I’ve lived in Frankfurt for over a half year now and it’s time to give my review and rating of being an expat in Germany’s financial capital. It’s been long enough where I feel very comfortable with getting around the city, rented an apartment, explored all the bars/restaurants, and traveled around Europe like Europeans do.
Overall, like when I was living in Johannesburg, South Africa, I absolutely love being an expat and living in a foreign country. Frankfurt, just like Johannesburg, is a great place to work and live (but not so much as a tourist because there aren’t as many sights to see here). Of course there are also things I dislike about living in Germany (not Frankfurt in particular) but I must say overall, it’s good living.
The quality of life in Frankfurt is absolutely fantastic, especially as someone moving from New York or London. Many people like to talk down Frankfurt, especially the Germans, as a place that has no culture or character. While I can see where they are coming from, there are much more beautiful places in Germany to see, but I disagree with them. There is much more positive things about Frankfurt than negative things. It’s no wonder Frankfurt ranked #12 on the Economist’s most liveable cities list 2019
This post is all a part of my ultimate guide to living in Frankfurt, Germany where I list out all the things you need to know as an expat in Frankfurt and Germany.
Culture and diversity in Frankfurt
When people say Frankfurt lacks culture and diversity, I’m a bit shocked. I’d argue Frankfurt is the most culturally diverse city in Germany. So many people flock to Frankfurt for work or school, that you can find all languages being spoken. As far as English goes, I’d argue that Frankfurt has the most amount of English being spoken compared to the rest of the country.
I’ve met people from at least 50 different countries all living in Frankfurt. There are even festivals dedicated to many different cultures throughout the year. If this is one of your hesitations about Frankfurt, which it was for me because numerous Germans told me how devoid of culture it was, I would say it is totally unfounded.
Frankfurt is easy for English Speakers
Do you need to speak German to survive in Frankfurt? The answer is all answered in this post about speaking German in Frankfurt. I think in years past, Frankfurt would have been more difficult for a non-German speaker, but with how international it has become, it’s not a make or break to speak German. Germans also speak impeccable English to begin with. Does this mean you should forego learning German? Absolutely not. If you’re planning to live here for more than a year, you should definitely still consider learning German because well, you’re living in Germany.
Speaking even a little bit of the local language in any country where English is not the native language will go a long way to better life satisfaction. While it’s likely my German will never be better than a German person’s English, just being able to understand basic phrases makes life so much more enjoyable. However, know that if you do not choose to learn German, you will be able to survive here without much issue.
Distance to Frankfurt Airport
Frankfurt Airport is without a doubt one of the, if not the most central airport in Europe. It is located in the very center of Europe and there is nowhere on the continent that is more than 3 hours by flight. While the airport itself is on the nicer side, I think the best part about the airport is the distance to Frankfurt city.From Frankfurt’s Hauptbahnhof, it is a less than 15 minute train ride on the S8 or S9 S-Bahn train to Frankfurt Airport terminal 1. The train takes you directly inside the Terminal saving so much time. I routinely leave for my flights out of Frankfurt with less than 2 hours until departure.
The airport also has a wide array of full service and discount airlines that take you to all corners of Europe, Africa and Asia. Ryanair flies from Terminal 2 and has super cheap flights to Italy, Greece, Spain etc. while Wizzair has equally as cheap flights to Eastern Europe. All in all, if you are not feeling the love for Frankfurt, at least know you can get out very easily. I take regular weekend or long weekend trips out of Frankfurt like my spur of the moment to visit Chernobyl in Ukraine.
Markets, Festivals, and more markets (drinking in public)
This is not really a Frankfurt specific thing that I like, but more of a German culture as a whole. German’s love to drink, and they love to drink outside because you are allowed to drink in public in Germany. Coming from a place where this is not allowed, it’s a revelation. It’s not as if I am walking around getting drunk all day in public, but I think having the option and knowing you will not get in trouble for it is fantastic.
Read here for a detailed write up of all the festivals and markets in Frankfurt.
Germany, and Frankfurt specifically, has a lot of festivals and markets that allow people to do just that. All year round, Frankfurt has a variety of markets that take place on certain days of the week. These markets have your usual food stands, wine/beer tents, as well as fresh produce and meats.
Kleinmarkthalle is the most well known located in the Innenstadt. It is open every day except Sundays and there is always a bunch of people drinking wine on Saturdays. I’ve had many sloppy Saturdays here.
Konstablerwache Market takes place ever Thursday and Saturday and is the ultimate farmers market. You can also expect to find your standard wine tents, apfelwein, beer, grilled foods, and produce stands.
Other markets are the Bergerstrasse market in Bornheim.
During the warmer months, usually between May and October, there are numerous festivals that happen throughout the city. These usually last from 1 day to 2 weeks at a time and have different themes like focusing on apfelwein, regular wine, or just a big festival because why not give everyone in the city more excuses to drink?
My favorite festivals are the Bahnhofsviertelnacht, where the entire central station area tranforms into a big outdoor drinking party. The Museumsuferfest where the entire Main river area transforms into a big party. Others like the Rheingau weinfest, Fressgassfest, Sachsenhausen fest, and more that I can’t keep track of make for a summer of endless options and fun.
Of course, we can’t forget about the famous Frankfurt Christmas Market either. This month long celebration makes November and December fly by!
Prices of alcohol and food in Germany
This will only really apply to people coming from more expensive places like London and New York but the prices in Frankfurt and Germany as a whole are great. Alcohol is cheap here in relation to the incomes. A glass of wine at a restaurant in Frankfurt will be between €4 and €6 and the pours are always generous. Food prices are similarly reasonably priced.
I eat out a lot and spend significantly less here than I did before. Food and drinks at a festival or market are even cheaper. Which brings me to the next point.
