Just before the turn of the year we spent a festive 30 hours in fantastic Frankfurt, exploring one of Europe’s largest and oldest Christmas markets. Open since 1393, with stalls handed down for generations, the market was full of Deutsche delights. But how was the rest of Frankfurt? Would we recommend a visit? What’s it like it the financial capital of ol’ Deutschland? What is there to do? Let’s explore…
Getting to Frankfurt
Booking tickets in advance with BA set us back £90pp, flying out early Saturday morning and returning Sunday eve. Bare in mind this is the festive season (and a full flight!) so tickets can ‘often’ be found for under £40 (in fact right now it can be booked for March for just £22). We flew from London Heathrow to Frankfurt and the route into the city was an absolute breeze; an underground train to the city centre runs every 11 minutes and takes approx 14. For example, upon leaving Frankfurt we waved goodbye to our city centre hotel at 16.30 and we were in our London home by 19.30 (albeit with 1 hours time difference). Super simple.
The Christmas market, silly! And it really is a sight to behold – with every corner you turn the market just seems to get bigger and bigger. The highlight for me was the food and the smells. Bratwurst, currywurst, pretzels, chocolate coating *everything*; you’re definitely spoiled for choice in Frankfurt. Plus there’s the delicious hot beverages to wash it down with… And I’m not talking coffee. Gluhwine and hot apple wine (cider) are the order of the day and add a real festive feel to your experience. All this comes at very reasonable prices and you can expect to pay €2-3 euro for a bite to eat compared to London markets where nothing really comes below £5 . besides the food there’s plenty of crafts, handmade goodies and trinkets to add a festive touch to any home. It did get a bit samey, but if ever you’ve wanted a custom cookie, bauble or homeware then you won’t be left wanting.
When it is not Christmas, the other 11 months of the year see Frankfurt being the financial capital of Deutschland as well as home to the seedier side of city life. Expect to snap photos of sex shops and dirty streets with the contrast of sparkly, towering, glass sky scrapers in the background. Whilst this is the city of money there is a clear difference between the sparkly high rises and the city streets below it, where the average German looks as tired and worn as the unattractive post-war concrete architecture that surround them.
A City of Lies?
Frankfurt was completely flattened during the bombings of WWII. As such, most of the ‘original style’ buildings (particularly those that you’re seeing around Romerberg) are no more than 30 years old. They’ve been built to original specifications and following original plans, complete with authentic shops that matched what would have once stood in its place. Frankfurt is under a redevelopment pumping city money into creating more of these old fashioned traditional builds. The reason for this…. Tourism? To pretty up the place? To restore some history and heritage? Kind of all of the above…
… because beyond Romerberg or the glistening high-rise office-banks, Frankfurt is ugly. It’s grey, it’s concrete, it’s square. It’s under-attractive, under funded and under-enthused. We walked a few miles of the residential streets after our cider tram broke down (yes we were on a cider tram.. So it’s not all bad, right?!) and we’re glad to get back to the bustling bright lights of the main square.
This whole fake ‘rejuvenation’ of the city really had me at odd-ends over Frankfurt. I mean on the one hand, it’s good that they’re restoring it to how it was… Right? I mean… It has to be. The timber framed houses look amazing, the architecture is fun and interesting plus they make great photos. But in a way… It’s all a lie. It’s a cover up to improve an otherwise unattractive city. It’s something for the postcards.
Of course, with thorough research none of the above came as a surprise to us – but it definitely makes you stop and think. I’ve always felt an affinity with Germany and have loved Berlin on both of my visits-but Frankfurt has certainly tainted the image a little for me. We had a great time in traditional eateries, wandering traditional (but obviously modern) streets and the people were super but what Frankfurt, perhaps, lacks was real traditional charm. The bankers and investors appear to all but disappear when out of office hours and I can’t help but think the brilliant transport infrastructure is designed to whisk people in AND OUT of Frankfurt to save them from having to hang around too long… I have no problem with immigration, but it is a fact the Frankfurt has a largely foreign-origin population; so any hope of finding authentic Germanic experiences will be a bit thin on the ground…
Where To Stay in Frankfurt
We chose to stay at Victoria Hotel, a fantastically central, smart, modern business hotel that I can highly recommend. We were a 5 minute straight-line walk from Frankfurt (Main) Hauptbahnhof Station and just 10 minutes further you’ll be located in Romerberg, the cities main square. Along this walk you’ll pass many restaurants, the sky scrapers and plenty of bars – this really is a great location to be.
What To Do in Frankfurt
We spent most of our time mooching around the Christmas market eating, drinking and being merry. We opted to go on the Alternative Frankfurt Walking Tour but our 25-strong group of tourists were disappointed to find that it had been cancelled due to the tour guide being ill. We opted instead to go on the Cider Tram for a city tour and found that it broke down half way around (and at the furthest point from where we wanted to be). So much for German efficiency…
Sights that we missed that may interest you include the Cathedral of St Bartholomew, the MOMA and the Museum Distric. Although with winter hovering around 1 degree or less I’m sure a cosy German bar will make for some great stories.
Would I Recommend Frankfurt?
Honestly, no. Go for the Christmas market – certainly… It makes for a great, festive overnight break. But more than one night or for a non-Christmas visit it’s not somewhere that needs to be high up on any list.