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07/23/2003 - Updated 11:00 AM ET

Frankfurt am Main may be the smallest of Europe's big cities, but it's certainly not lacking in stature. Throughout its history, it has been linked to international trade, commerce and transportation. And today the city is playing a leading role in the European monetary union as the home of the European Central Bank. It's also a major transportation hub, with one of the continent's largest airports and one of its busiest train stations.

Frankfurt's skyline is one of a kind in Germany, and from it the city gets the nickname "Mainhattan." The need to rebuild after World War II led to the present day modern and postmodern architecture that is illustrated in the form of skyscrapers and museums.

Being such a commerce-minded city — and a major transportation hub — has made Frankfurt the trade show and convention epicenter of Europe since the 13 century. Trade fairs continue to be big business for the city, and if your visit coincides with one, expect large crowds all over town. (Most are in the spring and fall.)

The city's importance is sometimes countered by its dubious reputation as a dull, business-minded place. On the other hand, travelers with more time often linger to sample Frankfurt's fine opera, ballet and world-class museums. Those who do take the time to get to know the city are also pleasantly surprised by its multicultural variety.

Many of the main sightseeing attractions are located within easy walking distance of one another. The best place to start is north of the Main River at Romerberg, the main square and historical center of the city. There you'll find beautiful half-timbered houses and the Romer (City Hall), with its impressive banquet hall.

Another decidedly pleasant way to see Frankfurt is to take a cruise along the Main River (a tributary of the Rhine). Day cruises to nearby riverside towns are also a particularly traditional (not to mention scenic) way to explore the surrounding areas (see Great Day Trips).

Crowning glory — The Church of St. Bartholomew is also known as the Kaiserdom (or simply the Dom — cathedral) because Holy Roman emperors were crowned there. Its red sandstone facade and Gothic styling make it one of Frankfurt's most identifiable buildings. Though it was largely rebuilt after World War II, it houses a number of the original Gothic carvings. Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 2 p.m.-6 p.m.

  • Domstrasse (just east of Romerberg). Phone: (49 69) 297-0320.

Goethe's birthplace — The house where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — Germany's leading literary and intellectual figure — was born (in 1749) and grew up has been faithfully reproduced and is open for touring. The museum next door has paintings that depict Goethe's life after Frankfurt (in Weimar and Italy) and works by his contemporaries. Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (shorter hours in fall and winter). About 5 euros (convert currency).

  • Grosser Hirschgraben 23-25. Phone: (49 69) 138-800.

For true art lovers — Stadelsches Kunstinstitut und Stadtische Galerie is the "Louvre" of Frankfurt. This art institute and its municipal gallery showcase a fine collection of paintings from the 14th-20th centuries, with masterpieces from each period. It also has an extensive collection of impressionist paintings. Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Wednesday to 8 p.m.). About 5 euros.

The Museum of Applied Arts (Museum fur Angewandte Kunst) has a rich variety of European and Asian articles, including furniture, ceramics and glass. The museum building (designed by Richard Meier) itself is stunning — it's in the form of three interlinked white cubes situated in a park on the south bank of the Main River. Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. About 5 euros.

  • Schaumainkai 17, Sachsenhausen. Phone: (49 69) 2123-4037.

Museum fur Moderne Kunst, the wedge-shaped museum (known locally as the "Piece of Cake"), displays modern art from the 1960s through the present, in continually rotating exhibits called Changes of Scene. The building's highly modern interior can sometimes steal the show from the art it's housing. Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Wednesday to 8 p.m.). About 5 euros.

  • Domstrasse 10. Phone: (49 69) 2123-0447.

Remembering the past — The Historical Museum (Historisches Museum) displays 3-D architectural models of Frankfurt before and after World War II, as well as exhibits about life in the city and a cafe that doubles as an apfelwein (apple wine) museum. There's also a Children's Museum. Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Wednesday to 8 p.m.). About 4 euros.

  • Saalgasse 19 (south of Romerberg). Phone: (49 69) 2123-5599.

The Jewish Museum (Judisches Museum) is housed in the Rothschild Palais, the famous family's first mansion after leaving the Frankfurt Jewish ghetto. It tells the story of Frankfurt's Jews, the second-largest Jewish community in Germany before the Holocaust. Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Wednesday to 8 p.m.). 2.60 euros (Free on Saturday).

For the next Wim Wenders — The public is encouraged to play with tools of the filmmaker's trade at the German Film Museum (Deutsches Filmmuseum). See yourself flying on a magic carpet over Frankfurt using blue-screen technology or experiment with some of the earliest film technology. The museum also hosts frequent movie screenings. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. and Saturday 2-8 p.m. About 2.50 euros.

Moolah museum for free — Geldmuseum der Deutschen Bundesbank, the money museum, is quite appropriate, given Frankfurt's role as the center of European banking. Particularly fun is the exhibition of forged money. You can also buy a "brick"of $30,000 worth of shredded German marks for only 5 euros. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Wednesday 1 p.m.-9 p.m.). Free.

Fun for the kids — The Museum fur Kommunikation is especially child friendly — visitors are encouraged to play with all forms of communication devices in existence, from one of the very first telephones to an in-house satellite phone. These multimedia exhibits depict communication history in Germany and abroad. Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Free.

  • Schaumainkai 53. Phone: (49 69) 60600.

Frankfurt Zoo — one of the most visited in Europe — houses more than 5,000 birds, mammals, reptiles and insects representing almost 600 species. Among the highlights are the Grzimek House, where nocturnal animals think it's nighttime during the day, and the Exotarium, which is filled with interesting fish, reptiles and insects. Daily 9 am-7 p.m. About 5.50 euros.

City view — Though not the tallest building in Frankfurt, the Main Tower is the only skyscraper open to the public. The top floor houses an observation platform and an upscale restaurant with superb 180-degree views of the city. 5 euros.

Urban oasis — Palmengarten, an unforgettable botanical garden, with more than 300 different kinds of palms, specializes in tropical and subtropical plants, including seasonal exhibitions of flowering plants and shrubs. The scenery can occasionally be enjoyed to the sound of live jazz and classical music, and the park around the gardens has a playground for children, boats for rent and a wading pool. Monday-Sunday 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (closes at 4 p.m. in winter). About 3.50 euros.

  • Siesmayerstrasse 63. Phone: (49 69) 2123-3939.

Copyright 2003, Northstar Travel Media. All rights reserved. No redistribution allowed.

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