Frankfurt (German: Frankfurt am Main) is a medium-sized city in Hesse, in Central Germany, known for its high-rises and international airport. Home of the European Central Bank, it is considered to be the financial capital of Germany, if not Europe. It is also birthplace of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Frankfurt is a polarized city. It's a city of high finance and big business, but also of homeless people, drug addicts and a high crime rate. Frankfurt has some of the highest skyscrapers of Europe but also many well-maintained old buildings. The downtown area draws millions of tourists every year, while many suburbs consist of ugly, cloned apartment buildings.
A high amount of traffic and a hectic life seem to dictate the daily routine in Frankfurt. Many people in Frankfurt actually aren't from Frankfurt, but came here from other places. Their reason - business, usually. With a huge airport - which is the second largest in Europe - it's the gateway to Germany and for many people also the arrival point in Europe. Add the fact that with 30%, Frankfurt has one of the largest rates of foreigners of any city in Germany, and you get a sort of melting pot, a hub of activity. It's not unusual to hear any European language, English, Turkish, and a few African languages in one day when walking through downtown.
But despite all this activity, the office towers, and the international influence, Frankfurt itself is a fairly small city with only about 650,000 citizens. Many more live in nearby cities, so the greater Frankfurt area easily has over a million inhabitants, yet Frankfurt remains a small city with big aspirations. It doesn't compare to any true metropolis such as London or Paris.
Frankfurt is located roughly in the centre of Germany (a bit to the south-west) and as such, it is a transportation nexus. It has excellent connectivity via train, air travel, and highways and reaching - or leaving - Frankfurt is trivial.
Frankfurt's airport is the second busiest in Europe (after London Heathrow and before Paris Charles de Gaulle) and the seventh-busiest airport in the world according to 2002 passenger numbers. It is serviced by many major airlines and all airline alliances. Consequently, it is very easy to get to Frankfurt from anywhere in the world.
The airport is well-connected to downtown Frankfurt by Taxi, Bus (Line 61 to Frankfurt Südbahnhof (Frankfurt Southern Station)), and above all by subway. To get to the city, take lines S8 or S9 direction Frankfurt or Hanau at the "Regionalbahnhof" (regional train station). Do not leave at Frankfurt Niederrad unless it's actually your destination. Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, the central station, is in the heart of the city. Some S8 trains - those that stop at the station above ground - end at Central Station. The ride from the airport to the central station takes 12 minutes. Make sure you purchase a ticket at the vending machines in the train station before you board the train.
As is appropriate for a large international airport, Frankfurt's airport has a train station for inter-city trains as well. Regional trains to Mainz, Wiesbaden and Hanau stop at the same place as the subway to Frankfurt. However, inter-city connections beyond the region of Frankfurt have their own train station, the Fernbahnhof ("long distance train station"). Here, you can board high-speed trains to Munich, Karlsruhe and other destinations.
If you wish to fly into Frankfurt, you need to be aware that some of the so-called low budget airlines use an airport they call "Frankfurt/Hahn". Hahn is not near Frankfurt, but actually about one and a half hours away, and you need to include that into your travel plans.
Frankfurt has three major train station, the central station (Hauptbahnhof), the Southern Station (Südbahnhof) and the Airport; however, inter-city trains that stop at the airport will usually (not always!) also stop at Hauptbahnhof. Frankfurt has connections to most German cities - and some international destinations - via InterCity and high-speed InterCity Express trains. There is no problem to get a connection to any train destination from Frankfurt.
Frankfurt is connected to several highways and can be easily reached by car. Try to avoid rush-hour and especially snowy days, as car traffic can easily break down. Parking is definitely a problem in most areas. Especially during times of fairs, like the "Internationale Automobilausstellung" (International Automobile Exhibition) or the huge book fair you might want to consider using the well set up park and ride system.
Frankfurt is serviced by various Trans European buslines like Eurolines. The main terminus is the central station; if you're on a tight budget this will be a good way to reach Frankfurt.
A few river boats travel along the Main, and you can reach Frankfurt from several other nearby cities. However, it's really more a sight-seeing activity than a real means of travel.
Don't overestimate the scale of Frankfurt. It is entirely possible to explore the downtown area on foot. Still, if you don't feel like walking a lot, there are many alternatives to get around town.
