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Frankfurt, Germany — Sightseeing Highlights

Frankfurt's Old Town and the River Main as seen from Main Tower [photo: Simsalabimbam / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Frankfurt’s Old Town and the River Main as seen from Main Tower [photo: Simsalabimbam / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Frankfurt am Main, the metropolis at the heart of Europe, is defined by stimulating contrasts of tradition and modernity, trade and culture, business and tranquility. The famous international trade fairs held here, the financial business conducted, the city’s cultural scene and its accessible location all contribute to Frankfurt’s metropolitan reputation.

Overview Frankfurt for travellers

See our article: Frankfurt Overview

The Top Sightseeing Highlights of Frankfurt

Skyscrapers

Frankfurt’s famed skyline features more skyscrapers than any other German city. Its formation and rapid expansion is largely due to the presence of many national and international banks which, alongside the stock exchange, the head office of the German Federal Bank and the European Central Bank, have turned the city into Germany’s premier financial center.
Furthermore, Frankfurt is the leading service sector location, as evidenced by the Commerzbank skyscraper which, at 259 metres (not counting the 40-metre antenna) is Europe’s tallest office high-rise. Frankfurt’s skyline is ever-changing – the newest skyscrapers are already under construction and many more are in the design stages.

One of the most notable attractions is the Main Tower, built by the Hamburg company Schweger and Partner and one of the first skyscrapers open to the general public. The Main Tower, which opened in the banking district in April 2000, offers a restaurant on the 53rd floor and a spectacular and panoramic observation platform on the 55th floor – 200 metres above Frankfurt.

The Dome

When Frankfurt was born, none of these developments were even hinted at. The former Roman city “Nida”, later part of the Carolingian Palatinate, emerged from the depths of history on the 22nd of February 794, to be mentioned in official documents as Frankfurt. The occasion was a convention of great significance for the whole of Europe – a German Empire synod held by Charlemagne. The city was named francono furd after its geographical location, being situated near a natural ford close to where the Main river meets the Rhine – right at the heart of the Franconian Empire.

Frankfurter Römerberg (Römer, city hall) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany [Thomas Wolf, www.foto-tw.de (Der Wolf im Wald) [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]]
Frankfurter Römerberg (Römer, city hall) in Frankfurt am Main, Germany [Thomas Wolf, www.foto-tw.de (Der Wolf im Wald) [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]]

Römer

Although never a bishop seat, Frankfurt’s Dom, or cathedral, was the place where German kings were chosen starting in 1356; German Emperors were also crowned there some 200 years later. The banquets that followed were held in the imperial hall or Römer, a building complex consisting of three half-timbered merchant houses. In 1405, the city purchased the complex and converted it to the town hall. Ever since, the three-gabled silhouette of the building has been the symbol of the city. Even today, Frankfurt’s city council – an elected municipal parliament – holds its meetings here. As far back as the Middle Ages, fairs and markets took place inside the town hall’s Römerhallen and on the Römerberg outside. Today, the Römerberg is in the heart of the old town centre and a popular tourist destination. And the Römerhallen are still in demand as a venue for a large variety of events.

St. Paul’s Church

Not far from the Römer is the St. Paul’s Church, where the first German National Assembly was held in 1848. Since then, the church has been known as the cradle of German democracy.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

He was born in Frankfurt on the 28th of August 1749, spending the early part of his life here. His birthplace is one of Frankfurt’s most popular tourist attractions, and in 1997 the Goethe House was extended to also include the Goethe Museum.
Web: https://www.goethehaus-frankfurt.de/

FRA — Frankfurt Airport

See our article: Frankfurt Airport – what you need to know

Bank and Business District Downtown

Frankfurt Skyline at night [Nicolas Scheuer [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]]
Frankfurt Skyline at night [Nicolas Scheuer [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]]

As the seat of the European Central Bank, Frankfurt’s claim to the status of a leading financial center is strengthened by the fact that 229 of the 332 banks represented here (194 of these being foreign banks) have chosen to have their headquarters in the Main metropolis. Although the number of foreign banks has decreased noticeably over the last few years, this can mostly be attributed to mergers.

Frankfurt is also Germany’s advertising capital. Its creative thinkers come up with a sizeable chunk of the advertising slogans that entice us every day. Around 1,000 advertising and communications businesses responsible for product marketing and image development are based in Frankfurt.

