5 years ago in 2013, I had the pleasure of spending 48 hours in Leipzig, the city of music and of heroes which included a short detour to the fortress /former POW camp in Colditz as part of my German Wanderlust tour. Fast forward to 2018, I returned for another visit to see how the city had grown and changed. This article shares some of my favourite moments from both trips. I hope you find this guide to the best things to do in Leipzig useful. PS If you are planning a trip to Berlin, checkout my freshly updated guide to the 26 best free things to do in Berlin. Also, after the pandemic restrictions lifted, I went back to Leipzig for a weekend- this is what happened.
9:30am: Arrive at Leipzig Hauptbahnhof
First thing that greets you when you arrive by train to Leipzig is its magnificent train station. Take some time to soak in the beauty of this station. It’s huge. In fact at 83,460 square metres it is the world’s largest railway station measured by floor area. The station has also been featured in a number of critically acclaimed movies that include Shining Through (1992), Obsession (1997) and Mr Nobody ( 2009)
Emerging from the glorious passenger terminal of Leipzig’s railway station the first sensible thing I do is ditch the guidebook and wonder aimlessly around the Old Town.
First thing I notice walking out of the Hauptbahnhof is this huge colourful mural with cartoon like Muppets on one of the buildings. Love the character and colours of this work of art. However the identity of the artist is a mystery to me and the locals.
Top Tip: One of the best free things to do in Leipzig is just drift and enjoy the city’s rich architectural heritage. There is a whole range of architectural styles to soak in, spanning from Historicism to Art Noveau to Post Modernist. This rich heritage dates back to the country’s Gründerzeit period in the 19th century when Leipzig was enjoying the fruits of the post industrialization boom in Germany and Austria.
10am: Café Riquet
The beautiful art-noveau building of Café Riquet (Schuhmachergäßchen 1) is one stunning example. It’s beautiful art-nouveau façade with it’s two elephants could have been one of the reasons why Goethe decided to call Leipzig ‘Little Paris.
This is also a good place to try the “Leipziger Lerche”, a local pastry specialty.
11am: Madler Passage
My next stop is most famous shopping passage of the city- the Madler Passage where luxury fashion outlets dominate and reminds me of the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele in Milan. What is more impressive here is the beautiful art-noveau entrance guarded by bronze sculptures which represent scenes from Goethe’s Faust. Built by a certain Anton Mädler who owned a suitcase factory in 1912 , during the Leipzig trade fairs , wine and china were presented and sold here. Nowadays the main draw for tourists coming here is the historic tavern , “Auerbachs Keller” that Goethe frequented. The murals of Faustus you can find here were supposedly the inspiration for his epic Faust masterpiece.
Top tip: Walk through any open doorway you find in the Altstadt and walk right into this hidden world of Leipzig’s stunning courtyards and indoor passages like the Madler Passage which are tucked among old and new houses behind the street facades.
1pm Lunch at the Panorama Punkt
If you’re looking to get a panoramic view of Leipzig’s skyline and get your bearings, then I definitely recommend worth paying €3 or if you’re thirsty, grab a drink at the cafe or you can choose to dine in their restaurant which has a decently priced lunchtime menu.
Or enjoy lunch and drinks at Spizz
If it is a nice sunny day in Leipzig, I also highly recommend having a drink at Spizz on the historic ‘Markt’ square. A popular jazz and live music venue, Spizz also has a decent priced food menu serving everything from local Thuringer bratwurst and roasted potatoes to pasta dishes and sandwiches. Wash it down with a pint of the local Wernesgrüner beer and enjoy the views.
Top tip- Go for a behind the scenes tour of Leipzig Opera House & the Mendelssohn house
During my time in Leipzig, I sadly didn’t have the chance to catch a show at the Leipzig Oper which is the third oldest opera house in the world. The next best thing was going on a behind the scenes tour of the Opera House which takes place a few times a month. Built during the GDR era, this is a surprisingly stylish building with wonderful acoustics and beautifully furnished. The most eye catching aspect of the building for me was the beautiful spiral staircase with its unique dandelion lighting design. From the ground level towards the roof, the lighting in the foyer and audience seating area mimics the life cycle of the dandelion. Checkout the Leipzig Opera House website for upcoming dates for dates for the next guided tours.