Frankfurt has an extensive Taxi service, mostly because there are so many business travellers. Frankfurt isn't too big, so fares tend to be reasonable. Care has to be taken though as some taxi drivers will take some detours if they notice that you do not know the city. Still, if you want hassle-free door-to-door transportation, Taxis are the way to go.
By public transportation
Frankfurt is covered by a reasonably good public transportation network (run by RMV - Rhein-Main Verkehrsverbund) consisting of trams, subways, and buses. Fares tend to be high - around 5 euros for a ticket for one day for one adult. You don't want to get caught without a ticket, as the conductors will charge you 40 Euro and you can get into considerable trouble, especially if you have no ID card or passport on your person. Subway trains (U-Bahn) and trams are checked quite seldom, the S-Bahn trains quite often. It is not possible to buy tickets in a tram or subway. The ticket machines can be a little confusing if you do not know how to use them. Basically, you have to look up your destination on the list provided at the machine (it's "50" for Frankfurt itself, or "5090" for the Airport), enter this number with the numeric keypad, then press the button for the type of ticket you want (Einzelfahrt - single trip; Tageskarte - day ticket). "Shortcut" buttons exist for tickets within Frankfurt. Also, every station has some stations listed as "short distance" destinations (Kurzstrecke, code "97"); tickets to those are cheaper.
If you have the opportunity, ask a bystander to explain the vending machines to you the first time you want to buy a ticket.
The RMV site is unfortunately not available in English at the time of this writing; however you can still access rail maps:
You should avoid using your car in the city, or even places like Sachsenhausen (especially on a Saturday) because of parking space. It's very limited, and people tend to park in places they're not supposed to. If you want to enter the city, your best bet is to go into a Parkhaus (parking garage) (which charges a fee, of course) and then either walk, or take public transportation.
If you are in the suburbs you should be aware that many areas are reserved for local residents. You need a special ID card in your car or you risk a fine. Pay attention for signs with wording "Parkausweis Nr.X" (where X is a number).
Using a bike in Frankfurt is an alternative to walking on foot or taking a car, as the city is relatively small.
There's one interesting service for those who would like to use a bike on short notice or for a one-way trip.
The German train company is offering bikes for hire in Frankfurt. These bikes can be found pretty much anywhere the previous customer left them and can be rented via telephone. The number can be found on the bike; when you are done you call again and tell them the new location of the bike. You need a customer number to use the service (see their website) pay via credit card or debit to a (German) bank account.
Museums in Germany are generally closed on Mondays (there are exceptions); the exact opening hours on other days depend on the museum. If you want to visit a museum on a public holiday, make sure to check with them first whether they are open on that day.
There are many museums in Frankfurt, offering a wide range of exhibits. A number of them have cafes, restaurants or bars on the premises. Many of these museums are located on the southern bank of the Main in a region called Museumsufer. To get there, take the subway to go to Schweizer Platz, then walk towards the Main river. You will see the high rise buildings when you leave the subway station, that's the direction you have to take. There are enough museums there to keep you occupied for a while; and the Museumsufer is especially suited if you are staying in Frankfurt only for a short time.
At the Museumsufer you can find:
High Rise Buildings & Skyline
Frankfurt has some of the tallest buildings in Europe (the Commerzbank tower is the highest office building of Europe), and the tallest in Germany. Its skyline is unique for the country as the highrises are concentrated in a relatively small downtown area, giving Frankfurt the looks of a metropolis. The skyline is the reason why Frankfurt is sometimes called by the nickname Mainhattan.
Watch the skies
Frankfurt can have quite beautiful sunsets. Caused by the air pollution gathered in the valley it is situated in, they are a good photo opportunity, especially with Frankfurt's skyline. Good vantage points are the bridges, or of course the Maintower highrise.
There are various fireworks displays throughout the year. Many major events - like the Museumsufer festival are ended with very well done fireworks. Check your local event schedule; if you are in the city these are always worth your time. The exception are the New Year fireworks, which are unorganized and less than spectacular. Good vantage points are the Main bridges, or the river banks.
Finding work in Germany is difficult if you don't speak German. However, Frankfurt is probably a good location to start looking if you want to find a job in this country. Not only is it a center of national and international finance, but there are also many high tech companies in the area. All of these may be more willing to accept people with no or less than adequate German skills.
