The ninth largest city in Germany started off as a small town until it became an important city for coal and steel centers. Today, far from its industrial beginnings, the city holds many cultural and heritage events and activities.
From point of interests, old architectural buildings to cultural events, the vast array of attractions, events and activities not only offer unique photo taking opportunities but also opens your horizon to the lesser known part of Germany. Check out our guide for the best places to stay while you are there as well.
Read on to find out about the top 10 things to do in Essen, Germany.
1. Go shopping at the Old Town Werden
Old Town Werden is a charming town only about twenty minutes away from the city. The quiet town is a gem for tourists with well kept old buildings, half timbered houses and cobbled stone streets. The local center has many small shops, boutiques and restaurants.
During Saturday mornings, there is a farmers’ market between Basilika and Folkwang University. A wide range of restaurants and cafes with cuisines ranging from Italian to Spanish are offered in this town. The car free zones in this town make it more conducive for children to play around. This is simply a good place for getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Shop your hearts away and enjoy the myriad of goods that Essen has to offer.
Old Town Werden
Address: Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Website: Old Town Werden (German only)
2. Explore Kruppsiedlung Margarethenhöhe
Rows of similarly designed houses are actually the main highlight for this attraction. The area was named after Margarethe Krupp who built housing for workers at the Krupp factories. These houses were considered more lavish and luxurious than most of the houses built during that period for workers.
Not a location for the mainstream tourists, this place offers a tranquil and peaceful walk. Although this place has no specialty shops or restaurants, it offers good photography spots and is conducive for a relaxing stroll while enjoying the scenery. Walking through this area gives one a back to the past feeling with its old architecture.
Address: Margarethenhöhe, Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Website: Margarethenhöhe (German only)
3. Take a stroll through Old Town Kettwig - town with 14th century charm
This is a pretty and quiet old town strewn with small cobblestone pathways and half timber houses, the common style of architecture found in the old towns of Germany. The town is another walk into the history with the buildings and pathways restored to the old days.
The town is located in the southernmost part of the city beside Ruhr river, as such besides the usual road connection, the town is actually reachable by boats. Fortunately the town has no heavy industries surrounding it and is kept pretty much the same.
Visitors can stroll to the Tower Market Church which dates back to the 14th century or the St. Joseph church. Stay at the Schloss Hugenpoet, which has been remodeled into a hotel from the original building. For shorter visits, have tea or a meal at the numerous cafes and restaurants.
Address: Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Website: Kettwig (German only)
4. Visit the Erloserkirche - church with the Bach choir performing
Built from 1906 to 1909 by Fanz Schwechten from Berlin and once considered the most beautiful chuch in Rheinland, Erloserkirche was partly damaged in World War II and later restored in 1948. Most of the interior of the church is still preserved, which gives visitors many photography opportunities.
The church is still active with regular performances by their very own Bach choir. With about 120 singers in the choir, they mainly perform works from Bach, Handel, Mendelssohn and others. One of the highlights of their performance is the infusion of old and new music in a capella style. Be sure to check out their performing schedule before heading to the church.
Address: Goethe Straße, Essen 45128, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Website: Erloserkirche (German only)
5. Enjoy the Philharmonie Essen-Philharmonic House Essen
This place has a history and tradition of more than 100 years. Although partially destroyed during the World War II, reworks were done in the early 1950’s with parts of the original architecture restored. Another major renovation work was done to the site and it was reopened on June 5, 2004 under the founding director Professor Michael Kaufmann.
The key feature of this building is the successful synthesis of the hall. It is a combination of the past and present with rich musical history. The building is built with the modern acoustics and sound systems.
The philharmonic house is easy to get to, just 5 minutes from the Hauptbahnhof, and it has large cloakrooms with a restaurant Wallberg.
Another attraction for a good concert.
Address: Huyssenallee 53, 45128 Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Website: Philharmonie Essen (German only)
6. Check out a UNESCO Site, the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen
The Ruhr area is heavily industrialized with many coal mines, but Zollverein is the only one that has been designated as an UNESCO site since 2001. Still the most highlighted attraction in Essen, the building’s symmetrical arrangement of buildings and an underground mining tracks of up to 8 kilometers is still impressive today.
