The Main metropolis was first mentioned on 22 February 794 in a document of Charlemagne for the Regensburg monastery, St. Emmeram. However, there is proof that the cathedral hill has been under continuous settlement since as early as 3000 BC. At the same place, a Roman military camp was established around 83 AD and in the Merovingian era, the court of a Franconian king.
In 843, Frankfurt became at times the most important royal palatinate of the Eastern Franconians and the site of parliaments. In 1220, Frankfurt became a free imperial city. From 1356 onwards, the Golden Bull declared Frankfurt as the permanent city of choice for the Roman kings. From 1562, the Emperor was also crowned in Frankfurt, the last one being the Habsburg Franz II.
After the end of the Holy Roman Empire, Frankfurt joined the Confederation of the Rhine and under the First Prince Karl Theodor of Dalberg, became the capital of a short-lived (1810-1813) grand duchy of Frankfurt.
In 1815, Frankfurt became a free city and the seat of the federal government. In 1848, the March revolution broke out in the German states. As a symbol of reconciliation, the Franco-Prussian war was officially ended in 1871 with the Peace of Frankfurt.
The city expansion of Frankfurt in the 19th century began with the incorporation of Bornheim. Further incorporations followed from 1895 onwards. For a short time, Frankfurt thus became the city with the largest area in Germany. Between 1879 and 1926 important institutions such as the Stock Exchange (1879), the Old Opera (1880), the central station (1888), the University (1914) and the first Frankfurt airport (1926) were built.
In World War II, during Allied Forces aerial attacks, almost all of the old and central parts of the city were destroyed. The cityscape at that time was mostly a medieval style up to 1944, which in this form was unique for a German city at the time. This was lost during the modern reconstruction of the city. After the end of the war, the occupying American forces set up their headquarters in the city. Frankfurt then became the administrative headquarters of the trizone.
In the voting for the Federal capital, Frankfurt only just lost out narrowly to Konrad Adenauer’s favourite, Bonn. A parliamentary building had already been built in Frankfurt and today houses the Hessischer Rundfunk, the public broadcaster for the state of Hesse.
In the post-war period, the city again developed into a business metropolis and in 1998 became the seat of the European Central Bank.
This cobblestone square in the old town has been a hub of Frankfurt life since the ninth century. It has served as a venue for many of the city's most important events, from imperial elections and medieval jousting to public executions and Christmas markets. Here are found historic buildings including the Old Nikolai Church, St. Paul's Church and the structure from which the square takes its name, the exquisite Römer, home of Frankfurt's city government for more than 600 years. The Imperial Hall displays the portraits of the 52 Holy Roman emperors.
2. Historiches Museum Frankfurt
Due south of the square is the Historiches Museum Frankfurt. It is highlighted by the permanent collection, "Collectors and Donors of Frankfurt," which features the private art and artifact collections of a dozen well known Frankfurters. Among the things you will find here are exhibits on furniture, musical instruments and technology. This is an excellent place to learn about Frankfurt's history and character as well as take in classic art.
3. Alte Oper
Frankfurt's old opera is not nearly as ancient as it looks. The neoclassical structure was heavily damaged during World War II and was only rebuilt in the 1980s after a public outcry saved it from demolition. The building now hosts around 300 events per year ranging from opera, ballet and symphony to modern dance, Broadway musicals and even the occasional rock concert. The 2,450 seat Great Hall is the main venue, while smaller events unfold in the 720 seat Mozart Hall. Both are renowned for their plush decoration and superb acoustics.
4. Frankfurt Zoological Gardens
This is one of Europe's oldest zoos. Established in 1858, Frankfurt Zoological Gardens is also one of its largest and most prestigious, with more than 4,500 animals from 450 species. The zoo has become a leading force in global conservation, including the preservation of the Serengeti plains in East Africa. Among its anchor exhibits is the Exotarium, housing an eclectic array of fish, birds and reptiles from the around the world. Chimps, gorillas and orangutans dwell in the Borgori Forest, a 10,000 square meter indoor habitat flush with waterfalls and rainforest plants.
5. Museum Embankment
Arrayed along the River Main's southern bank is a row of nine museums, each specializing in subject matter ranging from art and architecture to movies and natural history. Foremost among them are two important art collections. Housed in an imposing neo-gothic villa, the Liebieghaus showcases sculpture from ancient Egypt through to the 18th century, as well as works from Europe, Africa and Asia. The massive collection of the Städel Museum includes works by European masters from the 14th century to the early 20th, including Rembrandt, Bosch, Vermeer, Botticelli and Degas.
6. Main River
With a renowned airport and busy train station, it is easy to forget that Frankfurt is also a river city. It is only in recent times, however, that the River Main has come into its own as a recreational outlet and tourist attraction. Primus Line runs a variety of trips along the Main in modern triple decker river boats including short sightseeing cruises, dinner cruises and after dark skyline tours. Its full day trips include a river tour of romantic castle towns along the Middle Rhine Valley.
7. Frankfurter Flohmarkt
Frankfurt's popular Saturday flea market now rotates between two waterfront locations; the Schaumainkai promenade on the river's south side and another site on Lindleystrasse around the Osthafen docklands. Hundreds of stalls hawk a heady blend of new arts and crafts, vintage clothing, antiques and genuine junk, as well as food and drink. Merchandise often changes by the season, with yuletide decorations, gifts and foods all the rage in the run up to Christmas.
8. Main Tower
If you want the highest views of the city's skyline and beyond, then make your way to and up Main Tower. Its observation deck offers a bird's eye look at the urban center. On a clear day, arrange to be here at sunset and enjoy a drink or two in the bar below the observation deck.
