After living in Frankfurt for almost a year, life has been great. I absolutely love living in this city which is totally underrated as an expat destination. However, Germany is chalk full of amazing castles, wineries, historic old towns, and places that are much more picturesque than Frankfurt. When friends visit, I always tell them Frankfurt is a great place to live and work but if you’re short on time, there are way prettier and more “German” looking places than Frankfurt. Nevertheless, I would never discourage anyone from visiting Germany’s financial hub because there is more than enough to do for a few days.
I think after living here for some time, I am in a perfect position to craft the perfect one or two day itinerary which is what the vast majority of visitors would elect to give this city. If you have a layover at Frankfurt airport for more than 4 hours, I would highly recommend leaving the airport and visiting the city. The short distance and efficient S-Bahn trains means you can get to the city in 20 minutes. Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Frankfurt.
If you’re thinking about living in Frankfurt, make sure to read all my posts about being an expat in this wonderful city!
Getting from the airport to the city
It’s likely you’re visiting Frankfurt on a layover or there’s a good chance you’re flying into Frankfurt’s central airport. The good news is that the Frankfurt airport is super close to the city center. These are the two main ways to get to the city
Public Trains on the S-Bahn
This is my favorite method. Take the S-Bahn train which is located inside Terminal 1. If you’re arriving into Terminal 2, take the airport train to Terminal 1 and follow signs to the S-Bahn. You can’t miss it. From Frankfurt Airport, take the S8 or S9 train to either the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof (main train station). You can also get off at Hauptwache if you want to skip the slightly sketchy Bahnhofsviertel (train district), and arrive directly to the downtown area. The cost for the train is €4.95. It comes ever 15 minutes and takes roughly 15 minutes to get to the main train station. It’s incredible I know. It’s one of my favorite things about living in Frankfurt!
Frankfurt Airport to the city by taxi
From Frankfurt Airport, you can either take the standard metered taxis waiting directly outside of the airport terminal, or use the ride hailing apps available. A standard taxi will cost about €30-35 to get to the city center. The two apps you can use in Frankfurt are Uber and FreeNow. These are cheaper than standard taxis at about €20 to the city center and takes roughly 20 minutes to get to the city center with normal traffic.
Walk in the Innenstadt and Hauptwache
The central meeting point for you to remember is in the Innenstadt, or the Inner City. If you want to skip the Train station neighborhood, don’t get off at the Hauptbahnhof and instead get off one stop later at the Taunusanlage S-Bahn stop. This is the beginning of the Innenstadt, and the first thing you’ll see is the beautiful Alte Opera, or opera house. It’s the only place in Europe where you will find such beautiful Baroque buildings next to towering modern skyscrapers.
To the south of the square, St Catherine’s church towers over the downtown area. Heading past it (or stop for a look inside!), your next destination is St Paul’s Church (Paulskirche), which stands on the edge of Frankfurt old city. Construction of the original church was begun in 1789, the same year as the French Revolution, and it was in St Paul’s church that the first freely-elected legislative body in Germany, the Frankfurter National Assembly, met in 1849. Destroyed by the Allies in World War II, like much of the old city, the church has been reconstructed and is now used for ceremonial purposes. But the chimes of the church clock still add atmosphere to the old town area.
Explore the Altstadt (Old Town)
Close by St Paul’s Church, Römerberg is the hub and jewel of Frankfurt old town. Also destroyed during WWII but since lovingly rebuilt, the square is surrounded by classic German architecture including Frankfurt City Hall. The town square is filled with restaurants which spill out onto the square on a summer’s day; in December, Römerberg plays host to the Frankfurt Christmas Market. But even on a less picturesque occasion, the visitor can’t help but be dazzled by the stunning, chocolate-box architecture and buzz of the square.
The double-decker Frankfurt sightseeing bus departs from the street between St Pauls Church and Römerberg if you feel like taking the weight off your feet – or if the German weather thwarts yours plans for the day!
Dom – Frankfurt Cathedral
A short walk eastwards through narrow, picture-perfect streets takes you to Domplatz and the Imperial Cathedral of St Bartholomew. This Roman Catholic Church, built in the Gothic style, was also gutted by fire during World War II (spotting a theme here?), but extensive restoration makes it hard to imagine. However, you’ll see pictures of the area surrounding the cathedral and it was completely decimated.
Ornately decorated inside in the Catholic tradition, and a stark counterpoint to some of the plainer Lutheran churches of the city, it is well worth a look inside. Entrance is free, or visit during one of the concerts or church services for added atmosphere. The cathedral is filled with statues and other artwork which will dazzle the visitor.
