Europe for Visitors - Home
Europe Index Germany Index

Arrow COVID-19 and European travel

Europe > Germany > Münster

Münster, Germany

Travel and Tourist Information

Photo: Presseamt Stadt Münster / Tilman Rossmöller

ABOVE: The Prinzipalmarkt in Münster's Old Town during Advent.

Münster is one of Germany's most appealing smaller cities, with a 1,200-year history, a town center that blends the medieval with modern, and the lively atmosphere that comes from having a university with 39,000 students.

Münster is popular with Dutch and German tourists, but most English-speaking travelers have barely heard of the city.

More curious yet, Münster is ignored by guidebook publishers such as Frommer's and Fodor's--despite the fact that Münster is only one of 17 cities that have been admitted to Historic Highlights of Germany, a consortium of cities chosen for their "special charm, architectural brilliance and historic character."

Still, mass-market tourism's loss is your gain: You won't trip over fellow Americans or British tourists when you enjoy the pleasures of this attractive city near the borders of the Netherlands and the German Rhineland. And enjoy it you will--ideally, for at least a few days, or even a week if you can spare the time to browse through museums and explore the surrounding countryside of Münsterland.


Münster history and background

Photo: Presseamt Stadt Münster

ABOVE: Münster's historic Rathaus (the larger building in the photo) dates to the 14th Century.

Münster is a city of 280,000 in North Rhine-Westphalia, not far from Germany's border with the Netherlands. The city traces its history back to 793 A.D., when a monastery was founded in the area during the time of Emperor Charlemagne.

Münster was granted the status of a civitas (city) in 805, and by 1494 it was associated with the Hanseatic League. In the 16th Century, it was ruled by Anabaptists but became a Catholic city again during the Counter-Reformation.

Münster's unofficial motto,  "the city of the Westphalian peace," pays homage to its role in ending the Thirty Years War in the 17th Century. Together with nearby Osnabrück, Münster hosted the negotiations that brought that religious and political conflict to an end. You can visit the Friedensaal, or "Hall of Peace," in the city's old Rathaus (see photo above) to see where the negotiations took place.

In World War II, 90% of the buildings in the Altstadt were destroyed by Allied bombing. After the war, the city government decided to rebuild the city on the medieval town plan. Today's Altstadt, or old town, is an attractive blend of repaired or restored old buildings and modern structures that fit into the winding, twisting medieval streetscape.

Perhaps most impressive of all, there's nothing museum-like or Disneyesque about Münster's town center: It's a lively place where you can visit historic churches, dine in ancient restaurants, or shop for anything from English books to German baked goods to Laura Ashley dresses and Armani shirts.


Münster sightseeing

Photo: Presseamt Stadt Münster/Tilman Rossmöller

ABOVE: The Dom was built in the 13th Century and was restored after being bombed in World War II.

Photo: Presseamt Stadt MünsterNearly all of Münster's important sights are within the Altstadt or old town, which is encircled by the Promenade (a narrow green belt with bicycle and walking paths that replaced the old medieval walls in the late 1700s).

Some of Münster's more important sights include:

Photo: Presseamt Stadt MünsterThe Dom, which was built in the 13th Century. Look for the astronomical clock, a mechanical device from the late Middle Ages that puts on a daily show at noon (12:30 p.m. on Sundays and holidays).

 The cathedral was heavily damaged in World War II, and a chapel contains the smashed bells that fell down from the tower in the bombing of October 28, 1944. You can also see photos of the ravaged building as it looked before being restored in the 1950s.

Photo: Presseamt Stadt Münster/Joachim BuschThe old Rathaus, or city hall, with its Friedensaal where the Westphalian Peace was signed in 1648 to end the 30 Years War.

 The 14th Century building was badly damaged by incendiary bombs in World War II, but the interior of the Friedensaal had been removed at the beginning of the war and was returned to the building after reconstruction.

The Prinzipalmarkt, a street of arcaded buildings in the middle of the old town's lively and prosperous shopping district.

The Lambertikirche, a.k.a. the Church of St. Lamberti, with its three "Anabaptist cages" where the corpses of three executed Anabapist leaders were hung in the 16th Century. (Cardinal von Galen, who publicly opposed Hitler's euthanasia policy and secret-police terror tactics, gave his anti-Nazi speeches here in World War II.)

