On the right bank of the Rhine between Cologne and Düsseldorf, Leverkusen has only existed as an urban centre since 1975 when a group of towns and districts in the Bergisches Land were incorporated into a city.
One Leverkusen name that will be familiar to all is Bayer, the chemical and pharmaceuticals multinational, founded here in 1863 and still headquartered in the city. Many of the attractions in Leverkusen are connected in some way to Bayer, whether it’s the serene Japanese garden that the company’s CEO planted 100 years ago or the football club that was set up by a group of factory workers in 1904.
Here are the best things to do in Leverkusen:
1. Bayer 04 Leverkusen
The local football club is nicknamed Die Werkself (The Company XI) and as you might guess, came together when Bayer helped a group of its employees start a sports club.
Bayer Leverkusen have been playing in the Bundesliga continuously for the last 40 years.
And although they’ve never actually won the league they’re always in the reckoning and often qualify for European competitions.
In 2002 Leverkusen nearly won the Champions League but a team led by a young Michael Ballack fell at the final hurdle to Real Madrid.
Consult the club’s website for tickets for league matches at the 30,000-capacity BayArena.
As is usually the case in Germany, the atmosphere is laid-back but noisy, and beer and other refreshments are reasonably priced.
If you can’t attend a game there are tours of the BayArena during the week for €9.00.
2. Museum Morsbroich
Schloss Morsbroich in the Alkenrath district has a history beginning around the end of the 14th century, and the current Rococo palace was completed in 1775. This delightful building holds Leverkusen’s municipal museum of contemporary art, which puts on ever-changing temporary exhibitions all year round.
In the collection are pieces by 20th-century big-hitters like Gerhard Richter, Yves Klein, Joseph Beuys and Alexander Calder, while the English landscape garden outside has a revolving sculpture exhibition.
All summer the Morsbroicher Sommer programme has a programme of performances, from jazz and Irish folk music to comedy.
3. Japanischer Garten
Right by the Bayer plant in the Flittard district is a Japanese Garden rated as one of the best parks in Germany.
The man behind it was Bayer’s former CEO, Carl Duisberg who planted the garden on his villa’s grounds in 1912 and then expanded it after a tour of the Far East in the 1920s.
He embellished this 15,000-square-metre space with sculptures and lanterns he picked up on his tour, and planted the garden with all manner of exotic species like chrysanthemums, papyrus plants, Japanese maples and sequoias.
There’s an exquisite teahouse, as well as the Mikado Bridge, a nod to the iconic Shinto shrine in the Japanese city of Nikko.
And finally the ornamental ponds are habitats for turtles and koi carp.
4. Industriemuseum Freudenthaler Sensenhammer
At this former factory on the Dhünn River you’ll step into an entirely preserved late-19th-century industrial facility.
Sickles and scythes were produced in these brick forge buildings from 1837 to as recently as 1987 when the factory closed down.
Very little has changed in decades, and the workers’ houses, industrialists’ villas are part of the tour, as well as the idyllic landscaped garden featuring a dovecote.
The factory’s heavy duty forging hammers were also powered by a hydroelectric plant, the impressive turbines of which are still intact.
On certain days the old hydroelectric plant and mighty forging hammers are kicked into action and the furnaces are reignited to roll back the years.
This park was founded in time for the Landesgartenschau (State Garden Show) in 2005 on the site of the former Dhünnaue worker settlement.
Something that may surprise you about the Neuland-Park is that it was once contaminated land, having been used by Bayer as a waste landfill in the first half of the 20th century.
The 25-hectare site was sealed and cleaned up: 1,000 trees, 100,000 perennials, 85,000 flowers and 22,000 shrubs were planted, while 150,000 square metres of lawn was laid.
There’s a host of themed gardens here (Feng Shui, Witches’ Garden, Bee Garden), a miniature golf course, fitness trail and a several bridges crossing the Dhünn River linking the park with the rest of the city.
6. Wildpark Reuschenberg
In the western end of the vast Reuschenberger Wald is an animal park for European species.
There are 80 different species, almost all of which are native to Germany or Central Europe.
You’ll encounter moufflons, goats, sheep, otters, wild cats, porcupines and deer, all in ample enclosures.
The park also has aviaries housing a range of species from common cranes to birds of prey, while littler kids have a giant playground to run wild in.
And away from the animal enclosures there’s a circular trail leading into the forest and beside lakes and marshes.
7. Villa Römer – Haus der Stadtgeschichte
In Opladen, the local dye manufacturer Max Römer built himself a resplendent Neo-Renaissance villa, which he lived in from 1905 to 1923. Not long after that it became Opladen’s town hall and then the seat of the British military command after the war.
Since Leverkusen’s foundation in 1975 the house has been renovated and the city archives were moved into the ground floor and basement.
On weekends you can come to this grand building to view selections from the archive in an exhibition across six rooms.
