Travel Germany. Marzipan, big writers and seagulls. 11 things to do in UNESCO listed Lübeck

Updated July 2023.

Lübeck is a small Hanseatic town on an island enclosed by the river Trave in the northern part of Germany. It is not that far from Berlin and very close to Hamburg. With its brick Gothic architecture it oozes history on every corner. If you like everything to do with shopping (this town is an excellent place to learn about trade), the ocean, adventure, travelling, stories about seafaring nations, and marzipan of the very best quality there is, do yourself a favour and visit Lübeck. 

A dark green, a light blue, and another light green door and the facades of red brick and whitewashed period houses.

Looking at the town from above, you see a sea of red brick and green copper roofs under a wide open sky. There aren’t any skyscrapers or tall buildings, other than church towers to block your view. 

Lübeck traded with merchants as far away as Russia and Persia

Lübeck became a wealthy town over the centuries. It was an important gateway for Germans, who were able to do business with merchants as far away as Russia and Persia. The space on the island became limited. In parts of the town landlords erected corridors and courtyards between their properties to use available space to its full extent and create income from the rent. More and more shacks were built as a home for labourers and the old folks of the town. Times have changed a lot, whereas living conditions were not too rosy through these days, today these small houses are popular for their very special flair.

Lübeck's was damaged in WW2

The area of the old town was heavily destroyed during an air raid in WW2. The priest, who told his parish the morning after the raid that this was a trial by ordeal, was beheaded by the Nazis for his words. This is hard to believe when you look at this area today. It feels so very peaceful. The historical town centre is almost of an unreal beauty, like in a fairy tale really. There are flowers and sleeping cats everywhere. The air is filled with the sounds of seagulls ... 

A narrow paved lane lined by facades of red brick and whitewashed period houses.

11 things to do in Lübeck the city by the Baltic Sea

1. Holsten Gate

Sydney has the Opera House, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Berlin has the Brandenburg Gate, San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge and Lübeck has the Holsten Gate. The gate was built between 1464-1478, the swampy ground proved to be unstable, and the gate leans to one side until today. The famous landmark welcomes visitors to the city with the inscription "Concordia domi foris pax," which can be translated as "Harmony inside, outside peace".

A red brick gothic gate with two pointed dark grey tiled towers decorated with the inscription Concordia domi foris pax.

2. Aegidien Church in the artisan district of Lübeck

The Aegidien Church lies in the middle of the former craftsman/artisan district. The church was first mentioned in 1227. Since this is a rather small church I had the feeling that the guard was more than happy to have a chat, there weren’t too many other visitors. She showed me the Gothic wall paintings in the choir and the baptismal font from 1453.

Info. Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4pm. Tickets: free.

3. Lübeck Cathedral

Henry the Lion, the powerful prince of the Welf dynasty laid the cornerstone of this cathedral. The construction began in 1173, and that makes the Lübeck Cathedral the first brick church in the Baltic region. The Cathedral contains several medieval altars and there are also grave stones and sarcophagi of bishops in the chapels on the side. Most impressive is the Astronomical Clock.

The statue of a gilded lion on a pedestal under a whitewashed vaulted ceiling.

A giant wooden ornate wall clock spanning over three vaulted entrances.

Info Luebeck Cathedral. Opening hours: 10am to 4pm. Tickets: free.

4. Salzspeicher Lübeck

Not far from the Holsten Gate by the river Trave is a group of six Renaissance and Baroque gabled brick warehouses which were built between 1580 and 1745 to store salt from the nearby town of Lueneburg. The salt was exported to Scandinavian countries, where merchants used the precious commodity to conserve fish. The houses by the river seemingly carry each other through time, and if you remove one, they might topple over and fall into the river Trave.

Five six-storey gabled red brick period houses on the banks of a river.

Address: Wallstrasse, Lübeck. Tickets: free.

5. St. Mary's Church Lübeck

The two towers of the brick gothic St Mary's church, built between 1250 and 1350, stick more than 120 meters into the sky. With a height of 38.5 meters in the nave, St Mary's is (to date) the highest brick vault in the world. I mentioned earlier the air raid, and also St. Mary's Church was almost completely destroyed on that night. You can look at the original bells which had fallen down from the tower, they have been in this exact spot ever since.

The remnants of a smashed giant church bell on a red brick floor.

A two-storeyed giant dark brown wooden organ under a white vaulted ceiling.

The white vaulted ceiling decorated with paintings of flowers, spanning over four vaulted entrances on both sides.

Info St Mary's Church: Koberg. Opening hours Monday to Saturday from 10am. Sunday from 11am. 01. January to 31 March to 4pm. 01. April to 03. October to 6pm. 04. October to 31. October to 5 pm. 01. November to 21. November  to 4 pm. 22. November to 18. December to 5 pm. 19. December to 31. March to 4 pm. Guided tours: gold coin donation.

6. Buddenbrookhaus and Thomas Mann

Make your way to Mengstrasse 4, and you will find yourself in the heart of the first German-language social novel. "Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family". It took the author Thomas Mann three years to describe a wealthy merchant family over four generations. The author used his own family history as a template for his successful novel. And in 1929 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature for his vivid illustration of the Hanseatic bourgeoisie. Not only had the fictional family lived behind the Baroque facade of the Buddenbrook House, also Thomas Mann himself.

Walk through the permanent exhibition to learn about the author's family, to see how the book became published, and visit scenes of the novel. You can grab the book, and read paragraphs in the exact room the scenes are set.

