Lower Saxony’s capital is a university city and economic centre that was once the seat of an Imperial Electorate. The royal line, the House of Hanover, gave the United Kingdom three kings, and also gave this city some splendid properties like the Herrenhäuser Gardens. That mosaic of regal parks and palaces is still Hanover’s big historical attraction.
The Eilenriede park in the middle of Hanover is twice the size of New York’s Central Park, while also in the centre is the Maschsee, a man-made lake with green banks where a big festival takes place in August. The Maschseefest is just one of many major events that unfold in Hanover in summer, from the Spring Festival to an International Fireworks Competition.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Hanover:
1. Herrenhäuser Gardens
The pride of Hanover is a chain of gardens from the days of the Imperial Electors and Kings of Hanover.
The show-stopper is the Great Garden, in a Baroque French style laid out by Electress Sophia of Hanover in the 17th century.
The 50-hectare garden is fronted by a palace and enriched with sculptures, fountains, a box-hedge maze, an orangery and dainty broderies.
The orangery is a stately backdrop for classical concerts, and Sophia’s garden theatre also stages plays and music performances in summer.
That palace was almost obliterated in the war and has only been restored in the last few years.
Since 2013 it has hosted three exhibition rooms for the Hanover Historical Museum, recounting the design of the gardens and the distinguished personalities from Hanover’s past like Wilhelm Leibniz.
Another of the Herrenhäuser Gardens, the Berggarten (Mountain Garden) warrants a separate entry in the list.
It was started as a herb and kitchen garden for the palace, but Electress Sophia picked the Berggarten as a space to grow exotic plants.
An early greenhouse was built in the park in 1686 supporting crops like tobacco and mulberry trees.
Nowadays the park is one of the world’s leading botanical gardens, growing 20,000 plants from 3,000 species.
There are four greenhouses, for tropical plants, cactuses and the subtropical flora of the Canary Islands.
But the main event is the Orchid House, which has Europe’s largest orchid collection, made up of up to 800 plants from 300 species, blooming against deep tropical foliage.
In the 1810s King George III bought an estate to the east of the Great Garden.
The property’s name was changed from the Wallmodenschloss to the Georgenpalais, and the park was renamed Georgengarten.
On a long, slender plot the gardens are in the English style with rambling lawns and groves of mature trees.
Running straight through the park from end to end is the Herrenhäuser Allee, a regal, two-kilometre lime-flanked avenue.
See if you can track down the temple erected in honour the polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.
This dates from the end of the 1780s and was originally at Hanover’s parade grounds, now Waterlooplatz, before being relocated to Georgengarten.
And today the beautiful Georgenpalais houses the Wilhelm Busch museum, which we’ll talk about later.
4. Lower Saxony State Museum
With four very different departments exhibiting fine arts, archaeology, natural history and ethnology, you could say that this museum has a bit of everything.
The Renaissance and Baroque galleries are bolstered by names like Albrecht Dürer, Rubens and Rembrandt, but also a fine collection of 19th-century art by Romantics like Caspar David Friedrich and Impressionists such as Max Liebermann.
Don’t neglect the other departments through, where you’ll come across Bronze Age jewellery, and mummified human remains from Lower Saxony’s moorlands in archaeology.
There are models of dinosaurs and an aquarium in the natural history department, and some 20,000 pieces of traditional art collected from Oceania, Africa, America and across Asia in the ethnology department.
5. Sprengel Museum
Displaying a real who’s who of modern art in Germany, the Sprengel Museum is a cultural attraction that needs to be on your agenda.
The museum was founded in 1979 a decade after the chocolate manufacturer Bernhard Sprengel donated his modern art collection to the city.
This has been bolstered by Lower Saxony’s own art collections and subsequent private donations to stand as a world-class survey of 20th-century art.
Both Expressionist groups, Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter are here, as well as pieces by Picasso, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde and Fernand Léger.