On the subject of classical music and opera, highly recommend paying a visit to Mendelssohn house -built in the late classicist era, the house of the famous composer has been beautifully preserved, retaining the same layout when he lived here back in 1845. It was the composer’s last private address, and the only one of his residences that can still be visited. I had the chance to listen to some of his works as part of the weekly Sunday morning concert series. I enjoy the music in the historic setting. Ticket to the concert also grants you access to the composer’s house.
In the top floor of the Mendelssohn house, you can dress up in period costumes dating from the era of Mendelssohn House and then have your picture taken. So much fun!
Also, founded in 1743 and Europe’s oldest civilian concert orchestra, definitely considering watching a performance at the world famous Gewandhaus Orchestra.
One of my favourite things to do in Leipzig is to pop into the Nikolaikirche: few churches in the world have a more glorious history than this historic church (Nikolaikirchhof 3). A certain Johann Sebastian Bach was the organist of the choir here between 1723 to 1750. In 1989 the church played a prominent role in the end of the communist regime. Every Monday since 1982, the church holds a ‘peace prayers’ service, an event that continues till the present day . In 1989 onwards the church became the focal point of non violent demonstration against the GDR regime. Then came the red letter day of 9th October 1989 when 600 members of the SED came to break up the demonstrations. However a miracle happened and the SED members instead joined the prayers of those inside. Within weeks the non-violent movement caused the collapse of the SED party and end of their dictatorship. The Berlin wall fell on 10th November 1989, bringing an end three decades of division.
2:30pm Hallo Goethe!
Just a short walk from Nikolaikirche I spot another famous past resident of Leipzig – a statue of Goethe who studied in Leipzig between the years of 1765-68 . In the background , the ornate former trading house you see is the Alte Borse.
2:40pm Zeitgeschictliches Forum
Fact: The actual sign from Checkpoint Charlie is not in Berlin but in Leipzig at the informative Zeitgeschictliches Forum ( Forum of contemporary history, Grimmaische Straße 6)
The forum charts the history of GDR from division in 1961 to the fall of the wall in 1989 right through to the post reunification blues. It’s a fascinating insight into what life was like behind the wall. Highlights here include series of short films capturing key moments like the faces of Berliners in shock & tears as the wall went up in ’61 and also the euphoric mood of the city after the wall came down. Cracking place. Best of all, it’s free to enter.
5pm: Bach Memorial, St Thomas Church
I am soaked in sunset in front of the glorious St Thomas Church (where a certain Johann Sebastian Bach was the cantor). Between observing the coming and goings of locals I am enjoying the craft of a lone street blues musician, strumming away on his guitar. Strange to think that just 24 years ago, under the GDR regime, this would not have been possible.
Music has been a lifeline and savior of this city in many ways.
Right from the days of Bach and Mendolsshon till that momentous day of 10th June 1989 when one of the most epic , seismic moments in the city’s history took place right in front of where I was sitting at the Bach Memorial.
As I mentioned before, there was already an active non-violent movement taking place against the ruling communist regime of the GDR. Performing music without permission was a punishable offence in the GDR. To protest against the freedom of expressing their art , opposition groups in Leipzig organized a street music festival. As expected, the festival was banned by the authorities. However, much to the delight of locals, musicians from all over the GDR defied the ban and turned up in numbers in Leipzig in front of St Thomas’s Church on the morning of 10th of June, 1989.
By 12 o’clock the local police had gathered in numbers to breakup the concert. Using excessive brutal force they forced the musicians onto trucks. However that did not stop the festival from continuing. It inspired more people to take their place, spontaineous solidarity actions taking place right till the evening. Small but significant moments like these all contributed to the gradual demise of the GDR regime.
