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Lübeck - Medieval Island Full Of Gems

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

A 12th-century gem boasting more than a thousand historic buildings, Lübeck's picture-book appearance is an enduring reminder of its role as one of the founding cities of the mighty Hanseatic League and its moniker 'Queen of the Hanse.' Behind its landmark Holstentor, you'll find streets lined with medieval merchants' homes and spired churches forming Lübeck's 'crown.'

Why You Should Visit Lübeck

Lübeck is one of Germany's best-kept secrets, renowned for its charming Old Town with its big brick churches, little brick houses with stepped gables, and cobbled streets, as well as its Marzipan.

Lübeck was founded in 1143 and, for over 400 years, held a vast monopoly over trade in the Baltic and the North Sea along with other cities of the Hanseatic League (Hansa). It became very prosperous and wealthy over this time as a wide array of goods were shipped from the Baltic region via Lübeck to the west and south of Europe in exchange for valuable goods required in Germany. The international merchants and patricians running their trade from here shaped much of the city's commercial, political, and cultural character.

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Lübeck remained influential till the 17th century when the sea trade shifted from the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic, and Lübeck played second fiddle to the North Sea ports of Bremen and Hamburg.

This ultimately led to a decline in the wealth and influence of Lübeck. Today, it is one of Germany's most beautiful towns and well worth a visit.

St. Mary's Church

Lübeck is blessed with many beautiful churches, and the monumental St. Mary's Church (Marienkirche) is the most exceptional one. It is one of the must-see attractions in Lübeck.

Germany's third-largest church was built by Lübeck natives between 1250 and 1350 as a monument to themselves. The church was used primarily by the council and the merchants. The church is a symbol of the citizens' power at the time and is visible from afar. This imposing twin-towered basilica rises to 125 meters and once served as the blueprint for many other Brick Gothic churches in the Baltic region. Its vast interior boasts the highest vaulted brick ceiling in the world, at 40 meters. The vaulted interior has three aisles, each separated by rows of massive arches and multiple side chapels.

The intricate carvings and reliefs on the chancel walls and the numerous stained-glass windows are a joy to behold. There's also an astronomical clock performing a midday spiel of figurines.

St. Mary's Church was severely damaged during an air raid in 1942. Most of the interior was lost during the ensuing blaze, but long-forgotten medieval wall paintings were laid bare and restored with the rest of the church afterward. The broken bells that came crashing down during the bombing have been left where they fell in 1942 and have become a famous city symbol. They serve as reminders of the horrors of war.

St. Mary's Church is open daily from 10:00-16:00 (November-December), 10:00-17:00 (January-March), and 10:00-18:00 (April-October). The entrance costs 2 EUR.

at Marzipan (and cakes....)

No list of best things to do in Lübeck would be complete without including Marzipan. Marzipan, famous throughout Europe since the 19th century, makes for a great present from Lübeck. Lübeck marzipan is unique in that it must be composed of at least 70 percent almonds, no more than 30 percent sugar, and aromatic oils.

Lübeck is the uncontested marzipan capital of the world, and there are numerous places all over the city to sample this delightful sweet.

Cafe Niederegger is the most iconic of these places. It is a paradise for marzipan lovers, with a delectable assortment of delicious marzipan cakes, ice cream, and pastries.

The cafe still produces Marzipan in traditional shapes, such as fruit and vegetables, which are handpainted to make them look (almost) real. Kira and I love Marzipan, so we were salivating in the cafe and must have bought at least 2 kg of stuff.

A tableau of various Lubeck attractions made out of Marzipan on display in Cafe Niederegger's windows.

The second floor is home to the Marzipan Museum (free admission), which traces the almond's origins from the Orient to its arrival in Lubeck. The life-size marzipan figures are fascinating indeed.

Although Lubeck is the second-largest city in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with a population of over 200,000, there isn't anything to see outside of its small medieval Old Town (Altstadt). The city was heavily bombed in an RAF raid in 1942.

Nonetheless, Lübeck has been so well restored that more 13th- to 15th-century buildings are found here than in all other large northern German cities combined. This fact helped this little town gem be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

The egg-shaped Old Town is a testament to Lübeck's former position as the golden queen of the Hanseatic League, and evidence of this is found at every corner.