The museum also traces the major trends in art after 1945 and has works by kinetic sculptor Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol and Capitalist Realist artists like Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke.
6. New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus)
Hanover’s resplendent New Town Hall was built at the start of the 20th in a theatrical Historicist style.
With its soaring dome reaching, towers and location in front of the Maschteich pond, the New Town Hall looks more like a palace than a civic building.
Large parts of the interior are open to the public for tours.
Under the dome are four scale models showing Hanover at different stages in its history.
The model that shows the extent of the destruction in the Second World War is an eye-opener.
You’ll be led from hall to hall, and the Hodler Hall is unforgettable for its large mural by the Swiss Symbolist Ferdinand Hodler recording Hanover’s conversion during the Reformation.
A special elevator traces the curve of the dome and carries you to an observation platform almost 100 metres above street level.
7. Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus)
On Marktplatz the Old Town Hall is Hanover’s oldest secular building, first taking shape at the start of the 15th century.
This monument, unmistakeable for its elaborate gables, is also the southernmost example of the Northern German Brick Gothic style.
The earliest section is on the east side, on Schmiedestraße, while the west side, on Köbelinger Straße, where the Town Hall’s pharmacy used to be was updated with a Neo-Romanesque design in the 19th century.
The facade on Schmiedestraße has coats of arms and portraits of Electors and princes, but also a depiction of Luderziehen, an old-fashioned game that is like a tug of war but done by linking little fingers instead of rope.
The 78-hectare, man-made lake near New Town Hall was a product of the Great Depression.
Hanover had long suffered from spring floods, and as a means to ease both flooding and the mass unemployment of the period the city began work on a lake in the floodplain of the River Leine in 1934. An interesting piece of trivia about the lake is that it loses up to a centimetre from its water level every day, and needs to be replenished by a pump station and network of ponds on the south shore.
But for you and me, Maschsee is for watersports in summer, and walks along the leafy shore, which is dotted with public art by Alexander Calder, Georg Kolbe and Arno Breker.
Hanover’s silhouette wouldn’t be the same without the 14th-century Marktkirche in the centre of the Altstadt.
The distinguishing feature is the tower and its four pointed gables.
The story goes that the tower was supposed to be taller, but in the 1360s money ran low because of the Black Death and so a steeple was simply added to the what had already been completed.
Although the church was hit by bombs in the Second World War, a lot of its art is still in place.
You have to allow time to marvel at the three eastern stained glass windows in the chancel, dating to 1370, and the winged high altar from 1480 that has sculpted panels of scenes from the Passion, coated with gold leaf.
The easternmost of Hanover’s old town churches has a history going back to 1163, but was struck by bombs in the war.
The nave and chancel have been left in their roofless, damaged state as a memorial for victims of wars and violence.
The current layout is from the 14th century in the Gothic style, while the tower, which is completely intact was given a Baroque facade at the start of the 18th century.
Inside it is a peace bell donated by Hanover’s sister city Hiroshima, and every 6 August there’s a ceremony in the church and the bell tolls on the hour throughout the day until 18:00.
11. Historisches Museum
Hanover’s historical museum is on “Am Hohen Ufer”, an embankment on the Leine River on the west side of the Altstadt.
Hanover was founded at this location on the road from Bremen to Hildesheim.
The Beginenturm, the last fully preserved city tower, has been integrated into the museum, as well as the remnants of the 17th-century ducal armoury.
The museum will bring you up to speed on Hanover’s complicated past, leading you from the Middle Ages and Welf Duchy, through the Principality of Calenburg and the royal House of Hanover.
You’ll see how Hanover has evolved from a medieval market town to an urban centre over 750 years, and discover how rural life changed in Lower Saxony from the 1600s to the 1900s.
Twice the size of New York’s Central Park, the Eilenriede is a city forest almost in the centre of Hanover.
The western entrance is only ten minutes or so on foot from the Hauptbahnhof.