The Kleinmarkthalle is a delightful mix of a traditional German market and an international melting pot. It is a great place to pick up fresh food, smoked sausages, wine, cheese olive oils, flowers and more among its more than 150 stalls. There is a restaurant here too, if you are visiting with no way to cook. Markets like these are always a great place to watch and meet locals. It is open every day but Sunday.
10. Frankfurt Cathedral
The Gothic Frankfurt Cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and it is certainly worth setting aside a little time to visit. It is also known as the Kaiserdom and was the tallest building in the city until the 1950s, when the skyscrapers such as the Main Tower and Commerzbank Tower (the 7th tallest building in Europe) overtook it. This Roman Catholic church is dedicated to St. Bartholomew and it was one of the most important buildings to the Holy Roman Empire, as it was dedicated to the empire’s elections and coronations.
Being in a big city like Frankfurt is great, but after a couple of days you might start to get cabin fever and feel the need for some nature and fresh air. Palmengarten gives you that without having to even leave the city limits! The 22 hectare botanical garden is the biggest of three in Frankfurt (the others are Botanischer Garten and Tropicarium) and it is the best place to see trees, plants, and flowers from a variety of climate zones. Even if you are not that into horticulture, it is the perfect place to chill for a couple of hours.
12. Goethe House
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is probably the most famous German writer of all time. He was also a politician and wrote essays on horticulture and anatomy, so he was a pretty busy guy! See the house where he grew up with his sister Cornelia, which has been lovingly preserved with period furniture and artwork from the Goethe area, exploring Goethe’s relationship with art of the time. On the third floor, you can visit an exhibition dedicated not only to the house’s most famous resident, but all those who have lived there since.
What to Eat & Drink in Frankfurt
(6 Must Eat Foods)
1. Handkäse wit musik
Handkäse wit musik, or “hand cheese with music,” is one of those dishes where you are better off disregarding the description and just trying it because it is better than it sounds. But if you really want to know, handkäse is a sour milk cheese formed by hand, hence the name.
The translucent cheese has a pungent aroma and is usually topped with raw onions and caraway seeds. This way is considered “wit musik” and it is delicious. All of the flavors balance each other to make a perfect harmony. The meaning behind “wit musik” is attributed to one of two things. One is the polite answer: from the musical sound produced when the bottles of vinegar and oil used to make the cheese hit each other. The other is less polite but more widely used: the “musik” comes later, since raw onions supposedly stimulate flatulence.
This traditional Frankfurt appetizer is usually served with Apfelwein.
One of Frankfurt’s most popular specialties is Apfelwein, a tart apple wine found all over the city. It is especially popular in the Sachsenhausen neighborhood, which was once covered in wine vineyards. About 250 years ago the grapes got infected with a bacteria that killed all the vineyards, so wine was made from apples, which were not affected. Apfelwein, also called Ebbelwei, Ebbelwoi, Äppler, Schoppe or Stöffche, has been popular ever since.
Traditionally Apfelwein is poured from a clay jug called a Bembel into a glass with ridged edges called a Geripptes. It is much more tart and sour than the apple cider Americans are used to, but still refreshingly good. Supposedly it is also good for your immune system, heart, and brain too! Many bars and restaurants make their own apfelwein, so each place has a slightly different variation. Those that make their own usually have a sign of an evergreen wreath outside. It is also common to see Apfelwein mixed with sparkling water (“sauergespritzer”) or flavored soda (“süssgespritzer”).
3. Grüne Soße
Frankfurt claims to have invented Grüne Sosse and the traditional specialty is everywhere in the city. Each restaurant puts its own spin on the condiment, but the main ingredients include seven herbs with sour cream, oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and hard boiled eggs. The herbs are usually parsley, chives, chervil, borage, sorrel, garden cress, and salad burnet. Grüne Soße is served with meat, fish, bread, or cold with hard boiled eggs.
By adding Grüne Soße to a dish, it automatically makes it “Frankfurt style,” like Frankfurter Schnitzel. Traditional schnitzel is served with a side of Grüne Soße, which was a surprisingly delicious addition!
4. Frankfurter Rippchen
Frankfurter Rippchen, or sometimes Rippchen mit Kraut, is Frankfurt’s take on pork chops. The pork cutlets are slowly cooked in sauerkraut or meat broth, then served with sauerkraut and potatoes. The dish is somewhat simple, but definitely satisfying. As with most dishes in Frankfurt, it pairs well with Apfelwein, but a good old German beer does the trick just fine too!
5. Frankfurter Würstchen
Of course the Frankfurter can’t be left off a list of what to eat in Frankfurt! Officially called the Frankfurter Würstchen, the small, thin sausage is made of smoked pork. They are not actually cooked, but smoked in a low temperature and heated in hot water for about 8 minutes before serving. Usually served in pairs, Frankfurter Würstchen are often eaten with bread, potato salad, or sauerkraut and, of course, mustard.
Frankfurter Würstchen, invented in the 13th Century, served as part of the imperial coronations in Frankfurt. It is worth noting that what we call a hot dog in the United States is not actually the same as Frankfurter Würstchen. American hot dogs, made with beef and pork, are called Wiener Würstchen in Germany or “Vienna sausages”. The term originates from a butcher from Frankfurt who introduced a beef/pork sausage to Vienna and called it a “Frankfurter.” To be called Frankfurter Würstchen the sausages must be made in Frankfurt. Outside of the greater Frankfurt region, the sausages have to be called Nach Frankfurter Art, meaning “they are made like Frankfurters, but not in the Frankfurt area.”
Another drink to add to your what to eat in Frankfurt list is Mispelchen. The Hessian specialty is usually served in Frankfurt cider houses at the end of the meal. Made with apple brandy called Calvados (from Normandy), the small drink has an Ioquat fruit at the bottom. The sour sweet fruit is usually pickled and stuck with a toothpick to pluck out of the glass once the drink is finished.