There was a time when Essen used to be one of the most significant industrial hubs in Germany. Today, the cityscape of Essen is dominated by contemporary architecture. But remnants of its industrial past have been lovingly reserved and blended with the modern face of the city, making it an immensely interesting and characterful city to explore.
Zollverin Coal Mine Industrial Complex
Easily Essen’s most famous site, the Zollverin ensemble is a massive 100-hectare abandoned coal mine that was in action from 1847 to 1993. Today, this UNESCO site welcomes visitors to explore its amazing architecture and machinery on a self-guided (free) or group tour (paid).
Zollverein, Zeche Zollverein, Essen, Germany +49 0201 246810
Ruhr Museum, a part of the Zollverin complex, used to be a coal washery in the bygone times. The museum walks visitors through the inception, evolution and gradual decline of industry in the Ruhr region. You also get a peek into the lives of the workers who made their living from the mines. The museum also has a fascinating collection of information and artifacts of geological and chemical interest.
Ruhr Museum, Gelsenkirchener Str. 181, Essen/Ruhr, Germany +49 0201 24681444
Grugapark, the green lungs of Essen, has lovely themed gardens, a sculpture garden, flocks of exotic birds, a petting farm, a spa, a splash pool, playgrounds, cafes and even offers pony rides. An adorable train takes visitors on an enjoyable journey through the park.
Grugapark Essen, Virchowstr. 167a, Essen, Germany +49 020188 83 106
The reservoir Baldeneysee is a lovely, pristine spot for strolling, biking or a picnic, especially on sunny days. The sailing clubs based at the lake host lots of rowing and canoeing events throughout the year. There are several gastronomic options surrounding the lake.
Basilica of St. Ludgerus
The Basilica of St. Ludgerus appeals to architecture enthusiasts because of its elegant Ottonian and Romanesque architecture. Inside, you can see ancient murals and beautiful baroque altars from the 17th and 18th centuries. This is also the final resting place of the 8th-century Saint Ludger.
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The magnificent Neoclassical palace, Villa Hügel, was commissioned in the late 19th century by the most famous son of Essen, industrialist Alfred Krupp. This 269-room ornate mansion was fitted with all the modern luxury amenities long before their use was common. The Villa offers public tours.
Villa Hügel, Hügel 15, Essen, Germany +49 0201616290
Museum Folkwang is famous for its admirable collection of art spanning all major European movements. Alongside famous paintings from legendary artists, the museum houses 340,000 graphics from the GDR, Weimar Republic and Germany.
Museum Folkwang, Museumsplatz 1, Essen, Germany +49 201 8845 000
Red Dot Design Museum
Red Dot Design Museum boasts unique, futuristic designs across several categories, including home appliances, vehicles, tools, electronics and furniture. The museum is a hall of fame for winners of the internationally-reputed Red Dot Design Award, and includes designs by iconic brands like Apple, Lenovo and BMW among others.
Red Dot Design Museum, Gelsenkirchener Str. 181, Essen, Germany +49 0201 3010460
Tourists, religious or otherwise, make it a point to visit Essen Minster because of the Golden Madonna of Essen, the oldest sculpture of Mary in the world. This incredible sculpture was created in the year 980 and is done in gold leafs.
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Essen Cathedral Treasury
The treasury chamber at the Essen Minster is significant because of its ancient and priceless liturgical objects. Nowhere else would you get the chance to see for yourself such a mind-boggling range of Ottonian artifacts from the 10th and 11th centuries, including a ceremonial sword and 16 ancient Burgundian brooches.
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Once home to the Imperial Abbots, this castle sits like a painting in the midst of lush English gardens, on a moat. You can catch an event at the halls of Schloss Borbeck or take a leisurely walk in the woodlands surrounding the castle.
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The Old Synagogue, which was plundered and heavily damaged by the Nazis, was lovingly reconstructed after the war and today stands as a beautiful center for Jewish culture. Take a tour of the museum for a deeper understanding of Jewish traditions, customs, history and holidays. The architecture of the synagogue is unique because of its sound-amplifying effect.
The most famous concert hall of Essen, Philharmonie is known for its outstanding acoustics. Internationally-famous classical musicians regularly perform at Philharmonie. So, when you are in town, make sure that you look up their schedule.
Aalto Theater, Essen’s Opera House, is often agreed to be one of the best opera houses in the entire country. Behind the wavy walls of this Opera House, gifted artists of global repute perform on a regular basis.
Margarethenhöhe is among the most important garden suburbs in Europe, and Germany’s first garden city. This 115-acre philanthropic project was funded by the Foundation of Margarethe Kruppe, wife of famous entrepreneur Friedrich Alfred Krupp. It consists of beautifully-designed houses, schools, shops and restaurants, and surrounded by miles upon miles of protected woodlands.
The historical town of Kettwig was absorbed into the city limits of Essen in 1975. It is worth visiting because of its picturesque half-timbered houses lining cobbled streets. The riverside promenade at Kettwig is the favorite haunt of locals on a nice day.
Werden’s cobbled alleys, slate-and-timber houses and cute shops pose a sharp contrast to the contemporary skyline of Essen city center. Fans of typical German towns would love this rural, quiet village a few kilometers out of Essen.
Daily, every full hour between 9 am and 8 pm, the carillon on the Glockenspiel chimes traditional German folk songs. During Christmas, the Glockenspiel does its part in spreading festive cheer by playing Christmas carols.
Limbecker Platz, Essen’s biggest mall, is the perfect place for some retail therapy. It houses almost all brands you can think of over three sprawling floors. Alongside, the mall has lots of great restaurants, cafes and bistros.
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While City Halls in most German towns have a medieval architecture, Essen’s Rathaus is a 23-storey concrete high-rise. Visitors are welcome to enjoy a panoramic view of the city from the 22nd floor at a height of 100m (328 ft) off the ground.