Located on the Baltic coast in the northern pocket of Germany, Lubeck is a throwback to Old World Germany. The city was once the principal city of the influential and mighty trading confederation, the Hanseatic League. Lubeck had been on our radar for a number of years and we finally went there on account of Jacky’s birthday. We’ve made a list of the best things to do in Lubeck.
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Why You Should Visit Lubeck
Lubeck is one of Germany’s best-kept secrets, renowned for its charming Old Town with its big brick churches, little brick houses with stepped gables, and cobbled streets as well as its marzipan.
Lubeck was founded in 1143 and for over 400 years held a vast monopoly over trade in the Baltic and the North Sea along with other cities of the Hanseatic League. It became very prosperous and wealthy over this time as a wide array of goods were shipped from the Baltic region via Lubeck to the west and south of Europe in exchange for valuable goods required in Germany.
Much of the city’s commercial, political and cultural character was shaped by the international merchants and patricians running their trade from here. Lubeck remained influential till the 17th century when the sea trade shifted from the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic and Lubeck played second fiddle to the North Sea ports of Bremen and Hamburg. This ultimately led to a decline in wealth and influence of Lubeck. Today, it is one of Germany’s most beautiful towns and well worth a visit.
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Where to Stay in Lubeck & Where to Eat
Lubeck is a relatively small town. As long as you book a hotel in the Old Town, you can’t really go wrong. We booked ourselves in the newly-opened Motel One Lubeck which was absolutely fabulous. Not only is the hotel super comfy, its location is so central, you’re basically sleeping on the main square. Check it out!
If you are looking for some good and honest German cuisine, we wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Brauberger. As a traditional German brewpub, they don’t only serve their own microbrews, their food is also excellent. PS: Portions are big, so be careful what you order 😉
Best Things to Do in Lubeck
1. Holsten Gate & Museum (Holstentor)
The iconic Holstentor gate is one of the most prominent landmarks in Germany and serves as an emblem for the city of Lübeck. Today, it remains a popular image in the advertising and souvenir industries. Lübeck once had four medieval gates and two still remain, the most notable of them being the Holstentor. The gate was built between 1464 and 1478 and was part of the city’s defense system and has been rebuilt twice since. The gate is a perfect place as any from which to start a walking tour of the Old Town. Inside the two bulging towers of the gate, there is a fine museum. The museum inside isn’t overly large, but it does a nice job of summarizing the local history. Entrance to the museum costs € 7.
2. Explore the Old Town
Although Lubeck is the second largest city in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein with a population of over 200,000 there isn’t really anything to see outside of its small medieval Old Town. Unfortunately, it was badly bombed in an RAF raid in 1942. Nonetheless, Lübeck has been so well restored that this little gem was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The Old Town is surrounded by the Trave River on all sides and partly by embankments. It is characterized by large gabled merchant houses and a vast number of charming half-timbered houses. Walking around the Old Town is akin to being in an open-air museum. Its cobblestone streets can be easily explored on foot. You can easily cover the Old Town in a few hours while stumbling upon architectural wonders and sights.
The Town hall (Rathaus), with its richly-decorated brick facades, dates back to the 13th century and is veritably one of the prettiest town halls in Germany. The first Hanseatic diet took place here in 1356. The town hall is built around two adjoining sides of the old Market Square with traditional medieval architecture on one side of the square and more modern on the other side. You need to take the guided tour to gain entry inside. Visiting hours are Mon- Fri 11:00, 12:00, and 15:00, Sat at 13:30 (providing no other events are taking place).
Hospital of the Holy Spirit
The Hospital of the Holy Spirit, which dates from 1260 and is right in the center of the town, is especially worth seeing. It is one of the oldest social institutions and hospitals of the Middle Ages that was still in operation till the 1960s. It has cloisters, an inner yard and beautiful interior designs, frescoes, and altarpieces. The hospital has a free entrance and is open on all days except Monday from 10:00-17:00 (April-September) and 10:00-16:00 (October-March).
Willy Brandt House
You can also visit the Willy Brandt House, the childhood home of Lubeck’s most famous resident ever, Willy Brandt, the chancellor of West Germany from 1969 to 1974 and Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1971. The house which has now been converted into a museum provides a rich account of not only the political career of Willy Brandt but also the entire Cold War era in Germany. Entrance is free and is open daily from 11:00-18:00.
