Excellent architecture from both the middle ages to modernity, extraordinarily diverse culture and entertainment – from museums and opera houses to underground cabaret and techno clubs – a rich and hearty cuisine, and countryside scenery that could have been plucked from a storybook. These are just some of the things you can expect to experience on a trip to Germany.
But this Central European country is by no means small, and travelers often find themselves having to carefully choose cities and towns to visit. One common choice is between the country’s capital, Berlin, and its financial hub, Frankfurt.
If you’re juggling between these two urban centers, keep reading. This guide will compare several aspects of Berlin and Frankfurt’s tourist industry so you can make an informed decision on which city is going to be the best travel option for you.
Berlin or Frankfurt: The Vibe
Berlin is the very definition of an international city, with millions of young people from around the world flocking to live in this trendy capital. A pioneering creative hub full of vibrant musicians, artists, performers, writers, and more, Berlin has a long-held reputation as one of the most cutting-edge urban centers in the world.
It is undeniably an authentic experience with cultural events and attractions that will educate and astound you. But even with its complex and culturally-significant history, the German capital sometimes feels like it could be a city anywhere in Europe due to its international vibe. It’s a free-wheeling standalone city that doesn’t always feel distinctly German.
Frankfurt, on the other hand, is the major commercial and financial hub in Germany, with many global corporate headquarters located in Frankfurt’s center. At face value, it looks and feels much like you would expect the financial center of the country to look and feel. The city skyline is dominated by steel, glass, and concrete, with soaring skyscrapers and high-rise buildings.
But Frankfurt also offers much of what travelers come to Germany to see – old beer halls and taverns, historic buildings, an entire district full of medieval architecture, and a significant student presence that brings a sense of liveliness and excitement to the downtown area.
If you want to experience a uniquely German city, Frankfurt is going to be a better choice. But the fact is that Berlin, with its deep history, cultural attractions, and creative endeavors found throughout the city, has a more exciting and enticing vibe for travelers.
Berlin or Frankfurt: Nightlife and Live Music
The truth is that Berlin consistently tops the list as one of the best places for nightlife and live events on the continent. You can hardly find a better place to party, with some of the most popular nightclubs in the world, incredible music festivals, and lineups that include the best DJs and musicians in the industry. It’s also a hub for underground clubs and is widely considered to be the world capital for techno music. It’s no surprise that millions of people travel to Berlin specifically to party.
Some of the best clubs in Berlin include the uber-famous Berghain (built inside an abandoned power station), the legendary Sisyphos, and Golden Gate. Keep in mind that the more popular and exclusive the club is, the longer the lines will be to get inside.
Despite its reputation as a corporate center, Frankfurt has the kind of robust clubbing scene you can expect from a major city. You’ll find plenty of trendy bars and clubs here occupied by white-collar workers and enthusiastic university students. Frankfurt is well-known for its excellent live jazz performances, and it also has a well-established reputation for techno music.
In fact, some of the best German DJs began doing rounds in Frankfurt clubs, and many believe the city to be one of the earliest adopters of techno music. Explore some of the best bars and clubs in Frankfurt like the iconic jazz institute Jazzkeller, the acclaimed techno-house club Robert Johnson, or the charming apfelwein tavern Dauth-Schneider.
Berlin or Frankfurt: Budget and Accommodation
Let’s face it, major European cities are not known for their affordability: but there are some corners that are more affordable than others. As if the culture wasn’t enough, Berlin is also a popular spot for travelers and ex-pats as it’s one of the cheapest cities in Western Europe for living and traveling.
A mid-range trip in the German capital will set you back approximately $125USD per day. These costs include a private AirBnB room, takeaway meals, drinks, public transport (including taxis), and admission to typical attractions including museums and art galleries. If you’d rather stay in a hotel room you can expect to expand your budget by $100-200 per day.
If you’re traveling on a budget you can get away with spending less than $60 by staying in hostels, visiting primarily free attractions, cooking most of your meals, and using only public transport.
Frankfurt is a little more expensive than Berlin, particularly when it comes to accommodation. Budget hostels will cost around $10-15 more per night, and a private double room at a hostel can cost as much as double the price. Hotels and Airbnbs’ are roughly the same, though private apartments will cost a little extra in Frankfurt.
A mid-range travel experience will cost around $150-60 per day with a private Airbnb room and everything else included, with an extra $100-200 on top if you want to upgrade your accommodation. Backpackers can expect to set a budget of $80 per day.
Winner: Berlin is more affordable than Frankfurt, but the difference isn’t huge. If you’re on a backpacking budget and need to count your dollars, Berlin is definitely the better option.
Berlin or Frankfurt: Food
Frankfurt is a great place to go if you want to try more traditional German cuisines, as well as foods that are uniquely Hessian or best known in Frankfurt. For example, you have to try äbbelwoi, or apfelwein (‘Applewine’ as it is known in English), a tart and refreshing type of apple cider that locals drink in place of beer! You’ll also come across delicacies like Goethe’s beloved Grüne Soße (Green sauce), Handkäse mit Musik, a type of sour milk cheese, and the fantastically decadent Frankfurter Kranz, Frankfurt’s most popular cake.
Frankfurt has a great variety of classic German restaurants, modern bistros’ and more international offerings. Try old-school Frankfurt offerings at Atschel, incredible East African cuisine at Im Herzen Afrikas, or sophisticated French-German bistro fusion at Emma Metzler.
There is also plenty of traditional German food to be found in Berlin – like schnitzel, bratwurst, and apfelstrudel – but much of it can be enjoyed throughout the country and are not particularly unique to the city. Dishes like Currywurst, for example, which is very much a Berlin product, can be found in virtually every city in Germany.