A three-storeyed whitewashed gabled period house.

Info Buddenbrookhaus. Mengstrasse 4. Opening hours Monday to Sunday 10am to 6pm. Adults EUR 9.You can also visit the exhibition "Buddenbrooks in the Behnhaus" in Museum Behnhaus Drägerhaus, Königstrasse 9-11, Lübeck.

7. Niederegger Marzipan Salon and Café

The Niederegger marzipan from Lübeck, the town is often called "marzipan city" is best to be described as, I usually don't use words like this, world class. It is moist, the sweetness is subtle, and the flavour of the almonds lightly explode in your mouth. The already in the 16th century produced marzipan was at first reserved for the nobility, and only in the 18th century it became available in patisseries for sale to the general public.

I can say that, without the slightest doubt, Niederegger is the epitome of marzipan in Germany. The secret recipe of the Niederegger marzipan has been passed on from generation to generation. When you visit the Marzipan Salon, a museum above the store and Café, the only thing you find out is that the company uses Mediterranean almonds together with sugar. The almonds are doused with boiling water so that they swell slightly and the skin can be readily removed. When they are well dried, they get finely ground (maybe the secret lies in for how long?). The almond meal needs to be mixed with icing sugar and rosewater or other aroma until the mixture binds.

Browse the store to buy different varieties of marzipan, and visit the café to try the Marzipan Nut Cake. Marzipan paradise found.
Miniature forms of bananas and oranges and pears in their original colour in a large glass cube.

Info Niederegger. Breite Strasse 89. Hours: Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm. Saturday 9am to 6pm. Sunday 10am to 6pm. Tickets: free.

8. Holy Spirit Hospital Lübeck

In 1286 this property was built as one of the first social institutions in Europe. The wealthy citizens of Lübeck meant well with constructing this brick gothic hospital and creating a refuge for 100 sick and elderly people. At first, their beds were separated by curtains but in the early 19th century they turned each space into small chambers made of wood. In the 1970s inhabitants were transferred into facilities of a modern nursing home. Visit this place to see the wooden chambers in their original state.

A group of people next to a colorful glass window under a vaulted ceiling decorated with painted flowers.

Info Holy Spirit Hospital. Koberg. Opening hours Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 5pm. Tickets: free.

9. Museum Harbour Lübeck

Go for a walk along the river Trave towards the northwestern end of town to reach this small museum harbour. The vintage ships are of the past 150 years. Tickets: free.

10. Jakobi Church Lübeck

This is the church of the fishermen, deck-hands, commanders, and today also the home of the National Memorial to the civil seafarers. It is a gathering place for seafarers from all over the world. The beginnings of the church date back to the 1220s. Look at the impressive altar from the early 16th century and the organ, a Stellwagen which apparently is one of the most important organs in Europe. Take a closer look at the flue pipes, they are all painted with golden faces.

People sit on four rows of wooden tables and benches under a large lush green chestnut tree.

A row with twelve different period gabled red brick and whitewashed houses in front of the green roof and red blick clock tower of a church.

The model of a brown white, red tall ship with beige sails on a pedestal next to a dark wooden pulpit under a high vaulted ceiling.

Info Jakobi Church. Jakobikirchof 3. 23552 Lübeck. Tickets: free.

11. Seafarers Society - Schiffergesellschaft Lübeck

Ever since 1535, this property has been a meeting place for seafarers. The brotherhood has been founded to help and comfort the living and the dead, and all, who are willing to make an honourable income in seafaring. The society of seafarers looked after the ship's papers, boat taxes, legal matters and also took on mediation tasks.

Until today a statute regulates that a member of the society of seafarers can only be who has the full captain's/commander's-license. Applicants must demonstrate that they led the ship, for whose guidance the aforementioned licence is obligatory and that they live in Lübeck or the surrounding area.

This has got nothing to do with a theme park or anything, this is the real deal, and not much has been changed in here, if anything. This has been a place where commanders had their word in who can board their vessels and hence decided over the success of trade with other nations.

The traditional hall is leased to a restaurateur and open to the public. You can feast on German food. Sit at long wooden benches, look at the paintings and all these fantastic ship models dangling from the high wooden ceiling, and dream of travelling. It gets especially cosy when they light the real candles of the antique chandeliers.

There is also a story behind the street name. The Engelsgrube is first mentioned in 1259 with the Latin names Fossa Angelica and Platea Anglica (England Street). The name refers to the part of the port to which the road led. This is where commercial vessels docked which were operating in foreign trade with England.

A slice of marzipan cake covered in dark chocolate sprinkled with almond slices served with peach compote and strawberries and mint leaf on a white plate.
A gilded chandelier, an antique lamp, and a model of a dark wooden three-mast tall ship, hanging from a dark wooden ceiling.

Eight people sitting on four tables along a wall in a dimly lit room with a gilded chandelier, an antique lamp, and two models of dark wooden three-mast tall ships, hanging from a dark wooden ceiling.

Info Seafarers Society (Schiffergesellschaft in German). Engelsgrube 1. Opening hours: Mondays closed. Tuesday to Sunday 12pm to 11pm.

As I said in the beginning, Lübeck is a tiny town, and as you now know it is full of stories and there is lots of history to discover. Everything in the old town can be reached on foot. Best: Eat enough marzipan and Marzipan Torte to have enough power for your sightseeing adventures. 

A two-storeyed piece of cream cake covered in marzipan and a cream flower on top served on a white plate with details of four people in the background.

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