Frankfurt has served as Germany’s financial and industrial heart ever since Mayer Rothschild rose up from the city’s ghettos to found the Rothschild family international banking dynasty here in the 1700s. The city’s stuffy status has earned it the nickname “Bankfurt,” as it’s home to major banks and a bustling stock exchange, not to mention hundreds of factories. The slick, modern skyline that reflects off the River Main (pronounced “mine”) brings yet another nickname: “Mainhattan.” Frankfurt also hosts major international trade fairs—check the city’s calendar of events before trying to book a room, as prices can soar when there’s a trade fair in town—including the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, the world’s largest book fair with 7,400 exhibitors and 286,000 visitors.
The city has made great strides in adding other, more culturally exciting facets to its personality. Scratch that shiny surface and you’ll see attractions and architecture devoted to history and art. In the 1980s, the city went on a spending spree to build striking museums and commission the architecturally creative restoration of homes on the town square that were ruined in World War II. And this industrial city has a gentle green side, too, with a sprawling botanical garden within its boundaries. The 985-foot headquarters of Commerzbank, designed by British architect Norman Foster (also known for his artful restoration of the Reichstag in Berlin) is considered Europe’s first green skyscraper, with nine winter gardens, natural lighting and windows that open. It’s also the tallest skyscraper in the European Union—985 feet high, including the signal light.
Cross the footbridge south from the city center and you’ll find a striking array of contemporary architecture along the riverbank, including museums such as the Städel Institute of Art—with works by Cézanne, Renoir, Rubens and Vermeer—plus the German Film Museum, a fine museum of natural history, and more than 20 others. And what better way to end a day of museum hopping than with a night of bar hopping: Frankfurt’s lively nightlife spans the generations, from old-fashioned apple-wine bars of the Sachsenhausen (the oldest part of Frankfurt) to jam-packed techno dance clubs all over town.