Sitting at the geographical center of the European Union, Frankfurt is a prominent transportation and finance hub with global influence based in Germany. Visitors can look no further than the city’s futuristic skyline to view the impressive list of companies and organizations that call Frankfurt home. Nicknamed ‘Mainhattan’, the European Central Bank, Frankfurt Stock Exchange, German Federal Bank and Deutsche Bank all reside in the city’s impressive financial district.
In close proximity to one of Europe’s most vital rivers, Frankfurt’s origins date back to the 1st century when it was a Roman outpost. A key city in the Holy Roman Empire, the settlement’s ideal location along the banks of the Main River made it a vital trading post. This led to the founding of the Frankfurter Messe (Frankfurt Trade Fair), which was first mentioned in the 1100s. 900 years later, trade fairs are still a vital part of the local economy.
After developing throughout the Middle Ages and subsequent Renaissance period, the city found itself under the rule of 4 different monarchs and governments over the next several hundred years. Following a tumultuous first half of the 20th century, Frankfurt rose as an economic power in West Germany and became known for its transportation infrastructure, making it an attractive option for companies both nationally and abroad.
The city’s economic importance was only strengthened following the reunification of Germany and the introduction of the Euro over a decade later. Known as the City of the Euro, Frankfurt has propelled itself into a position as a leading global city and now boasts the largest financial center in continental Europe. Along with its financial prowess, the city is also known for its trade fairs. A tradition in the region going back nearly 1000 years, the Frankfurter Messe (Frankfurt Convention Center) is the third largest in the world and hosts numerous notable fairs throughout the year, attracting visitors from all over the world.
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Geography and Weather in Frankfurt
Frankfurt sits at the center of a major metropolitan region of Germany that includes a population of nearly 6 million people. The more rural areas on the outskirts of town are still characterized by dense forests. The city’s dominating geographical feature is the Main River, which connects downstream to the Rhine River near the city of Mainz. Bordering the northwestern suburbs of the city are the Taunus Mountains, which consist of a series of relatively low mountains popular with hikers and bikers.
Map of Frankfurt
Frankfurt enjoys a relatively warm climate from May to September, with temperatures dipping significantly in winter. However, due to its relatively low elevation, the city does not receive a lot of snow during the colder months.
Getting Around in Frankfurt
Frankfurt is one of the world’s largest transportation centers and boasts an incredibly modern transport network. Most visitors arrive to the city through its international airport (Frankfurt Airport) or main train station (Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof). From here, there are a number of transportation options when it comes to traversing the region.
The Frankfurt metropolitan area contains a modern network of freeways, making car rental a viable option for visitors. Car rental agencies can be found at the airport, major train stations and additional locations around the city. In general, agencies accept American driver’s licenses, allowing Americans to easily rent a vehicle. German driving rules are generally quite similar to those in America and most tourists do not find it difficult to drive in the region.
Public transportation in the form of trains, subways and trams cover a vast majority of the Frankfurt metropolitan region. This includes not only Frankfurt, but other major cities including Wiesbaden, Mainz, Offenbach and Darmstadt.
Main Attractions, Sights and Things to do
Housing a prestigious art collection that spans seven centuries, the Städel stands as one of Frankfurt’s cultural highlights and is a must-visit for tourists in the city. Starting from the Middle Ages, the collection features a who’s who of European masters including Botticelli, Raphael and Monet. Situated on the banks of the Main River, the Städel can be reached by following the city’s U-Bahn to Schweizer Platz Station.
Römerberg Plaza and History Museum
Römerberg Plaza sits at the center of Frankfurt’s Old Town. Rebuilt with painstaking detail following World War II, the pedestrian zone features buildings as they stood in the 1500s. Characterized by crow-stepped gables popular throughout the region at the time, this was the site of Frankfurt’s city hall. Today, the plaza stands as a reminder of Frankfurt’s heritage as one of the most scenic parts of town.
Located within Römerberg Plaza is the city’s Historisches Museum (History Museum). Here, visitors can see original artwork and drawings of Römerberg and the surrounding city as it stood in the Middle Ages. The museum also focuses on the overall history of the region, starting from prehistoric times and ending in the modern day.
Main Tower Observation Deck
Visitors to Frankfurt can get a bird’s eye view of ‘Mainhattan’ by heading to the city’s formidable Main Tower. At over 200 meters high, it is the fourth tallest building in the world. The 56th floor observation deck is a must for first time Frankfurt visitors. On a clear day, all of Frankfurt can be seen along with mountains in the distance. Visit the tower around dusk for the best photo opportunities.
Though not strictly catering to tourists, Frankfurt’s financial district, like Wall Street and the City of London, should not be missed. Exit Taunusanlage Station and look up to view Deutsche Bank’s twin skyscrapers towering above. Take a short walk through the nearby park to view the European Central Bank at Eurotower.
Originally constructed in 1880, Frankfurt’s opera house is one of the city’s most beautiful and regal buildings. Restored following WWII, the venue plays host to over 50 events each year. Internationally renowned musicals, theater shows, classical performers and jazz acts can all be seen at the opera house. Even if there isn’t a show, the in-house restaurant is worth a visit.
Rhineland Day Trips
Frankfurt’s close proximity to the scenic Rhine River Valley makes it a popular starting point for day trips to the region. In the warmer months, tour boats leave central Frankfurt on a regular basis and head towards the Rhine River. Day trips commonly include excellent sightseeing opportunities, along with village and castle excursions.
