This is not a hotel guide, it's a location guide; which location to choose in Frankfurt to maximise being out and about and seeing all the highlights. Frankfurt is a small city with a great local transport system. However, if you want to step out of your hotel and walk into the old town, where do you stay?
There are three key areas that tourists find themselves in. First, the Bahnhofsviertal by the main railway station (Hauptbahnhof) which is close to the Messe for the trade fairs and highlighted in red on the map below. Second, the Innenstadt and old town which is the heart of the city and highlighted in blue on the map. Lastly, Old Sachsenhausen famed for its apple wine taverns and lively nightlife, and known as the Brückenviertal highlighted in purple on the map.
The Innenstadt, old town and heart of Frankfurt
This is the place to stay if you want to step out of your hotel and explore the heart of the city (highlighted in blue on the map). The area is geographically identified by a green park that circles the city centre and the park is the path of the old medieval city walls. Any hotel in this area is central. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the heart of the city and all are accessible without the need for transportation. Walking to the river bank will take a maximum of 10 minutes and from there you have access to the south side of Frankfurt, Sachsenhausen, with its museums and apple wine taverns. At the end of the night, if you're too tired to walk, a taxi is going to cost less than 10€ to get you back to your hotel. From the airport, getting into central Frankfurt is easy using the S-bahn. The S8 and S9 trains from the airport will bring you to three stops in the city centre - Tanusanlage, Hauptwache and Konstablerwache. My one caveat for this area is the eastern end of the Zeil where the Zeil meets Breite Gasse. This very small, contained area is seedy and run down, so worth avoiding.
Frankfurt Bahnhofsviertal, Hauptbahnhof and Messe
The main railway station is 1km to the west of the city centre and it has the biggest concentration of hotels. Unfortunately it's also the red light district and struggles with a drug problem. The area is outlined in red on the map. The concentration of hotels is a legacy from when the railway station was first built and, at that time, the area was one of the nicest in the city. Post war, Frankfurt made a name for itself hosting World class trade fairs and the trade fair exhibition centre is about 500 metres north of the railway station. These days it is still the place where most tourists book a hotel room, but the reality is you will need to use local transportation to explore the nicer parts of Frankfurt unless you are a keen walker. The area around the station is slowly improving with a few trendy bars and some good Thai and Chinese eateries, not to mention the excellent Turkish restaurants on Münchener Strasse. The hostels in this area, which cater for backpackers, are well maintained, safe and security conscious. If you are booking a hotel close to the railway station then my recommendation is to book one south of Kaiserstrasse. The drugs and red light area tend to be north of this street. The added advantage of being south of the station is that you are close to the river bank, which offers a lovely walk into the old town.
Hotels very close to the Messe (trade fair centre) are also away from the problem areas near the main station. However, this area is geared towards the business traveller and doesn't have much to offer except chain restaurants and a sterile environment.
Old Sachsenhausen, the Brückenviertal
There is very little provision of hotels south of the river in Sachsenhausen (the area with a purple outline on the map.) The international youth hostel is here and very well located for enjoying the night life and offering a quick walk across the bridge into Frankfurt city centre. Being residential, Sachsenhausen is the sort of place to stay if you prefer quieter areas, with plenty of local bars and restaurants but without the city noise. A short walk over the Eisener Steg will bring you to the heart of the old town, or use the local transport system to get around.