This industrial metropolis is catching up on the cultural scene and is really beginning to buzz, confirmed by its status as European Capital of Culture 2010. Admirers of engineering and architecture will be kept well occupied, yet Essen is one of Germany’s greenest cities, with 9.2% of its area claimed by nature. The city’s greenbelt follows the Ruhr River to the 9km-long Lake Baldeney, where sunny days can be spent swimming, windsurfing, or picnicking and sunbathing on the lakeside stretch of beach. Back in the city centre, there are plenty of sights and entertainment venues to make Essen a dynamic city break; here’s a taster…
Top 5 sights and attractions
Be stunned by the 1,030-year-old Golden Madonna in Essen’s cathedral. The cathedral’s sturdy octagonal tower dates from 1000 AD and miraculously survived World War II’s bombing raids.
See Germany’s largest synagogue, the Alte Synagoge, whose splendour reflects the former importance of Essen’s Jewish community, which at its peak in 1933 reached 4,500.
Bauhausfans will love the Zeche Zollverein, an enormous coal mine that dates from the early 1930s and is now a Unesco world heritage site. The sprawling complex now hosts exhibitions, art installations, restaurants, and even a swimming pool in summer.
Visit the Baedekerhaus, dating from 1928, and find out about the pioneering guidebook publisher Karl Baedeker, who was born in Essen in 1801.
Admire some works by van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse, and other 19th- and 20th-century masters in the Museum Folkwang.
Catch a film at the Lichtburg cinema, with a Bauhaus façade and a beautiful 1950s auditorium.
Enjoy an opera or ballet in the Aalto-Theater, designed by the late Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. For musical theatre, head to the Colosseum, a converted 19th-century factory.
Attend a concert, cabaret or exhibition at Zeche Carl, a converted coal mine.
April sees the world’s largest vintage car show – Techno Classica– in exhibition halls throughout Essen.
The annual summer (May-June) Ruhr Festivalis held at the Ruhrfestspielhaus in Recklinghausen. Established after WWII, the festival has a long tradition of hosting international theatre, music and dance.
Every year from May to July, the Ruhr Piano Festival – hailed as “the most important piano festival in the world” – presents up to 80 concerts featuring international artists.
Essen Lichtwochen (Light Weeks) sees stunning light installations in the city centre from October till January each year.
Did you know..?
In German-speaking countries, the name of Essen often causes confusion, as it is commonly known as the German word for eating, or food. The origin of the name is still disputed, but one interpretation is that the oldest known form of the city's name is Astnide, which changed to Essen by way of forms such as Astnidum, Assinde, Essendia and Esnede. Astnide may have referred either to a region where many ash trees were found or to a region in the East (of the Frankish Empire).
Where to stay
There is a broad range of high quality hotels in Essen and its suburbs. If you’re on a stricter budget, opt for a pension, with shared facilities. Essen’s hostel is found in the suburb of Werden.
How to get there
Essen is reachable by train from other German cities, with connections to the rest of Europe.
Three major airports are just a short driving time away: Cologne-Bonn, Dusseldorf and Dortmund.
The city guide for short breaks and business trips in the city is BKB Verlag's 3 Days in Essen. For more background on the surrounding area and the country in general, use Lonely Planet’s Germany. Find your way in the city with the detailed high-quality street plan of Essen from ADAC Verlag. Author: Rachel Ricks