7pm: Tapas and football at Café Madrid
I round off the day at Café Madrid (Klostergasse 3-5 ) , a tapas bar just a stone’s throw away from St Thomas’s Church. I popped into watch the Champions League semi-final match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. The free wifi was another major reason for entering. If you are visiting and looking for a nice place to watch the football, I recommend this place. The food is also very good. I ordered a 0.5l of Paulener Pils with some Olives, Green and Black followed by some Patatas Bravas with Salsa and Cordero al estilo Andaluz: Andalusian style lamb. Cafe Madrid is not the cheapest place to eat in town but the nice ambience, friendly staff and also free wifi made it perfect for me.
9:30am: Coffee and Danish pastry at Lukas Bakery
It’s a crisp, beautiful spring morning in Leipzig. I take advantage of the nice weather with a filter coffee and Danish pastry at the local Lukas bakery (Grimmaische Strasse 29).
10am: In the footsteps of Bach- St Thomas Church
For music lovers, one of the highlights of a visit to Leipzig is the chance to retrace the footsteps of Bach’s life in the city. He spent 27 years of his incredibly productive musical career in Leipzig. A key part of his life in Leipzig was spent at my next destination, the stunning St Thomas Church (Thomaskirchhof 18 ), just a few minutes walk from the Lukas Bakery.
I walk into the church to hear the Bach organ playing.
Here is a brief soundclip of the organ being played to give you an idea of the sound and acoustics. Sadly, I can’t name the tune.
I listen to the organ, eyes closed. Listening to the organ gives you some idea of what it might have been like to hear the great composer play when he was the cantor of the church between 1723-1750.
Numerous works of his were premiered here like St Matthew’s passion. Visitors can visit his grave here by the alter. On 6pm Friday, 3pm on Saturday and some evenings -special concerts are held ( €3) where you can hear his works and hear the 100 strong ‘Thomanerchor’- the famous boys choir that Bach once led, perform his cantatas.
11:30am: Bach Museum
My ‘Bach-in-Leipzig’ odyssey continues at the Bach Museum (Thomaskirchhof 15-16 ) opposite St Thomas Church. The museum charts the history of his life & what Leipzig was like in his time. You can see original Bach manuscripts, listen to his works & see films about the great composer here. It’s a very cool and interactive museum. Plus you get to see an organ console (in picture ) which Bach played in 1743.
Entrance fee is pricey at €8 ( reduced for students €6) but free for children under 16 and free, if you are lucky to visit the city on the 1st Tuesday of the month.
1pm Head off to KarLi aka Karl-Liebknecht-Straße
I head south of the city centre down Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, the main artery of the Sudmeile neighbourhood which offers visitors a mixture of culture and cuisine.
South of the city centre lies one of Leipzig’s main streets- Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, affectionately referred to by locals as KarLi.
The main artery of the Südvorstadt neighbourhood, this was the first area in Leipzig to gentrify after reunification and now offers visitors a mixture of culture and cuisine.
One of the pleasures of walking down Karl-Liebknecht-Straße is the various pieces of street art visible like this cool mural with cartoon like muppets from local street artist, Michael Fischer-Art. Here’s some other examples of cool street art I found-can you identify the artist?
You’ll also notice the iconic old sign at the Feinkostgelände.
If you’re there on the first weekend of the month (between the months of March and December) then checkout the flea market in the covered courtyard of Feinkost Hof. Also during the summer they host an open air film festival and also a streetfood festival.
If you’re feeling thirsty, grab a pint of beer at the KilliWilly Irish pub, a popular hangout spot for students, yuppies and expats.
For the best patisserie in town I head further down the road to Maitre on 62 Karl-Liebknecht Strasse . Here you can buy the best french baguettes in town, satisfy your sweet tooth with their excellent meringues, bonbons, cakes or chocolate ( wrapper designed by local illustrator Phillip Janta) Coffee is excellent. Cakes are cheap too.
Moritzbastei (Universitätsstraße 9 )on the citycentre University campus is a-bit-of-everything kind of place situated in an old castle where you can laze, drink beer in the sun, in the evenings dance as much or as little as you like to music ranging from blues to samba or dark wave , go to concerts or watch live football & films ( in German only) for free.
I enjoy a beer and soak in the sunshine.
