The city of Hanau in Hesse has the moniker, “Brüder-Grimm-Stadt” (Brothers Grimm City). Literature’s favourite sibling collaboration was born in Hanau in 1785 and 1786, and there’s a national memorial to the brothers at the Neustädter Markt (new town market). This monument is at the centre of a grid of streets from the beginning of the 17th century when Hanau was a citadel fortified by bastions.
From that time Hanau gained a high standing for its gold and silversmiths, eventually giving us companies like Heraeus, a world leader in precious and special metals, headquartered in Hanau since 1851. Hanau was then badly hit during the Second World War, which laid waste to monuments like the ancestral palace of the Counts of Hanau.
But the 18th-century Wilhelmsbad spa and Schloss Philippsruhe were unscathed and both radiate Baroque splendour.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Hanau:
Standing before the Neustädter Rathaus is a bronze statue for the Brothers Grimm, placed here in 1896. When the monument was finally unveiled it was the culmination of a 40-year struggle to erect a memorial to Hanau’s most famous sons.
An interesting snippet about the monument is that the monument’s eventual designer, Syrius Eberle, only came third in the initial design competition.
But his design was picked by Wilhelm Grimm’s son, Herman as it best conveyed the work of his father and uncle.
The monument shows Jacob Grimm standing beside a seated Wilhelm and there are allegorical reliefs on the pedestal below.
Two women discovered a spring with supposed curative properties to the northwest of Hanau in 1709. Later that century William I, Elector of Hesse established a stately park and spa complex on the site.
The spring, which was later deemed to have no special characteristics, dried up in 1815, and the inviting English landscape park became a place for leisure and relaxation.
The former spa buildings infuse the quarter with glamour, and today house restaurants and cafes.
There are also old-time sights and attractions like a carousel from 1780 (more on that later), the Comoedienhaus theatre from 1781 and a Romantic ruined castle.
The pyramid in the park was erected in memory of Prince Frederick, the eldest son William I who died at the age of 12 in 1784.
3. Historisches Karussell Wilhelmsbad
When Wilhelmsbad was being landscaped William I tasked his architect Franz Ludwig von Cancrin to come up with something unprecedented: A revolving carousel at the summit of an artificial hill.
Finished in 1780, this was no minor feat as the carousel’s mechanism had to be built underground, and today can be inspected along tunnels on a guided tour.
From a distance the carousel itself looks more like a temple or pavilion thanks to its Doric columns and domed roof.
But once you climb the hill you can marvel at the carved and painted horses and carriages kept behind a protective grill and window.
Since 2016 it has also been possible to ride this 237-year-old attraction on special days, and you can check with the website for the next opportunity.
4. Schloss Philippsruhe
This princely Baroque palace on the Main was commissioned by Philipp Reinhard, Count of Hanau-Münzenberg at the start of the 18th century.
The Wilhelmine interiors are newer, dating to the 1870s when they were reworked by Prince Frederick William.
He spent five years redesigning the property, but would pass away just four years after moving here in 1880. You can come to run the rule over the property, taking in the imperious facade, the masterful gold and wrought iron outer gates and a bronze lion by Christian Daniel Rauch, the foremost sculptor of the day.
The interior has two museums, including Hanau’s historical museum, and you can while away a sunny afternoon by the River Main in the park.
5. Historisches Museum Hanau
The lower floor of Schloss Philippsruhe is all about the history of Hanau and its region.
A map dated to 1665 shows how the city once looked, and you can rummage through a miscellany of uniforms, badges, medals, original documents, paintings, posters and everyday utensils.
These all shed light on vital phases in the city’s history like the German revolutions of 1848-49, the days of the German Empire, the First World War, Weimar Republic and the Third Reich.
The “Beletage” upstairs has been kept as Frederick William intended in his renovation of the palace in the 1870s: The dining hall, ballroom, study and private apartments of the landgrave and his wife Anna of Prussia are untouched.
In the dining hall you’ll also be met by valuable faience from the Hanau manufactory, in business from 1661 to 1806.
6. Schlosspark Philippsruhe
The garden unfolding west of Schloss Philippsruhe is even older than the palace, having first been planted at the end of the 17th century.
The Schlosspark began in the formal Baroque style before being reworked as a English landscape park in the middle of the 19th century.
By the post-war period the park had deteriorated badly, but was completely regenerated for the Hessian State Garden Show in 2002. The two lime tree avenues on the east side and the holm oak hedges to the west hark back to the first Baroque garden 300 years ago.
Right in the middle is a sweet little pond with a fountain, unusual basalt rock formations and hugged by mature ash, lime, maple, chestnut and beech trees.
This Gothic church behind Hanau’s old town hall goes back long before the grid-like Neustadt to the south.
The Marienkirche began as a 13th-century Romanesque chapel and was furnished with a Late Gothic nave and choir in the last decades of the 15th century.
That phase gave us the sublime net vaulting above the choir.
The keystones are decorated with the coats of arms of family of Count Philipp I, who ordered 15th-century extension, as well as those of his wife Adriana of Nassau-Dillenburg and extended family.
You can spot the count’s likeness in one of the carved choir stalls here, while there’s a well-preserved polychrome image of Adriana on her tomb slab nearby.
Joining her on the choir’s northern wall are grave monuments for a line of other Hanau counts from the 15th and 16th centuries.
