Central Germany’s largest city seems to be a bit of a paradox: On the one hand, it’s the country’s fastest-growing city and a vibrant cultural hot-spot due to its large university and important role in the contemporary art scene, yet on the other hand it still appears to be something of a well-kept secret among foreign travelers.
I’ve been living in this phenomenal city for over a decade now, so I figured it’s about time I share my local knowledge with you by devising the perfect one-day itinerary to Leipzig. The city packs a high density of sights, though, and picking the right spots for a short stopover isn’t exactly easy. Accordingly, I haven’t included Museums, which usually take a lot of time to explore sufficiently.
That said, I’ve still mentioned some worth-wile nearby museums in the stops of the itinerary, so if you’ve got a day or two more to explore the city, I’d suggest you throw a few of those into the mix. As it stands, here’s my ultimate one-day itinerary for Leipzig.
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The perfect one-day itinerary for Leipzig
Start your exploration at Leipzig’s Main Station
Start from the city’s impressive Main Station, finished in 1915 and still the largest railway station in all of Europe by floor area. Leave the station through the south-western exit and follow Nikolaistraße south until you reach the quaint Nikolaikirchhof.
Central Leipzig’s largest church was originally erected in 1165 in a Romanic style and subsequently expanded several times over the centuries. Nowadays it’s mostly known for its historical role in the late GDR era as this is where the weekly peace demonstrations were held. The interior is constructed in a classicist style with the most famous features being the columns with palm-leaf-shaped capitals.
The former school-building directly to the north of the church contains the University’s Museum of Antiquities featuring a small yet fascinating exhibition of plaster casts, vases and other artefacts from the Roman, Greek and Etruscan Civilizations.
Continue south until you reach the pleasant pedestrian Grimmaische Straße and turn east to reach Augustusplatz, a square which is dominated by two important buildings related to Leipzig’s rich musical heritage.
To the north, you’ll find the Opera House, erected in 1960, while at the southern end of the square sits the Gewandhaus, a concert hall dating to 1981, which is the third and current home of the city’s famous Orchestra of the same name, which was once led by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.
MDR Tower Viewing Platform
The large glass-and-concrete tower to the south east used to belong to the University, which is why it’s still lovingly referred to as Weisheitszahn (Wisdom Tooth) by the locals (Get It?). Bad puns aside, the building’s top floor holds a viewing platform, which offers fantastic prospects of the city centre as well as the northern, western and southern suburbs.
Market and Old Town Hall
Backtrack to Augustusplatz and continue west along Grimmaische Straße until you reach Leipzig’s central Market Square, which is dominated by the impressive Old Town Hall, erected in 1557 in a Renaissance Style. If it seems particularly aesthetically pleasing to you, it might be due to the fact that it was constructed following the conventions of the Golden Ratio.
Since the city’s administration moved to a new building in the early 20th century, the old town hall serves as the home for Leipzig’s fascinating Museum of City History, detailing the development of the city over the last 900 years.
Those interested in more contemporary history could check out the exhibition at Zeitgeschichtliches Forum, facing the southern end of the town hall, which focuses on the GDR-era of German history and can be visited free of charge.
Don’t miss the pretty baroque-era Old Stock Exchange building on the small square behind the Town Hall (to the east). The statue in front of it depicts the famous German playwright, poet and novelist Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
Lunch Break: Barfußgässchen or Auerbachs Keller
If you need a refuel before continuing your explorations, Barfußgässchen leading west from the northern half of the market square features Central Leipzig’s highest concentration of bars and restaurants. Alternatively, you could grab a bite at Auerbachs Keller, the city’s most famous (read: touristic) restaurant, which is even featured as a location in Goethe’s play Faust.
The eponymous main character is depicted together with his enabler Mephistopheles at the entrance to the underground restaurant. You can find the restaurant directly south of the town hall inside the Mädlerpassage arcade.
Thomaskirche and Bach-Memorial
If you continue west from the southern edge of the market square, you’ll encounter Leipzig’s other famous church. The beautiful Thomaskirche is where Johann Sebastian Bach served as a cantor in the early 18th century and where you’ll find the famous baroque era composer’s grave. If you look closely, you’ll also spot his face in one of the detailed stained glass windows along the southern wall of the church.
Another famous architectural feature is the beautifully intricate rib-vaulted ceiling. On the little square directly south of the church you’ll find a Statue of Bach, while his old living quarters on the opposite side of the road serve as the Bach Museum, where you can get acquainted with the life and works of the composer.
New Town Hall
Continue south along Burgstraße until you reach Leipzig’s imposing New Town Hall. Built at the turn of the 20th century, it’s been the seat of the cities administration since 1905 replacing the Old Town Hall on the market square. The impressive building designed by local architect Hugo Licht stands at the location of the former Pleißenburg fortress and incorporates stylistic elements from the previous building accounting for its somewhat martial appearance.
Now that you’ve thoroughly explored central Leipzig, walk east to the subterranean Wilhelm-Leuschner-Platz train station and take the suburban train S1 or S2 to the towering Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Monument of the Battle of Nations) south-east of the centre.
The humongous Memorial to the Battle of Nations fought in 1813 is not only Europe’s largest monument and an impressive (if somewhat grim) feat of architecture, but also affords amazing views of the surrounding area and back to the city centre from the viewing platform at its top.
You can read all about visiting this unique site in my guide here.
What better place to end a day of restless exploration than Leipzig’s very own counter-cultural quarter? The Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, lovingly dubbed “Karli” by locals and expats alike is where you’ll find the city’s highest density of restaurants and bars as well as countless instances of street art and architectural leftovers from the GDR era.
To reach it, take the suburban train to the MDR-Stop and walk west along Kurt-Eisner-Straße until you reach the big avenue running in a north-south direction. When it comes to places to eat, you’ll be confronted with the paradox of choice, as you’ll find anything from hearty German fare, to vegan eateries, to food from all around the world.
Dig in and rest in the knowledge that you’ve seen all the must-visit places the city has to offer.
Guided Tours of Leipzig
If you prefer taking a guided tour, there are plenty of options, like this highly-recommended walking tour of the city centre. If you like the flexibility of exploring a city on your own but still want some more in-depth-information, you might want to consider a self-guided city tour by audio guide.
Map of Leipzig
All the sights mentioned above can be found in this map of the city. Also included are some potential places to stay.
Where to stay in Leipzig
As you would expect, most accommodation options can be found in central Leipzig, and close to the train station, including several cheap hostels for the budget-minded, like Hostel Sleepy Lion or Five Elements Hostel.
There are plenty of other options around, so I wrote a dedicated guide to The best Hotels, Hostels and Guesthouses in Leipzig.