There are two types of visits to Frankfurt: Layovers exploring the city, and layovers chilling at an airport hotel (or in the airport if you’re unlucky).
Commonly known as ‘Bankfurt’ to travellers and business people alike, this city is the hub of European travel and layovers, with over 1000 flights going in and out of Flughafen Frankfurt am Main every day. On our European journey, Adam and I experienced both kinds of layovers; the first and last night of our travels were spent in Frankfurt. Each experience has it’s pros and cons, and your travel style and budget will determine the perfect 24 hours in Frankfurt.
We flew into Frankfurt on a rainy Monday morning. Though many people opt to spend their layovers in the airport, or nearby in one of the hotels, we wanted to see the town that most people claim “is worth skipping” and explore on our own accord. It is very easy to get into the city from the airport, with regional trains and subway lines going into the city centre to the Hauptbahnhof (the main train station). The S8 and S9 trains are the easiest and most direct, and for only 10 Euro, why not spend the day in the city?
Where I Stayed:
Though many travellers choose to only spend the day in Frankfurt, we stayed in a hostel, Five Elements Hostel, that was a 2-minute walk from the central train station. There are lots of budget hotels and hostels in this area, and with its proximity to the train station and city center, it’s a great location. Five Elements was clean, the staff friendly, our double room had a great rain shower, and the free breakfast wasn’t half bad. Perfect for an overnight to explore the city.
*Warning: This area is known as the Red-Light district, and while convenient and colorful, there are some sketchy characters around. While we never felt unsafe on our trip, this is not a place to take the kids.
If you have a higher budget, there are more hotels nearer to the big fancy financial district, just a short walk down the Kaiserstrasse, then you could stay in a place like the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof:
What to See:
One of the first stops we made was to the mall, MyZeil, which is ideally close to the main train station and the Red-Light district.
I know what you’re thinking: ‘The mall? Are you kidding me, with all the things to see in Europe?’ But it was so cool! There is a giant glass vortex sculpture that is quite impressive, even moreso when it’s raining and water runs through large glass tubes throughout the mall!
There is a lot of great shopping along the Zeil, which is pedestrian only and home to high-end shops, and my personal favourite, Primark, though my jet-lag prevented me from buying too much.
Frankfurt is an impressive juxtaposition of new and old, of skyscrapers and 14the century Gothic churches. The infrastructure is good, the old buildings are well-preserved, it is a nice city. Very near the financial buildings and the shiny mall is the Römerberg, where the town hall and Cathedral are located. Stepping into the square is like stepping into another era, it’s hard to believe just a few blocks away is the Wall Street of Germany.
What to Eat & Drink:
For our only dinner we did not stray far from the hotel, strolling along Kaiserstrasse through the sea of umbrellas and men in expensive suits sitting on patios eating everything from Italian and cheap burgers to high-end Indian. We settled on Cafe Hauptwache, located in the large plaza of Hauptwache, the central point of the city. The Baroque style building (c. 1730) is beautiful and as soon as you walk through the porticoed entrance you feel the history; the cafe has been open since 1904!
Frankly the food was underwhelming. I had the Pork Schnitzel with the infamous Frankfurt Green Sauce (Grüne Soße) which is similar to mayo, but with 7 different herbs. It was pretty tasty.
However, Adam’s Frankfurt Sausages were just sad, not even the delicious potato salad, or the sea of condiments could make those teeny-weenies appetizing. This place is a great spot to have a drink and people-watch, but the food is touristy and over-priced. The charm lies not in the food, but in the history of the building, and its location (in other words, tourist trap).
A great spot to have a drink outdoors is the cobblestoned neighbourhood of Sachsenhausen. Nestled in a quiet residential area south of the Main river, the streets are quaint and lined with bars (and sadly, a Hooters), where locals and tourists drink Apfelwein, an alcoholic cider that is fizzy and refreshing.
On our return journey to Canada, we opted to stay in a hotel near the airport in order to lessen the commute to our flight the next day. It was painless. We stayed at the Meininger Airport Hotel (great rates, great bar) and ate at the Park Inn Radisson next store (typical hotel food, we both ate burgers and fries). It was a perfectly nice experience, your average airport hotel stay that could have occurred pretty much anywhere in the world.
Which layover would I choose in Frankfurt next time?
After seeing Frankfurt once, it was enough. Though there was lots to see and do, I will stay at the airport hotel, but don’t skip it if you haven’t seen it. Frankfurt is a very nice city, with good shopping, lots of restaurants, and just enough German kitsch to dip your toes into Europe, or a nice relaxing city to start your journey home. Frankfurt is not a ‘must see’ on the European tour, but I don’t think its worth skipping if you have the time and the means: Who wants to sit in a crappy airport for 16 hours? Frankfurt is worth the 10 euro and 15 minute train ride to sip on Apfelwein, see beautiful churches, and stroll along the Main.
Which experience would you choose?