When it comes to maritime Europe, it seems the Mediterranean Sea gets most of the attention – its warm water and golden beaches attracting tourists, while its geography has made it an important trade route since ancient civilisations emerged on its shores.
In comparison, the Baltic Sea in the north of Europe can often be a bit overlooked.
Too cold for swimming much of the year (except for people braver than me) and without the beautiful sun-soaked islands, the Baltic Sea doesn’t have nearly the number of holidays resorts as the Med.
And, without a thoroughfare like the Suez Canal, and bordering just a handful of countries, it can’t really compete economically with the heavy traffic that moves through Europe’s southern sea.
But, this wasn’t always the case. The Baltic Sea was once one of the most commercially significant waterways in Europe. And, as I’ve travelled more around its coast, I’ve come to appreciate the treasures that have remained from that time.
Sure, there may not be many beaches, islands, or sun-filled resorts – but the Baltic Coast has some of the most beautiful historic cities in Europe.
Founded in the 13th century, the medieval city of Wismar was built around a harbour basin that made it a convenient place for ships to stop along the trading routes of northern Europe.
But even more than that, Wismar had what was considered to be the best harbour on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, making it particularly popular for traders. And that meant that lots of people wanted to live here to make the most of all the business.
Within a century of being founded, Wismar was an important intermediary in products like wool, wax, fur, and salt. In particular it played a big role in the herring industry (perhaps no surprise when you see the cuisine of the region). And it was also a big exporter of its own product – beer.
Many of the things to do in Wismar still relate to this time, when it was at the apex of its power and wealth.
The people of the city had a huge amount of independence – from any external ruler, but also in terms of individual civil liberties. And the pride they felt from this is reflected in grand buildings like the town hall, city gates, and fortifications.
Money was also spent on a series of lavish churches in the city centre, all quite close to each other but with their own distinct elements – even though, collectively, they represented an emerging architectural style.
In the 16th century, the Hanseatic League (the commercial organisation Wismar was a part of) lost much of its influence over trade in the Baltic Sea. Although the city continued to prosper, it was never quite the same.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, it came under the control of the Swedish Kingdom and became a major administrative and defence centre.
The need for protection meant the city centre stayed relatively small and concentrated – which is great for visitors, because it’s easy to walk between the main sights and explore most significant buildings within a day.
The central marketplace is, aptly considering its trading history, the focal point of Wismar. From there, it’s easy to reach some of its other icons – its churches, in particular.
But part of the appeal of visiting Wismar is just wandering through its medieval architecture and tracing the stages in its dramatic growth.
Amongst all the heritage – which is definitely the focus – there’s still a recreational atmosphere that comes from its coastal location. Grab some seafood, look at the water, and enjoy some of my suggestions for the best things to do in Wismar.
There’s no better place to soak up the history and culture of Wismar than at the Market Place, the beating heart of this picturesque medieval city. Located just a short stroll from the port, Market Place has been the centre of all the action in Wismar for centuries.
When Wismar was a member of the Hanseatic League, the Market Place was a key hub for commerce and trade. Today, it’s best known for its Christmas markets and Swedish heritage.
The square itself is expansive and a good place to enjoy Gothic architecture and dine at bustling restaurants. Some of the best things to do in Wismar are found right here.
As gorgeous as the buildings surrounding the square are, the Wasserkumst fountain is the undisputed centrepiece of the area.
Not only is the fountain incredibly ornate and intricate, but it was also an essential water source for residents of the city between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Although it no longer supplies drinking water to the city, the Wasserkunst fountain is as famous as ever. Its Renaissance-style design and sandstone structure will catch your eye as soon as you set foot in the Market Place.
One of the most prominent buildings within the square is the Town Hall, otherwise known as the Wismar Rathaus to locals. This neoclassical structure was built in the early 1800s, though the original building dates back to the 14th century.
After you’ve taken some time to admire the pristine white facade and orange-tiled roof, head inside and spend an hour checking out the exhibition in the hall’s basement.
Filled with historical artefacts, this museum gives an overview of Wismar’s storied past and how it came to be a crucial trading centre for centuries.
Town Hall is open at these times:
Monday: 8:30 – 12:00
Tuesday: 8:30- 12:00 and 14:00 – 15:30
Thursday: 8:30- 12:00 and 14:00 – 17:30
Friday: 8:30- 12:00
Admission is free.
While you’re in the area, you simply have to stop by Old Swede (Alter Schwede), which is a restaurant set in a late 14th-century townhouse.
The striking red-brick building is the Market Place’s go-to eatery for comfort food and tasty local cuisine. Plenty of German classics make up the menu, including sweet treats like windbeutel and snacks like German fried potatoes.
Thanks to the cosy medieval interior, the atmosphere at Old Swede is authentic and welcoming, making a great break from the chilly temperatures if you’re visiting in the winter months.
