FRANKFURT - I love this city! But each time I make that profession, I am met with the same bewildered expression followed by, “But isn’t it just a business hub?”
Many of us hold on to the preconceived notion that Frankfurt is all business, a city you don’t linger in for days exploring the sights and sounds. It’s a great transfer point to catch a connecting flight or an express train bound for a popular destination. Yet, beneath the business veneer is a dynamic city filled with top-notch museums, early Roman settlements and an array of culinary delights.
Saturday morning is a magical time in Frankfurt’s old part of town Sachsenhausen. Locals crowd the car-free street that runs along the Main River on the hunt for a good bargain at the expansive Saturday flea market. It’s one of my favourite things to do while here. Passing by antiques, old memorabilia and German literature, I seem to always take a little trinket back home with me.
Building up an appetite is inevitable as you weave your way through the flea market. One of the best places to indulge your sweet tooth is just a short saunter away at the Liebieghaus Museum’s courtyard café. The fabulous museum of ancient sculpture is located in what was once a grandiose 19th century villa, and the café is a local “secret spot.” Its romantic courtyard and trellised walls invite you to linger over a scrumptious homemade German cake and apple cider.
Above: Frankfurt's flower market is truly lovely.
Many of Frankfurt’s museums are situated on what is called the museum embankment, and the Städel is one of the must-dos while there. It houses European works of art from seven centuries, making it one of the greatest collections of art in all of Germany. Masterpieces by Rembrandt, Botticelli, and Vermeer line the walls of the historic building, which is infused with modern flare. Be sure to pop around back to check out the whimsical green roof dotted with dozens of polka-dot skylights.
Walking across the Eiserner Steg footbridge that connects historic Sachsenhausen with Frankfurt is a great way to take in a fabulous view of the skyline (sometimes referred to as Mainhattan due to its towering skyscrapers).
The bridge leads you into the city centre towards Frankfurt’s bustling shopping street, Zeil. It’s just up from Konstablerwache station, where the best outdoor market is held on Thursdays and Saturdays. Locals mingle over a smorgasbord of yummy goodness, indulging in bratwurst on a bun, schnitzel with kraut salad and a good pint or two of German beer or wine from the famous Rhine region.
Above: There's lots of history here.
You won’t believe you are in Frankfurt when you stumble across the Palmengartens. Built in 1868, the botanical gardens are an idyllic spot to spend a few hours strolling through the 50 acres of lush tropical trees, rolling verdant lawns and waterfalls. The gardens are comprised of several greenhouses, which grow palms, orchids and a plethora of exotic flora from around the globe. During the warmer months a little train putters around the gardens, perfect for families to enjoy.
Minutes away from the gardens is the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History. Don’t be surprised to see a statue of a colossal dinosaur playing football across the road from the entrance. The Senckenberg is home to the largest exhibition of dinosaurs in Europe and the world’s most extensive collection of stuffed birds.
After several trips to Frankfurt I thought I had explored most of the hidden treasures that surround the city’s modernity. And then, almost by accident, I came across Höchst, an early Roman settlement that did not become part of the city until 1928. Fairy-tale inspired half-timbered homes lead you to Schlossplatz, the Castle Square that features traditional German restaurants. Höchst Castle was once the home of the archbishop of Mainz and the castle’s fortifications date back to the 13th century. In the distance, the 14th-century alabaster tower juts towards the sky and was once used to keep watch over the old town.
Don’t miss Frankfurt’s oldest building, Justinuskirche, or St. Justin’s Church, consecrated in 850. It’s a splendid display of architecture from the Carolingian era.
Meandering along the medieval streets of Höchst evokes an air of mystery and a sense of wonderment as to why Frankfurt, after all these years, is still so very much undiscovered by travellers.