Cosmopolitan Frankfurt am Main is known for being Germany’s suited-and-booted business hub, hence its ‘Mainhattan’ nickname. But there is more to this city than pure business. Not only is it the birthplace of Goethe, it’s also crammed with restored medieval half-timbered houses, a cluster of eminent museums and a nightlife scene that caters to well-off workers and scrimping university students in equal measure.
Frankfurt is relatively compact and most of its major sights can be accessed on foot. If your feet begin to tire, make use of the extensive network of buses, trams, S-Bahn and U-Bahn lines that link up pretty much all parts of the city. Purchase tickets in advance or prepare to cough up a fine.
You could spend days browsing the riverside establishments of the Museumsufer, of which there are more than a dozen. Time constraints mean most travellers don’t have the luxury of seeing them all, but whatever you do, don’t miss the Städel Museum, which frequently hosts highly anticipated exhibitions from household-name artists.
Not on the riverside strip but also of note is the Goethe House. This museum is devoted to Frankfurt’s most famous hometown hero, Goethe, and is housed in the very place where he penned his enduring classic Faust. Few places in the city can conjure up the haunting plight of the Jewish people of Frankfurt quite so poignantly as the Jewish Cemetery, where tight-knit clusters of gravestones dating from between the 13th and 19th centuries compete for space.
To imagine how the city may have looked before the influx of concrete, glass and steel, head for the central square of Römerberg, located within the city’s Altstadt (Old Town). The reconstructed gabled houses surrounding the square look particularly pretty when the Christmas Markets are taking place. While you’re in the Altstadt, it would be all but impossible to miss Frankfurt Cathedral, a soaring red sandstone structure. For a drink with a vertigo-inducing view, don your finest and enjoy a cocktail at the Main Tower’s 53rd-floor cocktail lounge.
The perspective-changing exhibits of the DialogMuseum are quite unlike anything you’ll find around the Museumsufer. Rather than inviting guests to view exhibits, visitors here are stripped of what is arguably their most vital sense, sight, and made to explore a pitch-black world equipped with only a white cane. Different rooms mimic different real-life environments, such as a busy street and a park.
Not technically in Frankfurt, though just an hour or so away by train or car, is Heidelberg, a city whose romantic red-roofed Old Town and evocative hillside castle ruins are the stuff of travel magazine centrefolds.
Eating in Frankfurt is a thoroughly unique experience, with the city’s cooks proudly championing a number of distinctive local specialities. You’re bound to come across Grüne Soße (a green, herby sauce enriched with sour cream), for instance, which is a typical accompaniment for meat dishes. Another common sight on Frankfurt’s menus is Handkäse mit Musik (a strong, curdled cheese served in an oil-based dressing). Don’t leave without sampling traditional Apfelwein (apple wine), the city’s signature fermented apple brew, which is served by the jug in cosy taverns all across town.