Leipzig might not be topping the tourist charts just yet, but there is a reason why people call it “The New Berlin”. It’s a lively and vibrant town with a distinct vibe that I quickly became enchanted by. So let’s talk about what makes Leipzig worth visiting and some of the coolest things to do while in town.
- A City of Contrasts and Rich History
- 10 Cool Things to Do While in Leipzig
- Stroll Through the Old Town
- Admire the Architectural Contrasts
- Follow the Music Trail Through Leipzig
- Visit the Battle of Nations Monument
- Head to the Top of the Panorama Tower
- Take the Free Walking Tour
- Visit One of the Museums
- Sample the Local Gose Beer
- Have a Dinner in Goethe’s Favorite Wine Cellar
- Try the Leipziger Lerche Desert
- Enjoy the Hip Lifestyle
- Interesting Facts About Leipzig
- How Long to Stay in Leipzig
- Where to Eat in Leipzig
- The Verdict — Is Leipzig Worth Visiting
A City of Contrasts and Rich History
To understand Leipzig, it’s essential to understand its past. Leipzig is the largest city in the state of Saxony (former East Germany) surpassing even its capital Dresden. It is currently the eighth-most populous city in the country and growing fast.
Though it isn’t as famous as Berlin, Munich, or Cologne, you’d be unwise to think of Leipzig as some random town in former Soviet Germany. It’s a fascinating place with a long and thrilling history that has shaped Leipzig into what it is today.
Suffice to say, over the course of centuries Leipzig was a trade fair capital, a cultural and musical center, a field of fierce battles, and an industrial revolution hub.
At the end of the 20th century, Leipzig was also at the forefront of the “Peaceful Revolution”. The events this movement set in motion eventually led to the fall of the iron curtain and the reunification of Germany.
Ironically, this had a devastating effect on Leipzig itself. Unemployment soared, and people started leaving en masse, turning it into a ghost town. It was only in the early 2000s that Leipzig finally recovered, becoming a lively and attractive destination again.
Because of all these swings, modern Leipzig is full of peculiar contrasts. Here, a factory may exist next to a gothic cathedral, while opposite a lovely Barocco building, there may stand an ugly concrete box of the Soviet era.
You will undoubtedly notice a lot more of such oddities as you walk the streets of Leipzig. And that’s exactly what makes it so fun to explore.
10 Cool Things to Do While in Leipzig
Because it’s so deeply rooted in history, there is no shortage of exciting things to do or see in Leipzig. Here are 10 of my favorites.
Stroll Through the Old Town
The historic quarter of Leipzig south of the main train station is a perfect place to start the tour. Although it isn’t overly large and can easily be covered on foot, the area is jam-packed with old houses, monuments, museums, and various other attractions.
Start by making your way to the market square. There, you’ll find the impressive old town hall (Alte Rathaus) as well as countless bars, pubs, and restaurants. Continue south, past the St. Thomas Church and Bach Museum towards the magnificent new town hall.
Behind it, take a moment to examine the unconventional architecture of the Leipzig Catholic Church. Funny story: the church resides on the Martin-Luther-Ring street since it was the only available area in Leipzig at the time of construction.
As you might know, Martin Luther and the Catholic Church didn’t quite get along, so to me, this is yet another one of Leipzig’s bizarre contrasts.
Afterward, head east to the monument to Schiller whose “Ode to Joy” written in Leipzig was later adapted by Beethoven and became the official European anthem. Next to it, Moritzbastei is the only surviving fragment of the ancient wall currently converted into a thriving student venue.
Lastly, turn north again and go to the Augustusplatz square to marvel at the recently reconstructed Leipzig University. It’s such a unique and eye-catching structure that it is quickly becoming one of the symbols of modern Leipzig.
Admire the Architectural Contrasts
As I keep repeating, Leipzig is full of remarkable contrasts, and one of the easiest ways to find them is through architecture. So as you walk the streets of the historic center, pay attention to what’s around you.
The Augustusplatz square I mentioned earlier showcases this perfectly. If you stand in its middle and slowly turn around, you will see buildings from all possible eras and architectural schools.
