Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

North Rhine-Westphalia
Art, Archaeology & History Sites & Museums

There are said to be over 14,000 kilometres of cycle paths in North Rhineland-Westphalia. The region is also known for its spectacular hiking trails. And for a more leisurely experience, over 1,500 kilometres of rivers – some of which serve cruise boats. These routes take in many interesting and important historical sites, from Roman ruins and medieval castles, to industrial monuments and museums. One of the five UNESCO listed heritage sites in this state is the imposing Cologne Cathedral, which is Germany’s most visited attraction. North Rhine-Westphalia is the birthplace to some of Germany’s most influential artists, including the composer Beethoven, the poet Heine an the artist Beuys. 

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Archaeology & History Sites in North Rhine-Westphalia

Anholt Moated Castle

The moated castle set within a Baroque English style park is one of the most beautiful castles of its kind in Münsterland. Although the earliest recorded mention dates back to the 12th century, it was around 1700 that the fortified castle was turned into a lavish stately residence for Prince Nikolaus of Salm-Salm. Today the castle houses a substantial art collection of some 700 masterpieces, including paintings by such artists as Rembrandt, Jan Brueghel the Elder and Holbein. Part of the castle is a four star hotel.

Basilica of St Ursula

There have been various buildings on this site since at least 400 AD. It was long believed that this is the site of the mass burial of 11,000 virgins associated with the legend of St Ursula. In fact, this is the site of Roman necropolis; sarcophagi are present. The current building, although added to over the century, was started in 1135. In the 17th century, the many relics – supposedly of the 11,000 virgins – were placed in the Golden Chamber, one of the must-see sites of Cologne. The church was damage during WWI, and has been restored since,

Cochem Castle

The Reichsburg Cochem on a hill above the river Mosel is thought to have been built by Graf Ezzo around the year 1000 and only became an imperial castle in 1151. Under the occupation by Louis XIV in 1689, it was burned down and reduced to ruins. When the rich Berlin merchant Louis Ravené bought the remains of the castle in 1868, he reconstructed it with a new gothic style, while preserving it’s late gothic core. Since 1978 the castle has been owned by the city Cochem with regular tours on offer. Even dogs are allowed inside the rooms.

Cologne - Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium

Colonia was always an important town for the Romans; the capital of the province of Germania Inferior and later the capital of Germania Secunda. The regional headquarters of the military in the region was based here. There are a number of features to see in the city, including sections of the wall and towers. The Roman museum, exhibitions are currently in a temporary location, was built on the foundations of a townhouse and displays its mosaic floor of Dionysius.

Cologne Cathedral

Construction of the cathedral began in 1248 and was completed in 1880. Despite the passing of seven centuries, the building stayed true to the original plans. Besides being known for its majestic qualities, it is the 3rd largest church in the world, the cathedral is also home to exceptional examples of Christian art, including numerous altars, the Shrine of the Magi, which is the largest reliquary shrine in Europe, and the 14th century stained glass windows. Visitors can enter the treasury, climb the towers and see the bell chambers. A number of themed guided tours are offered.

Deutz Abbey & Old St Heribert Church

In 1002 AD Emperor Otto III and Archbishop Heribert established a Benedictine monastery on the remains of the Roman fort of Divitia. Heribert was buried in the Romanesque church – hence the name Alt St Heribert. His bones are now in a shrine in Neu St Heribert, a nearby catholic church. Both the monastery and the church were destroyed many times in their histories. The monastery was dissolved during the Deutsche Mediatisierung, 1802 – 1814. Fully restored following WWII but retaining its Romanesque cellars; the abbey is now an old age home and the church is used by the Greek Orthodox community in Cologne.

Divitia Fort in Deutz

At the beginning of the 4th century AD, Emperor Constantine built a fort on the right bank of the Rhine, opposite Colonia. Part of the Roman Limes, it was intended to strengthen the Empire’s border. A textbook example of a late Roman fort, it is well known as a result of numerous excavations, despite there being very little to see. The preserved walls of the east gate are visible. Where possible, the outline of the fort is marked in the pavement. In 1002 AD Deutz Abbey was built on the remains, and much later a Prussian fortification incorporated the NW Roman tower. The western half was destroyed during the construction of a 19th century river embankment.

