We’re lucky this medieval gem of a city still exists; in 1942 its strategic position on the northern Baltic coast made it the Allied bombers’ first target. Although suffering heavy damage in the raids, many of the 1000 or so 12th and 13th century buildings survived, and it is a testament to the sensitive restoration of the rest that the entire old-town (Altstadt) was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The honour well deserved – its winding streets, ancient churches and gothic brick architecture offer a glimpse into Lubeck’s powerful past.

Before the rise of nation-states, Lubeck was an imperial free city and the head of the trading association the Hanseatic League (rather like the EU but with teeth). Lubeck’s glory-days might be over, but its bricks-and-mortar legacy remains. If you like to spend holidays steeped in culture and history, Lubeck could well be the destination for you.


Almost all of Lubeck’s attractions are concentrated in the Altstadt. Nestled in a loop of the River Trave, the UNESCO site is practically an island. The best way to enter is through the iconic Holstentor gate. Its leaning, cone-topped towers have made it one of Germany’s best-loved monuments, and its image used to grace the 50DM note. Inside the gatehouse you’ll find an excellent museum devoted to 1000 years of the city’s history.

Cross the bridge behind the gate and you’re in the Altstadt. Mostly pedestrianised, the old town is a web of streets, courtyards and alleyways radiating from the Marktplatz. Here you will find Lubeck’s Rathaus (town hall,) generally acknowledged to be one of the country’s most beautiful. The oldest parts date from 1230, and local politics still get thrashed out here. You can only see inside if you take a guided tour.

The grand brick merchants’ houses lining the main streets only represent part of medieval life. To get a feel for how the other half lived, duck down the little passageways in the northern and eastern parts of the Altstadt. Medieval homeowners realised they could boost their income by building groups of tiny flats in their backyards to rent to poor artisans. 90 of these tiny collections of flats remain in Lubeck, and the smallest dwelling measures 3.45 meters wide, 4.65 meters deep and 4.95 meters high.

The most dominating gothic structure in Lubeck is the Marienkirche, the third largest church in the country. Its huge, vaulted brick ceiling and world’s largest mechanised organ alone make it worth a visit, but whilst there, make sure to look at the shattered church-bells. They fell during the WWII air raids, and have been left as a memorial, untouched and in pieces.

Bookworms will be interested to hear that Lubeck has produced two Nobel Prize winners for Literature, Thomas Mann and Gunter Grass. They have a museum apiece in Lubeck, devoted to their lives and works. Gunter Grass’ is particularly interesting as it contains his drawings and sculptures as well as prose, and occasionally the man himself pops in for an event or reading.

If you feel like some fresh air after all the monuments and museums, a boat tour along the River Trave and its intersecting canals provides a relaxing and unique view of the town. Venture further downstream and you’ll come to the seaside resort of Travemunde, which boasts 4.5 kilometres of sandy beaches, watersports, a spa, a casino and gusty walks along the cliff-tops.


Lubeck’s pedestrianised central streets offer the kind of shopping you would expect from a touristy German town, but you will also notice a plethora of shops selling Lubeck’s two specialities. The first is marzipan, which townspeople claim was invented here in Lubeck during a 16th century siege. Legend has it that when flour ran out bakers began making bread from the only ingredients they still had in store - ground almonds and sugar. Today, the very best place to see it, buy it and learn about it is the Neideregger Marzipan Salon opposite the Rathaus. Twelve life-size marzipan figures are among the exhibits in the upstairs marzipan museum, and the downstairs shop has been in business for 200 years.

Antiques are Lubeck’s other speciality. Two of the best antique shops are Antique Center im Engelshof and its competitor, Antiquitäten Gunter Bannow (both in the Altstadt.) If antique books are your thing, Von Lingelsheim has everything from tattered volumes of Romantic poetry to obscure Protestant treatises.

The best time of year to visit Lubeck has to be Christmas, where open air markets, two of its churches and an ancient hospital become filled with Christmas decorations, handmade toys, jewellery, German delicacies and steaming mulled wine. Exhibitors come from all over Germany to tout their wares.

Nightlife and Eating Out

The majority of Altstadt’s restaurants are mostly devoted to local fare, although it is possible to find restaurants devoted to Italian Indian or Chinese food in the suburbs. Unlike the rest of the Germany, fish and vegetables take precedence over meat on the Baltic coast. Common and popular local dishes are cod (dorsch) in a mustard sauce, and fillets of plaice (scholle) with tiny brown Baltic shrimps. North Germans are also very keen on asparagus (spargel) and in spring there are often whole menus devoted to it. Food connoisseurs shouldn’t miss the Michelin starred Wullenwever restaurant, whilst those with slimmer wallets can find hot, filling meals in the little pubs (kneipen) nestled in Altstadt’s smaller streets.

There’s plenty to do after dark in Lubeck. After dinner why not see a play, musical or opera in the art nouveau Theater Lubeck, or go to a free music concert at the music academy Musikhochschule Lubeck? Big-name pop stars come to the Musik und Kongesshalle on a fairly regular basis, and the Dr Jazz nightclub provides live music most nights of the week. Two newsletters, Piste and Szene Journal, provide a run-down of what’s on, and are free in the tourist office and most hotels.

Tourist Information

Welcome Center, Lübeck und Travemünde Tourist-Service, Holstentorplatz 1, 23552 LübeckPhone: +49 (0)1805 882 233Email: info@luebeck-tourismus.deWebsite:


Ryanair flies from London Stansted to Lubeck-Blankensee airport, although the airline calls it Hamberg-Lubeck. The town is a 20 minute drive from the airport. Alternatively, the number 6 bus takes you into town.

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