Judging by some of the reactions I have had to my recent weekend away in Hannover, it’s not top of people’s list for a short break in Germany. And it’s true that it’s probably pipped by the likes of Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Cologne.
But this doesn’t mean it’s not worth spending some time here – the sheer fact that it’s small, with just a few attractions, makes it ideal for a short trip away.
Here’s some of the reasons I think Hannover is a place that you really shouldn’t overlook:
1. It’s an incredibly green city
I have to admit that despite there being a small, albeit attractive, old town, some parts of the centre – those that were rebuilt after the World War II Allied bombings – wouldn’t win any prizes for architectural beauty. However, if you look beyond this, you’ll see that Hannover is one of the greenest cities in Germany. There are parks, royal gardens, rivers and lakes, and the 1,600 acre Eilenreide (which is actually a city forest, and is twice the size of New York’s Central Park). These provide ample opportunities to escape the city streets and get some fresh air on your mini break.
A short walk from the old town there is also the Maschsee, a man-made lake, spanning almost 80 hectares. The building of this was initiated by the Nazi Party in the early 1930s using local labour and as an attempt to reduce unemployment.
It’s now a beautiful spot to walk around and is a lively and buzzy meeting place in the early evening (the only thing I didn’t like here was the column sitting on one corner of the lake which still, bizarrely, sports a Nazi symbol on its side).
2. It has some amazing gardens that you really shouldn’t miss
I’ve already written about the royal gardens at Herrenhausen and you really should not miss them when you’re in the city. There are three gardens – all different in nature and design – so you may have to choose just one or two if time is tight.
For a complete contrast in experience, I’d suggest the Grosser Garten and Bergartten, one an immaculately pristine geometrically lawned garden with Europe’s highest fountain; the other a wilder, more botanical, garden. The third – the Georgengartten – is modelled on an English landscape garden. Whichever one you choose, you won’t be disappointed.
3. It might be small, but it has a picturesque old town
The city suffered during the Allied bombings and as a consequence the old town that remained is quite small. But it’s still a great place to wander. We started with a stop at the Aegidienkirche church – this is now essentially the shell of the original building, the interior having been another casualty of the bombing raids. But despite this, it’s still really beautiful and definitely worth seeing with its vines climbing haphazardly over the inside walls.
We then wandered through some of the old streets and down to the Leine river, past the ornate Holzmarket fountain which stands outside the Leibniz House (named after the 17th and 18th century philosopher who lived here). Along the river there are a few bars and restaurants that are pleasant places to sit outside on a sunny day; you’re also sitting within metres of the remains of one of the old city’s gates.
There are two Rathaus’ worth seeing – the Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) and New Town Hall (Neue Rathaus). Both are remarkable buildings, but for me the New Rathaus won me over.
I also particularly liked the Ballhofplatz Square – a great area to relax in with afternoon tea or early evening drinks. In the evening, it was a little less noisy than some of the other parts of the old town and had deckchairs to sit outside in (blankets are provided for those chilly autumn evenings) and a relaxing water feature to listen to while you while away your time.
4. You can ride in a tilted elevator for incredible views over the city
I imagine there can’t be many places where you can ride in a tilted elevator. You’ll find one though in the Neue Rathaus, a short walk from the centre. In just a few minutes, you’ll be over 97 metres high at the top of the building’s dramatic dome peering out over the city with spectacular views (this is a good place to see the scale of the Maschsee lake). It costs €3.50 for adults and €2 for children and you do have to queue. It’s definitely worth it though (note, however, that the lift only operates between the end of March and November).
After you’ve done this there are also two other things you really should not miss: firstly, a visit inside the Neue Rathaus to take a look at the replicas on display of how the city was laid out at various points in its history, including after the Allied bombings where you can see that vast swathes of Hannover were destroyed.
Secondly, make sure you go around the side of the building and to the back – here you see that the Neue Rathaus is sitting on a lake and is an absolutely stunning building – if you’re lucky with the light you will be able to see the building beautifully reflected in the water. Miraculously, the Neue Rathaus was one of the few buildings to escape the war without major damage.
5. There are some interesting towns a short hop away
If you have time, you might also enjoy visiting a few of the small towns a short distance from Hannover. These include Hamelin, Celle and Goslar. We opted for Celle (mainly because of the timing of the trains on a Sunday) and headed off for a quick look and afternoon tea. It took us around 30 minutes to reach Celle on the train and then it’s a 25-minute walk from the station to the town’s centre.
Some of this walk is along the road, but after a while you can take a short turning to the left which takes you through a leafy park and onto to a riverside walk. You’ll then see Celle castle – part of the Royal House of Hannover – before walking across the river and into the old town.
The old town here is quite something – there are literally more than 500 half-timbered and timbered medieval buildings. This was a fascinating detour on our trip to Hannover.
I hope I’ve convinced you that Hannover is worth considering for a short break. I’ve written about “slow burner” destinations before and I’d definitely say that Hannover was one of those places for me – there’s certainly more here than meets the eye and your time spent here will be time well spent.