Heinzelmännchenbrunnen - Pixie's Fountain

Just off the main square in the centre of Cologne is the Heinzelmännchenbrunnen; a fountain based on a local myth about pixies. Legend has it that during the night pixies would do artisans’ work for them. Until they were discovered by a tailor’s wife. The fountain is a tribute to August Kopisch, who in 1836 immortalised the legend in a poem called ‘Die Heinzelmännchen zu Köln’. Conservation of the fountain is sponsored by the adjacent Früh Brewery – a great place to enjoy a kölsch and traditional, local dishes while sightseeing.

LVR-Archaeological Park Xanten

The archaeological park on the edge of the medieval town of Xanten was built on the ruins of the Roman settlement Colonia Ulpia Traiana, on the banks of the Lower Rhine. Founded in 70 AD, the Roman town was the second most important commercial post in Germania Inferior, after Cologne. In 275 AD it was completely destroyed by Germanic tribes, and rebuilt as Tricensimae. That too was destroyed by local tribes. A number of features have been reconstructed in the park, including an amphitheatre, bath house and defensive wall.

NS Documentation Center - EL-DE Haus

From 1935 to 1945 EL-DE Haus was the headquarters of the Secret State Police for the administrative district of Cologne. It was from here that the Nazis orchestrated their reign of terror on the city. A permanent exhibition outlines the history of Cologne during the National Socialist era. In the cellar is the ‘Gestapo Prison’; with more than 1,800 wall inscriptions that bear witness to persecution, torture and murder, this is one of the best preserved detention sites of the Nazi era. The NS Documentation centre is Germany’s largest regional memorial site for the victims of Nazism.

TimeRide Köln 1926

A virtual reality experience that takes visitors back to the Golden Age of Cologne. More specifically, in 1926 and the days leading up to the start of Carnival. For the main feature of the experience, climb aboard a replica of a 1920s tram, don your VR headsets and sit back and enjoy a ride through the streets of Cologne. The ‘conductor’ points out historic landmarks that are still visible today, despite the extensive damage from Allied air raids during WWII.

Vischering Castle

Vischering Castle was built for the bishop of Münster, Gerhard von der Mark in 1271. The moated fortress was intended to protect against neighbouring castles, one of which had been built without the bishop’s consent. When it burned down in 1521, it was rebuilt in the style of the Renaissance by Johann von Droste. After serving as the residence of Graf Maximial from 1893 to 1923, it was turned into a museum in 1972. Not to be missed is the park surrounding the castle, great for a stroll when visiting.

Weiden Roman Tomb

Discovered in 1843, this Roman tomb is the best preserved funerary structure of its kind north of the Alps. Situated on the Via Belgica, it was about 9kms from the western gate of Colonia. Several generations of a wealthy Roman family were buried in this richly furnished burial chamber associated with a nearby villa rustica (this has not been found). The tomb is all but original, with original funerary furniture, including a beautifully carved marble sarcophagus.

WWI British Cemetery

Cologne Southern Cemetery was used for Allied prisoners and German servicemen during WWI. In 1922 it was decided that Commonwealth servicemen who had died throughout Germany should be brought together in four cemeteries – Cologne being one. In the following years graves from 180 different burial grounds in Hanover, Hessen, the Rhine and Westphalia were transferred here. Now, there are nearly 2,500 graves of WWI Commonwealth servicemen here, as well as over 130 WWII graves.

Museums & Art Galleries in North Rhine-Westphalia

Belgisches Haus

The Belgian House was home to the Consulate General for Belgium until 2015, hence the name. Constructed in 1948/49 by the Belgian state to serve citizens of that nation living in the surrounding states. Today, the first two floors house the temporary exhibition of the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, while that venue undergoes a major refurbishment. While the exhibition does not include everything, it is nonetheless a substantial exhibition and should not be missed.