Literature lovers might want to see the Buddenbrooks House, a museum housed inside a stunning house dating from 1768 dedicated to author Thomas Mann and his family but furthermore to his very famous novel “Buddenbrooks”. This place strives hard to capture the atmosphere of the book. The price of admission is 7 EUR.
3. Peek into the City’s Yards
The one thing we highly recommend you to not to miss in the Old Town is checking out some passages and courtyards (Gänge and Höfe). These little treats are omnipresent throughout the Old Town, especially in the northern part on the streets Engelswisch, Engelsgrube, and Glockengießerstraße and in the southern part around the Lubeck Cathedral. They are vestiges of medieval town planning and were often the living quarters of tradesman. From the outside, they do not look impressive. But many of them reveal themselves as small idyllic pearls with low timbered houses, benches and beautiful flower arrangements. Please keep in mind that there are people living there, so respect their privacy.
4. Visit the European Hansemuseum
A visit to the European Hansemuseum is a must while in Lubeck. Opened in 2015, it is the largest museum in the world dedicated to the Hanseatic League and it is simply amazing! The Hansemuseum is truly exceptional with a perfect blend of high-tech & object display to make the rich history of the Hanseatic trade and towns understandable to the visitors. Each visitor gets a ticket with an RFID chip that identifies the required language and lets you impersonate a person from one of the member cities of the Hanse and your special interest. The chip then can be used at many stops to display information tailored to your interest.
Walking through the museum gives you a clear picture of how the Hanseatic League developed from an individual group of travelers to a powerful mercantile alliance, what its economy was based on and what brought on its decline. The history of the Hanse at various stages is represented through the cities of Novgorod, Lübeck, Bruges, Bergen, and London.
Admission to the museum costs 12 EUR and it is a bargain if you ask us. We would recommend that you reserve at least 2.5-3 hours to get the most out of the museum. The museum is open daily from 10:00-18:00. Check out their official website for more information.
5. Discover the City’s Religious History
The Old Town is dominated by seven church steeples and all of them reward a visit. The most famous one are the St. Mary’s Church (Marienkirche), Lubeck Cathedral and St. Peter’ Church (Petrikirche).
St. Mary’s Church
St. Mary’s Church is the third largest church in Germany and was built between 1250 and 1350. This imposing church rises up to 125 meters. It once served as the blueprint for many other Brick Gothic churches in the Baltic region. The church was used primarily by the council and the merchants. It is a symbol of the citizens’ power at the time and is visible from far afield. The church also contains a small but very poignant reminder of the horrors of WWII. Be sure to see the shattered bells that came crashing down during the bombing of the city in 1942.
Lubeck Cathedral is the oldest church in the city dating back to 1173. It is the most significant example of early brickwork architecture in Northern Germany. Lübeck Cathedral houses numerous works of art such as the 14th century 17-meter high Crucifix, a resplendently large organ, and an imposing clock. Like the St. Mary’s Church, the Lubeck Cathedral was also bombed during WWII and needed to undergo restoration work.
St. Peter’s Church
Head to the St. Peter’s Church for some stunning views over the town. It is definitely worth paying 4 EUR to go to the viewing platform. The platform is located at a height of 50 meters and is accessible by elevator. The inside of the church is very spartan and is undergoing restoration work.
6. Eat Marzipan
Lubeck is the uncontested marzipan capital of the world and there are numerous places to sample this delightful sweet. Cafe Niederegger is the most popular of these places. It really is a paradise for marzipan lovers with a delectable assortment of delicious pastries and cakes. There is also a tableau of various Lubeck attractions made out of marzipan on display in their windows. The second floor of the cafe is home to the marzipan museum (free admission) which traces the almond’s origins from the Orient to its arrival in Lubeck. The life-size marzipan figures are very interesting indeed.
What distinguishes Lubeck marzipan is that it must be composed of at least 70 percent almonds and no more than 30 percent sugar. What we liked the most is that it is still produced in traditional shapes such as fruit and handpainted to make it look (almost) real.
Now, what do you think? Is Lubeck on your bucket list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!