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The Harz national park stretches from Lower Saxony through to the state of Saxony-Anhalt and is an enchanting landscape of mountains, forests, valleys, ski resorts and picturesque towns, all connected by a narrow guage railway network. Apart from visiting Goslar (see below), it’s worth exploring the hiking trails out of Braunlage or St Andreasberg, follow the circular boardwalk around Oderteich lake, and in the winter months, hit the ski slopes on the Wurmberg mountain.
Situated on the northwestern slopes of the Harz mountains, Goslar lures with a medieval town centre, half-timbered houses and quaint courtyards. Not-to-miss sights include the 12th-century Market Church St. Cosmas and Damian, the historic town hall. Then there’s the 1,000-year-old abandoned copper and silver mines of Rammelsberg Mountain and the Kaiserpfalz Imperial Palace which dates all the way back to 1040.
Lüneburg’s 1,000 year-long history is closely tied with the production of salt, which brought wealth and prosperity to the region and catapulted the city to the forefront of Germany’s mercantile hubs and into the prestigious Hanseatic League. The city emerged from World War II virtually undamaged, so that the charming gabled townhouses of the town centre have been left for future generations to discover. Today, many of them house speciality shops, cafés, restaurants, boutiques and pubs.
The landscape surrounding the city of Lüneburg is a fairytale-like ensemble of moorlands, tranquil meadows and heathland, encompassing nearly 7,000 square kilometres between Bremen, Hannover and Hamburg. In the summer months, much of the area transforms into a sea of purple blooming heath and people flock to the area to explore the many hiking trails and cycling routes that traverse the nature park. Both Bispingen and Schneverdingen are great starting points to explore the Lüneburg Heath landscape and pass a few man-made attractions on the way.
Contrary to Lüneburg, Braunschweig which lies 120 kilometres south from here, faced heavy bombardments during World War II and it took years and years of meticulous reconstruction to restore the town centre to its original beauty. Today, Dankwarderode Castle, St. Blasius Cathedral and Riddagshausen Abbey are regular stops along a sightseeing tour around town, as well as the so-called Happy Rizzi House which was designed by US artist James Rizzi.
Despite being the state capital of Lower Saxony, Hanover isn’t exactly a tourist magnet even though the city boasts some incredible architectural landmarks, sprawling parks and fantastic museums. If you decide to go, don’t miss out on the world-renowned Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen, the New Town Hall and the palatial Lower Saxony State Museum, which showcases a fascinating collection of artworks from the 11th to the 20th century, archaeological artefacts and an ethnology section with objects from all over the world.
One of those other often-forgotten destinations is Celle. With a history of more than 1,000 years, the historic town centre is well worth exploring for a day or so. The cityscape is dominated by a large cluster of charming timber-framed houses and Celle Castle –the highlight of each trip. Documents first mentioned the ducal residency in 1318, but the initial building was continuously updated, expanded and eventually transformed into today’s four-wing complex. A guided tour takes you around the splendidly decorated room, including the Baroque theatre, kitchen and the castle chapel.
Speaking of castles: Marienburg Palace sits perched on the riverbanks of the Leine River, half an hour south of Hanover. Georg V, King of Hanover commissioned the mansion as a summer residency and gift for his wife Marie in 1857. The palace changed hands a couple of times over the course of history and is now open to the public. Guided tours allow you to tour the rooms which are filled with antique furniture, art and cultural rarities of the Hanoverian royal family.
The East Frisian Islands are strung along the North Sea coast of Lower Saxony, and each of the seven inhabited islands has its own set of characteristics which lures people off the mainland to their shores. If you’re looking to escape the city buzz, Juist, Amrum and Baltrum are for you: they vary in size, but all three islands enforce a strict no-car rule. Juist is studded with wellness and spa facilities, Amrum has white sandy beaches and a lush forest at its centre, and Baltrum is composed of only a few small villages and sandy shores.
Adrenaline enthusiasts and those travelling with kids should plan for a stop at the region’s most popular theme park. The Heide Park Resort near Soltau features more than 40 rides across its differently themed worlds revolving around pirates, vampires, or the wild wild west. Whether the little kids want to spin around in teacups or the big kids want to brave the award-winning wooden rollercoaster which goes by the name Colossos – a day trip here means fun for the whole family.