Bielefeld Farmhouse Museum

The Farmhouse Museum at Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia, was established in 1915. The main building originally erected here, the Meier zu Ummeln, burned down in 1995 although was later replaced by another, the 16th century Möllering farm. As well as these historic domestic residences, the museum contains other structures, like a bakery, apiary, and post windmill, together helping to give visitors an impression of rural life in western Germany during the 19th century.

Chocolate Museum Cologne

One of Cologne’s more popular attractions, the Chocolate Museum offers the visitor everything from a comprehensive exhibition of the history of cocoa covering 5,000 years o the plant’s cultivation, a tropical greenhouse, many images and films, with lots of tasting opportunities – including a 3m high chocolate fountain. You are free to explore over 4,000 square meters of exhibition space or take a guided tour. End your stay at the chocolate themed café with spectacular views of the Rhine River.

Detmold Open-Air Museum

The open-air museum at Detmold opened in the early 1970s and covers an area of 90 hectares. Over 100 historic buildings and other structures such as windmills can be explored, from thatched cottages and farmhouses, to schools and shops. Around 500 years of architectural history is complemented with historic vehicles – including hay carts, fire engines, and sleighs, various species of livestock, and over 300,000 historic artefacts on display throughout the site.  Numerous events and hands-on activities keep visitors of all ages entertained.

Hagen Open-Air Museum

In an idyllic rural setting covering around 40 hectares, the Hagen Open-Air Museum has assembled a range of historic buildings from the from Westphalia and Lippe area of western Germany.  Many of these buildings are traditional workshops with staff who demonstrate traditional skills, among them metal work, ropemaking, brewing, tanning, printing, and milling. In all these displays show some 200 years of craft and technology history.

Kolumba Museum, Cologne

Kolumba Museum is one of the oldest museums in Cologne, a collection of religious art from Late Antiquity to the 21st century. Highlights of this collection, including a Romanesque style crucifix and a 4th century glass cage cup, are on permanent display. As spectacular as the collection is, the museum itself is worth a visit. The celebrated Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has designed a strikingly simple building around the ruins of an ornate Gothic church that was severely damaged during the second World War.

Kommern Open-Air Museum

The Kommern Open-Air Museum in Mechernich, North Rhine-Westphalia, helps visitors to immerse themselves in the sensory experiences of traditional rural life in the Rhineland. The museum opened in 1969 and since then has expanded in size and scope. Among Germany’s largest open-air museums, it stretches across 95 hectares and contains over 60 historic structures in its collection. As with many of its counterparts, the grounds are also home to a range of livestock.

Lindlar Open-Air Museum

At the Lindlar Open-Air Museum visitors can learn more about vernacular architecture in the Rhineland. Thirty buildings are spread over 30 hectares, as if they represented separate villages. These include domestic residences, stables, an inn, a bakery, and a chapel, as well as an old railway. Also, various endangered livestock breeds from the region live in the museum grounds. From March through to Advent the museum has a busy programme of activities for the whole family.

LVR-RömerMuseum, Xanten

A life-size protective structure has been erected over the ruins of a bath house, that resembles the outer appearance of the Roman building. The LVR-Römer Museum is housed in what would have been the entrance hall to that building. Visitors are able to view the foundations and various features of that 2,000 year old bath house, as well the exhibition of the many objects found in and around the Colonia of Roman Xanten. Displays are organised chronologically, and tell the history of this important Roman city.

Oerlinghausen Archaeological Open-Air Museum

Visitors to the Oerlinghausen Archaeological Open-Air Museum can explore reconstructed structures from six periods of the region’s history, from a Stone Age summer camp of reindeer hunters to an early medieval farm complex. Experimental gardens, some including livestock, show the changing relationship humans have had with the land. The museum was opened in 1936 following the excavation of an Iron Age camp. An active programme of events is available from April through to the end of October.