By Alex Kallimanis: Frankfurt am Main markets itself as “Mainhattan,” as the Main River flows through Germany’s financial capital, featuring one of Europe’s most impressive skylines. Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof is Europe’s largest train station and Frankfurt airport is the fourth busiest on the continent. Lufthansa even has two daily direct flights connecting Frankfurt and Washington, DC. Visitors can easily enjoy 2 days in Frankfurt before moving on to explore elsewhere.
Frankfurt welcomes visitors with a great culinary scene, world class museums and an interesting contrast between centuries old traditions and its modern skyline. The city has world class public transportation, and a smart focus on sustainability. Frankfurt draws around 40 million visitors a year for conferences and tourism is an emerging sector.
There is no better place to get a great view of Frankfurt’s skyline than the observatory on the 55th floor of the Main Tower, Frankfurt’s highest vantage point. The observation deck is well suited to take great selfies of Frankfurt’s impressive skyline as there is a deck below, so there’s no need for a big fence to obstruct your view. Visitors get wonderful views of Romerberg (Frankfurt’s historic center), the skyline, Main River, Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof and more.
Typically I would advise people to visit an observation deck just before sunset to take in the scenery as daylight transitions to night. But be advised that if you want to do this expect to wait so allow an hour to be on the safe side. If you don’t want to potentially wait in line, visit when Main Tower opens at 10 am. You can also enjoy lunch, dinner or cocktails at Main Tower Restaurant and Lounge, a great date idea. It only costs €7.50 to go up Main Tower, which is excellent value.
Frankfurt River Cruise Along the Main River
Asides from climbing high above the city, another great way to enjoy Frankfurt is to take a river cruise down the Main River. Boats depart from multiple docks near Eisener Steg (Iron Bridge) regularly, with options of 50, 60 and 100-minute cruises. The 100-minute cruise is just $14.87. Especially when the weather is good, it’s picturesque and relaxing to enjoy Frankfurt over a drink from the ship’s outdoor deck. If you go towards Gerbermühle, you have the option to get off the boat and spend an hour there.
In summer you might want to purchase tickets in advance to be on the safe side, but I just rocked up 15 minutes before a 1pm cruise departed and bought my ticket. You can also book a Frankfurt dinner cruise on the River Main for $85.94.
Römerberg is the historic center of Frankfurt that was re-built in 1986, as much of the center of Frankfurt was destroyed during World War II. A highlight of Römerberg is the traditional half-timbered architectural style. Recently, the second part of the historic city center was rebuilt, with 15 out of 28 houses built as original reconstructions.
Romerberg is a great place to have lunch, dinner, or a drink outside when the weather is good. If all the outside tables are full, another popular place in the area with a nice view from the terrace is Paulaner Dom, next to Frankfurter Dom.
Sachsenhausen is a historic neighborhood just across the Main River from Romerberg. This neighborhood wasn’t bombed as heavily during the war and features many buildings that have been around for centuries. This is also where some of Frankfurt’s hippest bars and most traditional restaurants are located. Walk across the Eisener Steg (Iron Bridge) around sunset for dramatic views of the sun setting over Frankfurt.
Enjoy Apple Wine (Apfelwein) and Green Sauce (Grüne Soße) in a Traditional Restaurant
Apple wine has been a popular drink in Frankfurt for over 250 years. If you have a small group, consider ordering apple wine the traditional way, from a bembel. A traditional bembel is a large ceramic jug decorated in blue and white colors.
Daheim Lorsbacher Thal in the Sachsenhausen neighborhood is an excellent place to enjoy apfelwein and good food. They serve over 200 varieties of apple wine. You can also choose a sample menu that pairs four traditional small dishes with four small apple wines.
Frankfurt’s Traditional Green Sauce
Frankfurt’s Grüne Soße (green sauce) is a typical local dish not found elsewhere in Germany. It’s a tasty vitamin rich probiotic blend of 7 herbs mixed with sour cream, vinegar, mustard, salt and topped with hard boiled eggs and chives. It’s typically served cold and sometimes even paired with schnitzel on Frankfurt menus.
The Kleinemarkethalle is a great place to grab a quick lunch or snack. This historic indoor market is the place to go for fresh produce, nuts, spices, meats and more. Also popular at the Kleinemarkethalle are Frankfurters, sausages traditionally made with pork meat and enjoyed in Frankfurt since the 13th century.
Consider joining the queue at Metzgerei Schreiber, an iconic sausage stall that hasn’t changed the way they operate since 1954. But avoid going during lunch hours as the line is very long. My guide Jens informed me that the sausages from the quieter stall just across are equally good. So if the line looks longer than 10-15 minutes at Metzgerei Schreiber, go elsewhere if you want a quick takeaway sausage.
Frankfurt Cathedral (Frankfurter Dom)
Many emperors and kings were once crowned inside Frankfurt Cathedral. Buried in the vast chapels and cloisters are many royals and members of important families of the Middle Ages. Like much of Frankfurt, Frankfurt Cathedral was re-built following World War II.
