Stuart Forster looks at things to do on a Frankfurt city break in the German city that’s nicknamed Mainhatten because of its skyscrapers.
Frankfurt Airport is, by far, Germany’s busiest. Yet compared to cities such as Munich and Berlin, Frankfurt am Main remains largely undiscovered by international travellers. It’s easy to explore during a layover in Frankfurt.
As I found, there’s plenty of things to do in Frankfurt to make it a perfect getaway for a city break.
A view of Frankfurt’s skyline
The 200m high observation platform of the Main Tower, 56 storeys above street level, provides unparalleled views of the dynamic financial centre that’s known in Germany as Mainhattan, due to the cluster of skyscrapers close to the river Main.
After passing through airport style security checks you’ll take an express elevator up the only accessible high-rise in Frankfurt, bypassing a potentially exhausting climb up 1090 steps. The building, designed by the Hamburg-based architects Schweger and Partners, weighs 200,000 tonnes, meaning it’s ten times heavier than the Eiffel Tower. The observation tower opens at 10.00am each day, closing at 9.00pm from Sunday to Thursday and at 11.00pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s house
On 28 August 1749, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the stars of German and European literature, was born in a second floor room of the building today known as the Goethe House. He wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther plus drafts of Faust in the poet’s room, in which you’ll see a writing bureau. The house was carefully reconstructed after sustaining heavy damage during World War II. You can visit four floors of the building before popping into the adjacent Goethe Museum, which has 14 rooms with paintings from Goethe’s era. From Monday to Saturday the Goethe House and Museum are open from 10.00am to 6.00pm, closing at 5.30pm on Sundays and holidays.
Frankfurt’s art and history museums
The Archaeological Museum of Frankfurt is housed in the Gothic style Carmelite Monastery, which dates back to 1246. Modern exhibition wings mean you can browse artefacts from prehistoric times, the Classical era, Roman times, the Orient and the Middle Ages. Among the exhibits are numerous finds from in and around Frankfurt. The museum is open from 10.00am to 6.00pm from Tuesday to Sunday, with extended opening, until 8.00pm, on Wednesdays.
The striking, contemporary Museum of Modern Art, designed by Hans Hollein, is known in the city as the MMK (Museum fuer Moderne Kunst). The museum opened in 1991 and rapidly evolved into one of the world’s leading art galleries. You’ll see international works dating from the 1960s onwards. The museum holds a collection of 4,500 works across 40 rooms, including pieces by Joseph Beuys, Francis Bacon and Cy Twombly. The MMK is open until 8.00pm on Wednesdays and from 10.00am until 6.00pm on other days, except on Mondays, when it remains closed.
Imperial coronations and national unity
The history of Frankfurt Cathedral can be traced back to its consecration, to St Bartholemew, in 1239. In 1356 it became the site of the Holy Roman Empire’s elections and ten imperial coronations were held in the building from 1562 to 1792; it’s therefore regarded as a symbol of national unity. The building you’ll see today is much more recent. It was rebuilt following a fire in 1867 and again after wartime damage, sustained in 1943 and 1944. The cathedral is open from 9.00am to noon from Monday to Friday and again from 4.00pm to 6.00pm on Mondays and Tuesdays, then 4.00pm to 5.00pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
River Cruises along the Main are an ideal way of seeing Frankfurt’s principal sights while resting your legs. On sunny days you can sit out on deck, setting sail from jetties close the cathedral, observing the city’s scenery to commentaries in both English and German. You’ll pass under the famous Eisener Steg, the city’s iconic metal pedestrian bridge, along the Schaumainkai, the embankment where you’ll find a cluster of 14 museums. After passing through the Friedensbruecke you’ll see the 109m tall Westhafen Tower before turning back after the Mainova power station.
Places to eat in Frankfurt
If you like chocolate then head to Bitter und Zart an elegant shop with 1920s style pictures. You’ll find chocolate bars in numerous flavours and employees in maid style uniforms. The artistically arranged displays make this a pleasant place to browse. You’ll also find a café with an Art Deco touch, serving coffee, specialist teas and cakes. Both are open from 10.00am to 7.00pm from Monday to Friday. The chocolate shop closes at 4.00pm on Saturdays and the café at 7.00pm. Only the café opens on Sundays, from 11.00am to 6.00pm.
Max on One Grillroom, a chic international restaurant, on the first floor of the Jumeirah Frankfurt hotel, has an open-fronted show kitchen where you can observe the chefs at work. Marc Schulz is executive chef and has introduced dishes such as Nebraskan filet steak and lobster served with granola, beans and garlic. The stylish, high-ceilinged library section of the restaurant looks out over the Thurn and Taxis Palace, once the headquarters of Germany’s imperial postal system. Lunch is served from noon until 2.30pm, from Monday to Friday. The restaurant opens for dinner daily, from 7.00pm to 10.30pm.
Frankfurt is the home to 48 parks and gardens but one of the most central is the Nizza Gardens, on the north bank of the river Main. The park is shielded from winds and has a microclimate that allows Mediterranean plants and trees to flourish. A riverside swimming pool once stood in the park but today you can dive into the modernist Nizza Café, with high windows, a terrace and seating under canopies.
MundArt, the restaurant within the Roemerkeller, the vaulted cellar of the town hall, which has been the centre of municipal administration since 1405, is one of Frankfurt’s premier fine-dining venues. Reservations are highly recommended if you plan on dining here. Chef Werner Fink’s cuisine consists of beautifully presented, modern German dishes.
All told, the city’s Old Town, is a pleasant place to wander and, for a lively night out, the bars of Sachsenhausen have much to offer. Many of Frankfurt’s cultural attractions are within easy walking distance of each other and once you’re in the city it’s an easy place to get around. Great for your travel itinerary in Frankfurt, Germany.
How to get from Frankfurt Airport to city centre
The best way to get from Frankfurt airport to the city centre is by train. You can catch the S-Bahn (S6 or S9 lines) to Hauptwache station, which takes you 15 minutes. You can also catch the U-Bahn (U8 or U9 lines) to Hauptwache station, which takes 8 minutes.
For information on prices and tickets, visit the Frankfurt airport website.
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This post was originally published on 10 June 2014.