Though Frankfurt's impressive corporate skyscrapers create a strikingly modern skyline, a pleasant wander through the half-timbered splendour of the charming Altstadt (old town) soon reveals a much older city proud of its ancient heritage. Frankfurt am Main (the "ford of the Franks" on the river Main) traces its origins as a major trading centre back to 1240 when the Holy Roman Emperor's decree granted imperial protection to all merchants travelling to any Frankfurt 'messe' (trade fair). Furthermore, all imperial elections from 1356 onwards were held in this medieval city, and many important kings and emperors have been crowned in St Bartholomew's Cathedral in the heart of the old city - which is why this exquisite red-sandstone church with its tall spire is also known as the "Kaiserdom". Beside the cathedral, the Dom-Museum contains magnificent relics and archaeological treasures which tell the story of its illustrious past. In 1848, with the Holy Roman Empire a fading memory, Frankfurt's Paulskirche was the prestigious venue chosen to host Germany's first National Assembly. Often known as the 'Frankfurt Parliament', this was a key political event in the process which eventually led to a united Germany.
With celebrated international figures of such calibre as composer Paul Hindemith and philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer associated with the city, Frankfurt can also boast a strong cultural legacy. But the city's most famous son - and Germany's most revered writer - is undoubtedly Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). In terms of his intellect, talent and influence, Goethe has been compared with Shakespeare, and his birthplace (the Goethe-Haus) can be seen at 23, Grosser Hirschgraben, right next to the Goethe Museum which celebrates his lifetime of achievements. Just across the river lies the renowned Städel Art Institute and Municipal Gallery which houses some of Europe's finest paintings: works by masters such as Botticelli, Holbein, Rembrandt and Reubens, as well as later artists like Chagall and Klee. And those who want to see more modern art can find 20th-century classics by talents such as Bacon, Warhol and Joseph Beuys at the Museum für Moderne Kunst (Museum of Modern Art) whose exterior perfectly complements the contemporary masterpieces it displays. The Senckenberg Natural History Museum has a family-friendly collection of dinosaurs alongside many other rare features, whilst the 150-year-old Frankfurt Zoo, with its zoned habitats, wolves, gorillas and darkened Grzimekhaus for viewing nocturnal species, is an equally fascinating destination for both adults and children.
As the home of Germany's financial industry, an important commercial hub, and a venue which continues to host premier international trade fairs, Frankfurt offers a vast range of hotels, restaurants and leisure facilities which reflect its status as a modern metropolis. Strolling through green parks, cruising down the river, shopping at city markets, lingering in a welcoming apple wine tavern or spending an hour in an outdoor café are just some of the ways visitors to Frankfurt may choose to relax. And dining out presents a similar array of options with inner city culinary zones such as the Grosse Bockenheimer Strasse packed with restaurants serving gourmet cuisine, traditional German- or Mediterranean menus and much more. Many pleasant city bars feature good jazz and other live music, and there are cinemas, central theatres presenting popular shows, specialist music-concert events with headline artists, and a thriving after-hours club scene - all within easy reach of your hotel.