Essen Travel Guide
Essen used to be just another industrial city in Westphalia. However, after the collapse of coal mining and steel-making in the late 20th century, it became an administrative centre. Instead of scrapping the past, they embraced it.
Because of this, its once-massive coal mining works are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pair that with its museums and parks, and you have one compelling destination in Germany.
Begin your trip to Essen by exploring the Zollverein Coal Mine Works. In the mid-19th century, mining companies began to exploit significant coal seams. Soon, a massive industrial complex grew up around the site.
From 1849 to its closure in 1986, workers dug up more than 240 million tonnes of coal. Today, this sprawling complex is a wonderland for industrial grit fans. But, even if you prefer architecture, Shaft 12 will captivate you. Dedicate up to a half-day here – there are over 6,000 exhibits in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Coal Mine Works are home to more than just the remnants of industry – they also host other museums. The Ruhr Museum, which covers cultural and natural history, is one of those attractions.
Located in the old coal washing facility, this structure now holds thousands of artifacts. In these exhibits, you’ll find everything from fossils to pottery. The admission fee for this attraction is 8 EUR. Given its extensive collection and its surreal setting, it’s money well spent.
Live the life of an Essen steel baron by visiting Villa Hugel. From the mid-19th century until after World War II, it housed Alfred Krupp’s family. This Neoclassical mansion boasts over 250 rooms – locals often refer to it as a castle.
Museum staff restrict visitors to a fraction of these rooms. Despite this, it’ll still take you two hours to explore. Admission is 5 EUR – for that price, this attraction offers incredible value.
Have time for another museum? Check out Museum Folkwang. This institution shows off modern art created during the 19th and 20th century in Germany. Sadly, many works were lost to Nazi purges in the 1930s. Today, it has recovered marvellously, proudly showing works by Van Gogh, Monet, and Pollock.
If you have time for a day trip while in Essen, drive out to Old Town Kettwig. A button-cute town sat along the shores of the Ruhr River, this place boasts classic German provincial architecture. Lacking strategic importance in WWII, bombs spared this place.
Today, visitors enjoy photographing not just its homes, but its church, which dates from the 12th century. After getting your fill of this place, stop at a cafe and watch the world go by.
The Red Dot Design Museum is another creative institution that you’ll find within the Zollverein Coal Mine Works. Located inside the mine’s 1920s-era power station, this institution features brilliant design and technological innovations.
Curators have spread these exhibits over five floors and 4,000 square metres. As such, give yourself a couple of hours to properly experience this place.
Fans of the performing arts will want to take in a show at the GOP Varieté Essen. Unlike most theatres, though, there’s a notable difference – it’s a dinner theatre. However, unlike the venues you’re used to back home, this place has class.
The food is of high quality, and the performances on stage are guaranteed to entertain. Don’t eat too much before coming here, as there are four courses to get through.
After checking out the sights around Essen, unwind with a visit to Botanischer Garten Grugapark. This is no ordinary park – it’s a botanical garden created by researchers in the 1920s. While the Second World War damaged part of this attraction, local authorities quickly repaired it.
Today, you’ll find hundreds of species represented in just under an acre of land. In addition to Westphalian species, there’s an Asian garden, a Mediterranean garden, and a series of wetlands.
What To Eat
When starting your morning in Essen, try to track down some Pickert. It’s a potato pancake made with a hint of sweetness, making it perfect for breakfast or lunch. Chefs make this treat by combining potatoes, milk, eggs, flour, sugar, and raisins. Lappenpickert is a close relative and is more savoury. If you have this version, do as the locals do and have it with a side of cold cuts.
At lunch, try to find a deli that serves Halve Hahn. This Westphalian rye sandwich is lacto-ovo-friendly, as it contains gouda cheese, pickles, and raw onions. Just be sure to check some gum afterwards, okay?
After dinner, end your day on a sweet note by having some Herrencreme. Dessert cooks mix this vanilla pudding with cream and rum and top it with chocolate shavings. Talk about decadent!