Frankfurt am Main is the European hub for Lufthansa Airlines, and also a major transfer point for Air Canada. For that reason, I have been to this central German city numerous times. Recently however, I decided to do a two day layover and explore what I had previously only seen at the airport.
Most international travellers simply refer to the city as Frankfurt; however, to locals, it is Frankfurt am Main. The reason for the additional text is there is another city, named Frankfurt am Oder. The smaller city is located on the Oder River, whereas the Frankfurt we always think of is located on the 550km long Main River, a tributary off the Rhine. (If you’re confused just remember you are going to the ‘Main’ city).
Frankfurt is one of Europe’s oldest cities and has a population of 750,000, making it the fifth largest city in Germany. If you include the surrounding area the population climbs to 2.3 million. The city prides itself on being a global hub for commerce, culture, education, tourism and transportation.
Although I expected a more ‘rustic’ German city, with small, white houses, men dressed in lederhosen and women carrying fruit in baskets, singing everywhere, I was not at all disappointed. The main business section is like many other cities, albeit quite modern. Tall, glass buildings lined along the River Main are a sign of the prosperity Germany has enjoyed since World War II.
The old town square is still my favourite place to visit in the entire city. It takes you back to that ‘Bavarian’ feel complete with wooden balconies, intricate facades and many quaint and unique shops. The actual name of the square is Romerberg, which translated means Roman Mountain. This area has been the seat of Frankfurt’s administration since the 1400’s.
The square has been the location of many coronations, public events and of course, one of Germany’s most spectacular Christmas markets. Germany, particularly Frankfurt, is in my opinion, the place to travel to during the Christmas season. Walking around, all bundled up while you munch on a bratwurst, drink some mulled wine and stuff yourself with marzipan treats, will make this an unforgettable experience. After strolling around the 200 plus ornately decorated stalls of the market and eating those frankfurters, you can enjoy a cruise on the River Main while you partake of some typical Frankfurt biscuits.
For just over $100 per person you can enjoy the Frankfurt Christmas package, which includes an overnight stay (with breakfast) at one of many hotels, a Frankfurt Card so you can travel anywhere for free, a Christmas market voucher booklet, a cruise on the river, and a free skating session on Frankfurt’s largest skating rink.
Frankfurt has some old-fashioned meals, usually reserved for the Christmas season. Products like “Bethmännchen”, a delicate almond and marzipan biscuit, hot apple wine and “Quetschemännchen”, small figurines made of dried plums, are Frankfurt customs and make for tasty souvenirs for friends at home. “Green Sauce” crêpes served with brisket of beef or delicious “Handkäs” fondue, are newer traditions and have gained in popularity over the years. The best place to enjoy these local culinary specialties is in one of the warm and cozy taverns situated all around the Christmas market.
Another great thing to see and do in Frankfurt is a visit to the Palmengarten (Palm Gardens), which is an expansive botanical garden complex, featuring palm and orchid collections displayed in greenhouses.
A visit to the house of famous German writer Wolfgang Goethe is another ‘must see’ on your Frankfurt adventure. Now a museum, the homestead was the family residence of the Goethe family for 200 years, until 1795.
Of course, like most European cities, the cathedral is the centre of the old city. Frankfurt’s St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral is no exception. This is the third church on the site and dates back to the late 1800’s. Excavations have shown the original buildings were constructed in the 7th century.
In 2011 Frankfurt founded the Cathedral Choir School, which is a mixed ecumenical children's and youth choir. They perform during mass and evensongs, as well as give recitals. In a few short years this choir has rivalled the famed Vienna Boys’ Choir.
When you’re travelling through Europe and have a layover in Frankfurt, consider spending a couple of days there. If you can make this happen around Christmas time, you will have memories to last you a lifetime. Whenever I travel to Frankfurt I stop at a roadside eatery and enjoy a frankfurter. Maybe I will venture to Hamburg next, and taste a hamburger….
Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit photosNtravel.com