Frankfurt, Germany (AKA Frankfurt am Main) is a major hub in Europe for both the financial world and for flights entering/leaving the continent. In fact, the Frankfurt International Airport (FRA) is usually one of the top 5 busiest airports in Europe.
So, chances are you may find yourself flying through Frankfurt (if you haven’t already). And if you have a long layover or perhaps decide to stay a night in Frankfurt either before or after an international flight, you might be wondering if there’s anything to *do* in Frankfurt for just one day.
After all, big financial centers aren’t often the most exciting places to explore.
But there ARE things you can do with one day in Frankfurt, as my husband Elliot and I discovered on an overnight stay of our own!
(Want an easy way to see a bit a Frankfurt in just a couple hours? This Frankfurt walking tour is always a good bet, and takes plans in the afternoon for anyone arriving on a morning flight.)
Arriving in Frankfurt on a long layover
We arrived in Frankfurt early in the morning, and were leaving on a train the following morning – meaning we had almost exactly 24 hours to squeeze in some exploration in Germany’s 5th-largest city.
We started by taking a train from the Frankfurt airport to the city center. You can take the S8 or S9 S Bahn (suburban/regional train) from the airport train station at Terminal 1 to either the main train station in Frankfurt (Hauptbanhof), or go a little further into to city to the Hauptwache station, depending on where you’re staying. This is the most economical way to get from Frankfurt airport to the city center (it costs less than 5 euros), and takes about 10-15 minutes.
There are also taxis and rideshares, but the train really is the quickest and cheapest way to get into the city.
From the train station, you can then take a further U Bahn (metro) train, tram, taxi, or walk to your accommodation. If you arrive early like we did, you probably won’t be able to check into your hotel yet. But you can still leave your luggage so you can go out and explore!
Things to do in Frankfurt in 1 day
Here are all the things you can squeeze into one day of sightseeing in Frankfurt:
1. Walk along the River Main
The River Main flows 326 miles (525 kilometers) through Germany, and is the longest tributary of the Rhine. Frankfurt am Main straddles this river, and strolling along its banks is well worth it, especially during the warmer months.
In the summer especially, you’ll find people picnicking in the park-like spaces on both sides of the river, alongside pop-up cafes and bars. There are floating restaurants and beer gardens along both sides of the Main in the summer, too, especially between the Friedensbrücke and Ignatz-Bubis-Brücke (bridges).
The Main Terrasse beer garden is relaxed and offers up good views of Frankfurt and the Eiserner Steg, while the Freigut Frankfurt Summer Lounge is a seasonal cocktail bar.
2. Cross the Eiserner Steg
Speaking of the Eiserner Steg (quite literally “Iron Footbridge”), this pedestrian bridge connecting the two sides of the Main is well worth a stroll across.
Along with offering great views of both Frankfurt’s modern skyline and Old Town church steeples, the bridge’s sides are also covered in colorful love locks.
3. Explore Frankfurt’s New Old Town
My favorite part of Frankfurt is the tiny Old Town, centering around the Römerberg, or historic market square in front of the Römer (City Hall). And while this part of the city looks quite authentic and old, it’s actually brand new – construction was only completed in 2018!
The “New Old Town” resembles Frankfurt’s original Old Town, which was indeed old. Before Germany was Germany, Frankfurt existed as a city state, and was one of the most important cities in the Holy Roman Empire. The original Römer served as an indoor marketplace for Roman merchants, and Frankfurt Cathedral served as the coronation site of kings and emperors.
Frankfurt used to be the largest timber frame town in all of Germany. But the vast majority of the Old Town was destroyed during WWII in an Allied air raid in May 1944.
Reconstruction of the Old Town consisted of 15 buildings being rebuilt using original blueprints, along with 20 new buildings following in the same architectural style. If you visited without knowing that it was all entirely new, you’d probably never guess! (It reminds me a lot of how they reconstructed Warsaw’s Old Town after WWII!)
A few things to check out in the New Old Town include:
- Römerberg – The historic market square is once again surrounded by half-timbered buildings, and is iconic!
- Alte Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church) – At one end of Römerberg, this small Gothic church dates back to the Middle Ages.
