Walls, Universities And Kissing Statue, Brilliant Things To Do In Göttingen

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In this guide, we’re about to dive into the heart of Göttingen—one of Germany’s most esteemed university cities and a hidden gem brimming with culture and history. We’ll explore the top 10 activities that both locals and visitors adore, ensuring you capture the essence of this unique town.

From the cobblestone streets that whisper tales of the past to lush green gardens where the future of academic prowess is nurtured, Göttingen offers a multitude of experiences.

It’s a city where the past and present blend seamlessly, offering enchantments for history buffs and modern-day explorers alike. Whether you’re strolling through the old town in search of historical treasures or engaging with the vibrant student life, this city provides an unexpected array of delights.

Things To Do In GöttingenPin

It’s a pretty town and just strolling through its Old Town is very enjoyable. Göttingen is definitely somewhere that taking your time and soaking up the atmosphere is the best activity of all.

But in case you want more action, join me as we reveal the must-see sites, including the famous Gänseliesel fountain—a symbol of Göttingen’s academic spirit. We’ll strip away the complexity and showcase the simple, unpretentious joys that make Göttingen an unforgettable stop on any German itinerary.

Let’s discover together why this city’s charm resonates with so many.

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A Brief History of Göttingen

Göttingen, a city nestled in the heart of Germany’s Lower Saxony region, boasts a history that extends back to medieval times. Although the exact date of its founding is not clear, the first known mention of Göttingen dates to the year 953, in a document by Emperor Otto I.

The city’s trajectory took a decisive turn in 1209 when it received town rights, paralleling the developments of many medieval German burghs wherein power was increasingly centralized within burgeoning urban centers.

These rights marked the beginning of Göttingen’s development into a prosperous trading town. Its location on the Leine River and proximity to the north-south trade routes benefited its economy greatly.

One of the most pivotal events in Göttingen’s history occurred in 1734 with the founding of the Georg-August University of Göttingen by King George II of Great Britain, who was also the Elector of Hanover. This institution soon became a beacon of the Enlightenment, attracting scholars from far and wide.

Göttingen Old TownPin
Göttingen Old Town

By the 18th and 19th centuries, it had gained an outstanding reputation, especially in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, physics, and the humanities. The university played an essential role in fostering the intellectual environment that nurtured some of the most prominent scholars and scientists, including Carl Friedrich Gauss, the luminary of mathematics and physics and the Brothers Grimm.

In the 20th century, Göttingen remained relatively unscathed during World War I, but it did endure significant destruction during World War II. Subsequent rebuilding efforts preserved much of its historic character, which included a wealth of traditional half-timbered houses and the preservation of its medieval town layout.

Post-World War II, Göttingen continued to flourish as an educational and research hub, transcending its regional significance to become an internationally acknowledged center for scientific research and learning. The city remains true to its heritage as a university town, with students constituting a significant portion of the population, which lends Göttingen a uniquely youthful and vibrant cultural scene.

Through the melding of its rich past with a progressively academic present, Göttingen beautifully epitomizes the enduring legacy of a city deeply rooted in tradition while simultaneously steering the future of intellectual and scientific endeavor.

Top 10 Incredible Things To Do In Göttingen

Most of these places to visit in Göttingen are in the Old Town and you can walk between them. I note exceptions below. You could visit most of the Göttingen attractions in a day.

1. Explore the Old Town (Altstadt)

Göttingen Old TownPin
Göttingen Old Town

Nestled within the embrace of preserved medieval fortifications, Göttingen’s Old Town is an enchanting area brimming with historical significance. Walking through its cobblestone streets, you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time with centuries-old half-timbered houses and a variety of architectural styles that trace the contours of time.

The Altstadt is a living museum, telling stories of the town’s ascendancy through the Hanseatic League and its importance as a center of trade.

You can peruse quaint shops, savor the local cuisine at cozy restaurants, and perhaps stumble upon local markets that occasionally enliven the squares. The Old Town’s vibrancy, charm, and historical depth cement its place as a must-visit destination. You’ll love wandering around here soaking it all in.

2. Visit the University of Göttingen (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)

University of Göttingen Art CollectionPin
University of Göttingen Art Collection

A beacon of enlightenment and learning, the University of Göttingen has stood at the forefront of academic excellence since its founding in 1734. With over 40 Nobel laureates associated with the institution, the university has made indelible marks on the worlds of science, literature, and beyond.

