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Frankfurt Hauptwache Plaza
Frankfurt Hauptwache Plaza

19 essential travel tips for every first-time Frankfurt visitor

Everything you need to know to get around Frankfurt, from transport hacks to can’t-miss attractions to tipping faux pas

By Christie Dietz and Huw Oliver
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Walkable, well planned and with brilliant public transport networks, Frankfurt is an international city that’s very easy to get around. Deutsch not up to scratch? No problem – almost all locals speak some, if not very good, English. Their frankness is often mistaken for rudeness by visitors, but though Frankfurters might appear gruff or standoffish, really they’re a friendly, fun-loving bunch, and after a drink or two in an Apfelwein tavern or one of the best bars in Frankfurt, you’ll probably agree. If you’ve landed in Frankfurt for the first time and feel a little lost, take these travel tips on board so you can navigate the city with ease.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Frankfurt

Travel tips for first-time Frankfurt visitors

Photograph: Marc Jacquemin/Wikimedia Commons

1. Watch the calendar

When planning your visit, keep an eye on Frankfurt’s events calendar. The city is home to an enormous exhibition centre, the Messe Frankfurt, which houses trade shows frequently throughout the year. Hotels can get booked up quickly around particular dates, and prices will shoot up, too.

2. No-shop Sundays

Aside from on the odd pre-planned ‘shopping Sunday’, most shops are closed on Sundays in Germany. As a visitor wanting to make the most out of a visit, this can be pretty frustrating, so remember to bear ‘no-shop Sundays’ in mind when planning your souvenir hunting.

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3. Seat yourself

In most casual restaurants, you don’t need to wait to be seated. Simply find yourself a table and settle in; if there’s a sign saying the table is reserved later in the evening, just make sure you’re finished by the specified time.

Photograph: Florian Plag/Flickr

4. Round up to tip

The Germans tip modestly, and it’s standard practice to just round up the bill for a meal by a couple of euros. Don’t leave change on the table, but include your tip when you pay: if your lunch comes to €15.50, you could hand over a €20 note and say, ‘17, please’.

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Red Light District, Frankfurt
Photograph: Michela Simoncini/Flickr

5. Be red light aware

Frankfurt’s Bahnhofsviertel (the area around the main train station) has gentrified at high speed over recent years, and is now home to some of the city’s trendiest bars and restaurants. However, it remains Frankfurt’s red light district, home to dealers and addicts; if you want to avoid its grittiest bits, stick to Münchener Straße and Kaiserstraße.

Photograph: Chris Waits/Flickr

6. Free museum days for kids

Good news for those travelling with little ones: there’s free admission to many of Frankfurt’s museums for under-18s on the last Saturday of every month (barring August and December). Known as ‘SaTOURday’, this family-friendly deal also includes free workshops and guided tours.

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Sachsenhausen Frankfurt
Photograph: Sebastian Kasten/Wikimedia Commons

7. Avoid Old Sachsenhausen

Alt-Sachsenhausen is home to a couple of great Apfelwein taverns, but for the most part, the area has a bad rep as a horribly touristy party zone. Locals prefer to avoid it, instead making a beeline to Sachsenhausen, where the atmosphere is considerably less drunken and chaotic.

8. Don’t discount the craft beer

In Frankfurt’s traditional taverns, most locals will be happily imbibing Apfelwein (apple wine), but Frankfurt’s craft beer scene is growing slowly but surely. Beer lovers might like to coincide their visit with the annual Frankfurt Craft Beer Festival.

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9. Take a late-night taxi

In Frankfurt, public transport doesn’t run all night, and if you don’t want to download a ride-sharing app, you’ll need a taxi to get home in the small hours. These are an easily-spotted beige colour, and you can either phone for one, flag one down or queue at a rank.

Photograph: Márcio Cabral de Moura/Flickr

10. Watch for bike lanes

Keep your eyes on street markings to stay out of the designated bike lanes that sometimes take up a portion of wider pavements. If you’d like to make use of them by cycling the city, try the Frankfurt Call A Bike service run by Deutsche Bahn.

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11. Avoid the Apfelwein hangover

Keen to try the local cider but wary of the infamous Apfelwein hangover? Try this Frankfurt speciality mixed with lemonade (suß) or soda water (sauer) for a fizzy version that won’t go to your head quite so fast (or hurt quite so much the next morning).

Historisches Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Historisches Museum Frankfurt

12. Grab a MuseumsuferTicket

If you’re planning to fill your time with museum visits, it’s well worth buying a MuseumsuferTicket, which grants entry to 34 of Frankfurt’s museums for two days. Some of the city’s biggest museums are included, as well as some lesser-known gems. Family tickets are available.

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Frankfurt Card
Photograph: Courtesy Frankfurt Tourism

13. …Or a Frankfurt Card

Another option is to pick up a Frankfurt Card (available for individuals or groups, for one or two days), which offers up to 50 percent off entry into to various museums, tours and attractions, and also includes travel on public transport, including to and from the airport.

Flohmärkte Schaumainkai
Photograph: Courtesy Frankfurt.de/Stadt Frankfurt am Main

14. Peruse the fleas

Fans of bargain-hunting will love the flea markets that take place on alternate Saturday mornings on the riverbank at Sachsenhausen between Eisernem Steg and Holbeinsteg, and at the Osthafen along Lindleystraße. Root through trash and treasure including clothes and furniture, books and records, paintings and crockery.

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15. Server swaps

At casual restaurants, pubs and cafés, it’s not uncommon for waiters to finish their shifts while you’re still in the middle of your drinks or meal. If you’re asked to settle the bill early, don’t be offended; you’re not being (un)subtly asked to leave, and a new server will take over.

16. Smiles aren’t standard

If you’re used to very friendly service in busy restaurants, you might find things a little brusque in Germany. But ‘impolite’ servers aren’t being rude to you because you’re a tourist, they’re (mostly) just being efficient and professional, even if it means service doesn’t always come with a smile.

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Glühwein
Photograph: George Nell/Flickr

17. Be wine-wary

When sampling Glühwein (mulled wine) at the Christmas markets, avoid the cheap-tasting sugary stuff by heading to the winery (Winzer) stands – there’s a cluster in front of the Schirn Kunsthalle. These offer Glühwein made with their own high-quality wines and whole spices, and they taste all the better for it.

18. Fall back on English

You won’t have any trouble getting by in English in Frankfurt. A guten Tag (good day/hello), bitte (please) or dankeschön (thanks a lot) will be appreciated, but Germans will most likely slip into English when they realise you’re not a local (which can be frustrating if you’re keen to practise your German!).

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19. Carry cash

Direct Debit cards are widely accepted in Germany, but Germans aren’t keen on credit cards. In small and/or traditional restaurants and less touristy places, you may find you can’t pay with a credit card, so you might want to keep a stash of cash on you just in case.

And if it’s tip-top mixology you’re after?

The 10 best Frankfurt bars

Bars and pubs

Breaking news: Frankfurt has shed its boring reputation. A steady influx of big business has transformed this city’s population and reinvigorated its art and nightlife scenes (hats off to Brexit). For tip-top drinks all night long, these are 10 best Frankfurter bars.

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