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.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Germany features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

A beginner's guide to the best German beers

A beginner's guide to the best German beers

Think Germany and you think beer. It’s a country whose beer culture is so ingrained and recognised that Oktoberfest (16 September–3 October 2017) is celeb…

14 Sep 2017 • Daniel Neilson insert_drive_file Article
How Syrians are keeping their culture alive in Berlin

How Syrians are keeping their culture alive in Berlin

Syria has been shattered by conflict since March 2011; more than 5 million people have been forced to flee the country and rebuild their lives elsewhere. Jessi…

05 Sep 2017 • Jessica Bateman local_activity Special feature
Going underground in Hamburg: 6 ways to see the city's alternative side

Going underground in Hamburg: 6 ways to see the city's alternative side

Hamburg is perpetually on the brink of falling out with itself. On the one hand, it’s a city of convention and millionaires – Hamburg has the highest concen…

18 Jul 2017 • Neil McQuillian insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month