Essential guide to Frankfurt

David Whitley surveys all that is cool and cosy in Germany's financial hub.

STAY

Budget

The Colour Hotel (Baselerstrasse 52, 3650 7580, colourhotel.de) is, as the name suggests, pretty keen on bright colours. It's great value, from about €47 a night for a double, has a young vibe and free wireless internet. For dorm accommodation, the DJH hostel (Deutschherrnufer 12, 610 0150, jugendherberge.de, from €18 a night) in Alt-Sachsenhausen is in the perfect place if you want a night out. Alternatively, the highly rated Five Elements (Moselstrasse 40, 2400 5885, 5elementshostel.de, from €18 a night) is close to the red-light district but has a party vibe, lends laptops for free internet use and has unusually high-quality rooms.

Mid-range

Villa Oriental (Baselerstrasse 21, 2710 8950, villa-oriental.com) is lovingly fitted out in Middle Eastern-style chic, bringing riad-like peace to a busy road. Some design touches — such as the multicoloured washbasins — are far more exquisite than you should expect from €89 a night. Villa Orange (Hebelstrasse 1, 405 840, villa-orange.de, doubles from €99) is at the other end of the scale: nothing unnecessarily elaborate, just well-equipped, unfussy rooms in a peaceful, leafy side street. Hotel Bristol (Ludwigstrasse 15, 242 390) has more modern designer swagger, zebra-striped carpets and cool rooms, from €85 a night.

Luxe

With one-bedroom apartments — featuring a full kitchen, tasteful decor, washing machine, dryer and super skyline views — available from €129 a night, the Adina Apartment Hotel (Wilhelm-Leuschner-Strasse 6, 247 4740, adina.eu) is almost certainly the best deal in town. The Pure (Niddastrasse 68, 710 4570, the-pure.de, doubles from €200) is the most interesting designer option — just about everything is bright white, including the iPod docks. The riverside Gerbermuehle (Gerbermuehlstrasse 105, 6897 7790, gerbermuehle.de) is a historic building with tasteful, modern interiors. It's a peaceful 13-room retreat that provides genuine boutique service from €162 a double.

Lash out

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Villa Kennedy (Kennedyallee 70, 717 120, villakennedy.com) is the undisputed top address in town. It's renowned for first-class service and classic luxury with tasteful, modern touches. Rooms start at €330 a night. Roomers (Gutleutstrasse 85, 271 3420, roomers.eu) is anything but classic, so expect lots of black, clever use of technology and a sinfully decadent vibe. The deluxe rooms — with big, rounded spa baths — cost from €220. For business, Hotel Hessischer Hof (Friedrich-Ebert-Anlage 40, 697 5400, hessischer-hof.de, executive rooms from €235) is in a perfect position opposite the trade-fair grounds. It's a nicely modernised grand hotel with non-profiteering additions such as a free minibar and Wi-Fi.

SHOP + PLAY

To market

Frankfurt's top market is in Kleinmarkthalle (Hasengasse 5, 2123 3696, kleinmarkthalle.de). It's all about the food and it's where many of the city's chefs — as well as enthusiastic, deep-pocketed amateurs — buy their ingredients. Be warned: you will salivate as you walk through. There are other small markets — often farmers' markets that take place throughout the week in different areas — but the only one that really offers something different is the flea market at Schaumainkai on Saturdays. Then, of course, there's the traditional German Christmas Market, which sprawls over Roemerberg from late November to mid-December.

Go shop

The Zeil is Frankfurt's best-known shopping street but it doesn't have anything you can't get elsewhere. Goethestrasse has high-end names such as Louis Vuitton and Armani. Some stores nearby act as upmarket hosts for a few top designers. Blumoer (Kaiserhofstrasse 10, 2199 9085, blumoer.com) is a case in point; you'll find the likes of Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. For smaller indie stores, Bergerstrasse has a few dotted among the cafes and Brueckenstrasse, south of the river, has little boutiques obsessed with placing stuffed animals in the windows.

Live music

Frankfurt is living in the past if it continues to bill itself as Germany's jazz capital but the Jazzkeller (Kleine Bockenheimerstrasse 18A, 288 537, jazzkeller.com) is the country's most famous jazz club. The likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Chet Baker have played in this celebrated basement and there are either concerts or jamming sessions most nights. For rock bands, Batschkapp (Maybachstrasse 24, 9521 8410, batschkapp.de) in the northern suburbs is where the scene is at. The more central Sinkkasten (Broennerstrasse 5, 280 385, sinkkasten-frankfurt.de) often throws in live groups from all genres in between its '80s and disco nights.

Nightclubs

Sven Vaeth is regarded as the godfather of techno in Germany and he's the man who owns CocoonClub (Carl-Benz-Strasse 21, 900 200, cocoonclub.net). The motif is futuristic alien glamour and the music policy is influenced by the owner. It's go-hard-or-go-home territory. King Kamehameha (Hanauer Landstrasse 192, 4800 9610, king-kamehameha.de) is strictly for the beautiful people, where cigars and champagne are consumed ostentatiously and everyone's too cool to jump in the pool. Latin Palace (Muenchenerstrasse 57, 2722 0807, latinpalace-chango.de) shows off everything from salsa to reggaeton on tap.

SEE + DO

Icons

The 55th-floor observation deck of the Main Tower (Neue Mainzer Strasse 52, 3650 4740, www.maintower.de, €5) has 360-degree views of the skyscrapers of "Mainhattan" and the forests that ring this surprisingly compact city. The Museum Embankment on the south side of the Main River has 10 museums crammed pretty much next to each other, which cover subjects from architecture to the Bible. None are absolute knockout must-sees but it's an impressive combined force. A day ticket (€15) covers all of them, with the highlight arguably being the enormous sculpture collection at Liebighaus (Schaumainkai 71, 650 0490, liebighaus.de).

