First-time visitors expecting vistas of belching chimneys are likely to be surprised by Essen, for the Ruhr’s “secret capital” is a modern, unashamedly commercial city with a modest forest of office towers and a vast central shopping zone. Though it contests with Dortmund the status of biggest city in the Ruhr, Essen is the one with the unmistakable big-city feel, and it’s this, as much as its central position in the region, that gives it an edge over its rival. It’s an enjoyable place to spend a day or two, with plenty of high culture, a smattering of interesting sights including one UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a lively nightlife scene.

Basic orientation is straightforward: the city centre is immediately north of the Hauptbahnhof, with the main cultural zone to the south; further south still is some of the most enticing eating, drinking and sightseeing, while the gritty north preserves reminders of the city’s industrial greatness.

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