8. Steinheim Old Town
On the opposite bank of the Main, the district of Steinheim is on the Deutsche Fachwerkstraße, a nationwide tourist route for half-timbered houses.
There are handsome examples from the 17th and 18th century on the cobblestone Platz des Friedens, where you could linger for a while with a glass of Apfelwein.
The whitewashed keep of Schloss Steinheim is hard to miss and is from the 13th century.
You can climb the tower on a guided tour, while on the lower floors is a museum about the Hanau area’s history and prehistory: Check out the ceramics from Bronze Age chamber graves and hoards of Roman coins.
The museum also has caches of Roman armour and weapons dating from the “Limesfall” in the 3rd century, when the Roman army withdrew from its provinces on the east side of the Rhine.
9. Hessisches Puppenmuseum
At the arcaded pavilion in the Wilhelmsbad spa complex is a doll and toy museum that opened in 1983. The Puppenmuseum grew out of the collection of a local resident, Gertrud Rodemann.
In the 1960s she started building a dollhouse for her youngest son, and the hobby snowballed in to a small army of dolls, puppets and toys dating from antiquity to modern times.
A partnership with a doll museum in Tottori, Japan has left this attraction with a diverting Japanese department.
The museum is also a valuable resource for collectors and researchers, and organises temporary exhibitions both for antiques and to showcase the work of modern doll-makers.
10. Deutsches Goldschmiedehaus
Hanau’s Renaissance old town hall has been a museum since the 19th century.
Like the rest of the old centre this lovely gabled and half-timbered monument was damaged in the war, but was restored to its former glory by 1958. Little details also survived like the sandstone relief of a monkey with a mirror, a Medieval symbol for vanity.
Nowadays, the old town hall is the Deutsches Goldschmiedehaus, an exhibition hall for Hanau’s long-standing goldsmith and silversmith trades, and the headquarters for the German Society of Goldsmiths.
Opening times and tour schedules are irregular, so check in advance if you’d like to go inside.
11. Wildpark Alte Fasanerie Klein-Auheim
Cross the main and after a short drive you’ll arrive at a game reserve with more than 40 Central and Northern European animal species.
Many are still native to this part of Germany, like roe deer, fallow deer, wild cats, wild boars, Heck cattle, Thuringian forest goats and lynxes.
But there are also less familiar creatures like polar wolves, moose and bison.
In the aviaries are eagle owls, snowy owls and golden and common pheasants.
Some wildlife, like a colony of grey herons, has also settled on the terrain independently.
The park adds up to more than 100 hectares, wreathed in meadows and pine, ash and mixed deciduous woodland, with 15 kilometres of hiking trails.
12. Hanauer Wochenmarkt
People will travel from as far as Frankfurt and Offenbach for Hanau’s outdoor market, which has been trading since 1597. The Wochenmarkt is open for business every Wednesday and Saturday morning at the foot of the Brothers Grimm monument.
For a mid-sized city like Hanau the market is gigantic, with 100 stalls stacked with fresh produce from farms in Hesse.
You can snap up fresh herbs, fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat and cheese, and as lunchtime approaches you might be tempted by the scent of bratwurst or freshly baked pizza.
Early risers can take advantage of free parking from 06:00 to 08:00.
Less than 15 minutes up the Main is the gorgeous town of Seligenstadt, which was unaffected by the Second World War.
For picturesque half-timbered houses, begin in the Marktplatz and then make your way along nearby streets like Kleine Maingasse, Große Maingassem, Kleine Fischergasse, Große Fischergasse, Steinheimer Straße and Freihofstraße.
Seligenstadt also shines for its religious buildings, like the Einhard-Basilika which has architecture from the life of Einhard, a 9th-century Frankish scholar in the court of Charlemagne.
The town’s Benedictine abbey is also from the 800s, and has a resplendent Baroque library and ceremonial hall (Kaisersaal), as well as an authentic kitchen garden.
The state beverage in Hesse is Apfelwein, which despite the name is more akin to cider.
It has a sharp, sour taste, but can be sweetened by mixing it with lemonade, or made a little more intense by adding calvados (apple brandy). You can order your Apfelwein by the glass or by the pitcher, known as a Bembel.
These stoneware jugs are painted with blue patterns and have been a major part of the Apfelwein ritual for more than 120 years.
Also part of the experience is the glass that the drink is served in, which is known as a “Geripptes”, and has a diamond pattern to refract light and make it easier to grip.
If you find yourself in Hanau at the end of August there’s an Apfelwein festival in Steinheim’s Burggarten.
Steinheim is also the first step on the Hessian Cider and Orchard Trail.
15. Bahnradweg Hessen
Hanau is at the trailhead for a cycling route winding into the volcanic Vogelsberg and Rhön Mountains for more than 300 kilometres.
The stage from Hanau to the village of Glauburg is very light and family-friendly, and has an asphalt path detached from roads.
On this 35-kilometre trail you’ll cross the Via Regia, a Medieval trading route that ran east to west through the Holy Roman Empire.
You can make Glauburg in about 90 minutes, and should make sure to give yourself time for the Bronze Age burial site of a Celtic prince, which was excavated in the 1990s.
One of the objects unearthed in the tomb was an incredible man-shaped stele, which together with a precious gold choker has pride of place at a new museum.