Officially named Frankfurt-on-the-Main, the vibrant city of Frankfurt is sometimes called “Mainhattan” after the Main River that divides it, as well as for its towering skyscrapers and reputation as a finance and business center. It’s home to one of the world’s largest stock exchanges and the headquarters of the European Central Bank, but it also boasts an array of cultural and culinary delights that appeal to discerning travelers.
With a historic city center, numerous parks, and unique museums, Frankfurt has plenty to keep visitors entertained. Culturally and ethnically diverse, it also has an exciting dining scene, where you can find cozy taverns serving hearty regional food as well as markets selling international specialties.
Whether you come to learn, explore, or simply to eat, you’ll find much to love about Frankfurt. Read on for seven of our favorite spots to experience the city’s real charm.
German for “museum embankment,” Frankfurt’s Museumsufer is a collection of world-class museums lining either side of the Main river. At the center is the historic Städel—one of the leading art museums in Frankfurt, if not Germany, with around 3,100 paintings, 660 sculptures, 100,000 drawings, and 5,000 photographs. Established in 1815, it’s also the oldest museum foundation in the country, offering a sweeping overview of the Renaissance, Baroque, and early modern periods that spans nearly 700 years. Collection highlights include works by Cranach, Dürer, Botticelli, Vermeer, Monet, and Picasso, as well as more contemporary artists like Gerhard Richter, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Isa Genken.
On either side of the Stadel Museum, along the south bank of the river, you’ll find institutions like the Icon Museum (with one of the largest collections of Russian, Bulgarian, and Greek icons in Germany), the Museum of Applied Arts (exhibiting furniture and design from the 10th to the 21st century), the Museum of World Cultures (home to 65,000 objects from Oceania, Australia, Southeast Asia, the Americas, Africa, and Europe), and the Liebieghaus (housed in a 19th-century villa and showcasing ancient sculpture). Also worth exploring are the German Film Museum, the German Architecture Museum, and the Museum for Communication, which features relics from the postal and telephone services, like one of the world’s largest stamp collections. On the north bank of the river, check out the Jewish Museum and the Historical Museum, where you can learn about Frankfurt from Roman times until today and see several prominent Old Masters paintings.
Almost entirely destroyed during the air raids of World War II, Frankfurt’s Altstadt (or Old Town) was eventually rebuilt according to historical blueprints and finished in 2018. Today, it’s known as “New Frankfurt Old Town” and features 15 faithfully restored half-timbered houses as well as 20 modern dwellings, complete with colorful facades, original house emblems, timber framework, and sandstone ornaments. It’s here you’ll find the Römerberg, a picturesque square that’s been a hub of city life since the Middle Ages. Over time, it’s served as a venue for everything from imperial elections and jousting matches to public executions and Christmas markets, but today travelers mostly come here for sightseeing.
Lined by open-fronted shops that were once common throughout the Old Town, the Römerberg is also home to historic buildings like Old St. Nicholas Church, St. Paul’s Church, and the medieval Römer, a three-story complex that’s functioned as Frankfurt’s city hall for more than 600 years. Snap a photo of its iconic, three-peaked neo-Gothic façade, then check out the Historical Museum (which covers Frankfurt culture from medieval to modern times) and the Historic Wertheim House (the only building on the square to survive the 1944 air raids that destroyed much of old Frankfurt).
The largest botanical garden in Germany, the Palmengarten is an oasis of green in the heart of Frankfurt. Opened in 1871 and covering 54 acres, it features outdoor exhibits laid out according to geography; a popular Palm House; and the Tropicarium, a collection of 14 greenhouses containing subtropical and tropical plant species. Also on site is the Goethe Garden, which pays homage to Frankfurt’s famous author with several ginkgo trees, as well as a children’s playground, picnic spots, and a small lake where you can rent row and pedal boats.
Frankfurt is home to a wide variety of weekly markets, serving not only as a place to shop for regional products but also to meet for a bite to eat or a glass of cider or wine. At each market, farmers from the surrounding area sell everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to meat, fish, cheese, and flowers. The Schillerstrasse market takes place in the city center every Friday and features an excellent range of fresh produce and local specialties, while the Konstablerwache farmers’ market is a popular place to enjoy some apple wine or the latest regional vintages. Also worth checking out are the markets in Bornheimer, Höchst, and Old Sachsenhausen, which on Friday afternoons hosts the Genussmmarkt (Pleasure Market) that offers delicacies like smoked salmon, Rheingagau wines, and Turkish specialties.
The Zeil may be Frankfurt’s premier pedestrian promenade, but if you want to avoid the mundanity of the mainstream, head to the city’s distinct shopping districts, where you’ll find countless independent boutiques offering their own sense of style. Berger Strasse in Bornheim is the ideal place to shop between relaxing coffee breaks, while the Sachsenhausen neighborhood’s Brückenstrasse boasts a small but creative fashion scene. Also in Sachsenhausen, on Schweizer Strasse you can even combine culinary delights with the latest styles.
Another great place to shop is Frankfurt’s famous Kleinmarkthalle, a covered market with more than 150 stalls selling fresh food, wine, and flowers. Locals come here daily to pick up groceries like radicchio, porcini, and wild geese, but it’s also a great place to find local specialties like pastries and cheese. When visiting, be sure to try Fleischwurs (sausage with spices like white pepper, cardamom, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, and turmeric, served in a crunchy roll and topped with mustard) or Frankfurt’s famous “green sauce” (a traditional condiment made with seven herbs, sour cream, and egg).
Germany may be famous for its beer, but in Frankfurt, it’s all about the apfelwein (or apple wine). And the place to try it is the historic Sachsenhausen district, where the streets are lined with cider taverns. Typically made without any added sugar or yeast, apfelwein comes in a range of styles—from sweet and dry to floral and earthy—and can be filtered or unfiltered. It’s traditionally served in a blue-and-white earthenware jug called a bembel and drunk from special ribbed glasses called gerippte (because, as legend has it, people used to drink apfelwein with a bratwurst in hand and the hatched pattern gave greasy hands a better grip).
For a classic apfelwein experience in Sachsenhausen, head to Adolf Wagner, a simple tavern that’s been around since 1902. Here, you can enjoy your locally made cider alongside hearty German fare like schnitzel and stewed beef in green sauce while enjoying the murals of merrymaking that decorate the walls. Another great option is Apfelwein Solzer, where you can step back in time with communal seating, shared meat platters, and of course, jugs of cider. Or try Daheim im Lorsbacher Thal, where you can while away long summer evenings in the lovely inner courtyard or sip hot cider during winter when it’s cozily decorated with live trees for the holidays.