The Old Town is surrounded by the Trave River and partly by embankments. High-gabled merchant houses, towering steeples, strong towers, and charming half-timbered houses characterize it.

Walking around the Old Town is naturally one of the best things to do in Lübeck and is akin to being in an open-air museum. You can easily cover the Old Town in a few hours while unearthing the architectural wonders and sights.

One of the best things to do in Lübeck, which I highly recommend, is checking out some passages and courtyards (Gänge and Höfe) in the Old Town. Close to 90 such alleys and squares still exist. Many of these are found in the northern part of the Old Town on the streets Engelswisch, Engelsgrube, and Glockengießerstraße and in the southern region around the Lubeck Cathedral.

The most interesting ones include Glandorpshof and Füchtingshof (which served as the backdrop for some exterior shots in F.W. Murnau's horror film "Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror").

These passages and courtyards are relics of medieval town planning and were often the living quarters of tradesmen and artisans. From the outside, they do not look impressive. But many of them reveal themselves as tiny idyllic pearls with low-timbered houses, benches, and beautiful flower arrangements.

Please remember that people live there, so respect their privacy.

Behnhaus Drägerhaus Museum

The Behnhaus Drägerhaus Museum is a lovely little art museum in the Old Town of Lübeck. The museum is housed in two former patrician villas. The design of the villas is tall and slender, constructed in that fashion to circumvent heavy taxes based on the frontage.

The museum does show not only art but also some rooms; one can gain an impression of how the upper bourgeoisie lived in Lübeck in the old days. There are interesting German Romantic, impressionist, and Nazarene paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, Max Liebermann, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Lovis Corinth, Max Slevogt, and Edvard Munch.

European Hansemuseum

The European Hansemuseum is one of the main points of interest in Lübeck and a must-visit place while sightseeing in the city. Opened in 2015, it is the largest museum in the world dedicated to the Hanseatic League, and it is simply outstanding!

The Hansemuseum is exceptional, with a perfect blend of high-tech & object displays to make visitors' rich history of the Hanseatic trade and towns understandable.

Each visitor gets a ticket with an RFID chip that identifies the required language and lets you impersonate a person from one of the member cities of the Hanse and your particular interest. The chip can then be used at many stops to display information tailored to your interest.


The Salzspeicher (salt storehouses) are six gabled brick historic buildings on the Upper Trave River that stand behind the Holstentor (to the east side). You'll notice that each of the six buildings is unique, evidence of numerous trends in Renaissance gabled architecture.

Salt was always an integral part of the trade-in Lübeck, making the city powerful in the Hanseatic League. Salt from Lüneburg, another Hanseatic town, had to be stored somewhere before it was placed into ships and sold around the Baltic Sea. It was held here before being shipped off to Scandinavia and bartered for furs.

As the importance of salt diminished over time, the warehouses were used to store cloth, grain, and wood. During the era of the Third Reich, one of the warehouses was converted into a Hitler youth center. Today, the buildings are used by a textile store.

Holsten Gate & Museum (Holstentor)

The Holsten Gate (Holsentor) is undoubtedly one of the significant points of interest in Lübeck. It is one of the most prominent landmarks in Germany and serves as an emblem for the city. Lübeck once had four medieval gates and two remain, the most notable being the Holstentor.

The gate was built between 1464 and 1478 and was part of the city's defense system. It has since been rebuilt twice. It was erected before the city walls and intended more to parade the city's might and affluence rather than serve for defensive purposes.

I love how the Holstentor's twin pointed cylindrical towers appear to sag inward, resulting from a poor foundation. The western face of the Holstentor bears a Latin inscription 'Concordia domi foris pax' meaning 'harmony at home and peace abroad.

The Holstentor-Museum is located inside the two bulging towers. The museum isn't overly large, but it does an excellent job of summarizing the local history.

It is open Tue-Sun from 11:00-17:00 (January-March) and Mon-Sun from 10:00-18:00 (April-December). The entrance to the museum costs 8 EUR.

The Holstentor is as good a place as any from which to embark on a walking tour of Lübeck. Today, it remains a popular image in the advertising and souvenir industries.