It is one of the largest connected city forests in Europe, blessed with big swathes of oak and beech woodland interspersed with lawns, water features and playgrounds.
The park was a managed forest, producing timber for 600 years before it opened to the public in the 19th century.
There’s a handful of cafes in the park and also information posts that inform you about the deer, hares, bats and martens that make a habitat in the park.
13. Luftfahrtmuseum Hanover-Laatzen
A U-Bahn ride away in Laatzen to the south of Hanover there’s a riveting little museum on the history of aviation.
It is based on the collection of the enthusiast and entrepreneur Günter Leonhardt, who went as far as salvaging several Junkers Ju 52s from the bottom of a Norwegian lake in the Arctic Circle.
In total the museum has 36 aircraft, together with 30 piston and jet engines and almost 700 models.
Some of the rarer pieces on show are an intact Junkers Jumo 004 turbjet engine, a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, a Spitfire, Messerschmitt Bf 109 and a section from a Ju 52 that you can walk inside.
And from the post-War period there’s a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and a MiG-15.
14. Wilhelm Busch Museum
In the Georgenpalais, this museum holds the largest collection in the world for the revered 19th-century humorist and illustrator Wilhelm Busch.
You can browse paintings, drawings and original manuscripts for works like his satirical illustrated story Max and Moritz.
The museum has also gathered thousands of exhibits for artists from the same period or who have shared Busch’s irreverent worldview.
English satirists like William Hogarth and George Cruickshank are here, along with Francisco Goya, J. J. Grandville and Walter Trier, and some 700 period caricatures of Napoleon.
There are also exhibitions for contemporary satirical cartoonists like Steve Bell, Jean-Jacques Sempé and Tomi Ungerer.
The philosopher, mathematician, diplomat and historian Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz spent 40 years of his life in Hanover and passed away at this Renaissance townhouse in 1716. Well, in truth it wasn’t this exact building, as the actual Leibnizhaus didn’t survive the war.
What we see now is a reconstruction from the 1980s using the original facade but in a different location.
The reliefs around the mullioned windows on that facade are worth a photo.
The interior is used for events, but there’s also an exhibition space with some artefacts from Leibniz’s life.
Most exciting is his Rechenmaschine (adding machine), which expanded on Pascal’s calculator and uses the binary number system, the basis for all modern computers.
16. Hanover Tiergarten
Just past Hanover’s eastern outskirts is a 112-hectare park that was once a hunting ground for the Electors and Kings of Hanover.
You’ll be in no doubt about the great age of the Tiergarten when you see the 650-year-old oak tree at the entrance and the many 400-500-year-old oaks in the park’s extensive woodland.
The Tiergarten remains a game reserve where up to 150 roe, fallow and red can roam freely, and there are also huge enclosures for wild boars.
Living wild in the park are several bat species, owls, hawks, falcons, foxes, badgers and Egyptian geese.
17. Museum August Kestner
Hanover’s oldest museum was inaugurated in 1889 and has wide-ranging collections comprising ancient artefacts from Egypt, Greece and Rome, and several hundred years of European applied art.
The museum venue is deserves a mention as it’s a Neo-Renaissance building inside a cube-like superstructure broken by 5,000 small windows.
Antiquarians will be in their element inside, browsing Etruscan art, Greek vases, mummies, reliefs, papyri and sculptures from Ancient Egypt.
Also awaiting you are medieval manuscripts, and precious textiles, enamelwork, ivory and bronze decorative items up to the Renaissance.
On top of all this is the largest coin collection in North Germany, composed of 120,000 pieces across 2,500 years.
On Ernst-August-Platz, right in front of the main entrance to the Hauptbahnhof is a memorial for the King of Hanover, Ernest Augustus.
His reign lasted from 1837 to 1851, and if you’re interested in the historic connections between Hanover and the British throne, he was the fifth son of King George III and the uncle of Queen Victoria.
