Bonn is a German city that sits near the country's western border with Belgium, and for a brief period it was the capital of the country.
Plenty of attractions make Bonn worth a visit. It is located on the picturesque Rhine River, it's home to a prestigious university, and it's the birthplace of the great Beethoven. Bonn is one of the oldest cities in Germany, and it's a beacon of great German culture with the museums to prove it.
How to Get to Bonn
The Cologne-Bonn (CGN) airport is the closest connection, but most international travelers arrive via the country's busiest airport in Frankfurt. Düsseldorf Airport (DUS) is an alternative. If you do arrive in CGN, the direct SB60 airport bus leaves every 30 minutes from outside Terminal 1 arrivals. Another option is the train between the airport and Bonn-Beuel Hauptbahnhof (main train station). If you take a taxi, you should pay around 45 euros.
Bonn is also well connected by train. Bonn's Hauptbahnhof links it with the rest of the country and beyond.
Wander amongst Botanic Gardens on Palace Grounds
Bonn's Botanic Gardens (officially Botanische Gärten der Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn) are on the grounds of Poppelsdorf Palace. Once the castle grounds for the Archbishop of Cologne, this refreshing site dates back to 1340. The castle only began to be built in 1715, replacing an earlier castle. To match the Baroque castle, the gardens were re-worked from renaissance style to compliment the castle.
Wiped out during the fighting of WWII, the gardens were painstakingly reconstructed from 1979 to 1984. The elegant 6.5 hectares are now open to public and free on weekdays. Over 8,000 plant species are grown here, including endangered species like Lady's Slipper Orchids. There is an arboretum, Mediterranean and fern houses, and even a carnivorous plant house. Take note of the exemplary mineralogical museum.
Visitors who get the chance to visit during the summer shouldn't miss the regular Poppeldorf Palace concerts which feature classical music in front of the palace.
Look up at the Cathedral
Bonn's stunning cathedral is the symbol of the city with its five towers poking high into the sky. Known in German as Bonner Münster, this is one of the best examples of a Romanesque church on the Rhine River.
The site was a Roman temple and Christian church before the cathedral was built. The cathedral was constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries, making it one of Germany's oldest cathedrals still standing. Located on today's Münsterplatz, it was built on the graves of two martyred Roman soldiers who became the city’s patron saints. It is also the site where two Holy Roman Emperors, Charles IV and Frederick the Fair, were crowned in the 14th century.
Step inside and around the current restorations (expected to continue into 2019) to admire its Gothic details and Baroque decoration. Main attractions include the 11th century crypt or the 12th century cloister, as well as the defined Expressionist art in the windows created by the saint Heinrich Campendonk. One of the newest discoveries is the tomb of Siegfried von Westerburg, archbishop of Cologne from 1275 to 1297.
The square in front of Bonn's Minster is the largest in town, and the cathedral is not the only attraction here.
Lying to the east, Bonn's Altes Rathaus (town hall) is all pristine pink-and-gold Rococo elegance dating back from the 18th-century. A twin staircase leads inside to the mayor’s office. This noble building was once the site of all official business when Bonn was the capital of West Germany. Important visitors from John F. Kennedy to Mikhail Gorbachev have walked up those staircases.
Honor a Classic
Bonn is the birthplace of the great Ludwig van Beethoven and a monument to him also sits in Münsterplatz. A bronze statue of the classic composer dates back to 1845, erected on the 75th anniversary of Beethoven's birth at a festival helmed by another renowned composer, Franz Liszt. The Beethoven festival still happens every year and celebrates Germany's premier musician.
At the base of the statue are allegorical representations of the types of Beethoven's music like phantasy, spiritual, fidelio and eroica. Behind it there is a cheery yellow baroque Palais that is now just a post office, but it offsets the monument beautifully.
If you want to pay further tribute to Bonn's most famous descendant, make a visit to Beethoven-Haus. This is the site of his birth in 1770.
A museum dedicated to his life and work was opened in 1893. A humble exterior gives way to rare artifacts and documents from his life, like an original portrait of his family, personal letters, and hand-written sheet music. Examine his instruments, ear trumpet for his poor hearing, and death mask. A digitalized research center includes all of his finest work and even rare recordings, plus an interactive 3-D show. All of this comprises the largest Beethoven collection in the world.
Lines of Japanese kirschbaum (cherry trees) are a star attraction for 10 to 14 days each spring. They appear across the country, but Bonn has become world-famous for its blossom avenue.
Photographers gather on this street to gawk at the heavy blossoms leaning overhead, creating a tunnel-like canopy. This means there can be more people than flowers, but it is still quite a sight. Visit in the early evening to avoid the crowds and enjoy the pink-shaded lamp light.
Bonn's culture isn't all hundreds of years old. One of the city's top attractions is its Museumsmeile (museum mile). Here are some highlights of the museum mile.
Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany: Simply called the Bundeskunsthalle, this modern museum is dedicated to 20th century art. This is the largest collection of Rhenish Expressionism in the world, as well as work by August Macke (one of the founders of Der Blaue Reiter) and Joseph Beuys.
Haus der Geschichte: The House of Contemporary German History (HDG) covers everything leading up to WWII to the present including the city's reign as the capitol. There are artifacts from the city's Roman origins to coverage of daily life in the East and West.
Alexander König Museum: One of the best natural history and zoological museums in all of Germany.
Deutsches Museum Bonn: Covers historical technological advances.
Kunstmuseum Bonn: A museum dedicated to modern art, founded in 1947. It focuses on Rhenish Expressionism and August Macke in particular, one of the founders of Der Blaue Reiter. Also included are post-war artists like Joseph Beuys, Georg Baselitz, and Blinky Palermo. Also watch out for the extensive video collection.
Arithmeum: Extensively studies the history of mathematics with over 1,200 artifacts from antique calculators to rare books. These pieces of antiquity are housed in a thoroughly modern setting of steel and glass.
Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn: One of the oldest history museums in Germany.
Bonn marks the beginning of the Mittelrhein (Middle Rhine), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is one of the most beautiful areas along the Rhine River, a popular cruise destination with frequent stops at the many charming towns along the river.
Routes generally run from Cologne to Koblenz where the Rhine joins the Mosel. From here cruisers can enjoy views of castle after castle.
If you want to get off the more popular cruise route, try the Ahr, a tributary of the Rhine that offers more destination villages with half the tourists.
Located on one of the Siebengebirge (seven hills) of Drachenfels, this castle was completed at the late time period of 1884 on the orders of a wealthy banker, Stephan von Sarter. He never lived there, however, and the castle passed through many hands before being given protected historical status.
Visitors can hike the long pathway up, even past the showy castle to an older ruin at the top, or take the charming and actually historic Drachenfelsbahn tram. Inside the place is decorated in showy Baroque excess, but the real attraction are the views down to the river and all the way back to Bonn.
If Drachenburg didn't fulfill your medieval fantasy, nearby Godesburg Castle certainly will.
This stark stone castle was built in the 13th century, but was largely destroyed by the late 16th in the Cologne War. Luckily, in 1959, the castle has been restored to its original character with modern amenities like a restaurant with spectacular views of the countryside.
Another element of its restoration is that the interior of the castle was turned into apartments. Every man's home is his castle, but for these residents it really is.
Just south of Bonn and part of a public park is the Waldau forest. This beloved entryway back to nature has many animals as a game reserve like deer, owls, badgers, bats, and dangerous wild boars (seriously—boars are a real threat in rural Germany).
This forest offers many relaxing walks among its established hornbeams and oak trees. The historic Haus der Natur, an environmental education center, is open to the public and offers information on the more than 1,000-year history of the surrounding Kottenforst (to access that area directly there is a handy Bahnhof Kottenforst on the S-Bahn). Popular with families, there is also a large playground.
Cologne is the usual pick for a base in North Rhine-Westphalia , but Bonn makes for a less touristy, more relaxed option for day trips around the state.
Also in the area are lesser-known German destinations like Aachen, Münster, Wuppertal, and many more.