Transport hub, financial centre, workaholics’ paradise. Frankfurt might conjure up images of all work, no play. But nothing could be further from the truth. This city is teeming with cool stuff to make your day fly by. Joe Minihane regularly hops on the short flight to this Rhine-Main metropolis. Here are his tips on making your day in Frankfurt utterly memorable.
Chances are your hotel will be near to Frankfurt’s huge railway station, so be sure to kick the day off here with a coffee from an all-night bakery stall. If you’re here on a weekday, collect an iPod city guide from the station’s tourist information office (Empfangshalle, 069 2123 8800). Alternatively, you can snare a free guide from the iOS App Store for your iPhone, replete with offline maps so your smartphone data doesn’t take a battering. Stroll along tree-lined Kaiserstraße through the Bahnhofsviertel, an edgy mix of 19th-century architecture, sleaze and multicultural colour with a scattering of hip bars. Cross the gardens at Gallusanlage to reach Willy-Brandt-Platz. Stop here for that all-important establishing shot of the Euro sign at the foot of the European Central Bank.
In canyon-like Neue Mainzer Strasse, where skyscrapers loom overhead, it’s obvious where Frankfurt’s ‘Mainhattan’ nickname came from. Admire Norman Foster’s eco-friendly 1997 Commerzbank, still the pick of a tall bunch; you’ll be visiting its neighbour, the Main Tower, later. Continue on foot to Café Karin (Großer Hirschgraben 28, 069 295 217), the most enduringly popular café in Frankfurt, with masses of choice on its breakfast menu and – on fine days – high demand for an outside table. Across the street is the Goethe-Haus (Großer Hirschgraben 23-25, 069 138 800), where Germany’s greatest writer was born in 1749; its post-1945 transformation from smoking ruin to flawless time capsule is astonishing.
The oldest bits of Frankfurt stretch east along the banks of the Main River. Cross bleak Berliner Straße to reach the heavily restored Karmeliterkloster (Münzgasse 9, 069 2123 8425). Hardly Frankfurt’s most-visited monument, it’s worth a stop for Jörg Ratgeb’s richly coloured, late-medieval frescoes. The nearby St Leonhardskirche is a small riverside church whose creative medieval architects did amazing things with Gothic vaulting. Unlike Frankfurt’s other churches it escaped serious wartime damage, so it still has the smell and patina of age. Continue along the Mainkai to reach Römerberg, Frankfurt’s most historic square, dominated by the step-gabled medieval town hall and the setting for the famous Christmas market. It’s all very impressive, but most of its ‘historic’ houses are modern copies; the originals vanished in the 1943 air raids. Plans are afoot to rebuild more on the vacant plot between Römerberg and the cathedral. In the middle of all this are the uncompromisingly modern Schirn Kunsthalle (Römerberg, 069 299 8820), which hosts big touring art exhibitions, and the MMK contemporary art gallery (Domstraße 10, 069 2123 0447). The latter is a must-see, with a vast collection of works dating from the 1940s to the modern day. Bacon, Lichtenstein and Warhol are all present and correct.
Leave behind Römerberg’s touristy street side cafés and instead walk into the historic Sachsenhausen district. This is the best spot to indulge in some local delicacies at the excellent Lorsbacher Thal (Große Rittergasse 49, 069 616 459). Succulent pigs knuckle and sauerkraut is served with lashings of its home-brewed Apfelwein. More local delights can be found in Fichtekränzi (Wallstraße 5, 069 612 778), which serves hefty plates of marinated cheese, all washed down with more apple-based booze. The terrace at Holbein’s (Holbeinstraße 1, 069 6605 6666) is the place to don shades and talk knowingly about art, while at weekends La Trinca (Schweizer Strasse 14, 069 622 393) serves lunchtime tapas in stylish modern surroundings.
Hang around in Sachsenhausen when you’ve finished lunch and indulge in some of the city’s best culture and shopping. The superb Städel art gallery (Schaumainkai 63, 069 605 0980) plays home to works ranging from the old masters to more modern collections, the latter housed in its new exhibition space underneath its main lawn. If you’re here on a Saturday, be sure to peruse the excellent flea market (which takes place every other week) for bargains, souvenirs and vintage clothing. For inspired womenswear and accessories, try Yasmin Lambrecht’s pretty Blütenstaub (Wallstraße 26, 069 6032 9599) or Natascha Spendic’s Frauenzimmer (Wallstraße 4, 069 6060 7117). You can get espresso with hipster trainers at Conmoto (Wallstraße 22, 069 6696 2010) and all manner of stylish things from fashion to toys at concept store Colekt (Brückenstrasse 21, 069 1749 8949).
If you developed a taste for Apfelwein over lunch, then stick around Alt-Sachsenhausen and grab a glass at Zum Gemalten Haus (Schweizer Strasse 67, 069 614 559). For those who want to sip on something chilled from the Frankfurt am Main region’s vineyards, the delightful, unstuffy Bockenheimer Weinkontor (Schloßstraße 92, 069 702 031) is a relaxed, trendy option. Order at the bar and take a seat on an upturned wine crate in the cosy courtyard. Afterwards, wander back to Neue Mainzer Strasse to ascend to the 56th-floor viewing terrace of the Main Tower skyscraper (Neue Mainzer Strasse 52-58, 069 3650 4740) for panoramic views across Frankfurt and the surrounding landscape. The terrace is outdoors, which makes it perfect for photography in the soft evening light.
Frankfurt’s dining scene is legendary. For a truly unique experience, book a table at the Tigerpalast Variete Theater (Heiligkreuzgasse 16-20, 069 920 0220). Michelin-star chef Andreas Krolik serves up amazing French-Austrian fusion food in a setting that’s far beyond your average dining room, with a stunning, vaudeville theme. Nordend is a promising part of town for culinary wanderings. Try the popular, welcoming Exil (Mercatorstraße 26, 069 447 200), where the eclectic, seasonal menu changes daily, Blumen (Rotlintstraße 60, 069 4908 6510), with just 18 covers and choice limited to four or seven courses from weekly-changing set menus, or Quan Van (Schwarzburgstrasse 74, 069 599 723) for Vietnamese pho and summer rolls. You’ll struggle to find better outside Saigon.
Make your way back to Mainkai for a couple of jars at the superb Die Rote (Mainkai 7, 069 293 533). Waiters in crisp whites pull together sensational cocktails, from classic Gin Fizzes to unique concoctions, such as the rum-heavy El Presidente. Catch an art house flick at Orfeo’s Erben (Hamburger Allee 45, 069 7076 9100) – its first-class airline seats are perfect for a cosy evening’s viewing, and its adjoining bar is great on summer nights thanks to its small but gorgeous veranda. Party fiends should be sure to try out APT Apartment (Hanauer Landstraße 190, 069 1755 44130), which opens its doors into the wee hours at weekends, playing a selection of funk and house tunes from local and international DJs.