Frankfurt is famous as a city of business and finance, rather than leisure and pleasure. And for good reason; the largest city in the State of Hesse is the de-facto financial capital of Germany and its soaring skyscrapers (among the tallest in Europe) are home to the European and international headquarters of some of the world’s biggest companies and institutions. Howver, there’s much more to Frankfurt than closed-off corporate cathedrals and men in suits. Dig beneath the surface and you’ll discover a truly international city that’s home to people from across the globe - and that's developed cultural offerings to suit the various needs of the many nationalities that live and work here. Whether it’s secret acoustic gigs, tiny nightclubs with incredible sound-systems or hip bike-share programs, leave the suit and tie behind and get to grips with the best things to do in Frankfurt.
Best things to do in Frankfurt
A culinary dream awaits at the Kleinmarkthalle, where nearly 160 market stalls spread out over 16,000 square feet sell fresh prepared food, produce and flowers. From cured meats and wine to honey, dried fruit, nuts, handmade pasta and cheese, just about every craving is satisfied at this food-lovers paradise. In addition to regional delicacies, you’ll find imports from all over Europe and beyond. Note the most popular venders by the lines they have around lunch time, and don’t miss a terrace bursting with flower boxes on the second level, where a small wine shop run by family-owned local winery serves wines which pair well with food purchased from below.
If you love hearing new music then the monthly music concert series Music Sneak at the impressively long-named Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Jahrhunderthalle is for you. The concept behind the ongoing program is based on the idea of a sneak movie preview or even blind date, where you don’t know what you’ve got until you turn up. Up to 400 music fans pack in every month, with the performers behind each of the three 30-minute sets only revealed when they get on stage. The acts come from all sorts of genres, ranging from singer-songwriter folk, to rock, punk, electronic and even a few poetry slams.
Every other Saturday, Flohmärkte Schaumainkai - considered by many to be Frankfurt’s best flea market - opens on the tree-lined southern bank of the Main river. Grab a coffee or a piping hot apple wine and wander down the river through the bustling stalls, where you’ll find an eclectic assortment of wares ranging from second-hand toys to locally made clothing, used bikes, crafts, antique furniture and art, with the Frankfurt skyline serving as a distinguished backdrop. You might want to combine the trip with a visit to one of the city’s museums; nine are nearby, among them the Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, which displays sculpture in a late 19th-century villa.
Pedal about on a Byke
Melt away those heavy German meals away in no time by hitting the city on two wheels. Downloading an app from bike share program Byke will get you on a snappy blue-and yellow ride - better looking and easier to handle than the cumbersome tanks provided by rival outfit Deutsche Bahn. The bikes cost just 50 cents every 30 minutes or 3 euros a day, and the system requires no fixed locking point, meaning you can leave the bike wherever you finish your ride. The app is in English (unlike the website), and with a few clicks and a credit card or Paypal account, you’ll be on your way. In addition to integrated lanes throughout, the 50-mile GrünGürtel-Radweg (Green Corridor Bicycle Path) wraps around the entire city. For a shorter route, try the six-mile path around the Höchst industrial park.
Don’t be fooled by the name - this compact nightclub in the Offenbach district might take its moniker from legendary blue musician Robert Johnson, but techno and electronic music is the thing here. The sound-system is regarded as one of the very best in Europe by both the crowds that come here to dance and the international and local DJs that come here to play. It’s a small, no-frills place that’s built its rep by focusing on what’s really important: the music. The main room only holds around 100 people and the DJ box is positioned on the same level as the dance floor, giving the place a special kind of intimacy. There’s also an outside terrace with views of the River Main for when things all get a bit much. The door policy can be strict, but the vibes inside make the effort worth it.
From an unassuming outpost, this tiny Japanese supermarket popular with the local lunch crowd offers top-notch sushi at surprisingly low prices. Pick your own combination, or choose from the chef’s freshly made rolls of the day: They’re stacked in wooden boxes behind the glass counter. While you’re waiting, browse the shelves of the market section, which have everything you need to prepare sushi at home, from wasabi paste to hard-to-find kitchen accessories. During off hours, a few high tables inside and out provide seating, but space is limited, so if the weather is good your best bet is to take a to-go order to the banks of the Main River, just a five-minute walk away.
Beer? Sorry, not the libation of choice in Frankfurt. Apfelwein (apple wine), a light and tart drink of fermented apples, is the state beverage, and you can combine it with a tour of the city’s major sites on the weird and wonderful Ebbelwei Express. Set to a boisterous soundtrack of German drinking music, this vintage tram organized by the local transport authority stops at 29 major landmarks in a round-trip tour lasting approximately one hour–whew! Luckily, the ticket is valid all day, so you can get off and on as much as you’d like and take the tour at your own pace. Downloading the accompanying podcast (there’s no guide on board) will give you an overview of the monuments and memorable sites along the way. A bottle of apple wine and a bag of pretzels is included in the ticket price.
A lot of European cities have spent time carefully reconstructing historical buildings destroyed during World War I and World War II, but only Frankfurt has bothered to recreate an entire district as it was at the turn of the last century. The DomRömer Quarter is Frankfurt's ‘new’ old town, covering a 75,000 square foot area between Cathedral Square and the medieval Römer that was over 90 percent destroyed in the wars. The development only opened in May 2018 and includes 20 new buildings and 15 replicas, including the Stadhaus community and conference centre, integrated with cafes, shops and museums. This two-hour walk from Frankfurt’s tourism office will give you all the history behind this once bombed-out area.
To try all the regional culinary specialties Hesse has to offer in one spot (and on the cheap), head to Erzeugermarkt Konstablerwache, the state’s largest farmers' market. Cured meat, hearty German brown bread and assorted cheeses provide all the sandwich fixings you need, and you can wash it all down with apple wine. Dedicated to preserving traditional techniques, the market features stalls from more than 50 of the region’s farm collectives, and many of the artisanal goods are organic, from certified producers. This is also an excellent place to try Grüne Sosse (green sauce, a tangy sour cream blended with herbs). To appreciate Handkäse with Musik (“hand cheese with music”), an oddly translucent cheese topped with chopped onions and caraway seeds, you’ll have to get over the pungent odor.
Find the best of Frankfurt cafe culture on the picturesque upper Berger Strasse. On Wednesdays and Saturdays a weekly farmers’ market is held near the Bornheim Mitte metro station, between the old clock tower (Uhrtürmchen) and Saalburgstrasse. You’ll pass that and head north, away from the city center, to where dozens of restaurants and bars offer outside seating at the first suggestion of spring in the air. The half-timber buildings are all original, and date from the 1600s. When the sun sets, the street glows with candles and lanterns. While Berger Strasse is an excellent destination for a reliable German meal, you could also try spaghettieis—vanilla ice cream squeezed into spaghetti-like noodles, served with strawberry sauce—from one of the many ice cream parlors.