To the north, the Leipzig opera represents the 1950ies. Right across it, the Gewandhaus concert hall dates back to the 1980ies. In between, there are a bunch of faceless boxes from the 70ies facing the university of Leipzig which was only completed in 2017.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Mende fountain decorating the square is a fine example of late 19th-century Neo-Baroque architecture.
You’ll notice a similar mix of styles all across Leipzig. And while it feels unusual and strange at first, it’s an integral part of what makes Leipzig so unique and intriguing.
Follow the Music Trail Through Leipzig
Music always played a major role in the life of Leipzig. The city was the birthplace of Richard Wagner and for many years home to Felix Mendelssohn and Johann Sebastian Bach. The latter is even buried here, in St. Thomas Church where he used to work as a choir director.
Numerous other musicians and composers — such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky — had at some point visited Leipzig or had ties with it. Of the modern-day figures, Till Lindemann, the frontman of hugely popular German band Rammstein, was born here.
Celebrating this fabulous tradition, the Music Trail (Notenspur) is a 5-kilometer 23-stop self-guided tour through various spots in Leipzig that are somehow related to music.
The map is available on the official website or via the project’s mobile apps for iPhone or Android. Alternatively, simply look for the note symbols on the pavements throughout the old district and see how many you can discover.
There is also a longer 8-kilometer variation of the trail called Leipzig Music Path. And two more — Leipzig Music Bike Trail and Leipzig Music Arc — are currently in development.
Visit the Battle of Nations Monument
The reason why Leipzig used to be a trade fair center during the Middle Ages is its strategic location. The settlement sat right at the intersection of two major Roman Empire trade routes — Via Regia and the Via Imperii.
This brought in a lot of money but also meant there was always someone willing to seize control over it. Not surprisingly, Leipzig has seen its share of conflicts over the centuries.
The most famous is the Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations. It happened in 1813 between Napoleon and the allied forces of Austria, Prussia, Sweden, and Russia. More than 100,000 soldiers perished, making it the largest bloodbath in Europe before World War I.
To commemorate the victory over Napoleon and remember the horrors of war, a huge 91-meter tall monument now stands on the spot where the French emperor ordered the retreat. Interestingly enough, it’s also where the Nazi forces made their last stand in Leipzig in 1945.
Today, the Monument to the Battle of Nations is one of Leipzig’s most iconic landmarks. Set in a beautiful area amidst the parks and in front of a reflecting pond, it’s well worth a visit. Inside, there’s a small museum and the stairs to the panoramic observation deck at the top.
The admission fee for adults is 10 EUR. You can check the other prices and opening hours at the official website.
Head to the Top of the Panorama Tower
Speaking of the observation decks, there is another one much closer to the center. The Panorama Tower right next to the University of Leipzig offers fantastic views from the observation platform on the 31st floor.
To get there, enter the lobby and take lift 1 or 2 to the 29th floor. The entry price is 4 EUR, payable in coins only, so be sure to bring some cash. If you’re short on coins, there is a change machine next to the entrance. You could also ask for help in the restaurant on the same floor.
Panorama Tower is the highest building in Leipzig, so the views from the top are second to none. There’s even a refreshments booth at the top, meaning you can enjoy the spectacular vistas while sipping a cold beer. Can it get any better?
Take the Free Walking Tour
One of the best ways to learn the most important facts about Leipzig and its history is by taking a free walking tour. The concept is very simple and is the same as elsewhere. You pay nothing to participate but are encouraged to tip your guide at the end.
The standard tour lasts 2.5 hours and is available in several languages including English. Booking in advance is necessary. There are other options as well, such as the Napoleon or the Music Tour but their availability is rather limited.
If you can grab a spot, I highly recommend the free walking tour. It’s a fun and engaging way to get familiar with Leipzig and understand it a little better. And you’ll learn a ton of details that you would never have picked up on your own.
All in all, it’s an amazing experience. So while we’re here, I’d like to give a big shoutout to our guide Matej who did a terrific job.
