Frankfurt am Main isn’t one of Germany’s biggest cities, it is only the 5th largest city (behind Hamburg, Cologne, Munich, and obviously Berlin) with less than 750 000 people living there. Neither it’s the most touristy, we don’t know anyone who has the lifelong dream of going to Frankfurt… Yet, it’s a city of huge importance.
It is the major financial center of Europe, home to the European Central Bank and the German Federal Bank. It has one of the busiest airports in Europe, so there is a big probability that you will, sometime, need to do a stopover in Frankfurt or have business in Frankfurt. Plus, due to Brexit, even more, international banks and companies are moving their headquarters to Frankfurt. Thus, Frankfurt will be the center of attention in the next years to come… We gathered a list of the best things to do in Frankfurt am Main to help you visit the city.
We decided to go to Frankfurt in winter because we really wanted to visit Frankfurt’s Christmas Market, making it a great opportunity to get to know the city. Surprisingly, Frankfurt is a very pleasant city with a certain charm. It is located on the banks of the Main River, thus its full name. Similarly to many other European cities, the river has an important influence on the city and on several Points of interest of Frankfurt.
Things to do in Frankfurt am Main
Frankfurt walking tour
A great way to discover a city and its main attractions is doing a free walking tour, especially if you don’t have plenty of time, like during a stopover. We discovered free walking tours a few years ago, now we try to do one in almost every city we visit.
It gives us a notion of the city’s history, its points of interest, and an idea of what we want to explore more. Normally free walking tours take 1 to 2 hours, while the guide walks you through the city explaining and exploring the main attractions. At the end of the tour, you can (should) offer a tip in a sign of gratitude for the visit. We did this tour in Frankfurt and we recommend it.
Frankfurt Christmas market
One of the reasons we wanted to visit Frankfurt was to visit the Christmas Market. We heard so many good things about Germany’s Christmas markets, that we needed to go and it was well worth it. Frankfurt Christmas market is one of the largest and oldest in Germany, dating back to 1393. so it isn’t a recent thing…
In those days the market existed to provide the essential supplies to the locals before winter. With time it started to be more Christmas oriented. The Market extends from the Zeil Shopping mall to Romerberg square and the river Main. In the Romerberg square, you will find a big Christmas tree and a big merry-go-round.
So, why are Christmas Markets so cool…? They are essentially markets with lots of food and Christmas art crafts. How cool is that? For foodies like us, it is paradise, you can try plenty of street food. You can discover cool gifts in a Christmas atmosphere, hear Christmas carols and the chiming of the Church bells. For kids, there is a good deal of activities, like Christmassy merry-go-rounds and abundant sweets.
What should you eat in the Frankfurt Christmas market?… Kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), Flammkuchen (similar to a pizza), woodfired salmon (definitely a must), Wurst with bread and mustard (any kind of wurst), Lebkuchen (Gingerbread) and the huge variety of sweets and nuts.
Frankfurt Christmas market starts at the end of November and ends in January.
Romerberg Square and Romer
The Romberg square is the old town center, where you will find the typical half-timbered houses and the Romer, the city hall. In the past Frankfurt had the largest medieval city center in Germany but with World War II the city was almost completely destroyed.
The houses in Romerberg square and the Romer are all replicas of the originals that were rebuilt in 1980. So the Romerberg square is just a sample of how the city was. A few other landmark buildings were reconstructed like Saint Paul Cathedral and Goethe house. The rest of the city was reconstructed in a modern style.
One of the buildings that weren’t destroyed was the train station in the city center, which is quite beautiful and a reminder of Frankfurt’s past.
Kaiserdom Frankfurt Cathedral
Kaiserdom or the Imperial Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew is the main church of Frankfurt, but today’s church is a reconstruction made in the 1950s. It was the site where the kings of the Holy Roman Empire were elected and coronated. The Kaiserdom is a Gothic Church with red stone, and it has a tower with 95 m high and 324 steps, which you can visit. Compared to other European Cathedrals it has a simple but still charming design.
- Tower Price: 3,50€. The Cathedral is free.
- Timetable: Winter (11h-16h); Summer (11h-17h).
Saint Paul’s Church
Saint Paul’s Church has the utmost importance in Germany’s history, it was the seat of the first democratic parliament, and where the constitution for a united Germany was elaborated.
This was a Protestant Church, now has been partially rebuilt and the inside is modern and mostly used for exhibitions. The coolest part of the church is a big auditorium on the top floor, that is used for official municipal functions. It is a calming place where you can sit, rest and even warm up while contemplating the flags of each of Germany’s regions hanging on the walls. This is particularly useful to know if you are traveling to Frankfurt in Winter.
Eiserner Steg Bridge, aka, the Iron Bridge
Eiserner Steg Bridge (iron bridge) is a pedestrian bridge across the Main River. From here you can take fantastic photos and enjoy the view of the city’s skyscrapers, Romerberg square, Saint Paul’s Church and Frankfurt’s Cathedral.
The bridge is near Romerberg square, it is a good place to have a walk by the river banks and cross the other bridges of the river Main if it isn’t too cold or raining…
The old Opera house and concert hall in Frankfurt is a beautiful building with a delightful square, it was rebuilt in the 1970s after its destruction in 1944. Besides being stunning, one of the most interesting facts about it is that it was directly financed by the citizens of Frankfurt. It is a lovely place to take photos and if you wish to attend a concert.