I’d come here everyday if I lived in Leipzig.
Cupcake tip Pop into Mintastique
No cupcakes were harmed during this photoshoot.
I sadly didn’t get the chance to try them as I was almost diabetic with amount of Kaffee und Kuchen consumed travelling around Germany for a month. However, if you are visiting Leipzig do pop into the popular ‘mama made’ Mintastique ( Zentrum Sud, Straße des 17. Juni 11, 04107 ) where you can savour the best cupcakes in town. Pricey at around the €4 mark but if they taste as good as they look…
Top tip: Visit Karl Heine Strasse
Along with Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, the bohemian Karl Heine Strasse is one of the most hip and atmospheric streets in the city. Running between Lindenau and Plagwitz you will find everything here , from great street art and iconic live music bars to cool cafes, concept stores and independent art galleries. You’ll find most locals here huddled into the classic live music venue Noch Besser Leben which hosts mix of local and international acts from Thursday to Saturday plus the odd comedy night too. Good beer, good vibes – this bar is the soul of Plagwitz and a great place to meet locals. Another local landmark for drinks, food and entertainment is the Schaubuhne Theatre .
For food, head to the moroccan eaterie Cafe Casablanca. Their Chicken tagine here is delicious and is perfectly complimented by their lemon, ginger and mint tea. Lovely food, lots of vegetarian options, good portion sizes, great mint tea and well priced. If you are a fan of cheap and tasty hotdogs, try Beard Brothers. They have vegan options too and a decent range of bottled beers.
We also tried Gallo Negro, a mexican diner here-while their tacos were delicious , with cocktails I felt it was a bit pricey.
If you’re looking for DDR style ‘softeis’ ice cream, you can try Softeisbude here.
Pretty good but for me hands down the best softeis in Leipzig is Softeis Eugen Hendrich ( Waldstrasse 38) which I discovered thanks to my good friend and Leipziger, Catharina Fischer. So good. I would come back to Leipzig just to eat their softeis.
Located on the top floor of an old factory building on the street is Mensa. If it a rainy day or you’re looking for a chill afternoon of pool, darts or playing board games with a beer, then definitely check this place out. Run by Guy Buss, a former Bundesliga pool champion, the place is trying to move away from the stereotypical image of smoky pool halls filled with old guys. It’s a huge space and the prices are reasonable. Plus if Guy or any of the owners are around, you may even get a few pro pool tips to help sharpen your game.
Top tip : Explore the arts scene of Leipzig
Leipzig has a rich and deserved reputation of being one of Europe’s leading art cities. Post industrial decline in Leipzig which saw many factories closing down led to an influx of artists post reunification. Moving into these abandoned spaces and converting them into residences , these artists breathed life back into these beautiful structures and the city.
Pay a visit to Tapentenwerk, a former wallpaper factory converted into an artists residence. Among the tenants are photographers, artists, architects, a longboard manufacturer and a feng shui practice. I visited during their open evening aka Tapentenwerkfest ( three times a year ) when people are invited behind the scenes to explore artist ́s studios, celebrate and dance the night away.
Baumwollspinnerei, another stalwart of Leipzig’s art scene is a must visit. Once holding up to 4,000 people in a vast complex of 19th-century factories, the area was so vast it was often considered ”a city in the city”. After a rapid decline in cotton production, after the fall of the wall, the complex slid into oblivion and was then rescued by a group of artists. Home to now working studios of architects, fashion designers, and artists, exhibition halls, galleries, a theatre and dance groups, cultural initiatives and lofts which you can rent for the night, the city within the city has been reborn. 100 artists have their own studios at the Spinnerei, along with 11 galleries and the non-profit space Halle 14.
Top tip: Amongst the many ateliers you can visit here, checkout Galerie EIGEN + ART a centre of young unconventional contemporary art where you can discover works in many forms ranging from film/video, photography, installation to painting and sculptures as well as conceptual art.
Built within an redundant power station, Kunstkraftwerk aka the ‘Art Power Station’ is probably the most radical and fun of all the museums I visited. Lot of the exhibits are hands on and interactive and fun for people of all ages.
