The largest city in Saxony-Anhalt, Halle is a former ducal town rich in history. The Baroque composer George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685 and lived here to the age of 18. His birthplace has been preserved, and you can call in at the churches where he was baptised and played the organ.
The site of Handel’s baptism, the Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen also witnessed sermons by Martin Luther in 1545 and 1546 that rocked the Catholic church to the core. All through the Middle Ages up to 1680 Halle was part of the Archbishopric of Magdeburg, whose ruling archbishop-electors founded stately castles in the city at Moritzburg and the Neue Residenz.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Halle:
1. Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen
One of Central Germany’s finest Late Gothic churches, Halle’s 16th-century Marktkirche is unmissable thanks to its four towers.
These are four of the five towers that give Halle its nickname “Stadt der fünf Türme”. That unusual pair towers on the east side are watchmen’s towers and were linked high up by a bridge.
Martin Luther preached at the Marktkirche three times, and 140 years later, George Frideric Handel was baptised here.
Luther’s death mask and casts of his hands are kept in a small museum under the blue towers.
The bronze 15th-century baptismal font used for Handel’s baptism in 1685 is still on display.
Handel received his first organ lessons on the small organ above the altar, while Johann Sebastian Bach played the organ in the west gallery when it was inaugurated in 1716.
2. Halle State Museum of Prehistory
Saxony-Anhalt’s archaeological discoveries are shown in chronological order at this world-class museum.
The permanent exhibition begins at the start of the Stone Age and ends in the early Iron Age, roughly 2,000 years ago.
If there’s one item that you absolutely have to see, it’s the Nebra sky disk.
This bronze disc, 30 centimetres in diameter was dug up 60 kilometres away and dates back 3,600 years.
The Nebra sky disk is the oldest known representation of the night sky, depicting the stars, sun and crescent moon.
The work is so sophisticated that it was believed to be a forgery until its age was verified scientifically.
Look out for the museum’s famous special exhibitions, which have covered topics as diverse as alchemy, Pompeii, mammoths and scared art in recent years.
The Baroque composer George Frideric Handel was born at this Renaissance complex in 1685. His father, Georg had purchased the property in 1666, and the building itself dates back to at least 1558. The tradition of painting the facade yellow is from the first half of the 17th century, when the house was known as the Zum Gelben Hirsch (the Yellow Stag). The museum has three main strands: Handel, the musical history of the Halle region and a collection of historic musical instruments.
With 160 exhibits in chronological order you can track Handel’s early life in Halle and then his career in Europe from 1703 to 1759. There’s a mini Baroque theatre where you can watch an animated Handel perform, while that trove of instruments has 700 pieces including a Ruckers harpsichord made in Antwerp in 1599.
4. Halloren Chocolate Factory
In Halle since the start of the 19th century The Halloren Chocolate Factory is the oldest chocolate factory in Germany still in business.
More than two centuries of chocolate-making expertise is revealed at the museum, which has puzzles for little ones, antique chocolate-making equipment and multi-sensory installations like a listening station and scent wall.
At the “Pralineum” you watch Halloren’s chocolatiers in action behind a pane of glass and see firsthand the skill that goes into making pralines.
And then there’s a chocolate gallery, where 1.5 tons of chocolate has been processed into works of art.
Fourteen streets in Halle lead to the city’s 16,000-square-metre Marktplatz, hosting many of the monuments on this list like the Marktkirche and Roter Turm.
People have been trading at Marktplatz since the 1100s when the first communal warehouse (a forerunner to department stores) was established for Halle’s dressmakers and fabric traders.
There’s a daily market from 09:00-18:00, Monday-Saturday, and the stalls for Halle’s Christmas market trade here.
One of the landmarks not on this list is a 3.20-metre statue of Handel, erected in 1859 on the 100th anniversary of his death.
He is pointing in the direction of England, his second home and burial place.
Beside that monument is the elegant Stadthaus (City Hall) in a Gothic and Renaissance Revival style from the 1890s.
6. Roter Turm (Red Tower)
Halle’s fifth tower is also the tallest, rising to 84 metres on Marktplatz just a few metres from the Marktkirche.
The tower was 88 years in the making, and was completed in the Late Gothic style in 1506. If you squint you can just make out the cluster of 246 spikes on the gilded orb at the very top of the spire.
As a free-standing campanile Halle’s Roter Turm has no equivalent in Germany.
The tower has a carillon of 76 bells, the largest in Europe with a total weight of almost 55 tons.
The smallest weighs only 10.7kg, while the largest is known as Dame Händel and at 2.36 metres in diameter is the third-largest playable bell in the world.
7. Kunstmuseum Moritzburg
Saxony-Anhalt’s art museum is in the residence of the Archbishops of Magdeburg.
The palace is an Early Renaissance building from the turn of the 16th century but was obliterated in the Thirty Years’ War a century later and stayed in ruins.
In 2010 the palace was adapted into a modern design by Spanish architecture firm Nieto Sobejano.
The courtroom and banquet hall are historic and their coffered ceilings and wood-panelled walls reveal the splendour of the original palace.
The 19th-century galleries have paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, Anselm Feuerbach and Max Klinger, along with sculpture by Rodin and Maillol.
