Sometimes called “Mainhattan” because of its skyscraper-studded skyline, Frankfurt is Germany’s fifth-largest city. Many travelers get their first introduction to Germany in this city because the Frankfurt airport serves as the country’s main international hub. And that’s a shame, because although there are cultural and financial riches here, the city itself is not particularly memorable.
As with just about every city in Germany, you have to figure World War II into the equation of modern-day Frankfurt-am-Main. After major destruction in World War II, Frankfurt was rebuilt in a way that salvaged a small portion of its once-extensive Altstadt (Old Town), but otherwise turned, in architectural terms, to the future instead of the past. Visitors looking for a romantic or atmospheric piece of Old Germany will not find it in this fast-paced and cosmopolitan metropolis. Instead, Frankfurt is a city representative of modern, business-oriented Germany. It has been a major banking city since the Rothschilds opened their first bank here more than 200 years ago and has long been the financial center not only of Germany but also of the entire European Union, home of the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, and the Central Bank of the EU. More banks maintain headquarters here than anywhere else in German city, a fact that helps account for all those designer skyscrapers (including the Commerzbank Tower, the tallest building in western Europe) with their somewhat bland and anonymous corporate facades. The huge € sign that stands on Willy-Brandt-Platz in front of the opera house can be regarded as the city’s logo. Visitors will find several excellent museums in Frankfurt, but if your time in Germany is limited, you may want to hop on a fast train right below the airport and head to Cologne instread.
Things to Do
Start at the Altstadt (old town) in the city center and admire the Römerberg's (square) 14th and 15th-century half-timbered houses. Nearby is the Goethe-Haus, the writer's birth abode showcasing his original desk and library. Gaze down at the Altstadt from inside the elegant, Gothic tower of Dom St. Bartholomäus, then meander south over the pretty Eiserner Steg foot bridge to the museum-lined Museumsufer embankment. Don't miss Städel Museum, full of works by Renoir and Monet, and 14th- to 16th-century masterpieces.
Nightlife & Entertainment
Nightlife centers around Sachsenhausen, south of the River Main. This entire area feels like one big open-air bar on the weekend -- stroll along Schweizer Strasse or Textorstrasse for the widest selection of drinking spots, from cocktail bars to wine taverns. Try Frankfurt's famously tart Ebbelwei (apple wine) when you stopy by Adolf Wagner for a convivial evening Frankfurt-style.
Restaurants & Dining
Small bites like sausages with rolls fill the food-minded Fressgasse (literally "Munch Alley") northwest of the Altstadt -- it's lined with snack stalls and small restaurants. Or choose from Asian menus on banker-populated Schillerstrasse. Sample regional Hessian cuisine like Tafelspitz (boiled beef) or pork schnitzel; try either with green sauce (a mix of seven herbs including parsley and chives). Don't miss the Kleinmarkthalle market with regional specialties, fresh produce and several sausage stands, often with long lines. Both are available south of the Altstadt at Historix, a historic wine cellar with modern, vast glass windows.
Stroll through the park and botanic garden Palmengarten in the Westend, especially its Tropicarium, a brilliant explosion of tropical vegetation. In summer, take your towel to Frankfurt's Main River lidos; the shady Freibad Brentano is a favorite. Or lounge on the open deck aboard the Primus Line, while it takes you down the river through the city. For a leisurely tour, passengers on the Apple Wine Express lumber through town on a tram and sip local apple wine.
A good way to see Frankfurt, especially when your time is limited, is by the daily guided tour offered by the city’s tourist offices. The 2 1/2-hour bus tour, in English, picks up passengers at 2pm from Touristinfo Römer (Römerberg 27, in the Altstadt; tel. 069/2123-8800) and at 2:15pm from Touristinfo Hauptbahnhof (opposite the main entrance of the train station). From April through October, an additional tour leaves from the Römer at 10am and from the train station at 10:15am The tour covers the entire city and includes a trip to the Goethe House and, in the summer, the top of the Commerzbank tower, Frankfurt’s tallest skyscraper. The cost is 26€ for adults, 21€ for students, and 10€ for children ages 6 to 10. Buy tickets at the tourist offices.