Summary: A beautiful city, to be sure, but one that offers few exciting experiences for the average person.
For a curious traveler, Wiesbaden offers something that most German cities do not: a beautiful old town. The city sits in the middle of the Rhine-Main Urban Region alongside the other major cities of Mainz, Frankfurt, Hanau, and Darmstadt. To see why Wiesbaden is especially beautiful, look at the levels of wartime destruction and spot the outlier: Mainz (80% Destroyed), Frankfurt (85%), Hanau (97%), Darmstadt (90%), and Wiesbaden (25%).
However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and what the city of Wiesbaden offers to the traveler is much different than what you might expect. Mainz and Frankfurt are ancient cities with histories dating far back into antiquity. Their prewar cityscapes were filled with buildings from every period of history, ranging from narrow alleyways of half-timbered homes to wide avenues of Victorian-age apartment blocks. For most of history, Wiesbaden was a village, and its visible history only began in 1815, when it became the capital of Nassau.
Aside from a handful of reconstructed Roman Ruins, a castle ruin, and the heavily renovated Renaissance town hall, the oldest preserved building in Wiesbaden is the Crown Prince’s Palace from 1816. The vast majority of the buildings date from the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. The result is a cityscape that resembles the Paris of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who orchestrated a multi-phase renovation and expansion of the city in the same period. However, unlike Paris, Wiesbaden is a provincial town that happens to have some grandiose architecture.
Here is where I have to qualify my recommendation to see Wiesbaden: do you like old 19th-century buildings? If you do, then the atmosphere provided by the Gründerzeit and Historicst architecture is the best Germany has to offer. Spectacular streets and monuments of the late 19th century are everywhere, and the historical immersion is fantastic. Do you like exciting foods, museums or want to see half-timbered houses and ancient cathedrals? Then no, Mainz is the better destination, and you will find Wiesbaden quite dull.
Should you visit Wiesbaden?
Wiesbaden scores above average as a tourist destination. As the capital of Hesse, it has ample accommodation and dining to support the tourist volume it receives. There will be no need to reserve a restaurant or hotel months in advance. It is also easy to reach, at most 30 minutes away from Frankfurt by train.
However, that’s where the overtly positive side ends. The city loses points in my book simply because there is so little to do except walk around (see Interaction). Unlike other major tourist attractions, there is no individual sight or museum to draw your interest, e.g., no big cathedral or ancient castle. It doesn’t help that Wiesbaden is, by European standards, a young city and lacks the traditions that typically accumulate over time, so no traditional food, events, or activities to otherwise occupy your time. As a result, Wiesbaden gets a six for this category.
Unless you want to go gambling, Wiesbaden has one of the most spectacular Casinos in Europe. This fully preserved original 19th-century gambling house served other legendary players like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.
The main attraction for Wiesbaden is the immaculately preserved cityscape from the middle to late 19th century. Wiesbaden has the only preserved districts from this period in Germany that are explicitly worth visiting. While every German city has a few preserved streets from this period, in Wiesbaden, you can experience total immersion into the age of the Belle Epoch.
Some truly spectacular streets and avenues transport you back in time to the age of industrialization. The sheer epic scale of the Marktkirche and Townhall evokes an era of exorbitance. It’s hard not to be inspired by the architecture of the new German state. However, it would help if you had an explicit interest in this period of human history to appreciate it. The oldest building dates to around 1816 (aside from the Roman Ruins), so there are no mighty cathedrals or ancient castles to explore.
The only place it loses points is primarily the result of poor urban planning in the 1970s, especially in the historical Pentagon. I give Wiesbaden a 9 out of 10 for historical preservation, among the best for major German cities.
Wiesbaden was a planned city of the late 19th century, a new capital for a new state: Nassau. With a shorter history than the US, there is little historical scope for the development of cultural traditions like festivals or local food. For that, you would be encouraged to visit Mainz across the Rhine, a city with traditions dating back to Roman times.
Wiesbaden also suffers from being an extremely wealthy city due to its beautiful buildings and capital city status. The result is a very dull and uninteresting urban life. There is no nightlife, and few decent bars and restaurants tend to be either fast food or high-end establishments. The streets are eerily empty even during peak hours in the summer, and overall the city feels somewhat lifeless. This is good for a tourist trying to escape the hordes in Mainz, but it is kind of sad for a city as beautiful as Wiesbaden.