This charts the history of this territory from the Stone Age to today, with special interest in the social, economic and political changes since the 19th century.
8. Kolonie-Museum Leverkusen
At Nobelstraße 78 in Wiesdorf you can get a glimpse of life in one of the worker settlements founded by Bayer AG at the start of the 20th century.
The museum is one of the pairs of semi-detached houses built by the factory especially to house its employees, in what were known as “colonies”, which even had their own Bayer-brand department store and are now a German historic monument.
By 1922 there were 1,968 dwellings in Wiesdorf and the town’s population had increased six-fold since the start of the century.
The house is furnished in the style of the 1920s and 30s: The furniture, decoration and utensils are all authentic, and you can come to poke around on weekends.
9. NaturGut Ophoven
On a historic 60,000-square-meter Ophoven estate is an educational park and museum where kids can get in touch with nature and find out about renewable energy.
Outside there’s a hedge labyrinth, an “insect lodge”, an aroma trail, ponds and playgrounds.
And the main exhibition is the EnergieStadt (Energy City), which has games and interactive stations on topics like environmental protection and nature.
Grown-ups might be interested in the history of the estate, which is Frankish in origin and goes back to the 500s or 600s.
The oldest building is a three-room house with mullioned windows, fireplace and oven dating to the 1400s.
10. Leverkusen-Bürrig Water Tower
Wherever you go in Leverkusen you should be able to spot this 72.45-metre water tower rising in the Bürrig district.
The structure is from 1974, and the tank at the top has a diameter of 42 metres, and the total capacity is 4,000 cubic metres.
The tower was refurbished for the Landesgartenschau in 2005 and you can catch a lift up to an indoor observation area.
There’s a bird’s eye view of the Neuland-Park, while further to the south is Cologne’s skyline and on clear days Bonn’s famous Siebengebirge mountains.
Also up here is a small exhibition about the history of Leverkusen and the local utility company EVL, which manages the tower.
11. Bayer Cross
Another fixture on Bayer’s cityscape is the Bayer Cross, the company’s logo rendered in lights above the factory in a sign measuring 51 metres across.
When the Bayer Cross was first raised in 1933 it was a technological marvel and at 73 metres was claimed to be the largest illuminated advertisement in the world.
That first cross was brought down before the war and wouldn’t reappear for another 20 years.
The new version, hoisted in 1958 required 1,710 bulbs and had to be suspended from masts 120 metres tall.
Since 2009 the old energy-guzzling bulbs have been replaced by green, weather-resistant LEDs, which were updated to the latest, state-of-the-art models in 2016.
12. Schiffbrücke Wuppermündung
Where the Wupper River enters the Rhine is a beloved Leverkusen landmark dating back to the 1920s and recently restored.
The Schiffbrücke Wuppermündung is a unique pontoon bridge, with a walkway supported by three boats: These are Einigkeit (Unity), a clipper dating to 1907, Recht (Law), an eel trawler from 1924 and finally, Freiheit (Freedom), a flat-bottomed, Dutch-style tjalk dating back more than 100 years.
The crossing is the last remaining in Germany.
13. Schlosspark Stammheim
Barely five minutes up the Rhine from the Japanischer Garten is a verdant riverside estate on the right bank of the river.
The land was purchased by the von Fürstenberg landowning family in 1818 and later in the century was transformed into an English garden by the Prussian royal landscape architect Maximilian Friedrich Weyhe.
Some 600 trees and 500 shrubs were planted at Stammheim, and were mainly sourced from the nursery at the Cologne Botanical Garden.
Almost 200 years later the park is a very regal place to wander next to the Rhine, and is famed for its long lime-flanked avenues and tall groves of native and exotic trees like acacia, chestnuts, catalpa, Japanese magnolia and ash.
Since 2002 Stammheim has also become a centre of contemporary art for its sculpture garden.
If you’re out and about in the centre of Leverkusen, chances are you’ll find yourself at this mall, which opened in 2010. The building is a sight to behold from the outside as it is crowned by a 5,000-square-metre glass rotunda, containing the town hall and the municipal library.
All the big German retailers await you at the Rathaus-Galerie, like the electronics retailer Saturn, book chain Thalia, fashion brands like S.Oliver and Esprit, as well as popular domestic and international brands like H&M, Gamestop and C&A. And if all that shopping gets you peckish you can pick from sushi, noodles, Indian and fast food chains like McDonald’s and Subway.
15. Opladener Bierbörse
In Opladen there’s a three-day beer festival in the middle of August that has now been going for more than 30 years.
The Opladener Bierbörse has gained cult status over time, welcoming more than 200,000 beer connoisseurs to this meadow next to the Wupper each year.
There are 1,000 different beer specialities for you to taste, most from Rhenish brewers, and no shortage of dining opportunities at the festival’s 100 stands.
At the centre of the fair is a gigantic circus marquee for live music.