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One of the largest cities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Essen is Germany’s 9th largest city with a population of nearly 600,000 people. It is the main city in the north of the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area which is home to over 13, million people and is Europe’s most highly populated.
Essen was founded in 845 and remained a small town, known for its Essen until the Industrial Revolution. The establishment of iron works by the Krupp family transformed the city into a major centre of production. It was occupied by French and Belgian troops briefly between the world wars and in World War 2, 90% of it was flattened.
With the decline of heavy industry, Essen evolved into a strong service provider with many large German companies having their headquarters here. In 2010 it was the European Capital of Culture (as part of the Rhine-Ruhr region) and in 2017 it was the European Green Capital. Visitors are attracted to its culture, shopping and small gay scene.
For information about gay rights in Germany, please visit our Gay Berlin City Guide page.
Essen has a gay scene that can be described as modest when compared to nearby Cologne. There are a couple of Gay Bars, Saunas and infrequent Gay Club nights. In August, the city hosts Ruhr Pride which is a popular LGBT celebration that attracts visitors from across the region.
Essen has a small airport that only caters for private flights; however, Dusseldorf Airport (DUF) is 30 km away and around 30 minutes by both train and car from Essen. It offers a wide range of short-haul flights to Europe and North Africa as well as long-haul flights to destinations in North America, Africa and the Middle East.
Dortmund Airport (DTM) is 45 km from Essen and offers flights to destinations in Europe via budget airlines. To get to Essen from the airport it is a 30 minute drive or you can take an express bus to Dortmund rail station and continue your journey from there.
The Essen Hauptbahnhof is located just south of the old town centre. It is well connected to cities in the Rhein-Ruhr area by its S-Bahn system as well as with connections throughout Germany. There are overnight sleeper trains to and from Vienna, Zurich, Brussels and Moscow.
The city centre is relatively compact, making it easy to navigate by foot. Many of the main sights of interest, are dispersed around the city so other modes of transport are recommended to get from A to B.
By public transport
Essen has an integrated public transport system of buses, subway trains and trams. The S-Bahn service is integrated into the greater Rhine-Ruhr travel network allowing easy travel throughout the region. Basic tickets start at €1.50 with day passes starting at €5.50. Services run regularly throughout the day and there are also night services.
Taxis can be found at prominent locations throughout Essen. Expect the meter to start around the €5 mark and to pay €3 in advance. Cabs can be ordered in advance and can be cheaper. Uber does not operate in Essen.
Essen has an excellent choice of hotels to suit all budgets. Please visit our list of recommended hotels in Essen page.
Zeche Zollverein – known as the most beautiful coal mine in the world and an icon of the city. This relic of Essen’s industrial past is notable for its striking Bauhaus architecture. It’s worth taking an organised tour of the complex.
Essen Cathedral – built on the sight of the city’s famous abbey. This 14th Century gothic cathedral has an museum dedicated to the religious treasures held here.
Old Synagogue – one of the few surviving synagogue buildings built before World War 2 in Germany. Today it is a cultural centre that serves as a poignant tribute to the history of the Jewish community in Essen.
Villa Hügel – this imposing mansion was built in 1873 for Alfred Krupp, of the industrialist Krupp family that made their mark on the city. Today you can take tours or even attend concerts here and marvel at its architectural quirks and 269 rooms.
Museum Folkwang – established in 1902. This museum houses works by Van Gogh, Gaugin and Manet.
Saalbau Essen – this impressive concert hall is the home of the Essen Philharmonic Orchestra which has received the accolade of German Orchestra of the Year on a few occasions.
Grugapark – one of the largest urban parks in Germany and a great spot for a romantic picnic or stroll. Here you will find stunning sculptures, a glass house and a pavillion with frequent performances of live music.
Theaterpassage – this listed brick building houses a good selection of high-end and specialist shops as well as great spots for wining and dining.
The summer months in Essen are generally pleasant and not too hot, but rain can be expected at any time of the year. Winter temperatures rarely drop below zero but you’ll know about it when it does! Essen does not get swarmed by tourists so large crowds are rare.
Essen hosts a range of festivals and events throughout the year. The International Christmas Market held in late November and December attracts many visitors from throughout the region. The SMAG Sundance Open Air Festival, held in July, attracts the best in international DJs and electronic artists.
Germany is within the European Schengen visa area. If travelling from outside Europe, check to see if you require a Schengen visa.
Germany is a member of the Eurozone. Cash dispensers are widely available. You may be asked for photo ID if paying with a credit or debit card in a shop.
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