Ernest-Augustus is depicted on horseback dressed in full hussar finery.
The bronze statue was cast in 1861 and stands atop a granite plinth inscribed with the sentence, “Dem Landesvater / Sein treues Volk”, which roughly translates to “Dedicated to the father of the country, by his faithful people”.
Like the statue of Ernst-August, this clock is another of Hanover’s traditional meet-up locations.
The clock is in the middle of an eponymous pedestrian zone at the intersection of Georgstraße and Bahnhofstraße.
It’s a rare piece of Classical design in a modern part of the city, going back to 1885 and named after the Café Kröpcke, which sits behind it.
Now the cafe is a big 1970s structure operated by Mövenpick.
Meanwhile the current clock is an exact replica of the first one to stand here, and its glass panels hold posters for the major events or exhibitions taking place in Hanover.
20. Marienburg Castle
If you make one day-trip from Hanover this Neo-Gothic palace about 20 kilometres south of the city would be a good shout.
Resting on the side of the Marienburg Hill, the palace was started in 1857 by King George V of Hanover as a birthday gift for his wife Marie of Saxe-Altenburg.
The reason the Marienburg can’t be missed is that it was uninhabited after the couple were exiled when Hanover was annexed by Prussia in 1860, and so remained perfectly untouched until after the Second World War.
Non-German speakers can take an audio-tour, which guides you up to the top of the 44-metre main tower, and into lavish halls adorned with period furniture from the collection of the Royal House of Hanover.
21. Hannover 96
Hanover was one of the cities selected for the World Cup in 2006, and the HDI Arena (Niedersachsenstadion) was given a refit.
Now it’s a thoroughly modern sporting arena filled with almost 50,000 fans when Hannover 96 play their home games.
As for the team, Hannover 96 have had some difficult years, but as of 2017-18 play at the highest level in the Bundesliga.
Despite not having won the league championship since 1954 full-houses are common and the atmosphere is always electric.
It’s also one of Europe’s few stadiums in walking distance from the city centre, just on the west side of the Maschsee.
The HDI Arena is a cashless stadium, so you’ll have to charge a club card, which you can then use to buy food and drinks during the match.
22. Lüttje Lage
Say you really want to blend in at a bar in Hanover, the best thing to do is to try a Lüttje Lage, if you’re brave enough.
After ordering you’ll be presented with two small glasses, one with old-fashioned top-fermented beer and the other with clear Kornbrand (grain brandy) at a minimum of 37.5% alcohol content.
After that there are a couple of ways to drink your Lüttje Lage.
The old-school method is to pour the liquor on your tongue and rinse it with the beer.
But if you want to show off, you can grip the beer between your thumb and index finger, wedge the Kornbrand between your middle and ring finger, and try to down them both in one go.
23. International Fireworks Competition
If you spend an extended amount of time in Hanover you’ll notice that the city has a love for pyrotechnics.
There are fireworks displays all summer long, from the Frühlingsfest (Spring Festival) beginning in April through to the Oktoberfest in autumn.
And for five nights spread across the summer the city stages the International Fireworks Competition at the Herrenhäuser Gardens in the Great Garden.
Before the countdown to ignition there’s live music, street theatre and all kinds of sideshows.
It all builds up to a world-class pyrotechnics display, combined with music and planned by the best pyrotechnicians in the business.
Over 19 days in August there’s an outdoor festival on the banks of the Maschsee, attended by up to two million party-goers.
The Maschseefest is a celebration of music and gastronomy, with lots of little side events and parties going on for all the family.
Evenings are when things really take off, especially over the weekends, when there are concerts by tribute acts playing the repertoires of bands like U2, ABBA, AC/DC and the Beatles.
All along the north shore of the lake the promenade is overrun by an international array of food and drink stalls, serving up delicacies from Brazil, Spain, Vietnam, Canada, Japan and South Africa, and German staples like Currywurst.