Berlin, on the other hand, has a more appropriately international food culture. Doner kebabs, for example, are the ubiquitous late-night fast food meal that can be found on nearly every street corner. You’ll also find an incredible blend of cuisines from most cultures around the world. Try the most iconic burgers in Berlin at Burgermeister, celebrated fusion cuisine at Restaurant Tim Raue, or ground-breaking zero-waste restaurant Frea.
Winner: Frankfurt. Both cities have their share of excellent restaurants, from fast-food to fine dining, but Frankfurt offers more unique regional cuisines and authentically German food.
Berlin or Frankfurt: Sights and Attractions
Unsurprisingly there is no shortage of interesting sightseeing and tourist attractions in these two major cities, and both Berlin and Frankfurt offer their own unique experiences.
Berlin is one of the world’s great contemporary art capitals, so you’d be remiss not to visit some of the countless art galleries and collections around the city. We recommend the Hamburger Bahnhof for one of the best contemporary art showcases in town.
It may not be a light-hearted way to spend the day, but you can’t go wrong visiting some of the museums and exhibits dedicated to the legacy of World War II and the Holocaust that took place in Germany and surrounding countries. Consider the Holocaust Memorial, the Topography of Terror, and the Jewish Museum. Speaking of history, a trip to Berlin isn’t complete without stopping by at the remaining vestiges of the Berlin Wall, its colorful murals, and the East Side Gallery.
Other fascinating cultural sites include the iconic Reichstag parliament building, the Brandenburg Gate, Gendarmenmarkt Square, the Berlin Chapel, and the Charlottenburg Palace
As for Frankfurt – For culture and history, you can hardly find a better space in Germany than the Museumsufer, also known as the museum embankment. The Museumsufer is a literal boulevard of world-class museums and galleries that cover everything from architecture to fine arts, ethnology, film, Jewish history, and film.
Get a taste of the cities food and shopping culture at Kleinmarkthalle and the Schaumainkai flea market. Explore Römerberg, the historic heart of Frankfurt with a wealth of charming medieval architecture, and the Frankfurt City Forest (one of the largest wooded urban areas in the country).
Once you’ve had your fill of the Frankfurt culture and lifestyle, take an afternoon tour down the Main river, which takes you through the center of the city and past many fantastic historic landmarks and historic buildings. Don’t forget a trip to the top of the Main Tower, which offers an unbeatable view of the city from 650-feet in the air.
Winner: Berlin. As the capital of the country with a central part to play in some of the most significant events in modern history, it’s no surprise that Berlin beats Frankfurt in terms of cultural and historic sites. However, Frankfurt offers the best outdoor/open-air landmarks of the two.
Berlin or Frankfurt: Surrounding Areas
Both Berlin and Frankfurt have more than their fair share of great attractions, but what about the sightseeing opportunities outside of these cities? Let’s compare some of the most convenient day trips near these German metropolises, so you know what’s on offer if you plan to explore outside of the city.
Due to its central location, Frankfurt is a pretty convenient base if you want to explore in literally any direction. From here you can travel by car, bus or train to various cities, historic towns, charming villages, and other famous German heritage sites.
- Travel southwest by train to the historic University town of Heidelberg, with Germany’s oldest tertiary institution and plenty of gorgeous medieval and Renaissance architecture.
- Visit Hanau, the hometown of the Grimm Brothers that looks like it could have been ripped out of a storybook.
- Travel south and hike through the mythic Schwarzwald (The Black Forest), one of the most magical and historic natural spaces in the country.
- Book a day tour through the irresistibly postcard-worthy Rhine Valley, one of the world’s most famous wine regions.
Berlin has its own share of day trips, though most of them lean more towards cities and sites of war history. If you’re a city-slicker or history buff, you’ll love the potential day tours on offer from the capital.
- 2 hours drive from Berlin is Dresden, a gorgeous city that was ravaged by the bombs of World War II. Years of work had restored the city to its former glory, and there are plenty of landmarks worthy of visiting.
- Visit the former residence of Prussian royals at the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, the former imperial city.
- Just a moderate train ride away, vibrant Leipzig is fast becoming one of the country’s most liveable cities and has an impressive history of classical art and music.
- Though it’s a very sobering day trip, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp is worth a visit to reflect on the terrible legacy of WWII in Germany.
Winner: Draw. Both cities offer some really fantastic day trips in their surrounding areas, but the experiences will be different. If you’re more interested in medieval history, old-world atmosphere, and natural beauty, you’ll probably prefer day trips from Frankfurt. For more of a glimpse into the history of imperialism and modern warfare, as well as the culture of modern German cities, go with Berlin.
Berlin or Frankfurt: The Final Verdict
The truth is that if you’re traveling to Germany for the first time and you find yourself choosing between Berlin and Frankfurt, there’s only one answer we can give you: choose Berlin.
Both of these Deutsch meccas offer their own unique atmosphere, culture, and attractions, and both are definitely worth a visit if you have the time. But the fact is that millions of people travel to Germany with the capital at the top of their list, due to its vibrancy, relevance as one of the world’s great artistic and cultural hubs, affordability, unbeatable nightlife, and wealth of interesting cultural and historical sites.
Frankfurt may give you a more realistic and “Germanic” feeling that probably better represents other parts of the country, and it has no shortage of its own fantastic attractions, as well as being a great base to explore the center of the country. But Berlin truly is a one-of-a-kind travel experience that should not be missed by any new visitor to Central Europe.