It is now a large museum exhibiting items related to coal mining and its history, information about the coal miners and the business from the past to present are also made available at this site. A guided tour is available at the site itself and it is very informative for the visitors who want to know more about the insights of this mine, its architecture and miners’ life.
There is also a visitor’s center and restaurant. Opening hours for this museum differs with seasons, so do check out before visiting.
Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex
Address: Gelsenkirchener Str. 181, 45309 Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
7. Marvel at the 'Most Beautiful' Museum Folkwang - the art house
Museum Folkwang is certainly one of the more well known and highly rated art museums in Germany. Focusing on art pieces in Essen from the 19th and 20th century, the museum is actually a merger of two museums: Essener Kunstmuseum and a private museum, Folkwang Museum. The architecture of the museum is minimalist in nature and very functional. Public access areas are connected to the existing exhibition rooms without any change in level. There is a new and old building, which is the original Folkwang Museum. Because of its design, the museum makes use of space wisely and therefore it never gives you a overcrowded feeling even on busy days.
The museum also has collections of modern art, photography, prints and drawings, as well as a huge and varied painting collection of all styles.
Guided tours are available in the museum, which is good if you want to know more about the works of art. The Vincent and Paul cafe and restaurant are located within the museum. There is also a library and a bookshop.
Sometimes known as the “most beautiful” museum in Germany, if you are an art pieces lover, you will not want to miss this.
Address: Museumsplatz 1, 45128 Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Website: Museum Folkwang
8. Wander around Grugapark Essen - the Park with something for everyone
Nature lovers will be happy to know that there is a botanical park in Essen. The Grugapak Essen is a large botanical garden with a large collection of plants and greenery for everyone. Not just a pure botanical park, it has a small animal zoo, different pavilions, pony yard, cafes and a children’s playground.
For the sporty people, there is ample space in the park for a run or yoga to relax yourself. The Park Spa provides body treatments and also a swimming pool for recreation.
Having a large and vast area, this park is also common to many events, whether they be musical ensembles or family outings. There are always some activities going on. It is no wonder that this place is considered the largest garden in the Ruhr region and a favorite spot for locals and foreigners alike.
Address: Virchowstr. 167a, 45147 Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Website: Grugapark Essen
9. Take a tour through the Villa Huegel
This impressive building is owned by the Krupp family, a family of industrialists, in the earlier days for residential purposes. The building is inside a 28 hectares park and has about 269 rooms. The design of the building is a late neoclassical style. Built within a garden, the villa is surrounded by vast lush greenery and trees. Most of the trees were planted by the Krupps and some of them are older than 100 years old.
The villa is now open to public and and the “Kleines Haus” (small house) has a historical exhibition of the villa’s past and Krupp’s family history.
Though the guided tours are in German, English speaking visitors can still enjoy this beautiful villa without having to take up the tour. This attraction is an iconic site in Essen. You can spend just half a day or if time allows, make it a full day to enjoy the scenery.
Address: Hügel 15, 45133 Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, German
Website: Villa Huegel
10. Learn more at the Alte Synagogue
The oldest synagogue in Essen, built on the old building itself, Alte Synagogue is one of the largest and most architecturally significant freestanding synagogues in Europe. The synagogue contains exhibits about the Jewish culture and history in Europe. The exhibits also show visitors insights into the everyday life and customs of the Jewish culture and heritage. For those who always wanted to understand more about the religion and its practices, this is the best place to seek your answers.
There are both audio and human guides for this attraction. Children are also welcome to visit but silence will need to be observed.
Address: Edmund-Körner-Platz 1, 45127 Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Website: Alte Synagoge
Excited to start your journey in Essen?
Although Essen is not the most conventional place for international tourists to visit, it does have its own charm despite its industrial past. The churches, old towns and buildings here have interesting history and stories to tell. Do drop by here for a few days if you visit Germany.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.