Culture

For lovers of German literature, Goethe-Haus (Grosser Hirschgraben 23-25, 138 800, goethehaus-frankfurt.de) is the equivalent of Stratford-upon-Avon in England. This was where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born and it's dedicated to show how the wealthy lived in his day; however, if Faust means nothing to you, it's not going to be rip-roaring entertainment. The Alte Oper (Opernplatz 1, alteoper.de) is the most beautiful building in town and hosts classical recitals, musicals and the like. The city is not just about trade fairs, either; it fills the calendar with numerous festivals, most of which take over an area of town with stalls, temporary bars and live-music stages.

Footwork

The green ring around the city centre makes for a natural walking route. Skyscrapers peer through the gaps in the trees and there is all manner of bizarre public art to see en route. The tourism office (2123 8953, frankfurt-tourismus.de) also runs two-hour guided walking tours (€12) — with themes such as architecture, banking and the city's history — at 1.30pm on Saturdays and Sundays from April to October. For proper hiking, most Frankfurters tend to head to the Taunus, a small range of forested mini-mountains north-west of the city. It's hardly scaling the Alps but it has plenty of good walking trails.

Follow the leader

The Ebbelwei Express (2132 2425, ebbelwei-express.com) is a special hop-on, hop-off tram service that takes in most of Frankfurt's highlights and raises a glass of the local speciality — apple wine — on the way. Tickets cost €6. Another cute idea is tours in the velo taxis (7158 8855, frankfurt.velotaxi.de, from €19 for half an hour), in which you're cycled around the city in a Westernised tuk-tuk. Less classy but clearly fun is the Bier Bike (9623 7230, bierbike-frankfurt.de, from €18.75 a person). The premise is simple: a 16-seater bar, sound system and keg of beer are attached as you collectively pedal around the city.

EAT + DRINK

Cafe culture

The Metropol Cafe (Weckmarkt 15, 288 287, metropolcafe.de) opposite the Cathedral is a favourite, with candlelit tables, a lovely outdoor courtyard and a calm atmosphere. Bergerstrasse is a superb place for cafe culture, however.

For a read-the-papers-on-the-terrace vibe, top coffee from around the world and a rather tempting selection of cakes,

Cafe Wacker (Bergerstrasse 185, 4600 7752) is a great spot. Up the road is Sueden (Bergerstrasse 239, 9563 3300), with rainbow-painted wooden benches outside, art all over the walls and, in pride of place, a gnome covering his eyes.

Snack attack

At lunchtime, there's always a monumental scrum for the focaccias and salads at Feinkost Strahmann (Kaiserstrasse 5, 280 073). It's with very good reason, too: the food quality is very high, as you can see by all the meats displayed further back. Half of Meyer (Grosse Bockenheimerstrasse 52, 9139 7070, meyer-frankfurt.de) is a restaurant but the rest is a deli/stand-up cafe that serves cracking pasta salads, soups and meaty treats to time-poor business folk. For something a little sweeter, Bentivenga (Bergerstrasse 219, 5600 5820) serves awesome gelati in flavours ranging from English custard to Mars bar.

Top of the town

Restaurant Francais at the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof (Kaiserplatz, 215 118, steigenberger.com/frankfurt) is pretty formal, so don't forget your jacket, chaps. But it's rare that anyone dips below raving endorsement when assessing the French-style gourmet cuisine. Villa Merton (Am Leonhardsbrunn 12, 703 033) offers elegant fine dining in a neo-baroque mansion, with six-course tasting menus available from €105. For a spectacle, head to The Ivory Club (Taunusanlage 15, 7706 7767, ivory-club.de, mains from about €30), a steakhouse with an Indian twist aimed at showy bankers and their latest arm candy. The elephant-themed decor is absurd, the food good and the people-watching priceless.

By the glass

The cobblestone (and often rather rowdy) streets of Alt-Sachsenhausen are lined with wall-to-wall Irish pubs, sports bars and traditional apple-wine taverns. The latter are the more interesting to hop between and the deceptively huge Lorsbacher Thal (Grosse Rittergasse 49-51, 616 459, lorsbacher-thal.de) is among the best of them. Sugar (5680 3976, sugar-bar.de) at Bergerstrasse 235 is a cool little cocktail bar, while Wein Dunker (451 993) further up at No. 265 is an unheralded gem. It's homely rather than sophisticated, specialises in German wines and the amazing stone cellar bar is even more appealing than the ivy-strewn courtyard.

Hot tip

Possibly more than in any other place in the world, Frankfurt is all about the timing. Hotel prices fluctuate wildly; you can pretty much triple any price listed during one of the city's frequent trade fairs. On the flip side, room rates at weekends and out of conference season (that is, August and Christmas) can be extraordinarily cheap. Often the top hotels take a cleaver to tariffs and you can get really good rooms for as little as €40 or €50 if you shop around and catch hotels at their most desperate.

Getting there

Qantas, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines and Cathay Pacific fly to Frankfurt. Return deals can be found from about $1750.

Visas and currency

No visas are required to enter Germany, unless visitors plan to stay for longer than 90 days in a six-month period. The currency is the euro; €1 = $1.35.

Calling Germany

The international dialling code is +49 and the Hamburg city code is 69. To call the numbers listed from Australia, add 4969.

More information

Frankfurt Tourism: frankfurt-tourismus.de.

David Whitley was a guest of Frankfurt Tourism.

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