10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Essen
Essen, lying between the rivers Emscher and Ruhr, is the largest city on the Ruhr. It's the headquarters of many large industrial organizations, some of which can be visited as part of a conducted tour. The region also boasts a number of interesting museums and tourist attractions dealing with Essen's centuries-long role as the heart of Germany's major heavy industries. A highlight of a visit should be the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, a vast former industrial site that's been transformed into an entertainment and cultural mega-center. But there's much more to Essen and the Ruhr than simply its factories and mines. The city has a long history as an important cultural and religious center, and s home to a number of first-rate museums and churches, as well as art galleries and places of entertainment.
See also: Where to Stay in Essen
1 Editor's Pick Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex
One of Essen's most popular attractions, the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, or Zeche Zollverein, occupies part of a sprawling abandoned industrial area that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Home to the area's first coal mine - it was established here in 1847 - Zollverein grew into the largest such facility in Europe. Highlights of a visit include the coal mine's impressive Bauhaus-influenced architecture, notable examples being Shaft 12, built in 1932. Fascinating English language guided tours are held on weekends at 3pm (book ahead) and provide a unique insight into the mine's history, covering its production facilities and following the process from extraction to coal's transformation into coke. Also worth a visit is the Red Dot Design Museum with its displays of contemporary and industrial influenced designs.
2 Museum Folkwang
Essen's Museum Folkwang, perhaps the most important art gallery in the Ruhr, is well known for its displays of paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries, along with European sculpture dating from the 13th century and a large number of paintings and applied arts from outside Europe. Established in 1922 and housed in one of the city's most architecturally interesting buildings, Museum Folkwang also features a vast collection of nearly 350,000 posters, a rich photographic collection with more than 50,000 images, as well as numerous prints and drawings.
Address: Museumsplatz 1, 45128 Essen
3 Essen Minster
In the Burgplatz in Essen stands the old Roman Catholic Minster, originally built as an abbey in the 9th century and thought to be one of Germany's oldest cathedrals. The most notable features of the interior are a seven-branched bronze candelabrum, dating from around 1000 BC, and the Golden Madonna from the same period, widely considered one of the oldest sculpted figures of the Virgin Mary in Western Europe. Other notable features include the Column of Ida, the cathedral's oldest surviving fixture; the late 13th-century gothic monument to Altfrid, Essen's founder; and the spectacular sandstone Entombment of Christ, a sculpture dating from around 1500. Afterwards, be sure to visit the rich Essen Cathedral Treasury in the neighboring Bishop's Palace, home to one of the most important and complete collections of religious art and artifacts in the country.
Address: Burgplatz 2, 45127 Essen
4 Grugapark and the Botanic Garden
Just a short walk from Essen's city center lies the beautiful Grugapark, 175 acres of public park laid out in 1929 for the Great Ruhrland Garden Show. Enlarged in 1952 and again in 1965, it's a wonderful place to visit and can easily swallow up the best part of a day given its many interesting attractions. Highlights include the Grugahalle sports complex, an observation tower, numerous old fountains, and several restaurants. For the kids, the fun includes animal enclosures; an aquarium; an amusement park; and a narrow-gauge railroad, the three-and-a-half-kilometer-long Grugabahn. Perhaps the most visited area of the park is its Botanic Garden, home to collections of plants from around the world, including an Alpinum as well as species from Asia, North America, and the local area. Also worth a visit is the beautiful Stadtgarten, the Municipal Park, home to the city's main theater.
Address: Virchowstraße 167a D-45147 Essen
5 Zollverein Park
In addition to its fine museums, restaurants, and many cultural activities, the sprawling Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex offers a variety of first-rate recreational activities. One of the most popular of these in winter is the Zollverein Ice Rink, an 1,800-square-meter facility built amidst the site's old coke ovens (lessons are available). Another highlight is the outdoor area of the park, home to a wide variety of wildlife and botanical rarities that have returned since the facility's grounds have been allowed to return to their natural state. For walkers, check out the Ring Promenade, a well-groomed three-and-a-half-kilometer network of trails that circles the property, linking its various attractions (bike rentals are available). If visiting on a weekend between May and October, be sure to take a ride on the Sun Wheel, a 14-gondola Ferris Wheel that rises high above the old coke plant.
