Things to Do in Frankfurt
Inaugurated in 1880 Frankfurt’s Old Opera House (Alte Oper) was among Germany’s elite opera houses during its 20th-century heyday, but by 1951 the building had been badly damaged by fire and a new Opera house had sprung up to take its place. Further damage was sustained throughout the war years and it wasn’t until 1981 that the Old Opera House, saved from demolition by a public petition, was reconstructed and reopened.
With its exteriors and entrance hall restored to reflect the Renaissance design of original architect Richard Lucae, the Old Opera House is now serving out its days as a magnificent concert hall and congress center. After being fated with the post-war nickname of ‘Germany’s most beautiful ruin’, the modern Alte Oper complex is now one of the city’s leading concert venues, hosting around 300 classical and popular music events throughout the year and drawing many additional visitors to its atmospheric onsite café.
After WWII destroyed much of Frankfurt’s historic center, it was the late 18th-century St. Paul's Church (Paulskirche) that was rebuilt first – a fitting tribute to the symbolic significance of the holy building. The landmark church is renowned as more than just a center of worship – it was also the seat of the first freely elected German parliament and the location of the German National Assembly inauguration on 18th May 1848.
Since reopening in 1948 to mark the parliament’s 100th anniversary, St Paul’s has ceased to be used for church services but remains an important symbol of democratic Germany, hosting a number of ceremonies and exhibitions in its public halls. Most notable is the large-scale circular mural ‘The Path of the Representatives to St. Paul’s Church’, completed by Berlin artist Johannes Grützke in 1991, which chronicles the history of united and democratic Germany.
Frankfurter Dom is the main church of Frankfurt. From the 14th century onwards, kings of the Holy Roman Empire were elected in this Catholic church. From the mid-16th century to the late 18th century, emperors were crowned here.
The cathedral has been damaged in the past by fire and warfare, most recently during the WWII. It was reconstructed in the 1950s and has undergone periodic renovation since then. It has been widely recognized as an important national symbol for Germany. The museum has an impressive collection of reliquaries and ceremonial objects.
The looming steel peaks of the Eiserner Steg, or the Iron Footbridge, have dominated Frankfurt’s skyline since 1869, a striking homage to the city’s industrial age. The iconic footbridge runs across the Main River, linking the central Römerberg plaza with Sachsenhausen on the south bank. Taking in the views from the Iron Bridge is a favorite pastime of visitors to the city, looking out over the grand villas of the famous Museumsufer (Museum Embankment), which hosts Frankfurt’s colorful Saturday flea market, the passenger boat jetty and the towering skyscrapers that frame the north bank.
The distinctive bridge is engraved with a Greek quote from Homer's Odyssey and has become a popular haunt for lovers in recent years, with couples taking to engraving their names on ‘love padlocks’, before locking the padlocks onto the metal rungs of the bridge.
Flowing 527km between Mainz and Bamberg, and passing through 3 German states (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse), the Main River is one of the main tributaries of the mighty Rhine River. Running through the heart of Frankfurt, the river is not only the lifeline of the city’s industrial center, but brings with it a steady stream of cruise passengers.
Frankfurt sightseeing cruises are also a popular way to take in the city’s sights, with attractions like Museumsufer (Museum Embankment), Frankfurt Cathedral, Frankfurt’s famed financial district, nicknamed ‘Little Manhattan’, and Europaturm, the city’s tallest building, all visible along the waterfront.
For many visitors, the first introduction to Germany’s fast-expanding business and financial center is its main railway station, a building of classical elegance and proportion. Frankfurt’s iron-and-glass Hauptbahnhof was designed by Johann Wilhelm Schwedler and Hermann Eggert and opened for business in 1888; the roof of the Neo-Renaissance central hall is topped with a vast statue of Atlas bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. Since then, the station has been consistently updated, with two further passenger halls being constructed on either side of the main terminal in 1924. Although the Hauptbahnhof was damaged in World War II, expansion continued and now it has 24 mainline tracks; it is also a terminus for the S-Bahn (rapid transit commuter trains), U-Bahn (metro line) and tram services into the city.
