From ancient meeting place to Roman fort to medieval trading market to world banking center, Frankfurt am Main has a long history of being at the crossroads of culture and trade. Because of this, the city has its own distinct character, food, dialect and drink. Don’t let the travel blogs tell you to skip this fascinating city with its mix of new and old, often sitting right next to each other. Here are ten ways to experience Frankfurt for yourself:
- Visit the Städel
- Drink Apfelwein
- Walk along the Main
- Shop at the Kleinmarkthalle
- Warm up in the Palmengarten
- Build things at Experiminta
- Eat Grüne Soße
- Visit a festival
- See dinosaurs at Senckenberg Natural History Museum
- Experience the historic Old Town
1. Visit the Städel
Along the Main river, there is the Museumsufer, or Museum Embankment, with the Städel at its heart. If you only have time for one museum visit, make it the Städel – it is definitely among the best things to do in Frankfurt! Their Old Masters galleries are truly impressive, with work on display from Vermeer, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Titian, and van Eyck. There are modern artists as well, including Monet, Degas, and Picasso. Do check their exhibition schedule, as they host many big international shows.
2. Drink Apfelwein
The traditional drink in Frankfurt is not beer or wine, but apple cider, called Apfelwein in German or Ebbelwoi in the local dialect. In the Middle Ages, a change in climate made growing grapes difficult, but apple orchards flourished. You can try this refreshing local specialty yourself at a cider tavern, traditionally signposted with a wreath of spruce branches outside. Try the Fichte Kränzi, named after this traditional symbol.
3. Walk along the Main
If you’re wondering what to do in Frankfurt for free, you can’t beat a walk along the river Main. On both sides of the Main river are wide promenades, bordered by little parks and the occasional small playground. It’s a lovely place to stroll on a hot afternoon or pleasant evening, with kids or on your own. Various festivals take advantage of the central location and set up stalls with crafts, food and drink. Take the pedestrian Eiserner Steg across the river for beautiful views of the city.
4. Shop at the Kleinmarkthalle
This indoor market with over 150 stalls is open every day except Sunday. You can pick up ingredients or food to eat right away. The beautiful neoclassical structure was built at the end of the 19th century, destroyed during the Second World War, and then reconstructed in the 1950s. Definitely plan to visit around lunchtime!
5. Warm up in the Palmengarten
Right in central Frankfurt is the 22 hectares of the Palmengarten, a 19th-century botanical garden with large greenhouses. The Palmenhaus is one of the largest greenhouses from this era in Europe, and it makes an excellent escape on a grey day. In spring and summer, you can add a visit to the Blüten- und Schmetterlingshaus, Blossom and Butterfly House, for a magical afternoon watching butterflies flutter around you.
6. Build things at Experiminta
If you’re visiting Frankfurt with children in tow, a visit to Experiminta should be on your list. This hands-on science center prides itself on allowing kids to touch everything. There are rooms upon rooms of motors, parts of bridges, mirrors, springs, colored lenses, and all sorts of things for kids to experiment with. The café on the top floor is very small and easily overwhelmed, so it’s best to plan to eat somewhere else first.
7. Eat Grüne Soße
Another traditional Frankfurt food is Grüne Soße, or green sauce. Made with chopped hard-boiled eggs, oil, vinegar, and a combination of sour cream and buttermilk or yogurt. The most important part, however, is the blend of seven local herbs chopped and mixed in the sauce. So essential that to be true green sauce, all the herbs must be grown in Frankfurt or certain nearby regions, as defined by the European Union. The herbs in question include borage, chervil, cress, parsley, burnet, sorrel and chives. You can buy a ready-made bundle of these herbs from most markets in the springtime, too. It’s traditionally served with a hard-boiled egg and potatoes, though you can also get a green-sauce topped schnitzel.
8. Visit a festival
From the Apple Cider Festival to the Frankfurt Book Fair, the city on the Main’s reputation as a place to meet up hasn’t changed in 800 years. Experience Apple Cider in all its forms in late summer, the Christmas markets across the city in December, and the Wäldchestag in the spring, just to mention a few. Check the city calendar for all the details of special events across Frankfurt am Main.
9. See dinosaurs at Senckenberg Natural History Museum
The Senckenberg is famous for its giant dinosaur skeletons, but there’s more to the museum than these big dinos. The museum’s fascinating taxidermy galleries allow people to get up close to some animals you can only see at a distance in zoos, including a quagga, which has been extinct since 1883.
10. Experience the historic Old Town
Frankfurt’s Altstadt, or Old Town, was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War, but has slowly been reconstructed over the years. In 2017, the reconstruction project was completed. Visit the Römer, Frankfurt’s city hall since 1405, and the Dommuseum, a collection of treasures from three churches in this area. Enjoy a stroll and a coffee in the square, and imagine merchants coming from all over to trade here, across the ages.
Frankfurt is worth a visit
It’s popular in places like Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg to say Frankfurt is a boring bankers’ city, but it just isn’t true. Whether you walk along the Main, hang out drinking apple cider, spend a day in the Städel, or people watch at a café in the Old Town, Frankfurt is a wonderful collision of old and new with lots to offer visitors.
Erin McGann is a Canadian freelance writer focusing on travel, living abroad, parenting, history, and culture. After nearly a decade living in the UK, Erin settled in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and son. Dragging her family to every castle and open-air museum is a favorite activity, along with sewing, cooking, and weaving. You can check out her travel blog, and follow her obsession with half-timbered houses on her Instagram account.