No historic European city is complete without some breathtaking churches, and Wismar has enough to rival any of its counterparts.
Many of Wismar’s churches date back to the 13th and 14th centuries, though each of them tells its own story and boasts plenty of unique features.
St Nicholas’s Church
Though it’s probably impossible to pick a favourite, St Nicholas’s Church might just snag the top spot for me.
Along with St Mary’s and St George’s, St Nicholas’s is one of Wismar’s most notable churches. From its red-brick exterior to its soaring pink-hued nave, this basilica is a true feast for the eyes and an unmissable addition to your Wismar itinerary.
Once inside, you’ll have the chance to catch a glimpse of the detailed murals, go on a tour of the vaults to see the interior from above and stop by the World War II exhibit.
St Nicholas’s Church is at these times:
Easter – 14 June: 10:00 – 18:00
15 June – 15 September: 10:00 – 19:00
16 September – 31 October: 10:00 – 18:00
November – Easter: 11:00 – 16:00
Admission is free.
St Mary’s Church
Just a 10-minute walk away is St Mary’s Church, of which only its 80-metre tower remains.
It was damaged during the Second World War but almost totally destroyed by Communist forces in 1960. Behind the tower lies what is left of the former nave of the church, which makes for a somewhat eerie sight.
During opening hours, you can take a tour to the top of the tower and watch a 3D presentation recounting the history of the church.
St Mary’s Church is open daily at these times:
April to September: 10:00 – 18:00
October to March: 10:00 – 16:00
Admission is free.
St George’s Church
The last of Wismar’s most beloved ancient churches is St George’s, which was constructed from the early 13th century right up until the latter end of the 16th century.
Much like many treasured buildings in Wismar, St George’s was damaged during the war and was only rebuilt in 1990.
What sets this particular church apart is its current use, as it’s become a popular venue for concerts, exhibitions, and various performances. Not only that, but it’s also home to a stellar viewing platform where you’ll find some of the finest vistas of the city.
St George’s Church is open daily at these times:
April to September: 10:00 – 18:00
October to March: 10:00 – 16:00
Admission is free.
Church of the Holy Spirit
Despite being lesser known than the previous landmarks, the Church of the Holy Spirit is just as impressive in its own way.
Comprising medieval, Gothic, and Baroque features, the Church of the Holy Spirit was also a hospital in the past and simultaneously served as a place for worship and care.
Despite not having a traditional nave, as you’d expect to find in most churches, this building consists of a main hall with a flat ceiling, a brick altar, and unique frescoes.
It’s worth paying the small fee to go inside the church, which is almost as eye-catching as its charming exterior.
Church of the Holy Spirit is open every day from 9:00 – 17:00.
Admission costs €1.
Considering it’s perched right by the Baltic Sea, it’s little wonder that Wismar has such a rich maritime history – and it’s even extended to modern times.
As you explore your city, look out for some of these elements offering an insight into this aspect of life here.
Within easy reach of the city centre is Wismar’s harbour, where this Northern German hub’s maritime culture continues to thrive.
Make your way down to the Western Harbour and amble along the waterfront past endless cruise ships, sailing boats, and yachts lining the edge of the city.
This is a lovely little spot for a stroll at any time of the day, but it’s especially popular around sunset. You’ll likely find the area is filled with visitors sampling the region’s iconic seafood.
No, it’s got nothing to do with US political history. Here, the Watergate is the former entry point into the city of Wismar and has been sitting near the edge of the water since 1450.
Built in a similar style to that of many of the city’s most recognisable structures, the Watergate was constructed using red bricks and is the only part of the city walls that remains intact.
As the Watergate connects the city to the harbour, you’ll likely find yourself passing by this several times during your visit, and it makes for a great photo opportunity!
For a city so closely tied to the sea, there’s no better way to dive a little deeper into Wismar’s maritime history than with a boat tour.
There are a bunch of different tours running daily from the harbour, each of which is a mix of scenery and commentary.
I particularly like this 1-hour tour, which allows you to see Wismar from an entirely new perspective while also giving you a glimpse at Poel Island and taking you past the charming village of Hoben.
Better yet, you’ll even be treated to a glass of mulled wine during your excursion!
Have you really been to Wismar if you haven’t indulged in a fischbrötchen at least once during your trip?
Fischbrötchen is a type of fish sandwich that has become a favourite amongst locals and tourists in Wismar.
It usually consists of fresh or fried fish with pickles, onions, and various sauces. Fischbrötchen is typically made from herring, but cod, salmon and mackerel varieties are also popular.
You’ll find these tasty sandwiches all over Wismar, but the harbour is home to some of the best in the business and will only set you back a few euros.
Wismar has a host of diverse museums, each of which warrants a visit during your stay.
