On the Mittelland Canal in Lower Saxony, Wolfsburg is a very young city, at no more than 80 years old. You could say that Wolfsburg owes its existence to one car, the VW Beetle, which first came off the production line in 1938. Over the next few decades a whole city was built for the Volkswagen plant’s workers, and architects of world standing like Alvar Aalto were hired for the job.
As you’d imagine, Volkswagen and cars in general are front and centre of Wolfsburg’s tourist appeal. The Autostadt is a heaven on earth for car fans, a futuristic park where brand new VWs are transported automatically from the factory and stacked by robots in two silos.
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Wolfsburg:
“Automobile City” in English, Autostadt, next to Wolfsburg’s Volkswagen factory, is many things rolled into one cutting-edge attraction.
There’s a museum on the history of automobiles, which we’ll come to next, as well as a delivery centre where customers are presented with their newly-minted Volkswagen to drive home.
You can also test drive cars at the Autostadt, including the 4×4 Volkswagen Touareg on an off-road course.
And hundreds of new VWs are stacked in two 60-metre silos and are automatically conveyed here from the factory along a 700-metre glass tunnel.
The Autostadt also has seven pavilions, each for a different car manufacturer.
We’ll talk about the sleek Porsche Pavilion later, but you have to see the Premium Clubhouse, which has top-of-the-line sports cars like a Bugatti Veyron.
In a sensational glass building in the Autostadt is a multi-brand car museum chronicling the 130-year history of the automobile.
The museum has picked out a host of epochal vehicles that represent a leap in the evolution of the car, based on criteria like production methods, design concept, appearance or the vehicle’s technology.
In the exhibits are a replica of the Benz Patent-Motorwagen from 1888 and the first VW Beetle, personally driven by Ferdinand Porsche.
Among the many other classics are the Volkswagen Type 2 van from 1949, a Jaguar E-Type and a Porsche 356.
3. Volkswagen Factory Tour
You can also contact the Autostadt to arrange a two-hour guided tour of the Volkswagen factory next door.
Covering five square kilometres, Wolfsburg’s VW factory is one of the largest and most advanced car production facilities on the planet.
Some of the marvels that will greet you are a press shop that processes 1,500 tons of sheet metal a day, and then the automated body shop, paint shop and assembly line where the cars are completed before your eyes.
After this intensive, multilingual tour you’ll know pretty much everything worth knowing about how VWs are made.
4. Porsche Pavilion
Fitting for one of the world’s most revered sports car brands, the Porsche Pavilion at the Autostadt is a thing of beauty.
This smooth building, clad with brushed metal, mimics the classic curves of a Porsche car and was built by Henn architects in 2012. A curved ramp carries you down to a showroom where the latest models like a Panamera, Boxter and 911 are on show, together with historic models that go back to the brand’s origins after the Second World War.
Beside the vehicles there’s a couch with tablet computers recounting Porsche’s story.
5. AutoMuseum Volkswagen
Separate from the Autostadt, the AutoMuseum Volkswagen is all about the brand and can be found on the south side of the Mittelland Canal opposite the Allerpark.
The setting is a former textile factory and the museum has 140 vehicles, from the first VW Beetle to futuristic concept cars.
The original Beetle is naturally the darling, and you can track 75 years of production, up to the final model that rolled off the production line in Mexico in 2003. Some other cool models to keep on your radar are an Iltis that competed in the Paris-Dakar rally in 1980, a rare Pininfarina-designed type 4 prototype from 1966, a Pirelli Golf I from 1983 and a graceful Karmann-Ghia Type 14 coupé from 1972.
6. Wolfsburg Castle
The city’s namesake monument, Wolfsburg Castle started life as a lowland fort at the turn of the 14th century.
As the nature of conflict and land ownership changed down the years, the owners, the knights of von Bartensleben turned the property into a luxurious Weser Renaissance palace in the 1500s.
The grounds that had previously been the outer defences, became sumptuous gardens enhanced by the old moat, and are now the serene public Schloßpark.
The buildings house some of Wolfsburg’s municipal and cultural institutions, and put on events and exhibitions all year round.
Take a peek at the small museum on the long history of the castle, and the short history of Wolfsburg as a city.
7. Phaeno Science Center
Right next to Wolfsburg’s Hauptbahnhof, Phaeno is an interactive science museum in a spellbinding building designed by Zaha Hadid.
At more than 350 hands-on stations kids and grown-ups can get to grips with scientific concepts.
The stations are all arranged according to six different themes: Life, Vision, Energy, Dynamics, Mind and Mathematics, and many were designed in collaboration with artists.
Everything is guided by the principle that fun and playfulness can help kids learn.
They’ll be able to control maglev trains, see a six-metre fire tornado, play with static electricity, interact with robots and that’s just the beginning.
8. Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
The city’s main art museum was founded on the south side of Wolfsburg’s pedestrian zone in 1994. In a city only 80 years old it makes sense that the art should be contemporary and modern.