The Goethe House & Museum is the site where the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born in 1749. Goethe’s former house is a fantastic and tangible example of the living style of the 18th century Frankfurt's gentry. The house was technically Goethe's parents', and he lived here until moving to Weimar where he died in 1765.
Main features include Goethe's original writing desk and the library on the fourth floor, where Goethe composed his famous epistolary, The Sorrows of Young Werther, and where he began writing Faust. The rooms are decorated with a charming mix of reproduction and original furnishing. The museum is a picture gallery dedicated to the Age of Goethe. The Goethe House & Museum offer an intriguing a peek into 18th century lifestyles and Goethe’s early years.
With its striking three-peaked façade looming over the central Römerberg square, Frankfurt’s historic town hall, the Römer, is one of the city’s most identifiable buildings. The distinctive medieval design, characterized by three stepped gables, adorned with Neogothic embellishments and topped with a domed bell tower, was originally built in the 15th century, but reconstructed after the war to include the now-iconic central balcony.
Today, the Römer also features an additional wing, added in the late 19th-century and linked to the main buildings by a pedestrian bridge, nicknamed the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ after the famous Venice bridge of the same name. Still the center of city council meetings and the house of the municipal leader, the Römer is also a civil registry office and a popular tourist attraction in its own right. For visitors, the undeniable highlight is the magnificent Kaisersaal (Emperor Hall).
With a string of world-class museums running along the banks of the Main River, Frankfurt’s Museumsufer, or Museum Embankment, is one of Germany’s most important cultural hubs. Thirteen museums call the Museumsufer home, housed in a series of beautifully restored 18th-century villas that line the waterfront of Sachsenhausen between the Friedensbrücke Bridge and Dreikönigskirche Church.
The first museums to open up along the riverside were the Städel Art Institute, the Liebieg Sculpture Museum and the Museum of Communications, but by the 1980s the city had proposed the idea of creating an entire boulevard of museums. Today, residents include the Giersch Museum, the German Museum of Architecture, the German Film Museum, the Museum of World Cultures, the Museum of Applied Art, the Jewish Museum and the Icons Museum.
More Things to Do in Frankfurt
The Palm Garden (or Palmengarten) is the largest garden of its kind in Germany. The botanical exhibitions are organized according to their geographic origin in open air or climate-controlled greenhouses. The Palm Garden is famous worldwide for its ample collection of native, tropical, and subtropic flora. In addition to the plants, it offers a variety of activities including guided tours, summer concerts, evening festivals and exhibitions.
The Frankfurt Palmengarten is a public site, financed and implemented by the architect Heinrich Siesmayer. The garden was completed in 1871 and subsequently opened to the public. The Palm Garden was revamped in the 1960s when a major reconstruction effort was begun to develop and expand the existing structures.
Stretching along the south bank of the Main River, the old quarter of Sachsenhausen is one of Frankfurt’s most atmospheric districts, with its cobblestone streets and historic taverns standing in sharp contrast to the high-rise landscape of modern Frankfurt. Linked to the central Römerberg square by the iconic Eiserner Steg (the Iron Footbridge), Old Sachsenhausen is best know for its famous Museumsufer, a collection of over a dozen world-class museums housed in a series of elegant 18th-century villas along the embankment. Sachsenhausen’s second claim to fame is its Apfelwein, the sweet apple wine or cider that’s served in the dozens of traditional Ebbelwoi bars and pubs clustered around the Rittergasse pedestrian area, many housed in medieval-style half-timbered buildings and featuring summer Apple wine gardens. Stick around into the evening hours and you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained along the main Schweizer street too, home to some of Frankfurt’s most unique nightlife.
The Naturmuseum Senckenberg in Frankfurt is the second largest natural history museum in all of Germany. Senckenberg contains the most comprehensive exhibition of large dinosaurs in Europe. Outside, you are greeted by enormous life-size representations of dinosaurs. Inside, you can trace the tracks of a Titanosaurus towards its skeleton on a covered patio. One particularly fascinating attraction is a dinosaur fossil with its scaled skin preserved. These dinosaur exhibits are exceptionally popular with children.