Shopping, Seasonal Events, Suburbs & more

In contrast to the busy inner-city life and its internationally renowned shopping opportunities, the rural-style suburbs with their romantic half-timbered houses offer an idyllic village atmosphere that typifies German Gemütlichkeit.

After a day’s shopping in Frankfurt, an enjoyable evening can be had in a traditional apple wine pub in the Sachsenhausen district, or maybe at one of the countless jazz and live music venues. During summer, the popular street festivals come highly recommended. In the winter, a stroll across the traditional Christmas market on the Römerberg is not be missed.

A highlight on Frankfurt’s annual events calendar is the Museum Embankment Festival held in August – a spectacle of top-flight arts and culture. During the ‘Sound of Frankfurt’ music festival, thousands of cheerful young people party all night to an exhilarating array of well-known DJs on multiple stages playing techno, house, rock, rap and Latin American music.

Day Trips

Frankfurt is also an ideal base for day trips: the mountainous forest landscapes of the Taunus, Spessart and Odenwald regions are easily reached by car, public transport and even boat. The romantic Rheingau area, with its picturesque castles and vineyards, and famous cities like Heidelberg, Wiesbaden and Mainz, are also ideal destinations for relaxing holiday jaunts.

City Tour with the Ebbelwei-Express

The Ebbelwei Express is a tram tour through the city while you are enjoying a glass of Apple Wine and Pretzels. Don’t miss it.
Web: https://www.ebbelwei-express.de/en/

City of Museums

Due mainly to the 14 museums located on both sides of the Main, Frankfurt has developed a reputation as a significant cultural center. The museum embankment represents a unique synthesis of renowned exhibition culture and far-sighted city planning. Several 19th century buildings worthy of preservation were gutted and given a new lease of life; their exteriors are still a characteristic feature of the riverbank. Many of the newer buildings and extensions are true architectural gems, designed by internationally renowned architects. The Museum of Modern Art, designed by Viennese architect Hans Hollein, is one such gem, the building being shaped like a slice of cake. Other highlights from Frankfurt’s range of museums are the German Architecture Museum and the Museum of Communication.

The museums on Frankfurt’s Museumsufer (museum embankment) are lined up like pearls on a string. A total of nine are situated on the southern Main bank alone. Two museums are located directly on the northern bank and three in the immediate vicinity. Plenty of other museums can also be found all over the city.

The “Museumsufer” was brought to life in the 1980s. Since 1976, the City of Frankfurt has invested around 200 million Euro into this unique museum landscape. Frankfurt´s museum embankment represents a synthesis of the city’s high-quality cultural life and well-thought-out architectural planning. Several 19th century buildings worthy of preservation were stripped of their interiors and given a new breath of life; their façades still remain a characteristic feature of the Main bank. Many of the newer buildings and extensions are true architectural gems, designed by internationally renowned architects.

Should you be strolling around the museum embankment coming from the Holbeinsteg (a footbridge built in 1991), your museum tour will start on the southern Main bank. Take a few paces down the Main and you will find the Giersch House – Museum of Regional Art at Schaumainkai 83. This museum was opened in 2000 and is dedicated to the history of art in the Frankfurt Rhine-Main region. Exhibitions are changed twice a year, and contain works by 19th and 20th century artists whose lives and works were vitally linked to the region’s economical centre, Frankfurt.

Directly next door at the Schaumainkai 71, you will find the Liebighaus. This museum of ancient sculptures displays its collection within a former mansion and its adjoining park grounds. In 1990, an extension symmetrical to the gallery space was added to the 1896 building. Apart from all types of small sculptures, the Liebighaus exhibits an extensive collection of sculptures from the Antiquity to more recent times.

Not much further down the street you will arrive at the Städel Art Institute and Municpal Gallery, Schaumainkai 63, opened in 1878 as a gift to the city from the merchant and art collector Johann Friedrich Städel. This painting gallery holds works by European artists from the 13th through to the 20th century, including famous painters such as Dürer, Elsheimer, Rembrandt and Botticelli. Impressionist and expressionist works are on display, as well as woodcuts, lithographs, copper etchings and modern graphic prints. The gallery extension, finished in 1990, mostly exhibits 20th century works. Temporary exhibitions of exceptionally high quality (e.g. 2001’s “Vincent van Gogh and the Painters of the Petit Boulevard”) and the café/restaurant “Holbein’s” continually provide new attractions.