The sprawling campus houses historic buildings, such as the Auditorium Maximum and the Old Botanical Garden, offering a tangible link to the intellectual fervor that has defined the university throughout the centuries.

3. Walk Along the Göttingen City Wall (Stadtwall)

Göttingen City Wall (Stadtwall)Pin
Old Göttingen City Wall (Stadtwall)

A stroll along the Göttingen City Wall is a journey around the historical perimeter of the city. Construction started in the 13th century for defense, the wall is a testament to Göttingen’s medieval past.

After the Seven Years War, a decision had to be made about what to do with it. It was decided to plant trees on the top of the fortifications and have benches.

It now serves as a picturesque pathway, offering serene gardens and quiet corners ideal for contemplation. Try to walk around some of it – you’ll feel like you’ve left city life far behind.

4. Visit the Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus)

Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) GottingenPin
Old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus)

The Old Town Hall, a jewel in the crown of Göttingen’s Market Square (Marktplatz), stands as an exquisite example of the North German Gothic style, dating back to 1270.

With expansions and renovations across centuries, it encapsulates the evolving aesthetic preferences and power of the city’s burghers. Its façade is adorned with figures and coats of arms that chronicle the town’s storied lineage including that of the Hanseatic cities.

Notably, the hall started life as a place where council and court took place but also trade. The prison used to be in its basement. Today, you can admire its ornate exterior, step into its historic halls, and engage with art exhibitions that frequently take place within.

5. Kiss the Gänseliesel Fountain

 Gänseliesel Fountain GottingenPin
Gänseliesel Fountain (with Altes Rathaus in the background)

The Gänseliesel Fountain stands with whimsical charm outside the Old Town Hall. This bronze statue of a young girl with geese has become an emblem of the city since its unveiling in 1901.

According to tradition, every student who earns a doctorate from the University of Göttingen is to plant a kiss on her cheek, a rite that imbues the statue with a sense of achievement and celebration. You can observe the statue’s shiny surface, polished by countless kisses, and sense the palpable joy in the air as they witness recent graduates continue this affectionate tradition.

Note that this is a replacement statue. You can see the original is in the City Museum.

6. Visit St. Jacobi Church (Jakobikirche)

St. Jacobi Church (Jakobikirche) GottingenPin
St. Jacobi Church (Jakobikirche)

As a spiritual and architectural landmark of Göttingen, St. Jacobi Church serves as a beacon of historical continuity.

The Gothic church, with its tall, 71 meter tall tower dates back to 1433 and plays an integral role in the town’s skyline. This tower has actually been struck by lightening three times!

Inside St. Jacobi Church (Jakobikirche) GottingenPin
Inside St. Jacobi Church (Jakobikirche)

Another bad incident was in 2009. Scaffolding was attached to the building for renovation purposes and thieves used this to take the gold-plated tip of the tower. This crime has still not been solved.

You can, in theory, climb this tower today for great views of Göttingen. This was closed when I visited, and I’m not sure if it’s generally open or if it’s closed more permanently. Please let me know in the comments if you know.

You can marvel at the church’s meticulous craftsmanship, from its soaring vaulted ceilings to the intricate stained glass windows that cast a spectral array of colors upon the interior.

7. Discover the City Museum Göttingen (Städtisches Museum Göttingen)

City Museum Göttingen (Städtisches Museum Göttingen)Pin
City Museum Göttingen (Städtisches Museum Göttingen)

The City Museum Göttingen stands as a custodian of the city’s multifaceted history, telling the story of this area from the beginning until the present day.

Housed in the last remaining Renaissance aristocratic palace in Göttingen, the museum’s collection includes archeological finds, traditional costumes, and artworks. Each exhibit is meticulously curated to engage you with the tales of Göttingen’s past residents, their daily lives, and cultural achievements.

There are especially interesting exhibits on the Reformation Riots in 1529 as well as Jewish Göttingen and the university.

The museum often hosts temporary exhibitions and educational programmes, ensuring there’s always something new to learn and discover, making it a treasure trove for history buffs and curious explorers alike.

8. Relax at the Old Botanical Garden (Alter Botanischer Garten)

Old Botanical Garden (Alter Botanischer Garten) GottingenPin
Old Botanical Garden (Alter Botanischer Garten)

The Old Botanical Garden is a verdant oasis in the heart of Göttingen, offering solace from the academic hustle of the city. Established in the 18th century for the study of medicinal plants, the garden has since grown into a diverse collection that includes exotic and native species alike.

