What’s the first thing that crosses your mind when you hear Dortmund, even if you aren’t German? Of course, we all associate Dortmund with its phenomenal football team, Borussia Dortmund, one of Germany’s most beloved football clubs! Not all cities are usually known for their football teams, but that’s not the case for Dortmund. Dortmund is a city that breathes and lives football, and Borussia Dortmund is its heart and soul. But even though the city is synonymous with football, Dortmund actually offers much more. Nestled in the heart of North Rhine-Westphalia, Dortmund is a blend of industrial heritage, cultural richness, and history.
Steeped in a coal and steel production legacy, the city stands as a living testament to Germany’s industrial prowess. Yet, beyond the belching chimneys and factory gates, the city reveals a captivating blend of modernity and tradition, where contemporary art thrives, culinary delights tantalise the taste buds, and centuries-old sites whisper tales of the past.
From the Zeche Zollern and the Dortmunder U that will spark your creativity to the historic Reinoldikirche and Reinoldi Quarters for the history buff in you, Dortmund beckons on a journey of exploration and discovery. So, lace up your walking shoes, grab your camera, and let’s dig into the best things to do in Dortmund, Germany!
1. Signal Iduna Park: A Shrine for Football Fanatics
We don’t have to say, but we’ll do it anyway. Football enthusiasts, a visit to Signal Iduna Park, often referred to as the “Westfalenstadion,” should be the first thing on your bucket list. Even if you aren’t into football, Signal Iduna Park stadium, home to Borussia Dortmund, has an electric atmosphere that’s contagious that you’ve got to experience. The passion here is palpable whether you’re catching a game or just touring the facilities.
A Storied History Borussia Dortmund: The Pride of the Ruhr Valley
Borussia Dortmund, often simply referred to as “BVB” or “Dortmund,” symbolises passion, unity, and resilience. Since it was founded in 1909, the football club has experienced its full share of ups and downs, but its unwavering spirit has always prevailed. BVB first tasted success in the 1960s when they won their first German championship.
Since then, the club’s journey in European competitions has been nothing short of remarkable, claiming numerous league titles and domestic cups. They’re now considered the second most successful team after Bayern Munich.
Yellow Wall: The World’s Loudest Terrace
Signal Iduna Park, often called the “Temple of Football,” is Europe’s second-largest football club stadium. With a capacity of over 80,000 passionate fans, it boasts the legendary Südtribüne or Yellow Wall. This massive terrace is the largest for standing spectators in European football.
The Yellow Wall is a spectacle in itself, with fans creating an electrifying atmosphere through chants, songs, and waves of yellow and black flags. If you ever have a chance to stand in the lines amongst those fans, consider yourself fortunate enough. To win this opportunity, you must book well in advance, for the tickets get sold out as fast as lightning strikes.
Passionate Fans: The Yellow and Black Army
Borussia Dortmund’s fans, known as the “Yellow and Black Army,” are the club’s heartbeat. Known for their unwavering loyalty and deafening chants, Dortmund fans are really some of the most passionate in the world. Whether at home or away, their chants and roars create an atmosphere that inspires and fuels the team. You’d be fortunate to attend a match with Borussia’s fans and wander around in the city, especially in Alter Market, to celebrate with them after the game.
2. The German Football Museum: Another Haven for Football Fanatics
If you haven’t still satiated the football fanatic in you, make your way to the German Football Museum. The German Football Museum in Dortmund is a thrilling adventure for everyone, not just die-hard football fans. Inside, you’ll enter a world where history and legendary players come to life through interactive exhibits. You can touch historic jerseys, see the World Cup trophies, and relive iconic moments from past World Cups, like the 1954 World Cup Final in Bern.
But it’s not just about the past; the museum shows you how football is a part of Germany‘s culture. As you stroll inside, you’ll experience the roar of the crowds echoing through the halls and the electric energy of a stadium filled with passionate fans. With state-of-the-art displays, fun videos, and tons of football stuff, you’ll walk away with a whole new love for the game, whether you’re a lifelong football fan or just getting started.
3. Reinoldikirche: A Glimpse into Dortmund’s Past
For a taste of Dortmund’s history, head to the Reinoldikirche. This ancient church, dating back to the 13th century, has stood tall for centuries. If its walls could talk, they’d share tales of weddings, celebrations, and quiet moments of reflection. Its soaring towers, which you can see from afar, act like beacons guiding visitors.
Once you step inside, your eyes will quickly be fixed on the stunning stained-glass windows and celestial ceiling paintings. You will feel like you’re in a fairy tale with its exquisite architecture blending the grandeur of Gothic style with intricate details. After you climb to the top of its tower and take in the breathtaking view of the city, you can then explore the nearby Reinoldi Quarter for charming cobblestone streets and quirky boutiques.
4. The Dortmunder U: Art Meets Innovation
Art lovers, rejoice! Here’s a place for you! A stunning amalgamation of art and innovation, the Dortmunder U is a contemporary arts centre housed in a former brewery tower since 1927. Explore its various galleries, attend its exhibitions, and don’t forget to take an elevator ride to the rooftop for breathtaking views of the city.
The U-Tower is also home to Museum Ostwall, which houses an impressive modern and contemporary art collection that will take your breath away. The striking building itself is an architectural marvel. From expressionist masterpieces to thought-provoking sculptures, it showcases diverse artistic expressions that an art buff will appreciate. The works of renowned artists like Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, and August Macke grace the museum’s halls, offering a visual journey through art’s evolution in the 20th and 21st centuries.
5. Westfalenpark: Nature’s Haven in the City
If you’re seeking some green respite, Westfalenpark is the place to be. This 70-hectare expansive park is a haven of tranquillity, featuring lush gardens, thousands of different roses, a serene lake, and winding paths perfect for a leisurely stroll or a picnic. It’s also home to the Florian Tower, where you can ascend to an observation deck for panoramic vistas. If your stomach rumbles, there’s a revolving restaurant below the lower deck to enjoy lunch with a view.
6. Hohensyburg Castle: A Fairytale Escape
For a dose of medieval charm, venture to Hohensyburg Castle, south of Dortmund, perched atop a hill overlooking the Ruhr Valley. Explore the castle ruins and wander through the surrounding woodland. The view from the castle grounds is enchanting, particularly during sunset.
7. Culinary Delights: Savour Dortmund’s Flavours
When hunger strikes, Dortmund’s culinary scene is diverse and delectable. Don’t miss out on local specialities like Currywurst, a Dortmund street food classic, the hearty Pfefferpotthast, a traditional beef stew, or a Salzkuchen, a circular bread roll delicacy unique to Dortmund. For a taste of international cuisine, the Kreuzviertel district offers a range of options, from Italian trattorias to sushi bars.
8. Unleash Your Shopaholic at Westenhellweg
Indulge in some retail therapy along Westenhellweg, one of Germany‘s most frequented shopping streets, stretching across the city centre. From high-end boutiques to quirky vintage shops, you’ll find everything you need to update your wardrobe or snag unique souvenirs.
9. Industrial Heritage: LWL-Industriemuseum Zeche Zollern
Dortmund’s industrial history is a defining part of its identity. To delve deeper into this aspect, visit Zeche Zollern, also called the Zollern Colliery, a well-preserved colliery turned into an industrial museum. This museum is like a time machine that takes you back to the days when Dortmund was at the heart of Germany’s industrial revolution, telling the story of how coal mining powered the city and shaped its identity. The museum’s impressive architecture is worth the visit alone.
The majestic winding towers and impressive machinery give you a sense of the hard work and ingenuity of the people who toiled underground. But what makes Zollern truly special is the chance to step into the miners’ lives. You can explore the underground tunnels, visit the miners’ homes, and even see how they lived and worked. It’s an incredible journey through history, showing the resilience and strength of the people who built Dortmund.
10. Phoenix Lake: A Relaxing Oasis
Phoenix Lake, situated on the grounds of a former steelworks, is a serene oasis amid the city’s industrial backdrop. You can sail, cycle, or just stroll along the waterfront promenade. If you visit at sunset, you’ll be in for a magical view as the sun dips below the lake’s horizon.
11. Dortmund Zoo: Fun for All Ages
If you’re travelling with family or simply love animals, the Dortmund Zoo is a fantastic destination. It’s home to a diverse range of species from around the world, from majestic big cats to adorable meerkats; you’ll feel you’re on a global safari through different continents and ecosystems.
One of the zoo’s highlights is the Big Cat House, where tigers, lions, and cheetahs roam in spacious areas that mimic their natural habitats. If you’re one with a penchant for primates, the Monkey House is a must-visit. Here, you can observe agile primates like lemurs, gibbons, and capuchin monkeys swinging through trees and displaying their social behaviours. The zoo’s Elephant House is home to a gentle and intelligent herd of Asian elephants. The zoo’s African Savannah enclosure houses giraffes, zebras, and antelopes, offering a slice of the continent’s vast grasslands. Dortmund Zoo is home to the largest population of giant otters compared to any other zoo worldwide.
The Children’s Zoo is a hit among young visitors. Here, your kids can get up close and personal with domesticated animals like goats, sheep, and rabbits, making it a perfect family-friendly destination.
12. DASA Working World Exhibition: A Glimpse into Tomorrow
The DASA Working World Exhibition is a futuristic journey into the world of work and technology. Interactive exhibits, hands-on activities, and thought-provoking displays make this museum an engaging experience. Gain insights into the evolution of work from industrial labour to the digital age.
13. Dortmund’s Cultural Festivals and Events
Dortmund is a hub of cultural events and festivals throughout the year. If you’re a music lover, a foodie, or someone looking to immerse yourself in local traditions, there’s an event in Dortmund sure to captivate your heart. Consider yourself lucky if your visit coincides with the Juicy Beats music festival, the Dortmunder Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market), or the International Festival of Choirs and Orchestras.
Dortmund Christmas Market
Dortmund’s Christmas market, or Dortmunder Weihnachtsmarkt, is extravagant. With over 300 stalls, it’s one of Germany‘s largest and most enchanting Christmas markets. Why is that? Dortmund really pushes the boat out in Christmas decorations.
Hansaplatz glows with over 50,000 lights, and in its centre, a gigantic Christmas tree is set, known to be the biggest in the world, often soaring over 45 metres high, adorned with thousands of twinkling lights. Its branches cradle a cornucopia of carefully crafted ornaments, including delicate glass baubles, hand-painted decorations, and charming figurines capped with a four-metre-high angel.
As you stroll through the Christmas market, savour the aroma of roasted chestnuts and festive treats, and shop for handcrafted gifts amid the twinkling lights and upbeat music.
Juicy Beats Music Festival
Music enthusiasts flock to Dortmund every summer to groove to the beat at the Juicy Beats Music Festival. There, you’ll encounter an eclectic lineup of artists spanning various genres, from rock and pop to electronic and hip-hop. The festival usually takes place in Westfalenpark, where the open-air venue and stage, mingled with the echoes of the enthusiastic crowds, create an unforgettable experience for all music lovers.
International Festival of Choirs and Orchestras
If you’re more into classical music, you can’t miss the International Festival of Choirs and Orchestras in Dortmund. Choirs and orchestras from around the world converge to perform a diverse repertoire of classical and contemporary compositions.
14. Day Trips from Dortmund: Explore Germany’s Treasures Beyond the City
For a memorable day trip, hop on a train and visit neighbouring cities in North Rhine-Westphalia. From charming medieval towns to natural wonders, here are some of the best day trips you can take from Dortmund to explore the beauty and diversity of Germany.
Wuppertal: A Nearby Delight
Wuppertal, a short ride from Dortmund, is known for its suspended monorail, the Wuppertaler Schwebebahn. Glide above the Wupper River and explore Wuppertal’s charming old town.
Hike in the Sauerland: Natural Beauty Awaits
If you crave some outdoor adventure, the Sauerland region is a stone’s throw from Dortmund and will impress the nature lover in you.
Cologne (Köln): A Blend of History and Modernity
Cologne’s beauty makes it a must-visit destination. Known for its iconic cathedral, the Kölner Dom, and Lindt Chocolate Museum, this city boasts a vibrant contemporary culture and a rich history. Explore the historic Old Town filled with medieval buildings, stroll along the Rhine River promenade, and don’t miss the opportunity to climb the cathedral’s tower for panoramic views.
Düsseldorf: Art, Fashion, and Riverfront Charm
Düsseldorf, just a short train ride from Dortmund, is a city booming with style and sophistication. Visit the city’s art museums, such as the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, stroll along the picturesque Rhine River promenade, and enjoy the city’s renowned Japanese quarter for a taste of international cuisine. Düsseldorf is also a fashion hub, so shopping enthusiasts will find plenty of designer boutiques.
Münster: A Bicycle-Friendly Oasis
Münster, known for its bicycle-friendly infrastructure, relaxed atmosphere, and charming streets, is a delight to explore on two wheels. Visit the Prinzipalmarkt square with its stunning gabled houses, see the St. Paulus Dom, and discover the history of the Peace of Westphalia at the Friedenssaal (Hall of Peace).
Aachen: A Historical Gem with Thermal Baths
Aachen, a 2-hour train ride from Dortmund, is a city filled with historical significance. It’s famous for the Aachen Cathedral, which served as the Palatine Chapel for Charlemagne and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. After exploring the city’s historical sites, unwind in the Carolus Thermen’s thermal baths, where you can soak in warm, mineral-rich waters.
Dortmund, with its blend of history, culture, sports, and cuisine, promises an unforgettable experience. It’s a city that effortlessly balances its industrial heritage with a modern, artistic edge—a place where every corner reveals a new facet of its charm. So, whether you’re a football fanatic, an art enthusiast, a history buff, or simply someone seeking an exciting city to explore, Dortmund will fascinate you.