Leipzig is the undiscovered, hidden gem in the east of Germany. The coolest city in Saxony. The new Berlin. At least, that is what ‘they’ say. But you know, even Germans themselves usually don’t consider Leipzig to be the no. 1 place to visit. Germany has so many great cities to visit (Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Heidelberg), what is so special about Leipzig? What is it about this upcoming city and what are the things to see and do in Leipzig?
We recently spent 3 days in the city and I am now looking at the collection of pictures that I took. They all remind me that Leipzig is way trendier than I expected. For sure the city doesn’t need to be hidden anymore!
10 Things to see and do in Leipzig
We are back for another blogpost about our stay in Leipzig, Germany. You can click here to read part 1 first, but no worries if you want to dive right into this list of things to see and do.
One of Leipzig’s residents told me that Leipzig is not a perfect city and it will never be. The city will always be unfinished where people will keep on building and restructuring. True. World War II and the resulting German Democratic Republic (East Germany) left its scars. But Leipzig has an enormous history dating back way before that. Nowadays, the city is clearly on its way to become a settlement for artists, design-lovers, and (nomadic) creative entrepreneurs. All in all, reasons enough for us to travel 7 hours by train from Amsterdam and visit Germany’s 10th most populous city. Here are 10 things to see and do in Leipzig!
1. Trabi Tour
They are not environmentally friendly. They do make a lot of noise. You can’t drive them without proper instructions. But man, was I eager to drive a real classic Trabant car! And in Leipzig I got the opportunity to take a spin around town which I took with both hands.
The Trabant (or Trabi) was an exceptional car, produced in East Germany between 1957 and 1990. Trabant means companion and the car indeed played a substantial role in the daily life of the East German citizens. Waiting time for a new car was anywhere between 10 and 16 years (!), so when you finally got one you didn’t easily let it go again…
With its headlights that look like two cute, innocent eyes you easily fall for its charm (as we did!). You can book a Trabi tour (with the company Trabi Erleben (Experience a Trabi) and discover the whole city of Leipzig. This tour was one of the highlights of our stay; it really is an adventure driving a Trabant. Pedestrians and fellow drivers smile while tourists take pictures. It’s quite a task to move around with the Trabi in modern traffic, but you will have so much fun!
2. Museum of Fine Arts (MdbK)
While doing some research to prepare for our trip, I was attracted by this imposing modernist glass cube right in the city center. The cube is home to the Museum of Fine Arts (MdbK). A must-see not only for its art on display (modern as well as paintings from the 15th century to today) but certainly for the interior design: a material fusion of concrete, wood, glass and limestone. Beautiful!
Leipzig’s art scene enjoys an excellent reputation worldwide (with the artist Neo Rauch at the heart of it). Center of attention is the Spinnerei, a former cotton mill now home to galleries and ateliers. The Spinnerei should be high on your list of things to do. Within the city of Leipzig the Spinnerei is actually a mini city on its own, full of art. This old, revitalized factory complex has survived the war and the combination of industrial architecture, and (modern) art makes it a unique place in Leipzig. Tip: just wander around, open doors and have a look inside the abandoned factory!
4. Biking in the Leipzig region
Are you a cyclist? The Leipzig region is very popular amongst (fanatic) cyclists. Bring your own bike (or rent one) and go on a day trip. It’s common practice to board your bike on the train out of Leipzig. You have so many options, check out the Leipzig travel website.
Our plan was to take the train all the way to Leisnig and bike from there back to Grimma (following the so-called Mulderadweg). Not every village or town has the same level of picturesqueness but for sure you will bump into some nice views. On the way out from Leipzig we already noticed many cyclists hopping off the train at Grimma. After we finally made it back to this little town on the Mulde river we finally understood why! Grimma was a pleasant surprise, a colorful and historic town with a slower-paced life compared to its neighboring cities. The perfect place to enjoy a cool German beer while resting your legs! Mind you, the station is situated on top of a hill and it’s a steep way up from Grimma center back so be prepared!
Lipzi tours in Leipzig offers not only bike rental but guided tours as well. If you can, make sure to also have a bike available in Leipzig itself! The city center can easily be covered by foot, but further out a bike comes in handy (or a Trabi for that matter!).
5. Historic city center with unique courtyards and arcades
Leipzig city center is dominated by dozens of arcades, courtyards and trade fair palaces. The city used to be at the cross section of trade between all regions in Europe. Building a whole network of passageways protected traders from wind, heat and rain, and even carriages could pass through easily. Leipzig was trade fair mecca!
