Our expat city guide, with useful links, tips and highlights, covers everything you need to know about Frankfurt am Main.
Frankfurt city guide
If Düsseldorf is the city of media and Berlin the city of start-ups, then Frankfurt is the home of business and finance in Germany. Over 200 national and international banks, including the European Central Bank and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, have registered offices in the largest city in Hesse.
Beyond banking, however, Frankfurt is a city of contrasts, with gleaming metallic skyscrapers and besuited businessmen coexisting with ramshackle medieval buildings and a bohemian student population. Of all German cities, it also boasts the highest concentration of expats, with around a third of its residents not holding a German passport.
A short history of Frankfurt
From relatively humble beginnings as a Roman settlement, Frankfurt grew into one of the most important cities in the Holy Roman Empire. It first appears in the written record in 793 AD, when a church council presided over by King Charlemagne was convened at Fraconofurd - “Ford of the Franks”.
Although traditionally German kings had been elected in Aachen, after the crowning of emperor Frederick Barbarossa this privilege was transferred to Frankfurt. Increasing power and national importance was conferred upon the rapidly-expanding city when it became a free imperial city in 1372.
Over the next several centuries, trade, culture and education flourished in Frankfurt, aided by the invention of the printing press in neighbouring Mainz. For two centuries, a famous book fair was held in the city (a tradition revived in 1949), and a stock exchange, opera and university were all established.
In 1944, 27 bombs landed on Frankfurt Zoo, destroying buildings, damaging enclosures and allowing several of the lions to escape. Frankfurt’s well-preserved medieval town, the largest in Germany, was also destroyed by air raids. Although many of the timber-framed buildings were carefully reconstructed after the war, the focus on skyscrapers and avant-garde architecture completely transformed Frankfurt’s skyline.
City of trade and commerce
Frankfurt narrowly lost out to Bonn in the selection of the new West German capital. Despite this, the city quickly succeeded in manoeuvring itself into the gaps in commerce and trade left by the division of Germany, and industries like publishing, which had previously been primarily centred around Leipzig, took off in Frankfurt. Gradually, the city has transformed itself into a hub of international business.
What to do in Frankfurt: Sites & Activities
Some, if not all, of the following attractions should make it onto your Frankfurt “to-do” list:
Dürer and dinosaurs
Frankfurt’s collection of museums is surpassed only by Berlin’s. For the works of old masters like Dürer, Rembrandt, Cezanne and Picasso, head to the Städel Museum. If dinosaurs are more your thing, the Senckenberg Natural History Museum has everything, from tiny trilobites to T-Rexes.
Check out the skyline
There’s a reason why Frankfurt’s skyline is one of its most famous features: the distinctive mass of concrete, glass and steel skyscrapers cannot fail to impress. To be truly appreciated, it needs to be admired from all angles. Take a walk across the Eiserner Steg (iron footbridge) to see the skyline framed by the river, or climb the Main Tower for panoramic views across “Mainhattan”.
Raise the curtain at the English Theatre
It’s not all about banking - Frankfurt is also home to the largest English-language theatre in Europe, offering a varied programme of classics, comedies, thrillers and musicals. Tickets start at 31 euros.
Visit the Römerberg
Wandering amongst the timbered buildings of Frankfurt’s Altstadt to the old city square, you get a good idea of what Frankfurt would have looked like in medieval times. Grab a drink at one of the cafes and sit admiring the ornately-gabled houses. According to legend, the coronation of emperor Matthias was celebrated in 1612 by filling the square’s “Fountain of Justice” with red wine.
Sip on an Ebbelwoi
It wouldn’t be a proper trip without trying Frankfurt’s most popular drink: Ebbelwoi, local dialect for “apple wine”, is a traditional type of cider that is served in an earthenware jug. The most traditional Ebbelwoi pubs can be found in Frankfurt’s Sachsenhausen district.
Getting around Frankfurt
Frankfurt is a major transport hub, with its central station being one of the largest rail stations in Europe and the biggest junction operated by Deutsche Bahn. The city’s public transportation network of S-Bahns, U-Bahns, trams and regional trains is run by transport association Rhein-Main-Verkehrsbund.
Events in Frankfurt
Frankfurt has a wide-ranging calendar of festivals, events and fairs. Some of the most popular annual events taking place in the city are:
International Motor Show Germany
The world’s largest show of passenger motor vehicles takes place in Frankfurt on odd-numbered years (the even-numbered years are held in Hannover).
Frankfurt Book Fair
The Frankfurt Book Fair, another “world’s largest”, takes place over five days in mid-October. While the first days are restricted to publishing professionals, members of the public are able to buy tickets for the weekend programme of author readings, poetry slams, exhibitions and discussion panels.
Apparently going for the hat-trick in “largest festivals”, every August Frankfurt hosts Europe’s largest cultural festival - Museum Embankment Festival. Around 2.5 million visitors descend on the city for three days of festivities, featuring arts and crafts stalls, live music, world food and discounted entry to Frankfurt’s celebrated museums.
Raise your glass to Frankfurt’s favourite drink at the Apple Wine Festival in August, a 10-day programme of wine-tastings, local dialect poetry, and traditional music.
Jobs in Frankfurt
For expats looking for a job, Frankfurt is one of the best cities in Germany, with its wide variety of international companies and English-speaking businesses like the airport and trade fairs. Browse our list of jobs in Frankfurt to see what’s on offer.
Housing in Frankfurt
Owing to its prosperity and high standard of living, Frankfurt is one of the more expensive German cities. However, finding good, affordable accommodation is definitely possible. To make things easier, we’ve sourced some excellent, expat-friendly housing in Frankfurt.