Free walking tour of Frankfurt
This is one of my favorite ways to discover a new city and Frankfurt is home to a handful of free walking tours. Alternative Walking Tours is one of the most popular companies in Frankfurt and they offer free walking tours every day of the week at 10am and 2pm. They meet on the Kaiserstrasse right outside of the Hauptbahnhof making it easy for day trippers and short term visitors to join. They visit all the highlights of Frankfurt including
Central Station Area – Come and explore the central station area and get our alternative perspective on how it developed.
Old European Central Bank – The seat of the ECB sits on the former Wholesale market hall which was first inaugurated in 1928 and connects to the newly built twin skyscrapers.
Römer – We also venture onto one of Frankfurt’s most prominent landmarks. Romer has been the city hall for over 600 years and became city council property in 1405.
Eiserner Steg – The Eiserner Steg is not a simple footbridge, and has seen many iterations in its 150-year life – even falling prey to the devastation of WWII.
Paul’s Church– Not only was Paul’s Church the seat of the first publicly and freely-elected German legislative body, but it is also now the location of the Peace Prize for the German book trade.
Cathedral of St. Bartholomew – This Gothic church located in the centre of Frankfurt, and is the largest religious building in the city, with deep historical ties to the Roman Empire.
If you’re short on time, definitely consider doing this first as a way to get a general overview of the area.
Visit the markets
Germany is famous for its indoor and outdoor market and Frankfurt has these in abundance. In fact, I would say Frankfurt has the most markets per capita when compared to other cities in Germany. There are markets every day of the week except Sunday and Monday.
If you’re in Frankfurt during the day during those days, make sure to visit one of these markets for delicious local foods and very cheap wine with even more generous pours. The biggest markets in Frankfurt are definitely Kleinmarkthalle and Konstablerwache in the Innenstadt. If you’re here on a Saturday, make sure to visit the Kleinmarkthalle to have a good day drinking session with all the locals (weather permitting of course).
If you’re visiting in the warmer months, make sure to check if there is a festival happening. Frankfurt seems to have festivals every week in the summer months where you can expect to see even more stalls for food and drinks. Make sure to read about Frankfurt’s markets in detail if you’re keen for this.
Walk along the Main River
If you look at a map, you are going to notice Main River banks in the Inner District have a green color. That means most of the banks of the river have been designated parks or recreational areas. That is a big advantage to those who are visiting the city since the list of things to do grows because of this fact.
Along the river, you can visit museums (history, art, film, architecture, communications, there are plenty of museums), have a picnic, bike, jog, visit a beer garden or eat in a lovely restaurant with great views. This area made me aware of the high living standards of the city. I felt like staying for a longer period of time in order to absorb the joyful atmosphere.
Do a Cruise
I have not actually done this yet but it is a very popular activity. From the city side (not the Sachsenhausen side), there is a booth right next to the Iron Bridge that sells tickets for cruises along the Main river that will take you to some of the Frankfurt highlights. This would actually be a great activity to do in the summer months.
The European Central Bank
The ECB or European Central Bank used to be in the Willy Brand Platz near to the Bahnhofsviertel. The iconic Euro sign was the headquarters of the former ECB. In recent years, they have a brand new state of the art and huge building right on the Main in the Ostend. If you’re walking along the Main, you can’t miss the massive building that sticks out in an area with no other large buildings. The walk along the Main river is very pleasant on a sunny warm day.
As you walk down the area, make sure to visit the Oosten restaurant and bar right next to the ECB. This is one of my favorite places to grab a drink during the day when it is nice out. They have a big outdoor deck with perfect views of the Frankfurt skyline. Drinks are reasonably priced and the scene is not pretentious.
This garden has rave reviews on platforms such as TripAdvisor and Yelp.
Guests experience flora from a variety of climate zones within a park area of over 20 hectares (50 acres). The greenhouses on site are home to tropical and sub-tropical plants. Rose, rock and rhododendron garden can be enjoyed as well.
The Frankfurt Botanical Garden (a different entity) is located across this garden. Take into consideration this attraction is a bit away from the actual center. When planning a visit, take into consideration transit time (and options).
Rooftop Views of Frankfurt
The Main Tower is a 656 ft (200 m) skyscraper with two viewing platforms. It is the 4th tallest building in Frankfurt and in Germany.