Paths wind through themed areas, including alpine rock gardens and arboreal collections, leading you on a journey through nature’s diversity.

Benches tucked under ancient trees provide idyllic spots for leisurely afternoons immersed in a book or in thought, accompanied by birdsong and the soft rustle of leaves.

9. Climb the Bismarck Tower (Bismarckturm)

Bismarck Tower (Bismarckturm)Pin
Bismarck Tower (Bismarckturm)

Commanding an impressive view from its hillside perch, the Bismarck Tower is a monument to the renowned statesman Otto von Bismarck. Erected in 1898, this particular tower is part of a nationwide series of structures honoring Bismarck.

A climb to the 31-meter high top is rewarded with sweeping vistas of Göttingen and the surrounding pastoral landscapes.

Located to the southeast of the center, you can catch a bus most of the way here.

10. Explore Plesse Castle (Burg Plesse)

Plesse Castle (Burg Plesse)Pin
Plesse Castle, Michael Mehle, mehle-hundertmark fotografie gbr, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Perched atop a sturdy rise overlooking the Leine Valley, Plesse Castle is a poignant reminder of the region’s medieval might and strategic importance. With a long and interesting history, the castle’s presence is still formidable, inviting you to wander among stones steeped in legends and warfare.

A restaurant calls this castle home today so you can have an atmospheric meal within its walls.

A bus can take you most of the way here, but it will require some walking too. Google Maps will show you the best way.

How To Get To Göttingen

Traveling to Göttingen from within Germany is straightforward. Whether you are starting from the bustling streets of Berlin, the picturesque coast of Hamburg, or the enchanting landscapes of Munich, the serene academic charm of Göttingen awaits you.

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Göttingen station

Your primary ally in reaching Göttingen is the efficient German rail network, Deutsche Bahn. Board a train from almost any major city, and you’ll find direct connections or simple transfers that will deliver you to the heart of this quintessential university town. With user-friendly online booking and real-time schedules, planning your trip is a breeze.

I took the train here from Kassel is less than an hour. Easy!

Click here to check out Deutsche Bahn schedules and prices.

If you prefer the freedom of the road, Germany’s well-maintained Autobahns provide a swift and seamless driving experience. Motorways A7 and A38 intersect near Göttingen, ensuring that you can reach the city from north, south, east, or west with equal convenience. Car rentals are available across Germany, offering another layer of flexibility to your travel plans.

Click here to check out car hire options and prices.

Long-distance buses offer an alternative with usually a lower cost. Companies such as FlixBus serve Göttingen regularly, making stops at the central bus station, which is conveniently located and easy to navigate.

Once you arrive, Göttingen greets you with open arms and a scholarly atmosphere. The main train station is right by the Old Town, and you can easily walk in from here.

Göttingen Old TownPin
Charming Göttingen Old Town

Final Words

Göttingen offers an enriching experience steeped in academic history and natural beauty that is bound to enchant you. From the Gänseliesel statue at the heart of the city to the serene pathways of the Old Botanical Garden, this university town presents a harmonious blend of intellectual prowess and picturesque landscapes.

Whether you’re wandering through the quintessentially German timber-framed buildings, enjoying a leisurely coffee by the cobblestone streets, or exploring the depth of knowledge within its historical walls, Göttingen is a testament to the timeless allure of small-town charm fused with scholarly legacy.

It’s a charming town and you won’t be sorry you came.

Find more guides to Northern Germany here or check out guides to nearby Kassel here, Mühlhausen here and Erfurt here.

Sharon Gourlay in the Rhina Valley

By Sharon Gourlay

Sharon first fell in love with Germany back in 2000 on her first visit. She loves the long history, the picturesque Old Towns, the castles, the food, everything really! Since then, she has visited many times and loves writing about Germany here so you can enjoy it too. In fact, Sharon loves German culture so much that she sent her kids to a German primary school in Australia. She especially loves Berlin and towns with charming Old Towns like Celle and Quedlinburg. Sharon also has a Certificate III in International Travel Sales and understands the nitty gritty of travel planning. Through this site, she'll help you have the perfect trip to Germany whether it's your first or tenth time!

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