Photo: Presseamt Stadt MünsterThe Erbdrostenhof and the tiny Clemenskirche next door, which were built in the mid-1700s and have been described as an "island of Baroque" in the medieval plan of the old town.

The Schloss, or castle, which lies just outside the western edge of the Altstadt and is now the seat of Münster's university. The Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster is the third-largest uni in Germany, with about 39,000 students (including more than 3,500 from abroad).

The Aasee, a narrow urban lake southwest of the old town, which offers boat rides in summer. A park along the lake contains the Mühlenhof open-air museum, a natural history museum and planetarium, and the Altwetterzoo.

Photo: Presseamt Stadt Münster/Joachim BuschThe Hafen, or harbor, which is beyond the railroad station and is home to the Kreativkai, a restored warehouse district with clubs, restaurants, and trendy businesses such as publishing houses and advertising agencies. Boats connect the harbor with Dortmund via the Dortmund-Ems-Kanal.

Sculptures

Photo: Presseamt Stadt MünsterMünster has 57 major works of sculpture scattered about town. Ask the tourist office for a copy of  Sculptures in Münster. The brochure shows where to find works by international artists such as Claes Oldenburg's Pool Balls (see inset photo), Jorge Pardo's Pier on the Aasee, and one of our own favorites, Die überfrau or Superwoman by Tom Otterness, which is next to the city library.

Guided tours

The Münsterbus "hop on, hop off" sightseeing bus provides an easy way to see the city, but with Münster being so compact, we think a walking tour is even better.

Check the tourist office's official tour listings (which include links to private tour companies) to learn about group walks and private tours English, German, and other languages.


Münster museums 

Photo: Presseamt Muenster

ABOVE: The Landesmusem contains paintings and sculptures from medieval to modern times. INSET BELOW: A World War II bomb shelter at the Villa ten Hompel.

For a city with a population of only 280,000, Münster has an impressive number of museums. Here are just a few:

The Landesmuseum (see picture above), more formally known as the Westfälisches Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, has been the city's leading fine-arts museum since 1908. It has art and sculptures from the Middle Ages until modern times, including outstanding collections of religious art, stained-glass windows, and furniture.

The Mühlenhof open-air museum is a delightful collection of farmhouses and other rural buildings from Münsterland in a forested lakeside setting. It's a leisurely walk or a quick drive from the center of town, and you can get there by taking the Aasee excursion boat during summer. (Look for the museum's signature Windmühle or windmill among the trees.)

If you're a fan of modern art, don't miss the Kunstmuseum Pablo Picasso Münster. It's the first Picasso museum in Germany, with more than 780 lithographs and a hundred etchings.

One of our own favorite museums for German-speaking visitors is the Stadtmuseum, or City Museum, which covers Münster's history over the millennia and features special displays. (During our visit, the special exhibits included photos from the city's "Bitter Years" of hardship during and after World War II and a 40th anniversary celebration of the first Rolling Stones concert in Münster.)

Photo: Presseamt Stadt MünsterJust outside the ring road, the Villa Ten Hompel has exhibitions about "Police, Administration, and Responsibility," including persecution of Jews during the Nazi era and reparations after the War. (It helps to know at least some German if you're going to visit this museum, which occupies a former police headquarters.)

Other museums include the Leprosy Museum, the Museum of Lacquer Art, the Porcelain Museum, the university's Bible Museum and Botanical Gardens, and the Kannen Art Gallery in the Alexianer psychiatric hospital complex.


Where to stay in Münster 

Mauritzerhof Hotel, Muenster, Germany

ABOVE: The Mauritzerhof Hotel is a boutique hotel with a stylish modern decor. INSET BELOW: Schloss Wilkinghege is a Relais & Chateaux luxury hotel just outside of town.

Hotels

Hotel in MuensterlandLodgings are easy to find in Münster and vicinity: The local tourist office lists nearly 100 hotels, B&Bs, and other places to stay in the city and its suburbs.

Accommodations within the Altstadt or historic center (see listings) are in shorter supply, but our booking partner--which is also Europe's largest secure reservations service--offers more than three dozen properties in the city center or on its immediate periphery (including hotels by the railroad station).

Two hotels near the railroad station are especially convenient if you're arriving or departing by train. (From either hotel, it's a quick walk to the city center.)

