Hesse (AKA Hessen), is a state in Germany which offers much for visitors to explore, from bustling cities and sleepy towns to magical castles and palaces.
Most known for Germany’s largest airport (Frankfurt Airport, AKA Rhein-Main Flughafen) and the financial metropolis of Frankfurt, there is actually much more to discover in this region than just one (admittedly very cool) city.
In this list of beautiful places to visit in Hesse, we’ll be sharing some of our favorite destinations in the German state of Hesse, including plenty of gorgeous medieval architecture and some more natural attractions.
We hope you enjoy our recommendations, and be sure to let us know in the comments if there are any Hesse must-sees you would add to our list!
While we don’t think you should only visit Frankfurt while in Hesse, we do still believe a trip to the most populous city in the state is a must.
Frankfurt is known as a major European financial hub, particularly since it is home to the European Central Bank, but it is also a great destination for culture, education, tourism and transportation. The city offers visitors an exciting blend of architecture, with medieval half-timbered houses backed by towering glass skyscrapers.
The Old Town Center is one of the most popular attractions in Frankfurt, which is pretty at all times but especially magical during the festive season when it hosts one of the city’s best Christmas markets. There are a number of notable buildings to explore here, as well as the Historical Museum (Historisches Museum Frankfurt) for learning more about the city.
Like Germany’s capital Berlin, Frankfurt has its own Museum Quarter with around seven different museums for exploring art, history, architecture and film. Don’t miss the rooftop observatory in the 200-meter-tall Maintower as well as the stunning red-brick Frankfurt Cathedral.
One of the most fascinating Hesse places to visit is the city of Wiesbaden, which contains multiple stunning buildings and attractions including the red, neo-Gothic Market Church pictured below, which is the tallest building in the city.
Wiesbaden is the capital of the state of Hesse and one of the oldest spa towns in Europe. The name Wiesbaden actually translates to ‘meadow baths’ and of the original 26 hot springs, 14 are still flowing.
Wiesbaden is just as famous for gambling as for bathing, with a casino that rivals those in Monaco. The Neo-Classical Kurhaus (“spa house”) features a fountain in the front and looks stunning at night.
Along with the rusty-red Marktkirche (Market Church) Wiesbaden contains a number of architecturally notable structures, including the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Elizabeth (with distinctive domed spires) and the beautiful English-style Warmer Damm park.
Marburg is a town located north of Frankfurt that, in our opinion, is one of the most charming places to see in Hesse, due to its gorgeous old architecture that makes you feel like you’re walking around in a fairytale.
The main reason Marburg feels so enchanting is that it suffered very little damage during WWII thanks to its status as a university city, with no targets to be bombed aside from the railway tracks. Today Marburg remains almost completely unspoilt, with many spires from medieval churches watched over by the Marburger Schloss (Marburg Castle) from the hill above the town.
There are lots of lovely bars and cafés lining the Marktplatz, with a fountain in the centre dedicated to St George. Marburg is also home to a number of pretty parks as well as two botanical gardens, one of which is right in the middle of the city next to the university.
While Limburg might also be a province in the Netherlands, the German city of the same name is also one of the best places to visit in Hesse, if only to see the distinctive spires of Limburg Cathedral.
The full name of this city is Limburg an der Lahn, since it’s located on both sides of the Lahn River about 80 kilometres northwest of Frankfurt. The Limburger Dom (Limburg Cathedral) dominates the city, sitting on a rock above the Old Town (with the river on the opposite side) and is instantly recognisable by its painted exterior with seven spires.
Limburg originally developed around the castle of Schloss Limburg, which was first constructed in the 7th century. While it’s still standing, it is rather overshadowed by the stunning cathedral, which is also often mistaken for the castle in photos. Admittedly, they are rather close together though, you can see part of the castle in front of the cathedral in the photo below.
The Old Town area of Limburg contains many timber-framed buildings and is part of the German Timber-Frame Road tourist route. Getting lost among the winding cobbled alleyways is a popular pastime among visitors!
Kassel is a lovely town located on the Fulda River, which is known for containing both the first German observatory and the first permanent German theatre building.
Today the first permanent theatre building in Germany houses the Natural History Museum, which is still worth a visit, although the observatory, which became part of Bellevue Palace, is no longer accessible.
Nonetheless, Kassel offers plenty other sights for visitors to explore, like the Documenta, which is an international exhibition of contemporary art held every five years.
One of the most beautiful parks in all of Europe, and definitely one of the most popular Hesse attractions, is the stunning Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel. This landscape/mountain park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with flowerbeds, water features and the Wilhelmshöhe Palace. The most famous part is a monument of Hercules at the summit of the Karlsberg mountain, with a cascading water feature underneath, which you can see in the picture below.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: It’s free to visit the main part of the park but there are small fees (and you can buy a bundled pass to see all of them for a discount) to enter the Wilhelmshöhe Palace, the Löwenburg, glasshouse or Hercules platform/pyramid. Check the opening hours and buy tickets here.