The next cultural attraction to be encountered on the Main bank is the Museum of Communication Frankfurt, Schaumainkai 53, situated in a mansion that was built in 1891. Extensions, including a striking glass structure, were added by the architects Günther Behnisch&Partner in 1990. The museum houses graphic collections and documents concerning the history of communication from the time of the counts Thurn and Taxis up to modern telecommunications. Post wagons, historical uniforms, old mailboxes and postal counters as well as modern amateur radio systems and high-tech telecommunications devices are on display; exhibitions also include postage stamps, post-marks and paintings by Spitzweg, Beuys and Dalí, which reflect these artists’ engagement with the theme of communication.

Walk a few metres further and you’ll find a beautiful patrician house from 1912, redeveloped into a museum building by the architect Oswald Mathias Ungers. In 1984, the German Architecture Museum was opened at Schaumainkai 43, the first of its kind in Germany. It holds a comprehensive collection of 19th and 20th century architecture plans, drawings, sketches, designs and models, as well as the museum’s “house inside a house”. Changing exhibitions underline the museum’s pledge to be a forum for the presentation of contemporary architecture and to contribute to the discourse on international architecture.

The next pearl on the string of museums is to be found right next door: the German Film Museum (Schaumainkai 41), also opened in 1984 and also originally a patrician house from the year 1910, which was in this case redeveloped by Bofinger &Partner. The museum includes interactive exhibits and visitors are permitted to explore many wondrous devices from the world of cinema. A permanent exhibition is in place to guide you through film history. Marvel at cameras, projectors, film posters and stills; filming techniques can be simulated in the reconstructed film studio. The in-house art cinema offers up to three screenings of historically or cinematographically significant films a day (except Mondays), as well as hosting retrospectives and film forums.

An insight into exotic cultures may be gained at the Museum of World Culture/Gallery 37 (Schaumainkai 29-37). The museum stages extensive theme-based exhibitions in support of its vision of demonstrating the contrasts between different peoples, cultures and religions, and of contextualising current issues. At around 70,000 works, the museum holds the biggest collection of contemporary “third-world” art in Europe. Gallery 37 exhibits works by largely unknown artists of Indian, African, Oceanic and Indonesian descent.

Richard Meier of New York is the architect responsible for the “white house by the Main”, the centrepiece of the museum embankment’s architectural string of pearls. This white house is the 1985 extension of the 1804 Villa Metzler, home of the Museum of Applied Arts at Schaumainkai 17. The museum, also known as “mak.frankfurt”, is subdivided into four areas (Europe, Islam, Far East, book-design/calligraphy), where a diverse range of arts and crafts are on display: minute treasures made from glass, porcelain, ceramics, bronze, ivory and gems are exhibited here alongside rugs, furniture, medieval manuscripts and printwork objects; naturally, the recent collection of “digital craft” is equally well represented. Holding approx. 30,000 objects, this is one of the most significant applied-arts museums in the world.

A visit to the Icon Museum in the Deutschordenshaus, Brückenstrasse 3-7, concludes the promenade around the southern bank of the Main. The contrast between the building interior, designed by Oswald Mathias Ungers, and the Baroque exterior provides an interesting entry point to the exhibitions on display inside. The iconic portraits of saints of Russian, Bulgarian, Yugoslavian and Greek origins were donated to the city by the internist Dr. Jörgen Schmidt-Voigt, who had collected them during numerous professional visits to the former Soviet Union over three decades. Thanks to gifts, purchases and items on loan, the museum’s collection has been expanded to encompass around 1,000 works; not only icons but also metal sculptures, church fabrics and Ethiopian magic scrolls are on exhibition.

If you now cross the Main on the nearby Eiserner Steg (a footbridge opened in 1869) you will find yourself directly outside the Historical Museum on the northern bank, Saalgasse 19. Founded in 1878, this museum is housed in five interconnected buildings grouped around an inner court, namely the Bernus and Burnitz buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, the Saalhofkapelle (court chapel) and Rententurm (customs tower) from the 12th and 15th centuries, and a modern building opened in 1972. Visiting this museum is like taking a walk through the city’s history. Pictures, photos, prints, furniture, fabrics, household items and trade tools all demonstrate vividly how people of Frankfurt lived, worked and played throughout the ages, from Medieval times until today.