Lots of good restaurants and choices
Frankfurt is not known as a culinary destination by any means and I’m totally okay with that. Too many places that are given this label tend to not live up to the hype, perhaps because of standards being set too high.
Frankfurt however, is a city with every culinary option you can imagine. The diversity of the city is also reflected in the cuisine. In fact, I’ve never had more Thai and Vietnamese food in my life until moving here. German food is actually not as easy to find as you’d think, although there is a healthy collection of German restaurants in Sachsenhausen.
How small Frankfurt is as a city
Frankfurt as a city is very condensed. Coming from New York, Frankfurt feels like a village, but in all the best ways. It’s a small city masquerading as a big city. While the city has many neighborhoods, most expats will likely want to live in the inner city area including Sachsenhausen Nord, Nordend, Westend, Ostend, Bornheim, Bockenheim, and the Innenstadt. If you’re working in and around the Innenstadt, you can expect to get to work in less than 30 minutes.
For me, living in Nordend and working in the Innenstadt is absolutely amazing. I spend only 10 minutes biking to work and the traffic is incredibly relaxed. I’ve never felt stressed out going to work like I have in New York or London fighting the huge crowds.
While the city has great public transportation infrastructure, I’ve never felt the need to use them as a bike is more than sufficient to get around everywhere in Frankfurt.
Frankfurt is the ultimate Biking city
I always thought of Amsterdam or Copenhagen as the ultimate bike cities of Europe. They take their biking pretty seriously in those parts without a doubt.
However, I must say that on top of the point made in the section above, the small but ultra condensed size of Frankfurt really makes it the best biking city I’ve been in. You do not need a car in Frankfurt whatsoever if you are living in working in the city. A bike is more than enough to get you anywhere you need.
From Nordend to Sachenhausen is the north to the southern boundaries of central Frankfurt and this is a 20 minute bike ride. Bockenehim to Bornheim is Frankfurt’s western and eastern boundaries which is also roughly 20 minutes.
The city is flat throughout and there are plenty of wide bike lanes. The city of Frankfurt doesn’t get much traffic so you never feel overwhelmed. Even during rush hour, you won’t feel like you are battling through it.
Swapfiets in Frankfurt
I opted to rent my bike through Swapfiets, a fantastic Dutch startup. It’s a monthly pay as you go type of service that rents out high quality bikes. Best of all, they have a full time dedicated support service that will fix or replace your bike anytime you need.
Cost of Living in Frankfurt
As far as salary to expenses go, I find Frankfurt to be very good. Salaries are high by German standards which may be driven by the large financial and IT services industry. The costs are comparably reasonable. Coming from New York, I am able to live a much better lifestyle here and I suspect those moving from London or other big cities would feel the same way.
I’m not saying Frankfurt is a cheap place to live because that is completely false. I am however, saying that with respect to the average salaries and average costs, Frankfurt is much better than other cities. Frankfurt is considered to be Germany’s 2nd most expensive city after Munich, so please do not get the wrong idea.
Real estate in Frankfurt
Almost all people in Frankfurt will complain about the cost of real estate and how it is going up too much. Let’s be honest that in this day and age, affordability is a problem for every major city in the world. However, as someone moving from a more expensive city like New York, London, Paris, etc. I think the value for money proposition is fantastic in Frankfurt.
From a space-cost-salary perspective, I think Frankfurt does much better than other cities. I am able to rent a much larger and more high quality apartment in Frankfurt than I ever could in New York, and I make less money now. Not only that, Germans have high standards. Landlords, whether it is self pride or strict regulations, do not neglect their buildings and/or do the bare minimum to get by. I saw many apartments in Frankfurt during my apartment search and even the cheapest apartments were of the highest quality, including looking for flat shares with roommates.
Frankfurt weather is not terrible
Well I’m not going to go out and say you should move to Frankfurt or any part of Germany for that matter, specifically for the weather. Germany is not known for its sunny blue skies like Greece or southern Spain. However, I must say that Frankfurt’s weather is better than its reputation. I was picturing cold, overcast skies for the majority of the year. While it definitely has its fair share of overcast and rainy days, it is nothing like Amsterdam or London. The weather here is much more varied. You’ll see a healthy balance of sunny and not sunny days.
In the winter months, for some reason, I was thinking of how it may be like Scandinavia cold but it is nowhere close. In fact, the weather in Frankfurt is much milder than my home in New York. The winter months get cold, but never get frigid. The coldest days are perhaps -5c and those are uncommon. I would say the average weather is between 0 and 5c in the winter months which while not ideal, could be a whole lot worse.
The summer months are fantastic and the generally nice weather is complemented by the endless amount of festivals. Also, if you can’t stand the weather, please see the section on Frankfurt airport.
EDIT 2021: January is a terrible month in Frankfurt on average. Actually Jan-Mar are pretty dead months of the year with mostly mediocre weather. Thankfully, there is no better time to go skiing in the most beautiful mountain range in the world.
Great public transport and infrastructure
Many people in Germany complain about the public transportation. Sure, it is not as perfect as you you’d think in a country that is known for “German efficiency” and I’ve seen numerous delays when taking trains. However, when someone complains to me, I just tell them move to NYC for a few years and I guarantee you’ll come back and never complain ever again.
Frankfurt is blessed with a wide array of transportation options. The U-Bahn, S-Bahn, Trams and buses make getting around Frankfurt a breeze. Plus the small size of the city makes it a quick trip no matter what.
If you’re keen to bike like myself, it is not as bike friendly as a place like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but there are plenty of bike lanes in the city. There are also numerous bike sharing options like Windbyke as well as four different E-scooter companies.
Alternatively, Swapfiets offers a monthly bike subscription program where you get your own bike. I have since signed up for this and it is absolutely fantastic and can highly recommend it.
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