Visit One or Two Frankfurt Museums
Frankfurt is packed with great museums, and the choice of which ones you should visit comes down to personal preference. Most people should pick one or two museums to visit on a 2-day visit to Frankfurt. Here are several of the most famous to choose from.
The Goethe House is one of the most popular museums in Frankfurt. The museum is the re-built house where famous writer Johann Wolfgang Goethe was born in 1749. This is a great place to visit for those interested in literary history, art and antiques.
The Städel Museum is one of the oldest and most significant museums in Germany. The Städel’s collections include masterpieces spanning several centuries of art.
The newly re-opened Historisches Museum is right on the doorstep of Römerberg. If you want to learn about the history of Frankfurt in an interactive way, this is the place to go.
The Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung (sculpture collection) features a picturesque garden in Frankfurt’s Museum Embankment. The museum offers a unique overview of the evolution of sculpture, with masterpieces representing 5,000 years of works.
MMK Museum of Modern Art (für Moderne Kunst)
The MMK Museum of Modern Art houses one of Europe’s leading modern art collections in an impressive example of post-modern architecture. The collection includes fantastic works of European and American art from the 1960s to current pieces of international contemporary art.
German Film Museum (Deutsches Filmmuseum)
The German Film Museum is among seven film museums in Germany. Interesting exhibits, historical equipment, interactive stations and large film projections invite you to experience the fascination of film.
The “Old Opera” dates back to 1880. The building was destroyed during bombings on March 23rd, 1944. It reopened after extensive reconstruction on August 28th, 1981. Alte Oper is a great place to enjoy a concert so check the schedule on their website. There’s great fine dining with outdoor terraces next to the Opera House as well. It’s worth at least strolling by to admire the architecture.
Where to Stay in Frankfurt
I stayed at 25 Hours Hotel the Trip. This is a trendy modern hotel that is like taking a tour around the world during your stay. 25 Hours Hotel is hipster heaven, as you can make use of a fashionable day bag in your room, and there are even throwback rotary phones. Amenities include a rooftop igloo sauna, cinema, reading room and a psychedelic meeting room. Rooms start at around $95 per night.
The buffet breakfast at the adjoining restaurant, Bar Shuka, where “Israel meets Palestine” is one of the best I’ve eaten. Smoked salmon, freshly carved prosciutto and parma ham, do it yourself fresh squeezed orange juice and fresh mint are some of the high-quality ingredients on offer. Breakfasts are €18 extra.
For luxury stays, a couple excellent centrally located 5-star choices are Jumeriah Frankfurt and Steigenberger Hotel Metropolitan. Both hotels are a short walk from Romerberg, the Goethe House, Frankfurt Stock Exchange, Frankfurt Opera, shopping, museums and the Kleinemarkethalle.
Frankfurt Tips: The Frankfurt Card
Consider buying a Frankfurt card to easily jump on and off Frankfurt’s excellent public transportation system. The Frankfurt Card allows you to use the city’s public transport system free of charge and also offers discounts on admission to museums, sightseeing tours and many other attractions. A free glass of apple wine is included too! Frankfurt Cards are available as single or group tickets and are available at tourist information offices, located at Main Train Station and Römerberg.
1 day individual Frankfurt card: €10.50
2 day individual Frankfurt card: €15.50
1 day group ticket (up to 5 people): €22
2 day group ticket (up to 5 people): €32
All the specifics of the Frank Card can be found on the Frankfurt tourism website.
Private Frankfurt Tours
I received a private tour from local guide Jens-Peter Meyer at City Tours Frankfurt. Jens has a background in political science and frequently gives tours to media and business professionals. The website is only in German but he offers private tours in English and French as well. The private tour covered Frankfurt’s business district, the financial district, Romerberg and Sachsenhausen.
Day Trips from Frankfurt
There is a lot to experience near Frankfurt, including visiting the nearby spa town of Bad Vilbel. I did not visit Bad Vilbel and instead visited Mainz, which is just over 30 minutes by train from Frankfurt.
Mainz is the capital and largest city in Rhineland-Palatinate. Johannes Gutenberg, the founder of the printing press, ran his business from Mainz, which is also where he was born. I visited the Gutenberg Museum and enjoyed the centuries old rare books and printing presses. Among the highlights are two first edition Gutenberg printing press bibles. Mainz also has an impressive and historic old town, as archbishops became chancellors and electors of the Holy Roman Empire there in the 14th century.
I also spent a couple days in Heidelberg, one of Germany’s most beautiful cities. It’s especially picturesque with the autumn foliage. Heidelberg is just an hour south of Frankfurt by train. You can also book a half day Heidelberg tour from Frankfurt for $91.75. That includes a tour of Heidelberg Castle and the Old Town.
Disclosure: I was hosted by the Frankfurt Tourism office and 25 Hours Hotel the Trip for the Frankfurt portion of my trip, but all photos and opinions expressed here are my own. Also, this article contains some affiliate links.