Inside and outside of Germany, Hannover isn't quite known for being the place to be. Which is unfortunate really, because it means most people miss out on the nice surprises the city has in store! Thanks to its big university, Hannover is a very lively place, with lots of festivals and events happening throughout the year. Fairy tale fans will be over the moon about the Royal Gardens and the nearby Marienburg Castle. And with a few strong female characters having left their mark on the city, Hannover could even be described as feminist. Lots to discover obviously and I'm happy to be your guide!
Lunch at Roof Garden | Mehlstraße 2, 30159 Hannover
By now you all know I'm a big fan of anything tropical, so when I discovered Hannover had a beach bar, that is where I headed for our first lunch on Friday. What makes this beach bar extra special is that it is located on the rooftop of a parking garage and that it is huge! Sand, palm trees and views, what more could you ask for? With or without cocktails, you're guaranteed to feel those summer vibes and if you want to grab a bite you can choose from the menu composed of salads, tapas, pizzas and pastas. All for a very affordable price!
Tour of the city by bike
On your first day in Hannover, I suggest taking in as much as possible of its history and unique sights. And the best way to do so is by bike! You can rent one at RAD Station (Radstation 1, Fernroder Straße 2 or Radstation 2, Rundestraße 16) and I would do so for the complete three days of your citytrip.
First stop is the enchanted Aegidien Church (Aegidienkirchhof 1), a symbol for Hannover's tumultuous past. During World War II, Hannover was severely bombed because it was a center for war production. As a result, the city was almost entirely destroyed and it lost most of its historic buildings. The city was quickly rebuilt in the 50s and it has suffered a grey image every since. The Aegidien Church was also targeted during WWII, but instead of removing its ruins, it was decided to keep them and turn them into a memorial (much like this church I mentioned in my London city guide). There is something about ruins covered with greens that always touches me.
Next up is one of the most famous sights of Hannover: the New Town Hall (Trammplatz 2)! Arriving at the foot of the building, I was impressed by its size and ancient look. The building was actually finished in 1913 but its Neo-Historism style fooled me into thinking it was much older. On the inside however, you'll discover a moderate Art Nouveau style. This odd discordance is due to a dispute between the original architect and the city government that resulted in the appointment of a new one for the interior design. Architectural experts would argue this is unacceptable, but I kind of love it. Another particularity of the building is its elevator: it goes up inside the shell of the dome, meaning it has an oblique trajectory. A technical prowess that's one of a kind in Europe! The journey up gives you unseen panoramic views over the city, but be warned that you might have to queue to get there.
After you've taken some heights, get back on your bicycle and head for the Old Town, centered around the Market Church. This part of the city was actually severely damaged too during WWII, but it was rebuilt according to its original look, so it feels as if you're walking through medieval Hannover. The Old Town encompasses only a few streets, but its half-timbered buildings, cobbled streets and lovely squares make it very pleasant to wander through. One of those squares is Ballhofplatz, sometimes called 'Little Paris' for its distinctive atmosphere, and it boasts the perfect location for a sweet break. With its terrace surrounded by lush greenery and flowers, Teestübchen (Ballhofplatz 2) is the most romantic spot for some coffee or tea, with a nice piece of cake (you won't resist having some carrot cake or cheesecake).
Cycle another 3 km and you'll find yourself in Versailles, or at least in the German version of the Gardens of Versailles. The Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen are a masterpiece of Baroque garden art and Hannover has a woman to thank for it: Electress Sophia of the Palatinate was inspired by the Sun King Louis XIV and made her garden her life's work. Dating back to the 17h century, it is one of the best preserved Baroque gardens in the whole of Europe! With its flower bed layouts, statues and fountains, it is a truly mesmerizing place. Make sure to have a look at the 12 themed gardens (the Rose Garden being my personal favorite) and the very special Grotto by French artist Niki de Saint Phalle. What used to be a cave for the ladies to escape the hot summer sun was turned into a magical work of art; three rooms bursting with colors and light through mosaics of glass and pebble stones. I've never quite seen anything like it! And going up the cave, you get a beautiful overview of the gardens.
End your day in the alternative neighborhood of Linden in the West. Formerly the poorest part of Hannover, Linden has evolved into the center of hipster lifestyle. With its mix of students and eccentrics and its cafés and restaurants on every corner, it is definitely my kind of scene! To experience the distinctive vibe of the district, head to Centrum (Lindener Marktplatz 3). On its terrace you'll get to mingle with locals and their menu is a real delight: with its vegetarian variants of German classics such as currywurst, everybody can get a taste of local cuisine at Centrum. Pair it with a German wine and you'll almost feel like a local yourself!