We love the ‘clever’ names of German cities, with Fulda being another one, named for its location on the banks of the River Fulda!
Jokes aside, Fulda is actually an impressive city with beautiful architecture, particularly the Fulda Cathedral (pictured below). This church is not only the most well-known landmark of the city but it’s also the most important Baroque church in the state of Hesse. Constructed between 1704 – 1721 the church contains the remains of Saint Boniface and is an important place of pilgrimage even today.
Aside from the cathedral, Fulda is home to an entire Baroque quarter, which contains a residence originally built for the prince-abbots and now houses the town hall and a museum. The Residence Garden is equally stunning, with a beautiful Orangerie as well.
The medieval old town of the city still has parts of the city wall and towers to see, as well as plenty of wooden-beamed houses next to pretty courtyards.
While much of Hesse contains beautiful Baroque architecture, the town of Darmstadt is unique in its collection of art nouveau buildings in the Mathildenhöhe district.
This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Jugendstil artists lived in the late 19th and early 20th century, contributing to the art nouveau buildings style which can still be enjoyed today. One of the most famous examples of art nouveau buildings in Darmstadt is the Hochzeitsturm (‘Wedding tower’) which is also commonly known as the ‘Five-Finger-Tower’. This brick tower has five arches on top which does sort of resemble a hand.
Along with art nouveau, Darmstadt offers fine examples of gothic, renaissance and baroque architecture with its many churches, as well as modern architecture like the almost surreal Waldspirale residential complex.
And for those willing to go a little further, overlooking the town of Darmstadt is the castle of Burg Frankenstein, which is believed to be the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s gothic novel of the same name!
Hanau is one of the best things to see in Hesse if you’re into fairytales, as it was the birthplace of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, who famously collected many folk tales which have become known as the tales of the Brothers Grimm.
The 18th-century Baroque-style Philippsruhe Castle (also called the Historisches Museum Hanau Schloss Philippsruhe) is now a museum with a Grimm’s Fairytale Kingdom section for children, ideal for living out any princess fantasties. An annual Brothers Grimm festival is also held in the palace grounds, along with open-air concerts.
Other things to explore in Hanau include the Steinheim Castle museum, a doll and toy museum, a museum all about steam engines (Museum Großauheim) and a railway museum. While much of Hanau’s medieval architecture was destroyed during WWII, there’s still a small and charming Old Town to have a wander in as well.
9. Schloss Braunfels
Schloss Braunfels is a stunning medieval castle and one of the most popular Hesse tourist attractions, at least for those who love visiting magical castles!
The castle sits on top of a mountain 100 metres (328 ft) above the Lahn valley. The first mention of the castle is from 1246, when it was already the seat of the Counts of Solms. It remains in the hands of the counts of Oppersdorff and Solms-Braunfels to this day, but is now also open to the public to discover their own fairytale.
Over the years the castle has been added to and updated, so it has elements of different styles although it looks mainly like a Gothic Revival construction. A visit inside rewards guests with many ancient items on display, including a gothic sword and chainmail from the time of the Crusades, along with beautiful paintings, tapestries and sculptures throughout.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION FOR VISITING: You can only explore the castle interior as part of a guided tour, which costs €9 for adults and €3 for children. If you want a tour in English rather than German you will need to contact them in advance, and also make sure you check the opening times as they vary throughout the year.
10. Kellerwald-Edersee Forest
One of the most beautiful places in Hesse is the Kellerwald-Edersee Forest, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it contains some of the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany.
Along with the beech forests, Kellerwald-Edersee attracts many families and sports enthusiasts since it offers plenty to do. Lake Edersee, in particular, provides multiple beaches, opportunities for windsurfing, cycling routes, fishing spots and a promenade. There are also multiple massive dams and a treetop walk to enjoy.
Kellerwald-Edersee Forest is home to diverse flora and fauna, aside from the protected beech trees visitors might spot woodpeckers, red deer, wild boar, bats or even Eurasian lynxes. If you want to guarantee some wildlife sightings, head to the Wildtierpark Edersee on the southern bank of Lake Edersee, which has wildlife on display along with a petting zoo for children and bird shows.
Heppenheim is a town most famous as the birthplace of four-time Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettel but it’s also one of the cutest places to visit in Hesse.
The Old Town of Heppenheim contains many preserved timber-framed houses, including the impressive Town Hall where the wooden beams are painted red and a fancy clock tower rises above (see the main photo for this article). The Church of St. Peter (which you can see in the photo below) is also located here, commonly known as the “Cathedral of the Bergstraße.”
Overlooking the city from a small hill are the 11th-century ruins of Starkenburg castle, which have been renovated to house a youth hostel. So if you’ve ever wanted to stay in a medieval castle while exploring a romantic German town, now you can and for a bargain price to boot!
Did we miss any of your favorite places to visit in Hesse?
Let us know in the comments so we can add more to our list!