The collection has around 400 pieces for movements like Arte Povera, concept art and Minimalism.
This is normally brought out for thematic exhibitions, when you can expect to see works by big-hitters like Olafur Eliasson, Christian Boltanski, Bruce Nauman and Jeff Wall.
But it’s the visiting, short-term exhibitions that draw the most visitors and acclaim.
In the two decades since the museum opened there have been shows for artists as diverse as Giacometti, Man Ray and contemporary figures like the photographer Pieter Hugo and installation artist Jeppe Hein.
Germany’s largest public leisure area, the Allerpark is 130 hectares in size and has a wealth of attractions and facilities in its boundaries.
The park is little more than 15 years old, but in that short timeframe a host of projects have furnished it with major venues like the Volkswagen Arena, AOK Stadium (Home to VfL Wolfsburg’s women’s team), but also smaller attractions like a water sports centre, artificial beach, hockey rink, swimming complex, bowling alley, high ropes course and disc golf course.
Surrounding around arenas and attractions there’s lush greenery, centring on the massive Allersee lake.
10. VfL Wolfsburg
Many sports fans may know Wolfsburg because of the professional football team that was founded by VW factory workers when the city was just seven years old in 1945. Until 1992 VfL Wolfsburg were playing amateur football, and won their first promotion to the Bundesliga in 1997. In the last decade or so Die Wölfe (The Wolves) have been one of the most successful outfits in the league after Bayern Munich, and in 2009 they clinched their first and only title.
Like nearly all Bundesliga stadiums the 30,000-capacity Volkswagen Arena is a supreme place to watch football, with up-to-date facilities, cheap tickets (€15.00 for standing) and a boisterous but well-behaved crowd.
If you come outside the season or can’t get tickets there are 90-minute stadium tours from Tuesday to Friday (14:00) and on the weekends (11:00 and 13:00).
With the largest stargazing dome in Lower Saxony, Wolfsburg’s planetarium opened in 1983 and can present 9,000 stars at once.
Everything was brought up to date in 2010 when the planetarium was equipped with six state-of-the-art projectors manufactured by the optical instruments brand Carl Zeiss.
Before you go in for a show there’s an interactive lab in the foyer with touch screens allowing you to explore the solar system and individual planets.
And as for the shows, these can be about the moon, solar system, constellations, and the possibility of aliens, but also terrestrial topics like orchids and tropical reefs.
12. Burg Neuhaus
A ten-minute drive east of the city is another absorbing historic monument.
Burg Neuhaus is from 1371 and was home to the knights of the Rotherhof line.
There’s nothing random about the castle’s location, as it controlled trade routes between Lüneburg and Leipzig, and Bremen and Magdeburg.
Unlike Wolfsburg Castle Burg Neuhaus has kept its rough and ready Medieval character, and is held as one of North Germany’s best preserved moated castles.
The inner courtyard, defended by 20-metre-high stone walls is a venue for all manner of events, like an artisan market in autumn.
And inside there’s an informative museum about the building, with models, excavated artefacts and a genuine medieval suit of armour.
13. Schloss Fallersleben
The last of Wolfsburg’s trio of historic properties, Schloss Fallersleben is a Renaissance palace ordered in 1521 by Francis, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who died before the building was completed.
Much later, at the end of the 18th century the palace would be the birthplace of the poet August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben.
He is most famous for scribing Das Lied Der Deutschen, the third stanza of which is the German national anthem.
There are insights about Fallersleben’s education and childhood, as well as his political and intellectual contributions to German life in the 1800s.
The palace’s carved timbers and stuccowork are also in great condition, and you can look down into the historic cellars, which were excavated and then covered with glass in the 2000s.
14. Heilig-Geist-Kirche und Gemeindezentrum
As Wolfsburg expanded in the 1950s and 60s, one of the most acclaimed architects of the period was commissioned shape the city.
Alvar Aalto contributed the Stephanuskirche and the Aalvar-Aalto-Kulturhaus, both of which are listed monuments.
But his masterpiece in Wolfsburg is the Church of the Holy Spirit, seen as one of the outstanding pieces of the International Style.
The church, pastorate, children’s day-care centre and community hall are all rolled into one seamless complex in a garden environment.
The bell-tower is totally open and stands at 32-metres,holding four bells, while the sparsely decorated inside has a sinuous wood-panelled ceiling.
The antependiums in the main hall were woven by Elissa Aalto, and the community hall has lithographs by Marc Chagall.
15. Tierpark Essehof
Southwest of Wolfsburg about halfway to Braunschweig is a mid-sized zoo with about 50 different animal species.
The zoo first opened in 1968, and in the last couple of decades has been given a total overhaul.
Now in large, natural-looking habitats there are 260 animals like gibbons, meerkats, raccoons, kangaroos, zebras, watusi cattle, ostriches and emus.
One of the newer additions is an underwater station, with a glass panel that lets you observe freshwater species three metres below the surface of a pond.
The park also has European domestic species like Toggenburg goats and racka sheep with strange twisting horns.