Visit of the Marienburg Castle | Marienberg 1, 30982 Pattensen
If you love fairy tales as much as I do, you will be enchanted by your visit to the Marienburg Castle. The castle in Neo-Gothic style (19th century) is actually a testimony of the love story between King George V (also known as the blind king) and his wife Queen Marie. He gave it to her as a birthday present, but it was Marie who supervised every little detail in the construction of her dream castle. Visiting the rooms of the building, you'll discover intricate wooden ceilings and beautiful floral wall paintings. The 'Queen's Library' and the 'Princess Gallery' will undoubtedly make your jaw drop. After your tour, the courtyard will be your perfect lunch spot. The menu is surprisingly nice, with even a veggie burger in there, and their cakes are the most picturesque. I'm guessing these are a tribute to Marie who personally loved cake and had one in a different shape every day, as proven by the 365 molds found in the castle.
To get to the castle, take the train from the central station to Göttingen and get off at Nordstemmen (I suggest taking it around 10:30). Once you're at the Nordstemmen station, a 10 min cab ride will take you to the foot of the castle (Das Taxi +49 5069 1360). There are trains going back every hour.
Shopping and more in Linden
On Saturday afternoon I suggest going back to the laid-back, hip district of Linden (since it is my favorite neighborhood). In the street going North from Lindener Marktplatz, where Centrum is located, you'll find a few little boutiques and shops that you won't find anywhere else. I do want to warn you that most of these shops close at 14:00 already on Saturday, but some of them are open until 16:00. That is the case for Salon (Lindener Marktplatz 12), a cute concept store for women with German and other European brands, Furnikat (Stephanusstraße 9), a deco store with a gorgeous selection of small items and vintage furniture, and Jäger & Sammler (Stephanusstraße 27), a hip store for the new, sportswear kind of hipsters (think brands such as Champion and Fila).
A little further you'll find yourself on Limmerstraße, the epicenter of Linden with countless bars and restaurants. For afternoon drinks I recommend going to the conveniently called Bar (at nr 25) for its friendly service and trendy interior. And if you're a fan of street art, head to Nedderfeldstraße to discover some high quality art works painted on the buildings of the wealthy Linden-Nord district.
The Internationaler Feuerwerkswettbewerb | The Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen
One of Hannover's most anticipated events is its International Fireworks Competition. For about 20 years now, every summer, five countries compete against each other on five Saturdays in the glorious decor of the Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen. It is one of the biggest fireworks festivals in the world and the exceptional quality of the contestants combined with the unique setting make it a magical experience. For example the 2018 program goes as follows: May 26th Italy, June 9th Norway, August 18th Romania, September 1st Portugal and September 15th New Zealand. The winner is announced on the last Saturday.
To make the best of your evening, buy a blanket, some disposable plates and other goodies in Limmerstraße. Get yourself some food and bubbles at the supermarket close to the hotel and cycle to the gardens. Be there around 20:30, pick a spot in the gardens and have yourself a fabulous picnic. Get closer to the center of the gardens by 22:30, when the show is about to start, and I'm sure you'll have a night to remember.
Visit of the Sprengel Museum | Kurt-Schwitters-Platz, 30169 Hannover
Fans of art of the 20th and 21th centuries cannot miss a visit to the Sprengel Museum. In a concrete jungle, you'll discover contemporary art, but most importantly a collection of modern and post-war art gathered by the chocolate magnate Bernhard Sprengel and his wife Margrit. The collection is really impressive with lots of classic works of art by renowned names such Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger. Another artist celebrated by the museum is Niki de Saint Phalle (the one who designed the Grotto in the Royal Gardens). The French artist developed a special relationship with the city after the installation of her three Nanas on the Leibnizufer in 1974. The voluminous and colorful women raised a lot of protest from the inhabitants at the time, so much that the events got covered in the press worldwide and Niki de Saint Phalle suddenly became famous. She was made an honorary citizen of Hannover in 2000 and she donated 300 of her works to the Sprengel Museum.
If you're not in the mood for culture and the sun is out, you could also spend your Sunday morning cycling around the Maschee Lake. The tour around the lake is about 6 km long and it's a favorite recreational area among locals to get some holiday vibes without leaving the city.
Lunch at Lieb.es | Engelbosteler Damm 15, 30167 Hannover
For your last lunch in Hannover I recommend going to Nordstadt, the other alternative neighborhood, to discover the hip spot Lieb.es. In an industrial interior enhanced with cosy corners and soft couches, you can have an amazing lunch or brunch (from 09:00 to 14:00) for a very decent price. With lots of veggie options and healthy yet delicious plates, it is real 'Gerrit and the City' material. Think smoothies, salads, tartines, buddha bowls and pastas. The service is kind, the playlist is nice and the atmosphere is really chill so you'll probably end up staying for a while.
There are direct flights taking you from Brussels to Hannover in less than one hour. The train (the so-called S-Bahn) will take you from the airport to the central station (called Hauptbahnhof) in about 30 min. The Grand Hotel Mussmann has the perfect location, right in front of the station!