A short walk from the Historical Museum over the Römerberg, Frankfurt’s historic old town center, leads to three exhibition sites dedicated primarily to the fine arts: the Schirn Art Hall, the Steinerne Haus, and the Leinwandhaus. All three buildings are within sight of the Kaiserdom cathedral.
The Schirn, opened in 1986, hosts changing exhibitions with works by famous artists from a variety of countries and periods, as well as photographic exhibitions. Kandinsky, Miró, Picasso, Guido Reni, Chagall, the art of Mexico and other exhibitions have drawn many thousands of visitors in the past.
The 15th century Steinerne Haus is used by the Frankfurt Art Association to exhibit contemporary artists from within and outside Germany.
The Leinwandhaus, first built at the end of the 14th century and authentically reconstructed in 1983 to rectify war damages, is used by the Communal Gallery to exhibit fine arts predominantly by artists from Frankfurt, as well as by the Photography Forum Frankfurt to show contemporary photography.

A little further to the north between Berlinerstrasse and Braubachstrasse you will find Frankfurt’s most modern museum, often described as a “Tortenstück” (slice of cake) due to its triangular floor plan. It was designed by the Viennese architect Hans Hollein and is the home of the Museum of Modern Art, Domstrasse 10. Since the summer of 1991, art works created after 1945 have been on display throughout the 5,000 square metres of exhibition space, ranging from pop art to current styles. Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella and Joseph Beuys are just some of the names of artists represented in the Museum of Modern Art.

The 13th-15th century Carmelite Monastery is located to the west of the Historical Museum, not far from the River Main. The architect Josef Paul Kleihues added an unconventional extension to the old building at Karmelitergasse 1-5. This ensemble of the old and the new in the Carmelite Monastery is the home of the Institute for City History (Karmelitergasse 5), developed from the former city archive, and the Museum of Pre-History and Early History in the new annex. This museum holds a near-complete collection of archaeological finds from the provincial Roman city of Nida (now the northern Frankfurt suburb Heddernheim). Prehistoric evidence from the Frankfurt area dating back to the Neolithic period and items from the early Middle Ages are on permanent display, as are artefacts from the Mediterranean region and the Middle East.

A little further down the Main bank at Untermainkai 14-15, culture enthusiasts will find the Jewish Museum, which was opened in 1989 in the former Rothschild-Palais building (first altered in 1821, then recently modified by the architect Ante Josip von Kostelac). The museum provides graphic insight into Jewish family life in Frankfurt, offering a closer look at Jewish customs, celebrations and traditions. The walk-through model of the Frankfurt Judengasse, built to the scale 1:50 from original street plans, is particularly impressive. Original foundations of buildings from the Judengasse are on display in the Museum Judengasse (Börneplatz / Kurt-Schumacher-Strasse 10), a branch of the Jewsih Museum.

Although the visit to the Jewish Museum concludes the tour of the famed museum embankment, it far from concludes the tour of Frankfurt’s museums. There are many further museums of all shapes and sizes spread out all over the city, all of which are well worth visiting.
The most notable would have to be the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History (Senckenberganlage 25), not far from the university in the Bockenheim district. This is Germany’s largest science museum; its collection of dinosaurs and great whales from previous geological eras is regarded as the most significant in Europe.

Naturally, Frankfurt also pays a tribute to its greatest son, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The Goethe House and Goethe Museum are situated at Grosser Hirschgraben 23. Goethe’s reconstructed birth house provides insight into the routine and life style of the Goethe family, a typical 18th century middle-class family. The Goethe Museum shows exhibits that document the life and works of this prince of poets and his contemporaries.

Another well-known Frankfurt native, the psychiatrist Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann, author and illustrator of the famous children’s book “Struwwelpeter”, is remembered by two institutions: the Heinrich Hoffmann Museum (Schubertstraße 20) and the Struwwelpeter Museum (Bendergasse 1). At the Heinrich Hoffmann Museum, children of all ages can relive the story of the “bad boy” Struwwelpeter (a cautionary childrens’ book published in 1847), while grown-ups get informed about the author’s life and works. The Struwwelpeter Museum exhibits “Struwwelpeter” editions and parodies from one-and-a-half centuries, as well as documents inherited from Hoffmann alongside slides to visually emphasise the commitment of the psychiatrist and psychiatry reformist.