Visit One of the Museums
If you have a little more time, Leipzig has an excellent selection of museums to explore. From music to history to arts, there is something for just about any taste or preference.
The Bach Museum and the Mendelssohn-Haus dive deep into the legacy of two great composers who lived and created here. Forum of Contemporary History focuses on the Soviet period and the events before and after the reunification.
Runden Ecke museum is located in the former Stasi headquarters and provides a glimpse into how the world’s most repressive and terrifying secret police operated. The theme can be further explored in the Stasi Bunker museum, some 30 kilometers east of Leipzig.
Finally, for art lovers, the Leipzig Museum of fine arts and the Grassi Museum of Applied Arts are the two easy choices. Both are mostly in the German language, however.
Sample the Local Gose Beer
As a self-proclaimed beer fan, I was thrilled to find out that Leipzig has its own variety of the drink. It is called the Leipziger Gose and although originally from a different area, it became so popular in Leipzig that by the 19th century it was already considered local.
To be fair, Gose has a distinct salty and sour taste that won’t be to everyone’s liking. Personally, I quite enjoyed it though. If anything, it’s a welcome deviation from the traditional German beer-making style that sometimes feels a bit too predictable.
There are quite a few bars in Leipzig where you can try it. I especially recommend the Ratskeller or the Bayerischer Bahnhof. Both have a great food selection and on-premise breweries so you can taste other local brews if Gose doesn’t impress you.
Have a Dinner in Goethe’s Favorite Wine Cellar
Continuing with the booze theme, I can’t help but mention the Auerbachs Keller. It’s a famous Leipzig wine cellar located inside the Mädler Passage in the historic center.
To begin with, the passage itself is quite unusual. Those who have been to Milan will instantly recognize the design. Indeed, it was inspired by the incredible Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in the Italian fashion capital.
But that’s not the main reason Auerbachs Keller is so renowned. Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the most celebrated German poet, used to be a regular here. A student of law at Leipzig University, Goethe often found himself heading for a wine cellar instead of classes.
Goethe was so fond of it that even mentioned it in his masterpiece, Faust. It’s where Mephistopheles initially brings the protagonist and in fact, the only real-world location in the play. Today, the entrance to the cellar is decorated with sculptures depicting the scenes from Faust.
Auerbachs Keller is still a good (albeit somewhat pricey) restaurant. So if you fancy dinner at the very same place where Goethe was conceiving his highly acclaimed work, you can easily do so.
Try the Leipziger Lerche Desert
One last culinary delight to try in Leipzig is its signature pastry — the Leipziger Lerche. At its core, it’s a crusty basket filled with marzipan and jam. Sounds simple, but the result is so good that once you try it, you’ll want more.
Lerche is the German word for a lark, and that’s not at all a coincidence. Back in the 19th century, stuffed larks were the number one delicacy for Leipzig nobility. So much so that by 1876, larks were facing extinction so King Albert I had no choice but to ban hunting them.
To make up for the disappointment, one smart baker decided to develop a new pastry as a substitute. And although the taste is completely different, Leipziger Lerche still alludes to that original lark dish.
The stripes of dough on the top symbolize the strings the bird was tied with while cherry or red jam inside the cake represents its heart.
You’ll find Leipziger Lerche in various cafes all across Leipzig. Some — such as cafe Kandler — will even sell it in the neatly prepackaged boxes to take home as a souvenir. And yes, I couldn’t resist buying a pack.
Enjoy the Hip Lifestyle
I know I promised you ten things, but there’s one more that I still need to mention. So let it be a bonus. One of the coolest pastimes in Leipzig is simply enjoying its hip lifestyle.
As I said in the very beginning, there is a reason why Leipzig is often dubbed “The New Berlin”. It’s what Berlin used to be in the 90ies — “poor but sexy”. A place devastated by the shocks of the past receiving a breath of new life.
Since the early 2000s, when large companies started moving here, Leipzig saw an influx of new and young talent. Yet to this day, it remains relatively inexpensive to live in. This creates a feeling of freedom and possibility, attracting artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs.