Address: Zollverein A14, Gelsenkirchener Straße 181, 45309 Essen
6 The Old Synagogue
The Old Synagogue (Alte Synagogue) serves both as a place of worship and a memorial site. Built in 1913, this vast building is one of the best-preserved and most impressive Jewish cultural sites to have survived WWII, and offers a rich program of concerts, theatrical performances, and readings. Exhibits worth visiting include one focusing on the pre-war and war years, which deals with the topics of Jewish persecution and resistance. The adjacent House of the Rabbi (Rabbinerhaus) is used to house the city's archives.
Address: Steeler Straße 29, 45127 Essen
7 Villa Hügel
On the north side of the Baldeneysee, Essen's largest lake, is Villa Hügel, a grandiose mansion built in 1873 for the Krupp family, one of the region's oldest and wealthiest industrialist dynasties. Set in a wonderful large park overlooking the Ruhr, this splendid 269-room mansion now houses an excellent historical art and artifacts collection in the adjoining Kleines Haus, while periodic special exhibitions are held in the villa itself. Guided tours are available, and a series of musical concerts is staged during the summer months.
Address: Villa Hügel, D-45133 Essen
8 The Ruhr Museum
In the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, the Ruhr Museum offers numerous interesting collections relating to the region's natural history, as well as the art and culture of the Ruhr. It's one of the most important museums in this field in North Rhine-Westphalia. Located in a former coal washing plant and encompassing the historically significant Shaft 12, the museum includes collections of fossils and minerals, as well as the tools and equipment needed to extract them. Another must-see is the Portal of Industrial Heritage, an audio-visual attraction that includes a 360-degree film as well as hands-on displays showcasing the city's rich industrial heritage.
Address: Zollverein A 4, Gelsenkirchener Straße 181, 45309 Essen
9 Old Town Werden
The Old Town of Werden, an historic borough of Essen, is a pleasant place to spend time exploring. With a long history extending back as far as the 8th century, the town was established by St. Ludger, the patron saint of the huge Werden Abbey, much of which now houses the Folkwang University of the Arts. It's in Werden that you'll find the splendid 13th-century Abbey Church, one of the finest Late Romanesque churches in the Rhineland. Highlights of a visit include the late Baroque interior and its Treasury, home to a bronze crucifix from 1060 and the St. Ludger's Chalice dating from around 900 AD.
10 The Baldeneysee
Essen's largest lake, the Baldeneysee - an artificial body of water formed after the construction of a dam in 1933 - measures eight-kilometers long and is one of the region's busiest tourist attractions. It's particularly popular for watersports enthusiasts, from canoeists and kayakers to sailboats (the lake is home to 20 sailing clubs), while casual boaters can rent simple pedal-powered boats by the hour. Numerous tour boats are also available, ferrying passengers to and from many of the lake's most popular sites, including the picturesque 13th-century Schloss Baldeney and the Heisinger Bird Sanctuary. It's also popular as a fishing destination, while families tend to enjoy its many beaches.
Where to Stay in Essen for Sightseeing
We recommend these centrally-located hotels in Essen with easy access to the city's top sights:
- Mercure Hotel Plaza Essen: 4-star hotel, friendly service, spacious rooms, sleek decor, restricted access to pool, excellent breakfast buffet.
- Sheraton Essen Hotel: mid-range pricing, parkside setting, spa treatments and Finnish sauna, multiple dining options.
- Motel One Essen: affordable rates, central location, near great shops, contemporary decor.
- Ibis Essen Hauptbahnhof: budget-friendly rates, convenient location, near the main train station, sleek decor.