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If you’re a classical music hound, you may know Bonn is the German city where Beethoven was born (he lived there until age 22).
You may also know that, until the east-west German reunification, Bonn was the capital of West Germany.
So, is Bonn worth visiting?
It doesn’t get the same ink as other places in Germany, like Berlin (the country’s capital and “it” city). But during our stay in Bonn, we discovered there are actually many lovely things to do in Bonn!
Best things to do in Bonn
Bonn is a small charming city of some 310,000, set on the banks of the Rhine River – and it has much to offer in the way of historical sights and attractions.
1) See Beethoven House
Since Ludwig van Beethoven is the city’s most famous son, perhaps start with a visit to Beethoven House in the Old Town center.
The 12-room house where the gifted composer was born in 1770 is a museum today.
Inside, we saw the original announcement of his first concert at age eight, the bronze ear trumpets he used as he tragically turned deaf in his late 20s, shopping lists for the family housekeeper, two original pianos he played in Vienna – and even a lock of Beethoven’s silver hair.
2) Gape at the Altes Rathaus
When strolling through the pedestrian-only cobblestone streets of the Old Town, you’ll come across the Altes Rathaus, Bonn’s old City Hall. With gilded stair railings and a pretty Rococo façade, it’s quite the showstopper!
Famous people who’ve stepped foot inside include John F. Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle and Mikhail Gorbachev.
3) Browse the food market at the Altes Rathaus
In the square in front of the Altes Rathaus (the Market Square), you’ll discover a colorful market. Perhaps pick up some fruit, fresh bread, cheese and sausage for an easy lunch outside on a bench in the sunshine?
The market is held every day except on Sundays.
4) Admire the Bonn Minster
The Munsterplatz (or Munster Square) is one of the largest squares in Bonn.
At one side of the square, there’s the impressive Bonn Minster (Munster Basilica). Built between the 11th and 13th centuries in a mix of both Romanesque and Gothic styles, it’s one of Germany’s oldest churches.
It has a beautiful cloister which you can visit.
5) Check out the Beethoven statue
When at Munster Square, be sure to look up at the imposing bronze statue of Beethoven, erected in 1845 for the first annual Beethoven festival.
6) Visit Poppelsdorf Palace
From the Old Town, wander over to the ochre-colored Poppelsdorf Palace. (Don’t you love the name?)
One of the prettiest attractions in Bonn, it was the former home of prince-elector Joseph Clemens of Bavaria. The show-stopping Baroque palace is now part of the University of Bonn.
Fronting it is the Hofgarten, a large garden where students gather to chat and socialize.
Classical music concerts are held outside on the lawns on summer evenings.
Got a crush on palaces? You’ll love Stockholm’s Drottningholm Palace – read next!
7) Eye the art at the Kunstmuseum Bonn
Art lovers! One of the best places to see in Bonn is the Kunstmuseum.
Founded in 1947, the Museum of Modern Art is home to an important collection of German art. Works are those by the “Rhenish Expressionists” (a group of artists in the early 1900s, including August Macke, who painted bold images of the Rhineland) and by post-war German artists.
The museum building itself is also interesting to work your way through, with unexpected angles and curved stairs.
Recommended reading: When in NYC, check out what you absolutely must see at the Met Museum
8) Drink a beer at Alter Zoll
Make your way up to the terrace running along the left bank of the Rhine River and you’ll get great views of the river. You’ll also find a beer garden there (Biergarten Alter Zoll).
Make like a German and quench your thirst with a glass of Kolsch, as you relax and enjoy the views.
9) Wonder at the Arithmeum
When planning what to do in Bonn, don’t forget to think “math.” That’s right. Because this place makes math fun!
The Arithmeum is a mathematics museum.
But it’s not just about calculus and math. All sorts of historical arithmetic books, slide rulers and mechanical calculating machines are displayed in Bauhaus glass cabinets and among colorful pieces of design furniture and art.
10) Take a short scenic river cruise to Konigswinter
Hungry? How about lunch on the Rhine!
