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Bundesländer guides: Hessen

This week’s Bundesländer guide will take you on a journey through one of Germany’s most diverse and surprisingly green states: Hessen (Hesse).

Frankfurt skyline. Photo: Leonhard Niederwimmer via Pixabay

When you first think of Hessen, the towering skyscrapers of Frankfurt often come to mind, but there is a lot more to Hessen than meets the eye. Located in west-central Germany, Hessen is a state of contrasts. From enchanting fairy tale towns bursting with medieval charm to bustling financial metropolises, spectacular scenic landscapes to fascinating historical sights, this state has a lot to offer.

Hessen’s capital city, Wiesbaden, located across the River Rhine from Mainz, is one of Germany’s most renowned spa towns due to its 14 hot springs. It is also home to many interesting historical sites such as its Marktkirche - a beautiful, red-brick church soaring above the city centre, Kurhaus - Wiesbaden’s magnificent conference and cultural events venue, and Schloss Biebrich - a palace nestled on the picturesque banks of the Rhine.

Biebrich Castle, Wiesbaden. Photo: Ansgar Koreng / CC BY-SA 3.0 (DE) via Wikimedia Commons

The birthplace of Goethe, Frankfurt am Main, is the largest city in Hessen, boasting both lively urban districts dotted with skyscrapers, as well as enthralling historical areas, galleries, museums, and serene green spaces. As one of Europe’s busiest travel hubs, Frankfurt is merely a touchdown point for many tourists.

Yet Frankfurt is much more than just an urban metropolis. Römerberg, a beautiful medieval market square with small shops and cobbled streets in the heart of Frankfurt’s town centre, is a must-see! A few steps away, you arrive at the bottom of Kaiserdom, a breath-taking cathedral. You can climb to the top to take in spectacular views of Frankfurt’s skyline and the River Main.

A short walk across Frankfurt’s Eiserner Steg, otherwise known as Love Lock Bridge, lies the neighbourhood of Sachsenhausen, notorious for its bars and cider houses, making it the perfect place to try some of Frankfurt’s famous Apfelwein. Finally, a trip to Frankfurt’s Westend district is ideal for a peaceful afternoon stroll through Palmengarten, Frankfurt’s green, botanical oasis with tropical plants and an attractive rose garden.

An hour or so north of Frankfurt, on the banks of the river Lahn lies Marburg, an idyllic, romantic city overflowing with charming, cobbled alleys and timbered houses. Marburg has both an old and youthful spirit, comprised of a medieval, historic town centre, a lively university and little shops and cafes.

Notably, the Brothers Grimm, famous for their fairy tales, studied at the university from 1802-06, weaving elements of the inspiring town into their stories. Furthermore, Marburg’s magnificent 11th century Marburger Schloss overlooking the town from atop a hill has become a must-see on Germany’s Fairy Tale Route.

Marburg Castle. Photo: Philip von Geyr via Pixabay

A few more honourable mentions: Kassel, Limburg an der Lahn, Hanau, Fulda, and some sites for nature lovers.

Kassel is a riverside city famous for its contemporary Documenta art exhibition and fairy tale Löwenburg Castle and Schloss Wilhelmshöhe. The palace and its grounds, located in the spacious Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, a vibrant mountain park, boast stunning flowerbeds and a giant statue of Hercules atop a hill with a dramatic waterfall cascading down to the greenery below. Additionally, if you are a fairy tale fanatic, you will enjoy Kassel’s Grimmwelt, a museum celebrating the works of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

In western Hessen lies Limburg an der Lahn, known for its quaint, picture-perfect old town with half-timbered houses and winding lanes, and its 7th century Limburger Schloss and Georgsdom, which tower over the valley.

Born in Hanau, the Brothers Grimm are a dominant feature of the city, thus earning it the nickname Brüder-Grimm-Stadt. A bronze statue sits in front of the Neustädter Rathaus as a tribute to their lives. The Deutsches Goldschmiedehaus, an old, timber-framed Goldsmiths’ House in Hanau’s old town, initially used as a town hall, is also worth visiting.

An hour from Frankfurt lies the architecturally significant city of Fulda. It is home to a Benedictine monastery, an ornate, twin-towered cathedral, an 18th-century royal palace with an eye-catching hall of mirrors and lush gardens, and an elegant Orangery with a lovely fountain and intricately cut hedges.

Last but not least, the Odenwald and the Kellerwald-Edersee National Park are both picturesque, significant forests in Hessen worth seeing. 42% of Hessen is covered in forest, making it Germany’s greenest state. The Odenwald is enshrouded by a curious legend revolving around its Felsenmeer, an extensive collection of boulders in the middle of the forest.

Odenwald. Photo: Torsten Peters via Pixabay

According to myth, two feuding giants lived on either side of the forest and started hurling large boulders at one another, thus creating the mysterious sea of rocks. The Kellerwald-Edersee forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011, is the last of its kind in Central Europe due to its primaeval beech trees. Nature lovers and hikers can explore the meandering forest trails, away from the buzz of the city centre.

This state is a perfect bundle of rich history, lush natural beauty, and charm. From medieval towns and rolling hills to shimmering glass skylines and spa cities, Hessen opens its arms to tourists with diverse interests.

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