In Germany, all roads lead to Frankfurt. Quite literally: with the country’s largest Autobahn interchange, the busiest train station and the biggest airport, Frankfurt is at the centre of it all. (Even Europe’s internet wires come together here.) And every weekday, hundreds of thousands of commuters turn this 750,000-strong city into a true megapolis.
But while the city’s glass, steel and concrete skyscrapers host the European and international HQs of some of the world’s biggest companies, there’s much more to the city than closed-off corporate cathedrals and men in suits. Beneath the surface you’ll be surprised to discover a truly international city that’s home to people from across the globe – with cultural offerings to suit the needs of the many nationalities that live and work here. So from secret acoustic gigs to English theatre to exceptionally good sushi, here’s our pick of the best restaurants, bars, attractions and other things to do in Frankfurt.
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Best things to do in Frankfurt
A culinary dream awaits at the 1,500-square-metre Kleinmarkthalle, where nearly 160 market stalls flog local food, flowers and other produce. From cured meats and wine to honey, dried fruit, nuts, handmade pasta and cheese, just about every craving is catered to here. As well as regional delicacies, you’ll find imports from all over Europe and beyond. Don’t miss the terrace bursting with flower boxes on the second level – the small family-owned plonk shop serves wines that pair very well with the food bought downstairs.
Get another perspective on the city at the Main Tower, the first high-rise building in Europe with a façade made entirely of glass. At 200m, it’s also the fourth tallest building in Germany and Frankfurt’s highest vantage point (plus the only one accessible to the public). When the weather’s on your side, you can enjoy spectacular panoramas from the rooftop observation deck and see as far as the hills of Taunus, Spessart and Vogelsberg, Frankfurt’s busy airport and the Commerzbank Arena.
In the 1980s the city authorities came up with the idea of a boulevard of museums – and the results were stunning. Around the Städel, a fine art museum with masterpieces spanning seven centuries, a gaggle of new museums sprung up, some in transformed historic villas, others in new purpose-built buildings. Today, the Museum Embankment (Museumsufer) hosts some of the most important museums in Germany, ranging from applied arts (Museum Angewandte Kunst) and architecture (Deutsches Architekturmuseum) to film (Deutsches Filmmuseum), Jewish history (Jüdisches Museum) and antique sculpture (Liebieghaus). Lesser-known gems include the Ethnological Museum (Museum der Weltkulturen) with historical remnants of bygone times, a ‘Bible experience’ museum or the Caricatura museum for comic art.
Every other Saturday, Flohmarkt 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 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. Note that the market is moving to the north side of the Main in 2020.
Don’t be fooled – this compact nightclub in the Offenbach district might take its moniker from legendary blues musician Robert Johnson, but techno and electronic music is the name of the game here. It’s a small, no-frills place that’s built its rep by focusing on what’s really important: the music. In fact, the sound system is regarded as one of the very best in Europe by the international and local DJs that play here. The main room only fits around 100 and the DJ box is on the same level as the dance floor – giving the space a very intimate feel. There’s also a terrace with views of the Main river for when things all get a bit much.
Increasingly popular with the local lunch crowd, this tiny Japanese supermarket offers top-notch sushi at surprisingly low prices. Curate your own combo, or choose from the chef’s freshly made rolls of the day stacked in wooden boxes behind the glass counter. While you’re waiting, browse the shelves in the market section – these 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 are available, but space is limited, so if the weather’s good your best bet is to take your food out to the banks of the Main river.
Many European cities have spent decades carefully reconstructing historic buildings destroyed during the First and Second World Wars, 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, spread across 7,000 square metres between Cathedral Square and the medieval Römer building that was more than 90 percent destroyed during the wars. The development only opened in May 2018 and includes 20 new buildings and 15 replicas, including the Stadthaus community and conference centre. Elsewhere you’ll find thriving cafés, shops and a handful of decent museums.
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 sights on the weird and wonderful Ebbelwei-Express. Set to a boisterous soundtrack of German drinking music, this vintage tram 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 sights along the way. A bottle of apple wine and bag of pretzels is included in the ticket price.
To sample all the regional specialities 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 make for excellent sandwiches, and you can wash it all down with apple wine. Dedicated to upholding traditional techniques, the market features stalls from more than 50 of the region’s farm collectives, and many of the artisanal goods are organic. This is also an excellent place to try Grüne Soße (‘green sauce’, a tangy sour cream blended with herbs). To appreciate Handkäse mit Musik (‘hand cheese with music’), an oddly translucent cheese topped with chopped onions and caraway seeds, you’ll have to get over the (very) pungent odour.
One of the last remaining vestiges of Germany’s vast Imperial Forest, Frankfurt City Forest (Stadtwald) spreads out over more than 5,000 hectares – making the city one of Germany’s most wooded urban areas. Just 15 minutes outside the centre, draws Frankfurters with its 450-kilometre network of hiking, running and cycling trails. Within the city, you’ll also find the sprawling Günthersburgpark and Grüneburgpark: the former adjacent to the Botanical Garden (Palmengarten), the latter in the Nordend district. Head to Grüneburgpark in summer for a rich programme of theatre and live music.
Opera in Frankfurt has a rich history, with many world premieres – like Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ in – taking place here. The present city opera house, built in 1963, is in the same building as the Schauspiel Frankfurt theatre. And just a few steps away you can find the English Theatre, the largest English-language theatre in continental Europe. Auditions and early rehearsals take place in London and New York City, as most actors are from abroad. Readings, exhibitions and music have made the theatre a home for an extensive English-speaking community – after all, Frankfurt is the city with the largest expat population in Germany.
Discover the best of Frankfurt café 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. Pass that and head north, away from the city centre, to the dozens of restaurants and bars that offer outside seating at the first suggestion of spring in the air. The half-timbered 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 Spaghetti-Eis – vanilla ice cream squeezed into spaghetti-like noodles, served with strawberry sauce – from one of many nearby ice cream parlours.
If you love hearing new music, then concert series Music Sneak at impressively long-named Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Jahrhunderthalle is for you. The idea is based on a blind date model 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 are only revealed when they get on stage. The acts span genres ranging from singer-songwriter folk to rock, punk, electronic and even slam poetry.
Work off those calorific German meals in no time by hitting the city on two wheels. Downloading an app from bike share programme Byke will get you 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 for 30 minutes or 3 euros for a day, and the system requires no fixed locking point, meaning you can leave the bike wherever you finish up. 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 city, the 50-mile GrünGürtel-Radweg (Green Corridor Bicycle Path) encircles the entire city. For a shorter route, try the six-mile path around the Höchst industrial park.
Still after tip-top recommendations?
Get to know Frankfurt’s tragic past and vibrant present with pit stops at the city’s wide array of brilliant museums, sights and bustling plazas. These are the attractions you simply must tick off if you’re passing through Germany’s financial capital.