Of all the exhibits , the eerie and powerful “Alter Ego” is definitely one of my favourite works. Two people have to stand towards each other in a small and dark room. In sequences of less than one second the visitors interchangeably see their reflection in the mirror and the reflection of their counterpart in front of them which then fuses together to create one person. The result is quite macabre and powerful.
Top tip: Spend the night in a former POW camp : Colditz Castle
I round off my 48 hour trip with a visit to Colditz where I spend the night in a former renaissance palace turned WW2 Prisoner of War camp which now has been partly converted into a youth hostel.
From the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof I jump on the bus no 690. It is a scenic 1 hour 22 minute ride and costs me just €6.
When I arrive, it’s a beautiful evening . The renaissance palace Schloss Colditz is a picture of idyllic bliss in evening sunshine . It’s hard to close my eyes and imagine what life might have been like for the Allied officers who were imprisoned here from 1939-45 when the fortress functioned as a high security prisoner of war camp. There are a few visible signs from their time spent here but these are brought to life thanks to the passion of local guide-Steffi Schubert who regales visitors with stories of numerous infamous escape attempts which gave Colditz the tag of the ‘Escape Academy.’
These range from the famous great escape tunnel that the French built (which you can see as part of the tour) to the ‘Colditz Cock’ – a glider that the British prisoners built to launch from the chapel roof of the Castle. There’s also a museum you can visit which details life of prisoners in Colditz and their stories of escape plus you can view some of the tools used in the escape attempts- from Douglas of Midlothian soup tins to knives… 🙂
Note: Steffi Schubert’s tour costs €15, lasts 2 hours & worth every penny.
The castle has had many reincarnations -From a royal palace to a mental asylum to a hospital to a POW camp and now…. a youth hostel. Visitors can extend their visit and stay over in the recently built Jugendherberge Colditz hostel ( formerly the mental asylum unit) from €32 night full board or €22 room only in a 6 bed ensuite dorm. The hostel is clean, comfortable and the meals are excellent. Hostel staff are very helpful and friendly. Only drawback is the lack of a common room to meet other guests but otherwise, a great hostel with a unique history.
Where to stay in Leipzig
I recommend staying at the Multitude Hostel– a new design hostel with cosy rooms, friendly staff, nice onsite kitchen and fantastic bar that hosts a regular programme of live music events. They’ve just opened their basement nightclub where they plan to have a range of club nights so ask owners, Georg and Jonas what’s on in advance.
My other favourite hostel in Leipzig is Hostel und Garten Eden. Hostel & Garten Eden is located in the central west and only 5 minutes’ walk away from Karl-Heine-Strasse. Hostel & Garten Eden is not just your typical back packer’s accommodation. Each room has been individually styled and created by local artists. If you want a private room you could expect either to be staying in a bed created from the frame of a delivery van (complete with working car radio), or one that mimics the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.The communal rooms also have their own unique design; You could be staying in a four person room complete with treehouse style beds (perfect for families), or in a six person that sits somewhere between the boundaries of modern Japanese and space shuttle styles. The Hostel is complete with separate sex showers and lockers.
They have a spacious common area is spacious with plenty of room to sit and dine with large groups. There are also books and board games for those rainy days. There is a kitchen complete with all cooking and storage essentials plus a beautiful and spacious garden sit’s in the rear of the building,
Getting there and away
From Leipzig Deustche Bahn network offers frequent services to Munich (€74, five hours), Dresden (€18, 1¾ hours), Berlin (€36, 1¼ hours) and Hamburg (€79, three hours).
Leipzig-Halle airport is served by a bunch of domestic and international carriers ranging from Lufthansa, Germanwings, Air Berlin, Condor and Cirrus.
This post was a paid collaboration with Leipzig Tourism and Captivate. All words, opinions, photos are my own.
I originally visited Leipzig as part of a collaboration with the German National Tourism Office, and the Jugendherberge : The German Youth Hostelling Association as part of my ‘German Wanderlust’ tour.
Please note: While my trip has been sponsored, the views and thoughts represented in this article are my own.