Frankfurt Layover – Get Out of the Lounge

Star Alliance flyers know Frankfurt well. I am still new to Star and took advantage of a long, 9-hour layover to check out Frankfurt.

Frankfurt 10

Welcome to Euroland

Layover options include:

  • Frankfurt am Main (the city)
  • Wiesbaden for the hot springs
  • Mainz of Gutenberg printing press fame
  • A number of UNESCO World Heritage sites within a short drive (Abbey and Altenmünster of Lorsch the closest, with several more to the east, west and south of the airport)

My original inclination was to a UNESCO grand tour. In I think a wise recognition of my limits I knew I would be utterly exhausted from the trip over to Bangalore, India and all-day to late night client negotiation and entertainment, so I limited myself to the city.

I passed up the Lufthansa arrivals lounge and only hiccup I had was locating the tourist information welcome desk to purchase the Frankfurt Card, which has 1/2-day versions for EUR 9.90/14.90 that includes unlimited public transport and many museum discounts, including the most popular museums. A delightfully dour lady at the desk was brutally honest about Frankfurt’s attractions, “Well, the natural history museum cannot compare to London or New York…or even Berlin.” We settled on the Goethe House and Deutsches Filmmuseum.

Frankfurt 01

Resist the pull of the lounge

Frankfurt 02

Welcome Center in Frankfurt Airport

I did a walk roughly following Rick Steves’ route from the main train station, through the red light and junkie district, on to the deserted financial district, through pedestrian streets and the post-WWII rebuilt historic center. Ending across the river at the row of river facing museums. I had a nice time. Not a city screaming big attractions, and nearly overwhelmed on a lazy August Friday by tourists representing Star Alliance’s dominant countries for leisure tourists (e.g. China), though the relaxed European vibe was a nice counterpoint to a week of work in India. Even a 4 or 5-hour layover would be enough to dip a toe into the city.

Frankfurt 03

Main train station

Frankfurt 04

Between the station and the financial district

Frankfurt 05

Schiller on capitalism

Frankfurt 06

New ‘old’ town

Frankfurt 07

Goethe cabinet

Frankfurt 08

Early German comedy film

Frankfurt 09

Film editing interactive

Frankfurt 11

A light German lunch

Readers, where do you go on Frankfurt layovers, and don’t say the lounge!

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  • charles

    I had the dubious honor of buying a two day transit card for Frankfurt and almost being arrested because the trainee thought my pass was expired. It seems that the two day version is relatively rare and it was assumed the date of purchase was the same as expiration date.
    Once beyond that issue do as I do; rush to the ZEIL and shop like crazy. You will never settle for American brand underwear again!

  • Dory

    I actually really enjoy Frankfurt because it’s not overly touristy, and am happy to spend several days on layover there.

    Within Frankfurt city, the Palmengarten gardens are very nice — and walkable from the main train station (or hop the metro to Bockenheimer Warte). A walk along the Main river is nice, as well — and across the river from the city centre are more museums and galleries. The Frankfurt Zoo (metro station Zoo) is actually fairly good, and there’s also a nice small Chinese Garden a few blocks away. The Zeil is the big shopping (pedestrian only) street, and the Old Opera House around the corner at the west end of the Zeil is a nice picture.

    Some good eats and drinks in the city as well — Solberfäss’je restaurant for some tasty/hearty traditional German food, is right along the Zeil shopping street (near Konstablerwache station). Roomers hotel bar, or Gekkos bar (in the Hilton), or The Parlour bar for some world class cocktails.

    Outside of the city, the Wiesbaden hot springs/baths as you mentioned. Another 25 min west from there is the lovely little town of Rüdesheim, in wine country right on the river (take the gondola over the vineyards to the top of the hills). Heidelberg, another charming little town, with a popular castle, is about an hour train-ride south of Frankfurt.

    If you really don’t want to leave the airport, or just can’t get enough of planes, there is a really cool airside bus tour (departs anywhere from 3 or 4 times a day to hourly) — it’s in German, but they usually hand out an English brochure/handout to have on the bus, and the tour narrator will often throw in a bit of English if they know you’re on board — full details on the Frankfurt airport website, or the airport tour desk in the lower level of the airport not far from the (local) trains. The bus tour also includes entry to the awesome airside viewing terrace in Terminal 2 (or about 5 Euros for terrace entry only. You’ll pass through a dedicated security check at the entrance to the terrace, since you are going airside. I see, though, the terrace is closed for renovation Sep.2014 to spring 2015.

  • jorge

    My wife and I did a similar stopover a couple of months ago and we chose Mainz with the Gutenberg museum. we also chose to use points to stay at the hyatt Mainz as a base to leave our stuff, take a shower and chill out at during the day. Mainz is a compact town with lots of history we don’t regret going there. As teachers we loved picking up the world smallest book souvenir at the Gutenberg museum.

  • jay

    No Stadel? It’s not the Rijksmuseum, but there are quite a few nice Dutch master pieces. The main exhibitions were empty when I was there in June as all the Germans were crowded around the Nolde retrospective drowning in purple.

  • Jimmy

    I went to the same restaurant at Frankfurt. Made a silly mistake and didn’t bring enough cash to cover the bill and tip, so stiffed the waitress by mistake. I figured they would accept CCs but that wasn’t the case…

  • Erik

    I used to overnight frequently in the Frankfurt area on my way back to the US from various European destinations (IMHO instead of getting up at the crack of dawn for a connecting flight to FRA, it’s better to fly the previous evening, do an overnight, and then have time for breakfast before catching your flight.) I’ve stayed in Frankfurt Mitte, Mainz, and Offenbach. Of the 3 locations, Mainz was usually the winner. It’s a cute little town with character, has 2 Hiltons, some good sights and restaurants, and just seemed a lot more interesting than Frankfurt. Frankfurt is just too modern for my taste – if you read the Rick Steves book, he recounts the story about rebuilding Frankfurt and Munich after the war. The Munich voters wanted to rebuild according to the old plans, while Frankfurt chose to go modern with the “Main-hattan” approach.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Jimmy – and did they take forever to wait on you? I felt I needed flags and strobe lights to get anything. In such a brief stop I don’t know how many places are similar but they only took cash, debit, and some kind of domestic payment system.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @jay – the lady at the Welcome Center did recommend that. I knew I was not awake enough to appreciate fine art so will do another time. One museum she did point out as disappointing to her is the Jewish Museum, which she said she has visited many times but thinks it should be much better.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @jorge – next time through, Mainz it is!

    @Dory – thank you for the valuable recommendations, useful for stays of all lengths and many trips to come.

  • LarryInNYC

    Wow — can’t believe you wasted a whole day in a foreign city when you had an airport full of lounges you could have visited! 😉

    My experience (admittedly somewhat dated at this point — as am I!) is that you can walk from the terminal to the airport entrance and hitchhike from there.

    Heidelberg is a nice town although somewhat touristy, less than an hour from Frankfurt. I also have very fond memories of a visit to Tubingen, a University city just south of Frankfurt. Google maps indicates it’s three hours to get there from FRA, however, so best for an overnight visit.

  • We had a 24 layover in Frankfurt, and I actually decided to skip Frankfurt altogether and stay one night in Mainz instead. No regrets. I very much enjoyed seeing the original Gutenberg bible in person. Plus, it was nice touring the old city of Mainz.

  • john

    I did the same as you, returning from India, four or five hour layover, went downtown. Very, very, very pleasant after India….