Whether you’re keen to brush up on your history or want to explore the city’s role in technology and innovation, you’ll find some of the best things to do in Wismar in these institutions.
World Heritage House
The World Heritage House (Welt Erbe Haus) is a must, when you visit Wismar chronicling the history through fascinating exhibitions that are set inside a gorgeous restored townhouse.
Much of the information inside the World Heritage House relates to the building itself, which will give you a look into life in Wismar over hundreds of years and how the city came to get its status as a World Heritage Site.
Though it’s relatively small, this free museum is packed with information and is home to a captivating wallpaper room that you can’t leave without seeing.
World Heritage House is open daily at these times:
April to September: 9:00 – 17:00
October to March: 10:00 – 16:00
Admission is free.
Civic History Museum
If you’re eager to get a more in-depth overview of Wismar’s history, the Civic History Museum (Schabbellhaus) will be right up your alley.
The Civic History Museum covers over 800 years of local history, from its time under Swedish rule to its membership in the Hanseatic League. Set aside a few hours in your schedule and examine the endless artefacts and detailed exhibits.
Standard entry is €6, though I recommend joining a guided tour for €12, which includes your ticket, or opting for the €3 audio guide.
The Civic History Museum is open at these times:
November to March: Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 – 16:00
April to June: Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 – 18:00
July to August: daily from 10:00 – 18:00
September to October: Tuesday – Sunday from 10:00 – 18:00
A standard ticket is €6 and concession is €4.
For something a little different, be sure to stop by phanTECHNIKUM, Wismar’s interactive technology museum that has something for visitors of any age.
It’s especially entertaining for the youngsters, as there are a bunch of experiments and hands-on activities to get involved in as you make your way around the exhibits.
The museum details the development of technology in the region, and each display is based on one of the four elements: earth, water, fire, and air.
Entry is usually €10, but it’s often reduced to just €5 during select periods of the year.
phanTECHNIKUM is open at these times:
September to June: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 – 17:00
July and August: daily from 10:00 – 18:00
A standard ticket is €10 and concession is €5.
If your itinerary allows it, there are plenty more sights to add to your to-do list when you visit Wismar.
From architectural marvels to scenic stretches of sand right outside of the city centre, you’ll never be short of things to do in Wismar, and I’ve broken down some of my favourites below.
With their colourful facades and triangular-shaped roofs, Wismar’s collection of gabled houses is a window into life in the city and its wealthy inhabitants from centuries gone by.
Many of the houses once served as breweries and remain under protection to this day. Most of them are scattered around the Old Town, and each building boasts its own unique features in terms of colour, size, and design.
You won’t need to search for long to cast your eyes on these masterpieces, as many of them are nestled within the Market Place and the surrounding streets.
Nosferatu filming locations
If this doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry, it’s quite niche. But for movie buffs, exploring the setting for Nosferatu can be quite a thrill.
Wismar was one of the primary filming locations for Nosferatu, a silent German horror film from 1922. Some of the classic flick’s most iconic scenes were shot right in the heart of Wismar, with popular spots like the Market Place and the Wasserkunst fountain featuring.
Fans might also recognise the likes of St George’s Church, the Church of the Holy Spirit, the Watergate, and the port.
If you haven’t already seen Nosferatu, it’s well worth giving it a watch in advance of your trip!
One of Wismar’s quirkiest attractions is the Vault, a striking timber-framed house perched over a scenic canal that leads to the harbour. It gets its name from the two-barrel-vaulted bridge on which it was built.
Known locally as Gewölbe, the Vault dates back to the 17th century and has become famous for its bright orange and white exterior, unusual location, and slightly uneven-looking design.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to explore the inside of the Vault at present, but it certainly warrants a visit when you’re ambling along the waterfront or as you wander down to the harbour from the Old Town.
Despite its status as a port city, Wismar is not typically known for its beaches or as a seaside destination.
So, you might be surprised to know that Wismar has a clutch of sandy beaches within a 15-minute drive from the city.
The best known of these is Wendorf Strand, which is located right outside the centre. This family-friendly beach has a pier, playground, and mini-golf course, making it an ideal spot for a day trip.
A little further away (but still easily reachable) is Badestrand Zierow, a slightly quieter beach. Much like Wendorf Strand, Badestrand Zierow is equipped with all the essential facilities and has ample parking.
Taking a dip in the Baltic Sea is pleasant during the summer months, though it may be best to steer clear of the chilly waters if you’re visiting at other times of the year!
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN WISMAR
I would recommend staying in the centre of town, where you can experience the heritage of Wismar.
Along with a convenient location, Ferienwohnung am Alten Hafen is good value for these clean and cozy rooms.
The stylish interior of Townhouse Stadt Hamburg Wismar has turned a heritage building into fantastic modern accommodation.
The service is a highlight at Hotel Am Alten Hafen, but you’ll also love the large bright rooms with really comfortable beds.