While the economic hub of Europe might not be the primary destination for the majority of travellers, Frankfurt is nonetheless home to Europe’s third busiest airport and is a common stopover point for connecting flights within Europe.
With its towering skyscrapers and big-city feel, Frankfurt’s modernity is at odds with with everything else that Germany is known for — the charm of Bavaria, the mysticism of the Schwarzwald (Black Forest), the cultural hub of Berlin, the wine region of the Rhine — which is exactly why it makes for a unique experience and one that can’t be replicated elsewhere in Germany.
The proximity of the airport to the city — a mere 15 minutes by train — makes Frankfurt one of the best cities for a layover. Whether you have three hours to kill or a whole day, get out of the airport and see some of the city’s best attractions. All of these sites are located in the heart of the city and are easily within walking distance of one another.
How to spend a layover in Frankfurt:
Frankfurt’s skyline — it’s most defining feature — has earned it the nickname of ‘Mainhatten’, in reference to the city’s full name, Frankfurt am Main. You won’t see a skyline filled with skyscrapers reaching for the heavens anywhere else in Germany, so it’s a great sight to check out if you’ve got some time.
The Main river
The Main river snakes its way through the centre of the city and makes for a lovely spot to watch the planes take off from nearby Frankfurt International Airport. The banks of the Main are a popular place for cycling, jogging and picnicking and there are lots of cruise options if you’re keen on seeing the city from the water.
Cross the Main river on the Eiserner Steg
The Eiserner Steg is the iron pedestrian bridge that connects both sides of the river. As you cross, look up at the Greek sign that sits on top of the bridge, which roughly translates to: ‘Sailing on a wine-dark sea off to foreign shores’ and is meant to encourage locals to learn more about foreign cultures.
In the district around the Hauptwache, you’ll find some of Frankfurt’s most beautiful, historic architecture. This area is one of the most famous plazas in all of Frankfurt and a lovely place to grab an ice cream in the warmer months.
View the city from above at the Main Tower
If you can spare the entry fee of €6.50, a journey up the 56 floors to the observation deck of the Main Tower, Germany’s fourth tallest building at 200m high should most definitely be a feature of your layover. Here, at Frankfurt’s highest vantage point, you can find sweeping views of the cityscape and some of the best views over Frankfurt.
Römerberg, the medieval old town centre
The old town square of Römerberg should be on the itinerary of any stopover in Frankfurt. The ornate, narrow, half-timbered houses, pointed roofs and flower-filled balconies that line the central square are a lovely backdrop while sipping on a cup of coffee as you people-watch. Although Römerberg was destroyed in WWII, it has been carefully reconstructed to reflect how beautiful it was during medieval times.
The Old Town Hall
The Römer is Frankfurt’s Old Town Hall and is located in the central square. Used as Frankfurt’s city hall for over 600 years, this historic building is one of the city’s most important landmarks.
The giant Euro symbol
At the former headquarters of the European Central Bank, the powerhouse of Europe, you’ll find the world’s largest Euro symbol. While many Frankfurters consider it an eyesore, it is a favourite among visitors.
The contrast of old and new
The medieval heart of historic Frankfurt is beautifully contrasted with the modern metropolis that has been built around it. In no other city in Germany is there such a marked contrast between old and new as there is in Frankfurt.
The mix of architectural styles
Frankfurt boasts an impressive diversity of architectural styles ranging from the Gothic houses of the Römer, the Neoclassical St. Paul’s Church, to the Modernist and Postmodernist skyscrapers. There’s a structure from a different historical period and architectural style around every corner!
St. Paul’s Church
The grand Paulskirche (St. Paul’s Church) was originally built between 1790 and 1833. Although it is no longer used as a church, this structure has become one of Frankfurt’s most important venues for events and exhibitions. It is also famous for being the site of President John. F. Kennedy’s speech in 1963.
The timeless elegance of the Messeturm
Renowned architect, Helmut Jahn, combined traditional design and decorative elements into the architectural icon that is the Messeturm, a modern interpretation of American Art Déco high-rises. The Messeturm is the second tallest building in Germany, after the Commerzbank Tower, also located in Frankfurt. Despite its name, which translates to ‘Trade Fair Tower’, it is not used for exhibitions, but as offices instead.
Where to stay:
Break up your flight with an overnight stay in Frankfurt at Capri by Fraser Frankfurt, the city’s newest design hotel in a great location. Rates are very affordable and the rooms are spacious and well appointed. Read my full review here.
Have you been to Frankfurt? What would you recommend for a layover in the city?