Frankfurt has a substantial variety of museums, and most of them are on the banks of the Main river. Like the Studel Museum (art museum), the German Architecture Museum, Jewish Museum, and the German Film Museum.
German Film Museum, Deutsches Filmmuseum
We visited Frankfurt in December and it was freaking cold (and snowing), so we decided to spend the afternoon at the German Film Museum. The museum is very interactive so you can play with different features of the cinema world. From very early objects to playing with green screen and mixing sounds & music.
It was a really fun experience, plus we watched film excerpts on a giant screen. It’s more than 100 film excerpts included a 40-minute program dealing with image, sound, editing, and acting… If you have the time and like cinema, it is well worth it. And if it’s snowing or raining, eve more!
- Price: 7,00€
- Timetable: Monday closed; Tuesday-Sunday (10-18h); Wednesday (10-20h)
Have you ever heard about Goethe?… The German writer and philosopher, the author of Faust, he was born in Frankfurt. And you can visit his house, rebuilt in 1947 according to the original. We didn’t visit the house museum, but for all the fans, you can visit the house where he was born and lived. The museum has a gallery of paintings illustrating his life and the portraits of Goethe, his friends, and his contemporaries.
- Price: 7€
- Timetable: Monday-Saturday (10-18h); Sunday and holidays (10-17h30).
Frankfurt has one of the most impressive skylines in Europe, it even gained the nicknamed of Mainhattan. All this happened, after World War II, the Americans set up their headquarters in Frankfurt, and in 1949 Frankfurt was nominated the provisional capital of West Germany.
These facts had a fundamental importance in the reconstruction of the city. As Frankfurt became the financial center of Western Germany, they wanted to show its economic power and due to the necessity for space for banks, they started building skyscrapers. In 1970 there were 9 buildings over 110 meters. Nowadays Frankfurt has 77 buildings over 100 meters. And the tallest building in the European Union, the Commerzbank (thanks to the Brexit).
You can only visit 2 skyscrapers in the Main Tower (200m) and the Commerzbank (but tours are only available on the last Saturday of each month). We visited the Main Tower, and we highly recommend it. Unfortunately, it was snowing on our visit, so we couldn’t see clearly or could take proper photos. Although, it was pretty cool, literally! 🙂
- Price: 7,50€
- Timetable: Sunday-Thursday (10-19h); Friday, Saturday (10-21h), in summer they close later (until 21 or 22h).
Kleinmarkthalle food market
In every city we go, we try to visit the local market, in the Frankfurt case it was the Kleinmarkthalle! This is always a good place to feel the city vibe. Local markets are also excellent places to eat and find out what do the locals eat. 🙂 This market didn’t disappoint, it was a bit to the expensive side (well, it’s Germany…), but it had plenty of German and international food.
Timetable: Monday-Friday (8-18h); Saturday (8-16h).
Frankfurt red-light district
Frankfurt’s red-light district is an important part of the city because it’s situated right in the middle of the city, just between the financial district and the train station. And when we say between, we really mean it is on the other side of the street of the financial district. On one side you have shiny, high rise buildings and on the other side, you have the brothels, sex shops and so on. Some people could argue it fits just well…
In the past, this was a dangerous district, and people were afraid to cross it to go to the city center and financial district. It’s said that one of the reasons that Frankfurt built the subway, was so people could avoid this part of the city. Nowadays it is pacific, there are no robberies and there are plenty of hostels for tourists. In fact, we slept in a hotel that was inside the red-light district in Frankfurt.
Note that prostitution is legal in Germany.
Where to stay in Frankfurt in Winter?
We stayed in Hotel Rossija, which was pleasant, clean and cheap, plus it served a good breakfast. However, the best of it all was its excellent location. It’s just by Frankfurt’s central station, and only a few hundred meters from the city center, hence within walking distance of everything. If you are traveling on a budget we recommend you to stay here.
If you want a more luxurious hotel, we recommend the Adina Apartment Hotel Frankfurt Neue Oper. It’s also perfectly located in the city center and has all the commodities you’ll need. It has comfortable, spacious rooms, a great bathroom, and excellent views. The last floor swimming pool and sauna are just over the top… If you want to have everything you deserve, this is the hotel to go to Frankfurt’s center.
Frankfurt Airport Hotel
If you are visiting Frankfurt during a long layover or for only one night, it might be reasonable to have a hotel close to Frankfurt’s airport. If this is the case your best option is the Park Inn by Radisson Frankfurt Airport.
This hotel is so close to the airport you can walk to it, which is great if you have a really early flight! The hotel itself is very good, with big rooms and nice bathrooms. Though what we really like about are the beds with colorful LED lights… Yeap, you read it right! 🙂 All in all, this is a great option if you want to stay close to Frankfurt’s airport.
From the airport to Frankfurt central station
Frankfurt’s airport has two Terminals, normally Ryanair flies to terminal 2. These are connected by a free Sky Train and a free bus shuttle their connection takes 15 minutes. Frankfurt’s airport train station is in terminal 1, hence from there you can catch a train to the city center which is only 12 km from the airport, though it takes almost 30 minutes to get there.
The train is the cheapest and easiest way to get to the city center. You just have to catch the S-Bahn, S8 or S9, in the direction of Offenbach Ost and Hanau. Get off at Frankfurt Hauptwache and you are in the city center, it costs 4,65 €/ ticket.
Overall, Frankfurt in winter is a great place to do a city break or a long stopover. It’s a city easy to visit, full of history, museums, contemporary architecture and an interesting mix of old and modern.
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