In the modern halls, there’s a superb array of art by Lyonel Feininger, Klee, Klimt, Kandinsky, Kirchner, Ernst and many more luminaries of Symbolism, Expressionism and New Objectivity.
West of the Altstadt, on the opposite bank of the Saale is Post-War Germany’s largest construction project.
Begun in the 1960s and built for Halle’s chemical plant workers, Halle-Neustadt was a socialist model city for 100,000 people.
Neustadt was designed to be healthy, modern and comfortable, but also instil an ideology in its inhabitants.
In these monolithic concrete towers all apartments were aligned to capture the sun, and distances between amenities was minimised to avoid traffic.
Almost half of all the space was allocated as parkland, while the rapid transit railway delivered workers to their factories in a matter of minutes.
Now, the development has seen better days, and plans are being floated for regeneration.
9. Stadtgottesacker (City Cemetery)
Originally east of the city walls, the Stadtgottesacker is a Renaissance cemetery created in 1557. The design is based on Pisa’s Camposanto Monumentale, and the complex is seen as a masterpiece of German Renaissance architecture.
The cemetery is enclosed by a wall, and facing inwards are 94 beautifully ornamented arcades sheltering tombs.
In 1882 a survey determined that 92 different stonemasons worked on the reliefs on the arcades.
Above the arch on the inner entrance there’s a relief portrait of the cemetery’s designer Nickel Hoffmann.
You can also locate the graves of some important personalities like Georg Händel (father), the 17th-century philosopher Christian Thomasius and 18th-century Lutheran clergyman and philanthropist August Hermann Francke.
10. The Francke Foundations
August Hermann Francke’s contribution to Halle is this orphanage and school founded in 1695. Within 30 years the Francke Foundations had become a large educational complex with teacher training facilities and even businesses like a publishing house and pharmacy.
In line with Reformation ideals Francke’s plan was to provide an education for children regardless of social strata, based on practical learning and taking into account the individual needs of every child.
Those educational concepts were unheard of at the time, and you can take a tour of the site, which includes the “Lange Haus”, the longest half-timbered building in Europe.
A high point is Francke’s Cabinet of Artefacts and Curiosities begun as an educational tool, and rich with natural and man-made objects like minerals, plant specimens, art and coins.
11. Hallors and Saline Museum
Salt has been processed in Halle since the Bronze Age.
That is down to the saline wells, a geological curiosity oddity producing concentrated brine.
The name Hallors comes from a brotherhood of salt-workers founded at the end of the 15th century.
They work to preserve Halle’s salt heritage to this day.
This museum is in the old Royal Prussian Saltworks, preserved facilities from the 1700s to the 1900s.
Here you can see how the brine was boiled in ceramic evaporation vessels to produced salt crystals.
Even as a museum the saltworks produce 70 tons of salt a year, all sold to local businesses.
There are also glass cases containing ceremonial artefacts related to the brotherhood like cups and trophies dating back to the 17th century.
12. Hallescher Dom
Halle’s Cathedral dates to the 13th century and is the oldest church building in the city.
What started out as a simple Dominican monastery church was transformed in 1520 by Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Magdeburg.
Together with the Neue Residenz palace next door he constructed the most powerful monastery north of the Alps at the time.
The church is 68 metres in length and has three naves, and Germany’s first example of a rounded gable on its facade.
The interior is still rich with Renaissance art, the best of which is the cycle of 17 statues on the pillars, dating to 1525 and depicting Christ and the Apostles.
Handel was organist at the Hallescher Dom for a year in 1702-03.
13. Neue Residenz
The other showpiece of Cardinal Albert’s reconstruction project was a lavish Renaissance palace next door to the cathedral and built in 1531. Hints of Italian Renaissance architecture are visible in its arches and courtyards.
In its heyday the two-storey building was described as the richest in Central Germany and although not much of that glory has made it to the 21st century it’s an engrossing place to be.
Albert’s coat of arms has been preserved on the facade facing the street, and in the summer you can go through to the courtyard.
In August there are performances during the annual Handel Festival.
And over the last ten years the gardens are redecorated every year with a different theme as part of an initiative to help the city’s long-term unemployed.
14. Beatles Museum
On Alter Markt, in a grand Baroque residence from 1708 is a museum for a more modern music phenomenon.
Beatles fanatic Rainer Moers built up a collection of memorabilia for the Merseyside group from 1964 to 1975, covering the lifespan of the Beatles (1960-1970) and the artists’ solo careers.
The museum was a travelling exhibition at first before settling in Halle in 2000. There are 3,500 exhibits for almost anything Beatles-related, be it vintage posters, autographs, stamps, rare LPs, photos, magazines or fan souvenirs.
15. Zoologische Garten Halle
Halle’s zoo is often called Bergzoo (Hill Zoo) as it clings to the 130-metre Reilsberg in the north of the city.
The terrain around the enclosures may be steep, which can be tricky if you have kids under five.
But there are constant views of the city, which are most memorable from the lookout at the top.
The zoo was founded in 1901 and since Reunification almost every habitat has been reconfigured.
The indoor crocodile house for example has alligators and crocodiles in a heated environment, while iguanas and exotic birds are able to roam freely in the tropical house.
The newly renovated big cat enclosures have Southwest African lions, jaguars and Malaysian tigers, while attached to this is a “predator house” for boa constrictors and agamas.