  • Just across the Promenade from the Altstadt, the Mauritzhof Hotel Münster (four stars, see illustrated article) offers comfortable, high-style modern rooms overlooking the green belt. It's only a two-block walk from the railroad station.

  • Closer to the station, the four-star Hotel Kaiserhof (where we stayed) has comfortable rooms and serves a good buffet breakfast.

Several other hotels are near the railroad station, and many others are around the city's periphery.

Some of the latter, such as the Romantik Hotel "Hof zer Linde" and the Renaissance Hotel Schloss Wilkinghege with its wedding chapel and pond (see illustrated article), offer a cozy experience for motorists who don't mind a short commute to the sights.

To browse detailed Münster hotel listings with photos and reviews by paying guests, please see:

Tip: You can check boxes on Booking.com's page to filer the listings by distance from the city center, category, whether parking is available, etc.

Hostel

The Jugendgästehaus am Aasee is the official DJH youth hostel in Münster. It has a day room, a cafeteria/bistro, handicapped facilities, and bicyles for rent. The hostel is located slightly outside but within walking distance of the old town, on the south side of the Aasee. It's served by bus lines 10 and 34 (get off at the Hoppendamm stop).

Vacation apartments

Short-term holiday rentals can be a convenient and economical alternative to hotels, especially for shorter stays or if you're traveling with a family.

For illustrated listings with reviews by paying guests, view these pages from our affiliate partner:


Münster restaurants and bars

Photo: Presseamt Stadt Münster

ABOVE: Cavete is a Kneipe or bistro in the lively Kuhviertel that caters to an academic crowd.

The last time we checked, the  local restaurant and nightlife guide--Münster Geht Aus--was 212 pages thick and listed restaurants in more than 30 categories, from Afrikanish to Vietnamesisch. If you're looking for regional cuisine, you'll be pleased to know that the Deutsche Küche section lists more than 80 restaurants.

For tasty, filling Westphalian cuisine in an historic setting, try the Altes Gasthaus Leve on Alter Steinweg 37. The restaurant, which is said to be Münster's oldest Gaststätte, traces its roots to 1607. The menu is extensive, and prices are reasonable, and the restaurant is loaded with traditional German atmosphere.

Toward the edges of the Altstadt, the Kuhviertel (cow quarter) is packed with pubs such as Cavete (see photo) that attract university students and other nightlife enthusiasts. Pinkus Müller, a microbrewery with a two restaurants and a beer garden, claims to be the oldest "Bio-Brauerei" or organic brewery in the world.)

In the Hafen or harbor district, you'll find the Kreativkai and assorted restaurants, bars, and beer gardens overlooking the Dortmund-Ems Canal.

Finally, if you're into fast food and snacking, just head for the Altstadt and start grazing. Ignore McDonald's and look for sausage stands or one of the town's countless bakeries. (In the Advent season, you'll have even more choices, thanks to half a dozen Christmas markets where you can gorge yourself on hot food and mulled wine from late morning until late at night.)

For more information on food, drink, and nightlife in Münster, see the translated listings at münster-geht-aus.de or buy a copy of Münster Geht Aus at the tourist office.


Münster Transportation

Photo: Presseamt Stadt Münster

ABOVE: Münster-Osnabrück Airport is served by several major airlines, and buses run from the airport to Münster's railroad station. INSET BELOW: Bike riders in Münster, which is said to be Germany's bicycling capital.

Photo: Presseamt Stadt MünsterMünster is in North Rhine-Westphalia, not far from Germany's border with the Netherlands.

Airports. The nearest international airport is Flughafen Münster-Osnabrück (FMO) in Greven, which is 34 minutes from the Münster train station by express bus. Dortmund Airport (60 km south) and Düsseldorf Airport (120 km south) are also convenient to Münster. Verkehrslandeplatz Müenster-Telgte, just 8 km from the city, serves private pilots.

Railroad. Münster is a major stop on several north-south rail lines. You can reach the city by ICE from Frankfurt Airport in about four hours. Bremen (1¼  hours) and Hamburg (2¼ hours) are even closer. From Amsteram, you can reach Münster is a little over 3 hours with a train change at Rheine. For schedules, use the interactive journey planner at www.bahn.com.

