Germany

Frankfurt – Suggestions for a Layover

Frankfurt is one of the busiest airports in Europe and a place you might find yourself having to overnight, especially if your final destination is one of the smaller airports. This is the situation Alison and I found ourselves in as we made our way from Nova Scotia to Malta. Technically we could have done it all in one day, but the Frankfurt/Malta connection time was very tight so we decided not to chance it and leave a day early and layover in Frankfurt. It was a good decision as we had an enjoyable day without being stressed about missing the Malta connection. Here are a few suggestions to make your stay in Frankfurt easier and stress free.

Where to Stay

The first choice is whether to stay at the airport or in the city. Either would work as there is good light rail service going either way. We decided to stay at the airport simply so we didn’t have to haul our luggage around. There are many hotels at the airport with four directly connected to the terminals. I would pick one of these so you don’t need to worry about shuttles. You also have direct access to tons of restaurants and shopping. My choice for staying at the airport is the Hilton Frankfurt Airport which is one of the nicest airport hotels I’ve ever stayed at. The first time I stayed here more years ago than I care to admit, I was blown away by just how futuristic it was and still is. From the outside it looks like a giant spaceship and on the inside it has a very spacious lobby with glass elevators. The rooms are decent sized with great bathrooms and working space. What I like the best is that half the rooms look over a green forest with the Frankfurt skyline in the distance, instead of the parking lot views that many airport hotels are plagued by. It’s also a really quiet oasis in a very busy and loud airport.

View from Room 9121, Frankfurt
View from Room 9121

If you do prefer to stay in town and ready for a splurge, check out the Sofitel Frankfurt Opera which has a gorgeous interior and rooms to match at a price that might make your wallet weep. But it’s in a great part of the city within walking distance of the Altstadt and right across from the Frankfurt Opera House.

Getting into Frankfurt

Assuming you’ve opted to stay at the airport and have some time on your hands then you really should go into Frankfurt and do a walk about in the Altstadt or old part of the city. With more time you can check ouy one of Frankfurt’s many museums. While Germany is known for its efficiency I am afraid they are a bit slack when it comes to information on the many trains that come and go from Frankfurt Airport Station. Usually with most metro and light rail systems there is an actual person you can ask about how to get where you’re going. Not here, or at least not that I could find and what I found on line didn’t match what was the on the ground reality. To cut to the chase there are only two lines that go to the centre of the city, routes 8 and 9 that depart from the lowest and farthest away of the rail lines from The Squaire, where the hotels are located. Just keep following the sign with a green S in Terminal 1 and you will get there.

You purchase your ticket from a vending machine. Choose the one trip only option which, contrary to the website, costs 5.10 € per trip. Don’t buy the one day pass which costs over 15 € since you just need to go out and back for a total of 10.20 €. Hauptwauche station is the sixth stop and the closest to the Altstadt. It takes about twenty minutes. Before leaving try to get your hands on a city map. Most hotel concierges provide them. Even so, Frankfurt Altstadt is, like most medieval districts, a bit hard to navigate with a map alone so you might want to spend some data time on Google Maps. What I did was get the directions from Hauptwauche to Altstadt on Google and print off the directions for my own personal map.

We arrived in the Hauptwache area on a Sunday morning and it was apparent that there had been a huge party the night before as the place was covered with litter, especially broken bottles. The Germans love their beer and a few of them were still sleeping it off along with the usual young white males that we have come to call the ‘homeless’. Frankly, it was not an auspicious start to our day in Frankfurt.

This is St. Catherine’s Church, the largest Protestant church in Frankfurt, in the Hauptwache square which was the site of  the former military garrison when Frankfurt was still a city state. It is the first of the older buildings you will see in this area of Frankfurt, although it is technically not in the Altstadt.

St. Catherines Church, Frankfurt
St. Catherine’s Church

Truthfully, using the word ‘oldest’ in relation to this building and almost every one in the adjacent Altstadt district is a misnomer. During WWII the Allies basically destroyed the largest medieval city centre in Europe. While Dresden and Hamburg are much better known because of the larger death counts, Frankfurt got equal treatment. I do not fault the Allies for this; my father was one of those who, as a 20 year old was the wireless navigator on bomber missions in one of the most deadly assignments in the war.

This is what the Altstadt looked like in June, 1945. Clearly the Allies tried to avoid the cathedral, but pretty well every one of the other ancient buildings was destroyed. So what you see in Frankfurt today is, like Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg and many other German cities, in effect, a recreation. It is by no means Disneyfied, but it is not original. Personally, I don’t care. The fact that the Frankfurters and most other German cities chose to recreate their past is marvellous. The Russians didn’t and you can decide if you like semi-faux versus Brutalism.

Frankfurt, June 1945

The Altstadt

The Alstadt is a modern day recreation of the medieval centre of Frankfurt which was destroyed during WWII. What’s interesting is that it never really got going until 1986 and wasn’t complete until 2018. The Dom-Römer Project involved the demolition of the new city hall that had been built after the war and another large post-war building proving that ‘new’ is always better.

The centrepiece of the Altstadt recreation is the Römerburg which is now a wonderful square almost completely surrounded by medieval style half-timbered houses. Here is a link to a virtual tour which gives a good idea of what it looks like. The centrepiece of Römerberg is the Römer House which is the ‘new’ Frankfurt City Hall.

Frankfurt City Hall
Romer House – Frankfurt City Hall

Here are photos of some of the other buildings in the Römerberg.

Altstadt Frankfurt
Alison in the Frankfurt Altstadt

The Römerberg also features the Old St. Nicholas Church which was one of the few structures in the Altstadt to survive the war relatively unscathed.

Old St. Nicholas Church, Frankfurt
Old St. Nicholas Church

There are numerous other interesting buildings nearby as you leave the Römerberg heading for the waterfront and the Main River.

House with Flowers
Building in Aldstadt, Frankfurt
Half-Timbered Building in Aldstadt
Aldstadt Building 2, Frankfurt
Half-Timbered Aldstadt Building 2

Looking at these buildings closely often reveals some surprising details like this scale of justice with a golden dragon head in the background.

Scales of Justice & Dragon

Or this Virgin and Child.

Virgin & Child

Once you reach the river take the Eisener Steg pedestrian bridge.

Alison on Eisener Steg, Frankfurt
Alison on Eisener Steg

Unlike Paris’ Pont des Arts where officials removed the ‘love locks’ that started a trend that has become worldwide, the locks are here in force on the Eisener Steg, much to the delight of the lock making industry.

Locks on Eisener Steg

From the bridge you get a good view of the Altstadt waterfront and the Frankfurt Cathedral.

Aldstadt Waterfront from Eisener Steg, Frankfurt
Aldstadt Waterfront from Eisener Steg

Walking to the other side you turn left and head for the next crossing which is not far away. From this bridge you get views of Frankfurt’s financial district which is the largest in continental Europe, trailing only London in size and even that may change with Brexit.

Frankfurt Financial District

Once you are back on the Altstadt side you can make your way back to Hauptwauche a number of ways. Check out the Frankfurt Opera House before reboarding and heading back to the airport.

Frankfurt Opera House

I hope these few suggestions will make your layover in Frankfurt a little more enjoyable. Please join Alison and I as we head to the island nation of Malta to start our first post-Covid trip abroad.


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