The inner-city system of arcades and passageways is unique in Europe and still very much alive in Leizpig. Check out the famous Mädler Passage or the impressive Speckhof. The system has determined the urban planning where next to preserving the historic arcades, new ones are also being added. The city currently has around 30 arcades, 20 of which are historical. Old trading places and courtyards from the Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau blend harmoniously with modern buildings.
6. Karli and Karl-Hein street: the alternative side
I always love to discover the alternative or less polished side of cities. People told me I could not leave without checking Leipzig’s alternative side, surfacing mainly at the Karl-Heine street and the Karl-Liebknecht (or Karli) street. There we were, mid afternoon, wandering around and wondered where the fuzz was all about. Of course, I actually should have visited during the evening and not in the afternoon! That is when the bars and restaurants on these streets come to live. Luckily for me the area offers great street photography opportunities, also during the day!
KarLi is one of Leipzig’s best-known streets. Especially during summer months where one can enjoy numerous outdoor seating areas. In KarlLi, you will have to go and check out one of the few neon ads of former East Germany. A relic of another era, this 40-by-20 feet (12-by-6 meters) sign was an advertisement for a company producing canned food called VEB Feinkost. The sign shows a family enjoying a bowl of soup around the dinner table. The local nickname is Löffelfamily, or Spoon Family… In the evening it gets lit!
7. Holocaust monument
This monument is not as famous as the one in Berlin. Don’t expect busses full of tourists (luckily!). I always find it important to visit places like this, in order to better understand a city. You can combine it with this interesting short walk starting on the central market square (Marktplatz). Opposite restaurant Weinstock, enter the narrow entrance to Barthels Hof. After exiting you arrive on a small square, the junction of Klostergasse and Barfußgäßchen (see picture below). Enjoy the beautiful (corner) buildings, have a coffee at the popular Zum Arabischen Coffee Baum (Arabian Coffee Tree – Europe’s oldest coffee shop) and walk into the Klostergasse towards the Thomas church. Near the church, cross the busy Dittrichring and walk another 100 meters to arrive at the Holocaust memorial (Synagogendenkmal).
140 bronze chairs stand in rank, outlining the floor plan of a synagogue that was destroyed by the “Facists” in 1938. In the following years the Jewish community was decimated where the 140 chairs represent the 14,000 Leipzig Jews that lost their lives.
8. Ana art hotel
We spent 3 nights at the Ana art hotel. Conveniently located right in the city center it serves as a good base for exploring Leipzig. The lobby is full of design, the breakfast and rooms are good. The hotel doesn’t have a hotel bar which does have an effect on the hotel’s atmosphere in the evening. However, no real reason not to book the Ana art hotel because the location cannot be beaten!
9. St. Nicholas church
Every city has its church, temple or shrine. Most of them all look alike and you better spend your time somewhere else. But sometimes you enter one that leaves you flabbergasted. Exactly that was how I felt upon entering the St. Nicolas church. The interior is amazing and kind of reminded me of the Sagrada Familia. Make sure to have a look!
The church is important for another reason. During the 1980s (Cold War era) people started to gather at this exact place to demonstrate for peace. Quite unusual realizing we are talking East-Germany era here. On the 9th of October 1989 no less than 70,000 people joined together in the streets of Leipzig calling out “We are the People” and “No violence”. Only one month after these peaceful demonstrations the Berlin Wall fell.
10. Monument Battle of the Nations
I was drawn to this monument because it reminded me of temples in Myanmar that we have seen on earlier travels. With these huge stone figures it even feels like you have entered an episode of Lord of the Rings! The monument is one of Leipzig most striking sights. It remembers the numerous victims of a bloody battle against Napoleon in 1813 called the Battle of Leipzig (also known as the Battle of the Nations). Constructed in 1913 (for the 100th anniversary of the battle) it soars 91 meters (299ft) in the sky which makes it the tallest accessible memorial in Europe. You can enter and climb this colossal monument. For sure something not to be missed when in Leipzig.
Travel to Leipzig
When you decide to travel to Leipzig, do check out the Leipzig Welcome Cards. One card for reduced entrance fees, free travel on public transport, and more. Hopefully I have been able to give you a good insight into what Leipzig has to offer (and here’s another traveler who made it to Leipzig recently). Leipzig makes a great combination with Dresden and even Berlin. Now it’s up to you whether you want to uncover the hidden Leipzig….
We have been invited by Leipzig travel to explore the city. We thank them for this opportunity and for arranging our stay. All the pictures and opinions are my own. Please do check our first post about Leipzig too!