Although its dinosaurs are the major attraction, the Senckenberg Museum also has an expansive collection of animal exhibits from every era. The museum boasts the world's most expansive collection of stuffed birds, featuring over 2,000 species. Another remarkable exhibit is a cast of the famous Lucy, a skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis, a hominid from 3.2 million years ago.
Although the Black Forest is located in the sunniest area of Germany, its name dates from a time when thick tree cover shielded the forest floor from light. There are more clearings now but the country’s largest and most renowned forest remains a 3D Grimm fairy tale dotted with gingerbread villages and serene wood-fringed lakes.
The landscape rises from the Rhine Valley through gently undulating ground perfect for hiking, to the slopes of the Feldberg, a winter sports center. Firs and other evergreens predominate but the hills and valleys are garnished with enough deciduous trees to ensure spectacular fall displays.
If you’re driving, the 60 kilometer-long “Schwarzwaldhochstrasse” starts at the elegant spa town of Baden-Baden in the north and takes in some of the region’s most scenic villages and breathtaking vistas. Otherwise, take advantage of the numerous scenic railway routes through the Black Forest. Try the romantic steam train journey Sauschwänzlebahn.
Southeast of the lovely medieval city of Freiburg in the scenic region of Baden-Württemberg, Lake Titisee is located in the Black Forest National Park amid thick forest in the foothills of Feldberg and Hochfirst. Formed by glaciers in the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago, the lake is a popular vacation destination surrounded by the pretty town of Titisee-Neustadt, which is packed with shops, restaurants and spa hotels where many people go to take the waters. The town has a romantic lakefront promenade and is also home to the famous German cuckoo-clockmaker, Hönes, and no visit is complete without a tour of the historic factory.
At two kilometers (1.25 miles) in length and up to 40 meters (131 feet) in depth, Titisee is the highest lake in the Black Forest and can be strolled around in 1.5 hours; in summer it is a magnet for sailors and swimmers as well as pleasure-boat cruisers.
Located a few blocks north of Römerberg square, Hauptwache is one of Frankfurt’s most famous public squares, leading onto the city’s principal shopping street, the Zeil. The square takes its name from the restored 1729 baroque building of the same name, the former headquarters of the city's Stadtwehr Militia that now serves as a lively café and dominates the center of the square, overlooking the Zeil.
A medley of architectural styles mark the Hauptwache, including the 17th-century baroque-style St Katharina Church, with its 54-meter tall clock tower; the futuristic mirrored façade of the My Zeil shopping mall and the neighboring glass-fronted Zeilgalerie; and the towering Commerzbank, Germany’s tallest skyscraper. Beside the Hauptwache café, a sunken terrace area, nicknamed ‘the Hole’ by locals, leads to an underground passageway of shops and eateries, linking the square to the Kaufhof department store.
One of the northernmost towns in Baden-Württemberg’s idyllic Black Forest region, the roman spa town of Baden-Baden has long been one of South Germany’s most popular holiday destinations, entertaining everyone from Queen Victoria to Victoria Beckham over the years. Perched on the French border, the historic town is a charming blend of French and German cultures, mixing its grand Art Nouveau villas with a wave of modern boutiques and chic cafés.
The famed thermal waters remain one of Baden-Baden’s principal attractions, but once you’ve finished pampering yourself in a luxury spa, there are plenty of other sights to check out. Explore the ruins of the 2000-year-old Roman baths; visit the Belle Epoque Kurhaus and splash some cash at the extravagant Baden Baden Casino; or relax in the flower-lined parklands lining the Oos River.
The Main River’s south bank is lined with museums, the most impressive being the Städel Museum. The Städel was founded in 1815 by the Frankfurt banker and merchant Johann Friedrich Städel and has grown to contain one of Europe’s finest collections of art. It is also an important historical site; in 1937, many of the museum’s paintings and prints were confiscated after being classified as degenerate art. Nowadays, the Städel’s collection is so extensive that it can only display 600 of the 2,700 paintings it owns.
The museum has a broad and exceptional collection of art, featuring European paintings from seven centuries. The span of artwork begins at the early 14th century, moving into Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods and ending in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some notable artists include Botticelli, Dürer, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, Renoir, Rubens, Vermeer and Cézanne.
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