We hopped on a KD riverboat for a one-hour river cruise, gliding past mansions, framed by weeping willows, to Konigswinter.
This pretty town is where Lord Byron and other wealthy Brits liked to go on holidays in the 19th century. It’s right in wine-growing country, so no doubt they sampled the local wines too.
11) Chug up the Drachenfels Rack Railway
There’s another reason for visiting Konigswinter – to ride the historic 1883 Drachenfels cog railway.
We boarded an open-sided wooden railcar for the three-minute ride to the top of Drachenfels (meaning “Dragon Rock”) mountain. Fun and very steep!
The train climbs 720 feet over a distance of one mile, and some of the inclines are as steep as 22%.
(If you prefer, you can join the hikers armed with poles who huff and puff their way up the green mountainside instead.)
12) Explore Schloss Drachenburg
Get off the Drachenfels railway car at Drachenburg Castle.
It looks medieval, but it was actually built for a financier in 1871.
Damaged in WWII, the fairytale castle has been restored to show the rooms in their original opulent state. And it’s over the top!
Rooms are graced by beautiful stained glass windows; the reception room has a wonderful carved oak ceiling (frescoes cover other ceilings).
We loved seeing the dining room table set with gilt-edged china and crystal.
And we wondered what it would be like to sleep in the master bedroom.
Blue silk drapes and gold tassels framed the view window. Oh, but it would probably be hot in summer and drafty in winter (no sour grapes, of course!).
You can also climb to the top of the turret (we did) for splendid views of the river valley below.
After, we strolled the colorful flower gardens surrounding the castle before returning to Bonn.
Visiting the Drachenburg Castle is definitely a great Bonn day trip!
13) Eat at Brauhaus Bronnsch
Kolsch may be more common.
But when in Bonn, you must also drink a Bonnsch.
Brauhaus Bonnsch is a small independent micro-brewery in the center of Bonn that makes a great unfiltered lemony ale.
To go with the beer, tuck into some of the resto’s excellent and hearty home-style comfort food – from currywurst to delicious freshly baked pretzels to schnitzel with cabbage and spatzle.
14) Visit the Federal Republic of Germany Museum
So, did we mention there’s a Museum Mile? No?
The Bonn Museum Mile is a mile-long strip of five museums.
The Kunstmuseum Bonn (#7) is one of the museums on the strip. And so is the Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany (Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland).
This excellent history museum covers contemporary German history from the end of the Second World War to today.
What’s special is the insight the FDR Museum offers into how ordinary German people carried on and lived their lives after the war in very difficult circumstances. See, for example, the dentist’s chair that was flown into Berlin after the war during the Berlin Airlift (when the city had no supplies due to the Soviet Union blockade).
This museum consistently ranks on TripAdvisor as one of the best things to do in Bonn.
15) Enjoy the cherry blossoms
Move over Japan!
You’re not the only place where cherry blossoms are celebrated.
In spring, Heerstrasse Avenue blooms with magnificent pink cherry trees, spreading their boughs over the street.
“Cherry Avenue” is the most famous in Bonn, but in April, you’ll find delightful pink “tunnels” over many of the city’s cobblestone streets.
These blossoms are some of the prettiest things to see in Bonn!
16) Shop at the Friedrichstrass
The Friedrichstrass is a pedestrian street lined with an eclectic array of shops. Antiques? German wine? Maybe a dirndl skirt? You’ll find it all here.
Don’t expect the “typical” stuff you find at big box or brand-name stores.
17) Grab gummies at the Haribo Store
A gummy store? Indeed!
Bonn is where gummy bears were invented back in the 1920s.
Hans Riegel created the jelly-like candies. And the candy company’s name – Haribo – comes from the first two letters of both his first and last name and his home city, so HA(ns) (RI(egel) BO(nn).
So indulge your sweet tooth (or the kid in you) and pick up some colorful gummies to take home.
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Photo credits: 1, 3, 10, 13 to 20, 22, 23 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 5 and 6 German National Tourist Board | 27 Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany