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.
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Travel tips for first-time Frankfurt visitors
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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.