One of the significant downsides of Wiesbaden is the challenging nature of interacting with the city. Several factors contribute to this. Firstly, getting around the city can be tricky. First-time visitors shouldn’t walk, as the distances can be quite long. Instead, I recommend traveling by bus or car to the city center. However, this may not be immediately apparent to visitors.
Then there are the touristic activities of walking around and looking at things from a distance. Regarding things to visit, you have two interesting churches, the Marktkirche and Bergkirche, but neither truly impresses. The Landesmuseum has some interesting exhibits but doesn’t compare to its counterparts elsewhere. There is potential, though, for example, the Palace of the Nassau Regime. However, tours are available only in Germany and at obscure hours like 11:30 on the second Saturday of the month (this may be subject to change).
The best things to do are the funicular train ride up to the Neroberg and to visit the Casino, but beyond that, it’s a beautiful city to walk around. I would still give Wiesbaden a fairly average rating of 5.
Should You Visit?
Yes, you should visit Wiesbaden, but only if you are interested in immersing yourself in the German Belle Epoch.
How to see Wiesbaden
Below I outline two different itineraries for visiting Wiesbaden. The core goal for both of them is to enjoy the ambiance of the old town. Aside from the Cafe Maldaner and an optional trip to the Neroberg mountain, there is no activity other than simply walking around.
The Simple Day Trip (~2 Hours)
This trip is just about relaxing in the glory that is Wiesbaden’s historic city center. It covers the highlights and most interesting architectural achievements without requiring excessive walking.
- Arrive at the Main Station (Take a bus to the old town)
- Market Church and City Hall
- Tour the Historic Pentagon
- Breakfast at Cafe Maldaner
- Roman Gate
- Hot Springs
- Casino Building
- Opera House
- Leave via Main Station
The Glory of Nassau Tour (~3-4 Hours)
This tour is more thematic and focuses on the development of the Historicist style, from the age of Napoleonic Classicism to the waning days of Neo-Classicsm right before the outbreak of WWI.
Along the way, the cityscape will tell the story of the Nassau State, a political entity that was more aspiration than reality. Cobbled together from various Medieval polities by the Congress of Vienna, it only partially integrated its territories before being annexed to Prussia in 1866. However, Wiesbaden was its capital, and the city was a showcase for the might of the Nassau Family.
- Arrive at the Main Station
- The Nassau Ascendency: Napoleonic Classicism
- St. Bonifatius
- Nassau Government District
- Early 19th Century Homes
- Historic Wiesbaden
- Market Church, the Royal Palace, and City Hall
- Tour the Historic Pentagon
- Breakfast at Cafe Maldaner
- Roman Gate
- The Age of the Founders
- The Gründerzeit and the Bergkirche District
- Late Historicism and the Ringkirche District
- Optional Detour to the Neroberg
- Conflicts of Modernity
- The Casino
- The Opera House
- The Bath Houses and Hotsprings
- The Train Station
- Return to the Main Station
|Market Church||Tuesday-Sunday 12 pm – 5 pm|
|Bergkirche Church||Saturdays 12 pm – 2 pm|
|Ringkirche Church||Saturdays 2 pm – 6 pm|
|City Palace||Arranged Tours Only – Contact City Tourist Office|
|Grand Casino (Kurhaus)||Main Hall Open 24/7 – Rest of the Building with Tour Only|
|State Museum of Hessen||Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm|
Explore the region around Wiesbaden
If you wanted the quick Westerwald Experience, there is a definite answer to the question of “What should I see first?”. With these three destinations, you will have experienced a bit of everything that the Westerwald has to offer. 3.…
Wiesbaden is a beautiful city with a rich history and one of the best-preserved old towns in Germany. It is a shame that the city does not quite live up to expectations set by its charming cityscape. It does not have the vibrant street culture of nearby Mainz and needs more engaging activities beyond simply walking around soaking up the ambiance. It is a city worth visiting for those who need to be reminded that German cities can be beautiful sometimes.