City Hall (Rathaus)

The Lübeck City Hall (Rathaus), with its richly decorated, dark brick facade, dates back to the 13th century and is veritably one of the prettiest town halls in Germany.

It has characteristic high protective walls adorned with slender turrets. The first Hanseatic diet took place here in 1356, and the representatives of the Hanseatic League usually met at the city hall in the Hansesaal.

The City Hall is built around two adjoining sides of the old Market Square with traditional Gothic arcades on the ground level and features a beautiful late 16th-century Dutch Renaissance external staircase on Breite Straße.

The city hall's interior features many images of scenes from Lübeck's foundation. The marvelous Audience Hall (Audienzsaal) is a particular highlight of the interior. The light-flooded decor of this room highlights the transition between late Baroque and Rococo.

On the walls are ten allegorical paintings portraying the virtues of a good government. The paintings are in stucco frames and dominate the hall in a Rococo manner.

You need to take the guided tour to gain entry inside. Visiting hours are Mon- Fri 11:00, 12:00, and 15:00 and Sat at 13:30 (providing no other events are taking place).

Lübeck Cathedral

Lübeck Cathedral (Dom) is the oldest church in the city and the oldest building in Lübeck, dating back to 1173. The original Romanesque church was converted and enlarged in a Gothic style during the 14th century.

Like the St. Mary's Church, the Lubeck Cathedral was also bombed during WWII and needed to undergo restoration work that lasted nearly 40 years. The relatively spartan interior of the cathedral houses a large resplendent organ, an imposing clock, and valuable sculptures such as 'The Holy Mary Mother of God with a crown composed of stars, as well as the 'Beautiful Madonna.'

Buddenbrook House

A visit to the Buddenbrook House is one of the best things to do in Lübeck, especially if you're a literature buff. This stunning white Rococo house dating from 1758 features a gabled roof and a recessed doorway.

It belonged to the Mann family from 1841 to 1891, and two of Lübeck's most famous sons, the writers Thomas and Heinrich Mann, spent several summers here. Thomas Mann, Nobel laureate for literature in 1929, used the house as the setting for his famous novel "Buddenbrooks," a saga that describes the life and fall of a wealthy patrician Lübeck family.

The house is now home to a museum that strives hard to capture the atmosphere of the famous book. There are also several displays of the two writers' lives and works, concentrating on their time in Lübeck.

The Buddenbrook House is open daily from 10:00-18:00, and the price of admission is 8 EUR.

Günter Grass House

Besides Thomas Mann, Lübeck was also home to one of Germany's most prominent authors, Günter Grass. He is known worldwide for his most famous novel, "The Tin Drum," published in 1959. Grass won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999.

The Günter Grass House focuses on Grass's written work and features many manuscripts and even the machines on which he wrote, including an old-fashioned Olivetti typewriter. Grass was also an artist and sculptor, and the rest of the exhibits focus on his lesser-known artworks, including drawings, paintings, and sculptures.

House of the Seamen's Guild

The House of the Seamen's Guild (Haus der Schiffergesellschaft) is one of the best surviving elaborate guild houses from Lübeck's Hanseatic era. It dated 1535 and was constructed in Renaissance style, with stepped gables and high-Gothic blind windows.

The splendid interior is mostly wood-paneled with rough wooden furniture and brass fittings, befitting a seamen's tavern. It is now home to one of Lübeck's finest restaurants.

We are arranging group dinners based on the theme. They are good with classics.

Museum Quarter St. Annen

The recently designated Museum Quarter St. Annen is the newest point of interest in Lübeck, which includes an old synagogue, church, and medieval buildings. The eponymous St. Annen Museum traces the area's varied history through 700 years of art and culture.

The adjoining St. Annen Kunsthalle is home to some unique Lübeck art treasures. Affluent families commission an impressive number of wooden Gothic altars.

The Hans Memling altar with Christ's Passion and the external side wings of the Schonenfahrer altar by Bernt Notke is the cynosure of all eyes.

The Museum Quarter St. Annen is open Tue-Sun from 11:00-17:00 (January-March) and Mon-Sun from 10:00-17:00 (April-December). The price of admission is 8 EUR.

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