The EXPLORA Museum+Science+Technology is situated on Glauburgplatz in the north end of Frankfurt. Extraordinary attractions showing optical and visual phenomena that reflect on the visitor’s subjective perception are showcased here. The EXPLORA Museum purports to be a science centre that demonstrates simply and feasibly the wide range of scientific laws and technologies of our time. By experiencing and interacting with the exhibits, visitors gain insight into the complex correlations inherent in the physics of nature.

Among the smaller but excellent museums in Frankfurt, the Chaplin Archives (Klarastrasse 5, Eschersheim district) deserves particular attention. This private museum comes complete with its own cinema, which brings the legendary slapstick hero back to life in all his guises, from the artist to the kitsch and clichéd. Chaplin’s seminal influence on the history of film is documented most thoroughly.

Frankfurt major events and trade shows

Events, Cultural Life in Frankfurt

With its healthy budget for cultural events – unusually high for German local authorities – the city has been able to fund not only opera, ballet and theatre productions, but also numerous private theatres. Another symbol of Frankfurt’s commitment to culture is the Concert and Congress Centre Alte Oper Frankfurt, rebuilt after the Second World War to return it to its original Italian Renaissance style. The university, founded in 1914, carries the name of Frankfurt’s most famous son, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Museum Embankment Festival

When: August.
The last weekend in August is, as always, reserved for the internationally renowned Museum Embankment Festival. This incredible cultural celebration ranks amongst Europe’s biggest and best open-air festivals. On this weekend, Frankfurt pulls out all the stops in celebrating its fabulous museums, offering a superb programme of events for visitors of all ages. Cultural and culinary offers from around the world come together on the banks of the River Main, turning this unique riverside festival into a truly memorable experience.

Spring Dippemess Festival

When: April. Where: Frankfurt Fairgrounds.
Frankfurt´s Spring Dippemess at the Festplatz (Fairground) on Ratsweg is the largest folk festival in the Rhine-Main region. This festival comprises a market with stalls as well as parish fair with fairground attractions. In September the ‘Autumn Dippemess’ takes place at the same location.

Rheingau Wine Festival

When: September. Where: “Freßgass´”, Große Bockenheimer Straße / Opernplatz.
The last weekend in August is, as always, reserved for the internationally renowned Museum Embankment Festival. This incredible cultural celebration, to be held from 28th to 30th August 2009, ranks among Europe’s biggest and best open-air festivals. On this weekend, Frankfurt pulls out all the stops in celebrating its fabulous museums, offering a superb program of events for visitors of all ages. Cultural and culinary offers from around the world come together on the banks of the River Main, turning this unique riverside festival into a truly memorable experience.Rheingau vintners will be presenting their fine wines in the “Freßgass´”, the charming restaurant and fine food area within Frankfurt´s pedestrian shopping zone. More than 600 wines and sparkling wines from the Rheingau region will be tasted at 30 vintner stands.

May Fest (Maifest) at the Römerberg

When: May. Where: Römerberg. There are no car parking facilities for the event and visitors are requested to use local public transport. The best connections for the mainfest are the following ones. (Tram and underground stations: “Römer/Paulskirche” and “Hauptwache”; tram stops: “Römer”, “Willi-Brand-Platz”)

Christmas Market in Frankfurt

When: End of November until Christmas. Where: Römerberg, Paulsplatz und Mainkai (Main quay).
In terms of the visitor numbers and size, the Frankfurt Christmas Market is one of the most important Christmas markets in Germany. More: Frankfurt Christmas Market

Christopher Street Day

When: July. Where: see organizer’s web site (link to be found further below).
It’s one of the largest Gay event in Frankfurt.

Trade Fair Frankfurt (Messe Frankfurt) with its world-class fairs like the IAA (International Motor Show)

Thanks to its favourable traffic connections, Frankfurt is one of Europe’s oldest trading centres north of the Alps. The first trade fairs are known to have taken place here as early as the 11th century. Today, 10 centuries later, Frankfurt is one of the world’s most significant trade fair locations. Kaiser Friedrich II declared it the world’s first trade fair city by way of imperial privilege in 1240.

Messe Frankfurt, the city’s trade fair organisation, can therefore trace 750 years of history and tradition. These days, the expo grounds west of the city provide the enormous national and international trade fairs held in Frankfurt with 475,000 sq/m of exhibition space in ten large halls. The best-known and most popular fairs are the Frankfurt Book Fair and the International Automotive Exhibition (IAA).

IAA – International Motor Show Passenger Cars

When: September.
One of the largest and most important car shows in the world.

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