Last but not least the airport always has need for people who speak English or other languages. Make sure you have the proper permits and papers; working illegally is not only anti-social, it can also get you into a lot of trouble.
The Zeil is the main shopping area of Frankfurt. Various large department stores compete for customers here. You can spend a lot of money here on perfumes, clothes, jewelry, or really anything else you desire. While the Zeil itself is mostly populated by generic shops, nearby streets also house more exclusive - and much more expensive - stores of all kinds. To reach the Zeil, take the subway to Hauptwache or Konstabler Wache, but you can easily walk from the central station.
South-east of the Zeil is the Goethestrasse (Goethe Street), which covers the exclusive jewelry and designer shops.
There are of course restaurants all over Frankfurt. One notable area for dining may be what is locally known as the Fressgass (a "nice" translation would be "eating road"). The correct name of this street is Grosse Bockenheimer Strasse. As the nickname implies, the Fressgass features many Cafes, restaurant, and delicatessen food stores. It's a popular area to dine after the daily shopping. Take the subway to station Hauptwache or Alte Oper.
If you are looking for an in-depth paper-based restaurant guide, a popular publication is Frankfurt Geht Aus (Frankfurt is going out), a magazine style dining guide of the city. It can be bought for 4.80 Euro at many kiosks and book stores, or at the Tourism Information at the central station. it is also available in digital from Mpresso Gmbh for Palm Pilot for 9.80 Euros.
Alt-Sachenhausen, a part of the suburb Sachsenhausen south of the Main river, is famous for its bars and Kneipen (a German type of Bar, really) serving the "national drink" Ebbelwoi (local dialect for "apple wine", sometimes spelled Ebbelwei). However, these days it's mostly for tourists. And even these days seem to come to an end now: When the US Army had a lot of troops stationed in Frankfurt those were the people who would mainly go to Sachsenhausen. Now as they have much reduced the number of soldiers, many of the bars and restaurants are empty most of the time and some are already closing down.
There are still some good bars, but it's not nearly as "in" as it used to be. You go there because you heard the name, not because you expect superb bars. And be sure you won't mind being surrounded by fellow tourists.
In all honesty, Alt-Sachsenhausen can be safely avoided; you won't miss out on much. There are other bars throughout the city that are more interesting than any found in Alt-Sachsenhausen.
Various hotels offer internet access; most are still a little backwards and provide dialup access only.
There are a number of Internet cafes in Frankfurt of varying prices and quality.
Besides public pay phones and mobile phone services, a large number of stores sell prepaid telephone cards. This is especially useful for international calls. Some offer in house phone services. One easy to reach store that seems reliable is in the Hauptwache subway station.
The three easiest-to-reach full-service postal offices are located at the central station (inside at the long-distance trains; near McDonalds), at the Zeil shopping area, and at the Südbahnhof (Southern Station; take exit Diesterwegplatz and cross the square; the post office is to the left).
Frankfurt has one of Germany's highest crime rates. While this is still very safe compared to some other nations - you won't have to worry about getting shot at, for example - it is still a smart idea to take the usual precautions; especially if you travel alone. If you have a problem, are being harassed etc, don't be afraid to ask the police for help. German police are competent, not corrupt, and generally helpful as long as you have a correct attitude and do not become insulting etc.
There's a tourist information office near the main exit of the Central Station. Simply follow the signs. It is next to the main German Rail service area.
Drugs and Beggars
The central station area is known for being a center for homeless and drug users. It has improved much in recent years, but you will still occasionally witness drug users stabbing syringes into their arms and be bothered by beggars. The best advice that can be given is to ignore both. The drug addicts generally won't bother people, and the beggars will ask for Kleingeld (small change), which by their definition is anything between 1-2 Euros. While sympathy to those who are less fortunate is generally a good thing, you won't help these people by giving them any money. Many are professional beggars, and some even beg for money while holding a daytime job. Just shake your head "no" or ignore them entirely.
If you want to go to the airport via subway, take the S8 or S9 direction Wiesbaden. Don't take the S1 - while it has the same general direction and leaves the central station at the same platform, it will go along the wrong side of the river Main. The line S1 does not stop at the airport.