The observation decks offer amazing views of the city and of the river. Once at the top, you can stop by the restaurant or lounge. I am including this option in here because the entrance fee is less than 8 Euros which is very reasonable for these rooftop type of things, especially considering the Empire State Building in NYC is now over $30.
The views are fantastic and you can see the entire skyline of Frankfurt. It is not New York or Hong Kong, but this is one of the highest points in continental Europe so there is that! I’ve never actually been to the observation deck as I’ve already been to the Primetime Main Tower gym which is adjacent to the observation deck and offers the same views but well…for free.
Galleria Kaufmann Roofdeck
If you’re looking for a roofdeck with views, the best place in the city is in my opinion the Galeria Kaufmann, a shopping center in the Innenstadt. Entrance is free and drinks are reasonably priced. Hell you don’t even need to buy a drink if you don’t want to!
Visit different museums on Museumsufer
This Museum Embankment, known as the Museumsufer, is a cluster of 12 museums on the banks of the river Main. Be sure to get yourself a Frankfurt card. Not only it gives you a discount for museums and other attractions, but also for public transportation.
Museum of World Cultures is one of Europe’s top ethnological museums with more than 65,000 artifacts. Another important museum, Museum of Ancient Sculpture, is home to a large collection of Asian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sculptures. The Icon Museum houses more than a thousand Christian Orthodox images. German Architectural Museum focuses on architectural design, German Film Museum on the history of cinema and the Lumière brothers, the Museum of Applied Art displays more than 30,000 objects of European and Asian decorative art.
Where to stay in Frankfurt
As you’d expect, there are no shortages of hotels in Frankfurt to stay the night. While most people elect by default to stay around the Hauptbahnhof because it is close to to getting to the airport, the Bahnhofsviertel is not my most preferred area. The Bahnhofsviertel is great for going out at night and for crazy parties like the Bahnhofsviertelnacht where the entire district turns into a big block party.
I would instead, recommend you stay in somewhere like the Innenstadt which is just 10 minutes away. This is the shopping district and is central to all of Frankfurt’s sights. If you would rather stay in a more quaint and picturesque European neighborhood where locals live, I would look at Sachsenhausen which is a locals neighborhood but chalk full of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained. Think of Times Square in New York vs the village.
Low end options (<€100)
Medium options (€100-250)
High end options (€250+)
Where to eat in Frankfurt
So now that you know what to do, the next most and perhaps just as important thing is where to eat! There are a plethora of great restaurants serving all types of cuisines in Frankfurt. If you want a list of all the options by cuisine, make sure to read my Frankfurt restaurant guide.
Otherwise, if you’re here for a short time, I’d recommend visiting a local Frankfurter style German restaurant. The Frankfurt style of German cuisine specializes in Gruner Soße, a cold sauce made from yoghurt, creme fraiche and seven herbs grown all around the Frankfurt region. There is even a festival in Frankfurt during the summer months dedicated to different types of green sauces. The second thing is Apfelwein, which is the Hessian take on apple cider. I’m not obsessed with it but I find it refreshing on a hot day. It is quite strong and is not sweet at all so you can drink a lot of this stuff. Of course, there is also a festival during the summer months dedicated to apfelwein as well. Germans love their festivals if I have not already mentioned it.
The biggest selection of German restaurants are in Sachsenhausen. Some of the famous ones are Adolf Wagner, Gaststätte Atschel, Ebbelwoi Unser, Apfelwein Dax and some others. However, my favorite German restaurant is definitely in Bornheim at Apfelwein Solzer. Try their Schnitzel with green sauce and that’s all you’ll need.
One day Frankfurt Itinerary
Now that you have a general idea of what the highlights of the city are, how to plan a one day itinerary? This will be best for those looking to visit on a long airport layover or are planning to go somewhere else in Germany shortly after.
9:00am: After breakfast, Explore the Bahnhofsviertel and walk towards Willy Brand Platz where the famous Euro statue is.
10:00am: Walk to through the Innenstadt, Hauptwache area, and towards Konstablerwache. Then to the Altstadt and Dom
12:00pm: Have lunch at the Kleinmarkthalle. If you’re visiting on a Saturday, make sure to have a few drinks with everyone.
2:00pm: Explore the Museums and walk around the Main river. Walk towards the ECB and have a drink at Oosten
6:00pm: Enjoy a drink at the Galleria rooftop and soak in the great views of the city
8:00pm: Have dinner at Apfelwein Solzer or any of the traditional Frankfurt style restaurants in the area.
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