Whenever I meet someone from Germany, I always mention that I’ve visited there. Of course, they ask “What part?” and my answer is “Essen!” The next logical question is a confused, “Why?” How did I end up in Essen, a small city not found on many travel itineraries? I was there for a board game convention. Yup, you read that right.
Most of my travels thus far have actually revolved around book fairs due to my boyfriends profession, but this time we mixed it up and went to a board game convention. We were there a week, and I have to say, I thought it would be hard to fill the time in such a quaint little city. The truth is, there was plenty to do, and I felt like I got a glimpse into how German people really live. We weren’t in a tourist destination where everyone speaks English and you only see the well known attractions. It was up to us to discover the cool things to see in the neighborhood, and hey, staying at a castle doesn’t hurt.
Speaking of castles, we stayed at the gorgeous Hugenpoet! This spectacular little castle is outside the city on a quiet piece of land surrounded by farms. From the moment you walk in, you are greeted with grandiose and charm. The entrance features a large ornately carved staircase and sitting area. The rooms are on the modern side with an old world twist. The grounds are nice for a quiet walk, and the restaurant on the main floor has an interesting array of food.
Eat all the Food
Most of the food pictured above was taken at the hotel/castle. When I think of Germany, I’m not exactly hit with a feeling of food inspiration. I am hit with the word chocolate, but that’s the only edible that really stands out for me. I figured there’d be bratwurst, and as someone who speaks 6 words of German, 3 of which are “I am drunk,” I ate a lot of bratwurst. As I mentioned, not everyone speaks English so bratwurst was my go to meal when I couldn’t read the menu (this trip predated Google Translate).
The meals that weren’t bratwurst or sausage of any kind were actually pretty spectacular. Whether it was risotto, steak, or seafood I really enjoyed myself. We went out and stumbled upon a Greek restaurant one night, and on our final night we ate at an authentic German restaurant. Of course, I ordered the sausage with sauerkraut and all the other fixings. It was pretty delicious, although the servings were ginormous! Even pastries here were delicious. Maybe even better than (dare I say) Paris. The only let down was a pretentious dessert at the hotel restaurant. I believe it was elder berry ice cream. We were a rowdy crowd and got a pretty big laugh out of how terrible it was. Yuck.
The Ruhr Museum
Although most of our time was spent at the board game convention, we managed to dedicate a day to the Ruhr Museum. Essen was a coal mining town back in the day. They managed to take an unused mine along with a dozen or so mining buildings and make the space relevant. Some act as performing art spaces, others act as galleries. The best part was the section turned into a museum.
I’ve been to a ton of museums in different countries, but this is the first one I’ve been to that literally had a little bit of everything. One floor showed the history of the area, while another was dedicated to natural history. You would turn a corner and see Greek/Roman art and down a set of stairs was modern art. It was really an incredible set up and right when you might get bored, you were presented with something totally different. There was even a rooftop to enjoy the view. We went on a windy day, and I was sure I was going to blow off the roof, but on a nice day I’m sure it’s lovely.
Walk Around the City
We also dedicated a day to wandering around the city of Essen. I should admit that a good chunk of time was spent on a search for the perfect boot. It was a success. Three years later, I still get compliments. We wandered in and out of stores. My favorite, of course, was the chocolate store because who doesn’t love German chocolate. Plus, I love places that make it easy to buy souvenirs for your family. Coming home with boxes of handmade chocolate for everyone is a crowd pleaser.
All in all, my time in Essen was a great experience. It’s not the first place I’d recommend to people going abroad, but for a small little city in the middle of nowhere, it’s full of hidden gems. If you want more information on Essen, head over to The Crazy Tourist’s page on the 25 Best Things to do in Essen, Germany which is full of awesome advice on what to see!
Have you ever been to a city abroad that no one has heard of? If so, where?
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Michelle Della Giovanna
Writer at Full Time Explorer
I’m just your average New Yorker who quit her job in the fashion industry to explore the world. Come find out what it’s like to trade in five-inch heels for squat toilets.