong in the past, but in fact are all reconstructions. Because of during World Wars I and II, much of old Frankfurt was destroyed. So this 75,000 square foot area between Cathedral Square and the medieval Römer is all brand new. That doesn't stop it providing fabulously Instagrammable scenery though. The buildings are all painted in bright colours and there are plenty of museums and attractions to visit.

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Photograph: Courtesy Kleinmarkthalle
Things to do, Markets and fairs

Kleinmarkthalle

Nothing in Frankfurt is as colorful and vibrant as this two-story market. It can get packed on Saturdays, but it’s well worth sharing this space with crowds. As with much of the city, bombs destroyed the original neo-Renaissance hall in 1944; the hall 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, produce, flowers and treats like chocolates and baked desserts. Stand after stand is topped with local specialties like Handkäse, a plethora of wurst types and whole grain German bread. On the first floor, the Markt-Stubb café offers a menu of heavy, warm regional dishes. You can take food to go or sit and eat here, though a seat is not always easy to find.

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Photograph: S. Ruehlow/Flickr
Attractions, Cemeteries

Old Jewish Cemeteries

Frankfurt’s Jewish cemeteries date back to the Middle Ages—the oldest surviving gravestone is from 1272. You’ll find tombstones leaning in different angles; at least, those that remain, since both the Nazis and the bombing destroyed many graves during World War II. 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 Frankfurt Jews murdered during the Holocaust—more than 10,000 victims. Another Jewish cemetery, on Rat-Beil-Straße 10, contains hundreds of graves of Frankfurt Jews who committed suicide between 1938 and 1943. Despite the tragic history laid to rest in these graveyards, they’re now peaceful places of contemplation, with tombstones covered in moss and tall trees offering shade and places to rest.

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Photograph: Eva Kröcher
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

IG Farben Building

To say that the IG Farben building has a chequered past would be a vast understatement. It was built in the late 1920s to house the largest chemical company in the world, Interessen-Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie, who supplied the Nazis with poison to gas millions of Jews during World War II. Despite its horrendous history, the IG Farben building is stunning. Covered in sweeping Travertine marble that curves through landscaped gardens, it's a wonder to gaze upon. It's now referred to as the Poelzig Building and belongs to Goethe University, but visitors are welcome. Check out the impressive lobby, explore the scattered artwork and ride the innovative paternoster lifts that don't have doors and move continually on rotation.

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Photograph: Courtesy Historisches Museum Frankfurt
Museums, History

Historisches Museum

There’s no better place to learn about Frankfurt than at this historical museum. It has hours’ worth of interactive information and exhibits about the city’s past, including a model showing how much of the city center was flattened during World War II and what Jewish Frankfurt used to look like. 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 regular people, not curators. The museum interviewed 1,166 Frankfurters about their city (think favorite and least favorite places, the diversity of districts, 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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Photograph: David Stanley/Flickr
Things to do, Exhibitions

Portikus

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 exhibition space of the roof gallery. In the daytime, enjoy the sight of swans convening near the building. At night, the lights from Eliasson’s work create a beautiful reflection on the water.

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Photograph: Daniel Grothe/Flickr
Attractions, Towers and viewpoints

Observation Platform of the Main Tower

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 meters (or 650 feet) tall, the building has 2,550 windows that can be opened outwards to circulate air and avoid the installation of a complete air-conditioning system. In 2011, the building received a LEED Gold certification for sustainability, the first existing German high-rise to receive the award that year. Other attractions in the building include a restaurant, lounge and Europe’s highest fitness club. In less than a minute, the building’s elevator takes visitors up to the observation deck for panoramic views of Frankfurt from the 56th floor—or one can walk up the nearly 1,100 steps, if a little exercise is in order.

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Old Opera House
Photograph: Jürgen Stemper/Flickr
Attractions, Historic buildings and sites

Old Opera House

The original Opera House building was finished in 1880, but the grand structure you see today was reconstructed and inaugurated in 1981, after the old building was destroyed in the war. The new structure boasts a modern music hall known for its mahogany paneling, where you can catch one of the 300 concerts performed in a year. The space no longer stages entire operas, but operatic arias and duets are performed regularly, and other concerts include performances by jazz musicians, symphony orchestras, chamber philharmonics, pianists and cellists, to name a few. The Alte Oper, as it’s called in German, is part of a plaza with a large fountain and ornate lamp posts, nearby to the Rothschild Park. This plaza makes for a perfect spot for a break or a meeting point; 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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Photograph: Anton Nikiforov
Attractions, Parliament and civic buildings

Frankfurt Stock Exchange

After the Nazi regime’s collapse, the stock exchange closed for six months, reopening in September 1945. Today it’s one of the biggest stock exchanges 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 pits below. For 125 Euros, 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 colonnaded building, see the two bronze figures, the Bull and Bear (by Reinhard Dachlauer in 1985), which represent the ups and downs of the world’s stock markets.

More things to do in Frankfurt

TTD in Frankfurt
Photograph: Marco Verch/Flickr
Things to do

The best things to do in Frankfurt

Whether it’s an acoustic concert series based on the principle of a blind date, a waterfront nightclub with what some say is the best sound system in Europe or a new, hip bike share program, there’s plenty to do in Frankfurt.

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