Shopping in Frankfurt
The Zeil is Frankfurt’s most popular shopping street. The pedestrian thoroughfare is home to a laundry list of major fashion, home goods and cosmetics brands. The street is anchored by the Zeilgalerie, which is an extensive indoor shopping facility specializing in fashion, cafes and restaurants. The roof of the Zeilgalerie is a viewing deck which boasts excellent views of the surrounding skyline. The recently opened MyZeil shopping mall is the latest addition to the street. Featuring 8 floors and unique architecture, MyZeil is quickly earning a reputation as an international shopping destination. In addition to all this, the Zeil hosts farmers markets twice a week where visitors can sample local produce and gourmet foods.
Located in central Frankfurt, the street is serviced by public transport stations Hauptwache and Konstablerwache on either end.
Situated in Frankfurt’s Old Town, Neue Kräme is a pedestrian street known for its high concentration of specialty shops, bakeries and cafes. The street has been a shopping district since the middle ages and is a popular place for both tourists and locals to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Neue Kräme is situated within walking distance from the Dom/Römer U-Bahn station.
Goethestraße is Frankfurt’s best known luxury shopping street. The pretty, tree-lined road is packed with luxury brands like Giorgio Armani, Tiffany & Co., Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari, Versace and more. Even if high-end shopping isn’t on the itinerary, Goethestraße is worth a visit for the people watching alone. The street is located within walking distance from the Hauptwache and Alter Oper U-Bahn Stations.
No great city would be complete without a farmer’s market and Frankfurt is no exception. Though there are numerous regular markets around town, Kleinmarkthalle represents the best of what the city has to offer. Featuring numerous food and flower stalls, the market has been a central food exchange for over 100 years. A foodies dream, there are endless rows of vendors selling locally sourced gourmet meats, cheeses, wines, spices, baked goods and more. Conveniently, the market is centrally located between Hauptwache, Konstablerwache and Dom/Römer Stations.
Eating Out in Frankfurt
Frankfurt’s international prominence has attracted new residents from all across Europe and Asia. As it stands today, the city has a foreign population of around 25%. As a result, the city includes an eclectic mix of restaurants representing virtually every major world cuisine. To find Frankfurt’s largest concentration of cafes and restaurants, head to Hasengasse near the aforementioned Kleinmarkthalle with a lot of Thai, Russian and Indonesian restaurants.
Centrally located in the city’s Sachsenhausen neighborhood, Adolf Wagner is Frankfurt’s best bet when it comes to traditional German cuisine on a budget. Also well known for serving cider, the restaurant has been family owned and operated since 1931, and features a cozy warm interior with long tables and bench seating. Popular dishes at Adolf include local specialties such as rippchen (smoked pork chops) and Frankfurt’s own ‘green sauce’ served with hard boiled eggs or braised beef with home fries.
Situated within a beautifully restored 14th century building along a quiet part of the Main River, Gerbermühle is a mid-range restaurant attached to a hotel. Featuring a healthy mix of Germanic favorites like sauerbraten and wienerschnitzel, the restaurant also serves of number of continental and French-influenced choices to please any palette.
One of Frankfurt’s trendiest restaurants, the Frankfurter Botschaft offers an eclectic mix of high-end cuisine amidst a beautiful dining space with enviable views of the harbor and trendy new condos. Menus range from three to five courses and start at 44 Euros. Dishes include international favorites such as risotto and grilled sea bass, but also include traditional German options like sauerkraut soup.
Nightlife in Frankfurt
Frankfurt’s nightlife is varied and ranges from typical European discotheques, to trendy jazz clubs and even a thriving red light district. As a general rule, raunchier establishments can be found near the city’s major train stations (most notably Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof) as they cater to business travelers. Trendier clubs and lounges can be found along the Main River.
Jazzkeller (Jazz Cellar)
The Jazzkeller has been a Frankfurt mainstay since the 1950s and has played hosts to esteemed musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong throughout the years. Over the decades, the tiny basement club has retained its 50s atmosphere where jazz music can be heard five nights a week. The club’s bar serves cocktails, wine and quality German Beers.
King Kamehameha Club
Named after Hawaii’s former king, the King Kamehameha doesn’t exactly exude the spirit of the islands, but does work well as a trendy lounge and nightclub. State of the art lighting and sound attract some of the world’s best known DJs to this up and coming location. In the summer, Kamehameha is sometimes transformed into a full blown beach club complete with imported sand and volleyball courts.
Off the wall and completely unique, Die Schmiere claims to be the ‘worst theater in the world’. Experimental shows, satire and even plays with no dialogue are all a part of the fun at this quirky theater.
Other Points of Interest
Frankfurter Buchmesse (Frankfurt Book Fair)
Frankfurt holds the largest annual book fair in the world which runs each October. A tradition dating back to at least the 1300s, the book fair attracts visitors from every corner of the globe and features works by international authors.
All major German cities hold Christmas markets from late November through to late December. Frankfurt’s market is located along the Main River at its scenic Römerberg Plaza. At the center of the plaza is a beautifully decorated Christmas tree along with a traditional carousel. Visitors to the market can keep warm with glasses of mulled wine while searching for the perfect Christmas decorations and gifts.