Car. We haven't driven to Münster--we prefer the train--but the city's tourist office suggests "Autobahn A1/B3 (Hansalinie) exits Münster-Nord, Münster-Sud and Autobahn 43 (Wuppertal-Münster) exit Münster-Nord."

Boat. During the warm months, two Santa Monika excursion boats offer sightseeing trips between Dortmund and Münster's trendy harbor district via the Dortmund-Ems Canal.

Getting around Münster:

Photo: Presseamt Stadt MünsterMünster is a compact city, and you can get just about anywhere on foot. It's also a great city for bicyclists, thanks to the Promenade (the grassy park strip that encircles the old town) and Die Radstation (in English, "the Bicycle Station"), a city-owned commuter facility near the railroad station where you can rent, park, or get service for bikes. A number of hotels rent bikes to guests; look for the "Bett & Bike" icon in the city's official hotel directory. Also see the tourist office's Münster: The Bicycle City page, which has information for bicylists.

The city also has an extensive bus network (see Stadtwerke Münster), but you probably won't need to use it unless you're staying on the outskirts.

Parking:

We wouldn't recommend driving or parking in the Altstadt, where the medieval street plan is confusing and some areas are pedestrian zones. It's much easier to park on the edge of town, along the ring roads.

Handicapped access:

The Bahnhofsmission in the Münster railroad station can help with boarding, disembarking from, or changing trains, and it rents wheelchairs by the day. E-mail [email protected] for information. Also see the "Mobility Service Centre for planning barrier-free trips" section of the DB's "How to contact Deutsche Bahn" page.

The local tourist office, Münster Marketing, can help you find wheelchair rentals from private firms or in the Münsterland region, suggest guided tours, and give you a city map with information handicapped car parking, special toilets, and barrier-free access to sights in the city center. A tactile map for blind visitors also was available when we last checked.


Münster tourist information 

Photo: Presseamt Stadt Münster

ABOVE: From the Prinzipalmarkt, it's only a short walk to Münster Marketing (a.k.a. the Münster tourist office) at Klemensstrasse 10.

When you arrive in Münster, head for Münster Information at Heinrich-Brüning-Strasse 9, in the front of the new city hall near the Lambertikirche in the city center. You'll find a helpful desk staff, plus racks filled with free brochures about the city and the surrounding Münsterland region. A doorway leads to an office where you can arrange for a hotel room if you've arrived without a booking.

Be sure to pick up the free English-language Münster City Guide, a brochure with with chapters on the city's history, art and culture, shopping, guided tours, and other topics. The guide includes a city map that's keyed to descriptions of 50 churches, monuments, museums, and other sights. The monthly German-language Münster Live magazine is another useful publication, with day-by-day listings of concerts, plays, exhibitions, and other events.

  • Tip: Many publications, including the Münster City Guide, are available as downloadable PDF documents on Münster Marketing's English-language Information Material page.

Münster Information is open from 9:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

You'll also find an information desk in the historic Rathaus and a comprehensive Münster Marketing Web site in English.

Information for disabled travelers: See the handicapped access section of this article's transportation page.

Maps: The map in the Münster City Guide and other city brochures is all that you're likely to need, though you may want to buy the Official Münster City Map (1:20,000) or another larger map that includes the suburbs if you're driving in Münsterland or staying outside of town.

 If want a really good map, visit the Poertgen Herder bookstore and buy the Bollmanplan Bildplan + Stadtplan: Münster. This outstanding "bird's-eye view" picture map, which is part of a series from Bollmann-Bildkarten Verlag, is both a useful map and a fine souvenir.

Guidebooks: Münster: Stadt des Westfälischen Friedens is a detailed, nicely illustrated, and affordable guidebook for visitors who read German. We bought our copy at Poertgen Herder in the center of town. The multi-level bookstore has a large assortment of regional books and maps. If you read only English, not to worry: The tourist office's publications will tell you everything you need to know.

More information: In addition to the helpful resources at the official Münster Marketing Web site, you'll find articles and touring tips in the Münster pages at Historic Highlights of Germany.

Next page: Münster photo gallery


In this article:
Münster travel guide
Münster photo gallery

Related articles:
German Christmas Markets: Münster
Mauritzhof Hotel Münster
Stadthotel Münster
Hotel Schloss Wilkinghege