In a sense, Leipzig is still on the brink of transformation. The vibe of something big is in the air, making it a very hip destination. Not surprisingly, one of Leipzig’s other nicknames is “Hypezig”.
This vibe is a large part of what makes Leipzig so charming even though the glaring signs of its rough past are still everywhere on display. There’s a lot is going on, be that various art exhibitions, posh cafes, or the bustling startup scene.
So enjoy it and maybe, just maybe, consider becoming a part of it too.
Interesting Facts About Leipzig
Leipzig is full of surprises and there is certainly more to it than meets the eye. During my research, I stumbled upon quite a few facts about it that you probably didn’t know. Here are some of the more interesting ones.
- Leipzig was allegedly founded by Sorbs, a west-Slavic ethnic group that still maintains an active presence in the city. Leipzig University is the only one in the world with a faculty in Sorbian.
- The name Leipzig is of Slavic origins. One theory is that it comes from the Sorbian word Lipa which means “lime tree”. Leipzig is thus “a place where lime trees grow”. And indeed, there are many of them all around Leipzig.
- A third of Leipzig is parks and forests, making it one of the greenest German cities to live in.
- Leipzig Central Station is the biggest in Europe when measured by the floor area. After being destroyed in WW2, it took 11 years to rebuild.
- Leipzig Christmas Market is among the most beautiful in Germany and features the world’s largest freestanding advent calendar.
- Liberation of Leipzig was the last European battle for American soldiers in WW2. They freed it from the Nazis in April 1945 but consequently left it to the Soviets.
- Leipzig is informally known as the Stadt der Helden (the City of Heroes) because of the 1989 “Peaceful Revolution” that ultimately led to the reunification of Germany.
- There is another Leipzig in the USA state of North Dakota. In 2000, its population was only 274 people.
How Long to Stay in Leipzig
Leipzig is quite small and most of its attractions can easily be covered in a single day. From both Berlin and Dresden, you can reach it by train in under 1.5 hours, making it a perfect destination for a day trip.
Still, for a more relaxed experience, I recommend staying overnight. There are a bunch of relatively inexpensive hotels and Airbnbs for you to choose from.
Where to Eat in Leipzig
This is by no means a culinary guide, and I’m no expert in gourmet food. That said, here are a few recommendations based on my personal experience.
- For breakfast — Katzentempel Leipzig Ost. It’s an awesome vegan pet cafe with a hearty breakfast and absolutely adorable cats (I counted at least 6).
- For a quick bite — Burrito Company near the central station offers some insanely tasty burritos for just under 10 euros.
- For a cup of coffee and something sweet — Café Kandler features a great selection. And you can also try the Leipziger Lerche desert there.
- For beer — Ratskeller, Bayerischer Bahnhof, or Augustiner Am Markt if you’d rather have the Bavarian classic.
- For dinner — Auerbachs Keller and Augustiner Am Markt both feature a good selection of typical local food.
The Verdict — Is Leipzig Worth Visiting
I ended up in Leipzig almost by accident, heading there without any expectations. And yet, it managed to surprise me, stirred up my curiosity, and left a lasting impression. And so the answer here is simple — if you have a chance, Leipzig is definitely worth visiting.
Leipzig is a modern, lively, and vibrant city that has much going for it already. And yet, it is still in the process of a major transformation that creates strange and sometimes grotesque contrasts. But in my opinion, that only makes it all the more attractive.
I hope you enjoyed this quick guide to Leipzig and got some value out of it. Feel free to ask any questions and if you’re heading there soon, let me know how it went. You would also do me a huge favor by sharing the article with your friends and on social media.
I also have a bunch of other articles that I think you’ll find useful. Feel free to browse around or perhaps check out these recommendations of mine:
- The Best of Heidelberg – 13 Top Things to Do and See
- Charmingly Authentic: Reasons Why Passau Is Worth Visiting
- A Perfect Holiday: Top Things to Do and See in the Mosel Valley
- How to Photograph Burg Eltz – Best Locations, Tips, and Tricks
- Beyond Just Riesling – An Easy Guide to German Wine
- A Land of Wonders: 10 Great Reasons to Travel to Slovenia
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