Once a dull financial capital best known to travellers for its useful transit airport, Frankfurt has undergone a metamorphosis during the past decade or so, stepping out as a lively, revitalised city with an excellent cultural scene, newly buzzing neighbourhoods and great restaurants and nightlife. It gives Berlin serious competition as an attractive, chic and cosmopolitan destination. If you're looking for a contemporary, urban alternative to German old towns and castles, you couldn't pick a better stopover.
Frankfurt's biggest drawcard is Museumufer, or museum bank, along the Main River, one of Europe's premier cultural hubs. Among many excellent museums, Stadel Museum (staedelmuseum.de) features Impressionist sunflowers and lily ponds. The German Film Museum (deutsches-filminstitut.de) is fascinating; see how the special effects of the original King Kong movie were created. Liebieghaus (liebieghaus.de) is a superb collection of 5000 years of sculptures, from ancient Egyptian funerary reliefs to Renaissance saints and modern masterpieces.
This city of well-heeled bankers and stockbrokers has a notable dining scene, ranging from the classical, Michelin-starred Erno's Bistro (ernosbistro.de) for game-oriented French fare, to Tiger Gourmet (tigerpalast.de), a supper club where the excellent (but pricey) six-course tasting menu is accompanied by a first-class cabaret show. For hearty pub grub, head to the lively riverside Sachsenhausen district for evening helpings of boiled beef or sausages accompanied by fat jars of local apple wine.
Behind downtown high-rises, charming pockets of (mostly reconstructed) medieval old town remain around a red sandstone cathedral and Romerberg Square, where locals come for drinks. Frankfurt's City Hall has three Gothic step-gables and a banqueting hall hung with portraits of Holy Roman Emperors. Other pleasant wandering spots are formally laid-out Bethmannpark, which has a delightful little Chinese garden with pagodas, and Palmengarten (palmengarten.de), a 19th-century botanical garden with an 1869 palm house and frequent outdoor summer concerts.
Goethe House (goethehaus-frankfurt.de) was the birthplace of Germany's most famous writer, who lived here until he was 16 and returned for periods thereafter to write. The meticulously restored house contains original furnishings, including Goethe's desk. An exhibition room displays documents and manuscripts relating to his early works. Literature apart, the house provides an agreeable look at middle-class, eighteenth-century living, with rooms decorated in the various styles of the time, from neoclassical to baroque and later rococo.
Frankfurt has plentiful accommodation, except during its internationally renowned October book fair, although much of it clusters around the convention centre. Good downtown hotels include Hilton Frankfurt City Centre (hilton.com), which has a convenient location and fine old-town views, or The Pure (the-pure.de) for those looking for a hip, designer-sharp and rather minimalist boutique experience. You can also book private rentals, from single rooms to self-catering apartments, through the tourist office (frankfurt-tourismus.de).
Frankfurt has excellent shopping. Pedestrian Zeil is its famous luxury shopping street; Hauptwache has mid-range clothing and sporting gear. Lovers of antiques and boutique fashions should head to Goethestrasse, food lovers to Grosse Bockenheimer Strasse, which locals nickname Pig-Out Alley.
Brian Johnston visited Frankfurt at his own expense.