The Frankfurt of common conception and the Frankfurt of reality are very different things. Before arrival it tends to be a hazy cross between a giant conference centre churning through huge trade shows and bank HQs in modern glass towers.
There is something to this – there’s surely nowhere else in the world that comes down as far on the business side of the business vs pleasure tourism scale. But it doesn’t take much skimming through to realise that the city isn’t all that coldly commercial at all.
The rather un-German skyscrapers are very much in evidence, and the wealth is on show in the perma-buzzing shops and restaurants, but there’s something surprisingly homely and traditional not far beneath the surface. The city’s character is more sauerkraut than sales – and even if there for work, that warmth soon shines through.
A comfortable bed
Before booking, remember that weekend rates tend to be considerably cheaper than weekday rates. One of the more recent stakes in the Jumeirah Group’s global empire, the Jumeirah Frankfurt (www.jumeirah.com/jumeirah-frankfurt) is part of the shiny, modern MyZeil complex. There are original artworks throughout, a rooftop beehive producing honey to be served up at breakfast and predictably luxurious beds. Rooms cost from €216 (Dh849).
The Hilton Frankfurt City Centre (www.hilton.com/frankfurt) has a massive selling point in its 25-metre pool (it was built around an old leisure centre and the pool had to be kept as part of the agreement). But it also has proper king beds (rare in Germany where two singles pushed together are common), and rather impressive if vertigo-inducing glass lifts shooting up through the central court. Expect to pay from €157 (Dh617).
The 25 Hours Hotel by Levis (www.25hours-hotels.com) has teamed up with the jeans manufacturer for interior decor. This means unashamedly distinctive rooms, all kitted out with Bluetooth speakers, and little quirks like racks of skateboards stacked up opposite the car park and an “Andy Warhol” chill-out room in the basement. Doubles cost from €75 (Dh295).
Find your feet
The Main Tower (www.maintower.de) is no longer the tallest building in Frankfurt, but it’s the best starting point.
Take the lift 54 storeys to the 200-metre-high observation deck and you can take in the city, the Main river, surrounding forests and hills to the west. What’s striking is how the modern skyscrapers rise out of an otherwise flat landscape.
From there, stroll over the river to the Museumsufer, where 10 museums huddle up in close proximity along the same embankment. None are must-sees, which sums up Frankfurt’s problem in a nutshell, but most are solidly decent and occasionally illuminating. The Stadel (www.staedelmuseum.de) is the big art museum, with plenty of old master representation. But perhaps the most interesting is the Deutsches Architekturmuseum (www.dam-online.de), which majors in temporary architecture exhibitions, but has an excellent permanent centrepiece that uses scale models to show how buildings and urban design have changed over thousands of years.
Meet the locals
There are plenty of parks to the north-west of the city centre, but the most impressive is the Palmengarten (www.palmengarten.de), which has more than just the palm trees that the name suggests. It’s more a network of gardens, with individual chunks devoted to rhododendrons, roses and tropical plants, while there’s also a waterfall, grotto and boating lake.
Book a table
The notoriously seedy area around the main train station has been getting trendy over the past couple of years.
In the vanguard is Stanley Diamond (www.stanleydiamond.com), that goes for high quality without the usual Michelin-appeasing overly formal frippery. Superior level comfort food is the aim, and it succeeds with not-overly-complicated dishes such as the €29 saddle of lamb with cassoulet of pumpkin and gnocchi.
At the more traditional end of the scale, Salzkammer (www.salzkammerffm.de) in the city centre plumps for good old-fashioned traditional (and borderline stereotypical) German dishes.
This means soups, schnitzels and sausages aplenty. Mains start at about €10 (Dh39).
The Zeil is the main shopping street, lined with big-name high-street brands as well as the Galeria Kaufhof department store.
It’s complemented by the newer MyZeil mall. Meanwhile, Goethestrasse collects all the megabucks designer labels in one place.
For something with more local character, try Handwerkkunst am Romer (www.cuckoo-clocks.biz), which has lots of cute wooden toys but really excels itself in fabulously detailed cuckoo clocks.
What to avoid
The local speciality – the herb-heavy “green sauce” – is a speciality absolutely nowhere else – for a very good reason. You’re best off not letting curiosity get the better of you on this one.
The small, historic heart of Frankfurt, Romerberg, is full of handsome red sandstone buildings that look in a remarkably good state of repair. This is because almost the entire area was rebuilt after the Second World War. That so much was restored so quickly is what makes the area so remarkable – it’s testament to what humanity can do when it puts its mind to things.