- Paulskirche (St. Paul’s Church) – Sitting on Paulsplatz, the red brick church is today a monument to democracy in Germany. Entry to see the exhibits inside is free.
- A museum – Museums like the Historisches Museum Frankfurt (a great city history museum), Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (modern and contemporary art museum), Frankfurter Kunstverein (art museum), and Caricatura – Museum for Comic Art are all in Old Town.
- Neue Altstadt – This square of restored townhouses is now home to several trendy bars and cafes.
Want to see it all? Consider a Frankfurt walking tour if you have time.
4. Visit Frankfurt Cathedral
Marking the far end of the New Old Town, the Frankfurt Cathedral (the Kaiserdom St. Bartholomäus) is worth stopping in to see. The Gothic-style cathedral is centuries old, and is the site where German kings and then Roman emperors were coronated starting in the 1300s.
The cathedral was damaged in WWII, but not completely destroyed. It has seen a lot of revisions and renovations over the years, though. Notably, the inviting red interior of the cathedral is thanks to a paint job in the 1990s!
You can visit the cathedral for free, but there’s also a cathedral museum to visit (3 euros) and the cathedral tower that you can climb (328 steps).
5. Shop at the Kleinmarkthalle
Not far from the New Old Town, the Kleinmarkthalle is a large indoor market hall dating back to the 1950s. Inside, more than 150 stalls sell everything from fresh food to flowers.
Even if you don’t need to buy anything, it’s a fun local spot to see.
6. Visit a museum
If you’re visiting Frankfurt on a rainy day, or in any season other than summer, you might need more indoor activities! And museums are always a great go-to. Frankfurt has a whole row of museums on the south side of the Main (in the Sachsenhausen neighborhood) called “Museumsufer.”
I already mentioned some museums in the Old Town like the Historisches Museum Frankfurt and Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. But a couple others you might enjoy include:
- Städel Museum – This art museum in along the Museumsufer has a large European collection of works from the Middle Ages to the present day.
- Liebieghaus – A museum dedicated to sculptures, with an impressive collection of 5000+ pieces.
- DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum – The German Film Museum is an innovative museum dedicated to film and cinema.
- Jüdisches Museum – Frankfurt’s Jewish Museum includes interactive exhibits that tell the history of Jewish people in Frankfurt in more modern history.
- Goethe House – The house where German writer/statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was born and grew up. The inside is now a museum, representing life when Goethe was growing up here.
7. Take a boat cruise
If you still have time, consider a sightseeing cruise down the River Main to see Frankfurt from a different perspective. This Frankfurt cruise can be either 50 or 100 minutes long, and includes full commentary as you sail. (Book a cruise here)
Where to stay in Frankfurt
Frankfurt is a large city, but if you’re planning to play tourist there, you’ll want to stay somewhere between the main train station and the eastern end of the Old Town so you can easily reach all the main sights and museums – either on foot or by tram/U-bahn.
A few hotel options vetted by me include:
- Scandic Frankfurt Museumsufer – Walking distance to the main train station and the River Main, this hotel includes everything I expect from the Scandic hotel chain: comfy rooms with Scandinavian design, and a good hotel breakfast buffet. We chose a room with a view of Frankfurt’s city center, too, which was cool!
- Motel One Frankfurt-Römer – If you want to be closer to the Old Town, this is the hotel for you. It’s perfectly located just a short walk to the Römerberg. The rooms are on the small side, but have. a nice contemporary design.
- Steigenberger Icon Frankfurter Hof – If you’re looking for more of a luxury option, the Steigenberger Icon really is an icon, dating back to 1876. It’s in a great location, and even offers Afternoon Tea!
When to visit Frankfurt
People fly through Frankfurt year-round, and when you find yourself there might depend on other travel plans.
However, late spring through early fall (late April-early October) is when you’ll find the best weather in Frankfurt, and also lots of outdoor dining and drinking options. (The floating beer gardens along the Main stay open at least through September.)
The Advent season (late November up until Christmas) is also a fun time to visit Frankfurt, as various Christmas markets turn the Old Town area into a holiday wonderland.
Have you ever spent time exploring Frankfurt?