Best Things to do in Dortmund

by Silke Elzner

I am pretty sure you came to this page because you were looking for things to do in Dortmund. I am not sure if you knew but I was actually born in Dortmund!

You may think I am biased but Dortmund was in fact a pretty cool place to grow up in. On the one hand, Dortmund offers all the perks of a big city that is well connected to other big cities. On the other hand you still get a very homely, very close-knit feel from a community that was born in a world of coal and steel.

As a former local who will always be happy to claim her roots in this down-to-earth region, let me share with you my top 10 things to do in Dortmund!

Note: This post may contain clearly labelled* affiliate links.

Is Dortmund Worth Visiting?

Now that I have moved back to Germany after a 15-year hiatus living abroad, I get the chance of travelling back to Dortmund now and again. Trust me, I do understand your hesitation when looking at Dortmund as a tourist destination. With a reputation of being a hard-working workers’ city which has seen decades of hardship, it hardly seems to qualify as a worthwhile travel destination.

But I beg to differ. Dortmund has come a long way since the dust has settled after WWII. For many years we Dortmunders have kept it a well guarded secret, but the city is actually quite a hidden gem with plenty of stuff to explore. Not only is Dortmund one of the greenest big cities in Germany, it is also a treasure box for fans of industrial art and culture, soccer, and shopping.

So if any of the above triggers your curiosity, read on!

St. Reinoldi Church in Dortmund
Dortmund’s city centre was largely destroyed in WWII but there are still some beautiful old buildings that you can explore on a walk around the city, for example the church of St. Reinoldi. Photo by Anke Sundermeier on Pixabay

#1 Sights and Things to do in Dortmund City Centre

Dortmund is part of a wider urban region dubbed the Ruhr valley (or: “Ruhrgebiet” in German) which also includes major cities such as Duisburg, Essen and Bochum. Check out any map and you will see that Dortmund’s city centre is sort of oval shaped with two, three big churches in its centre and a west to east thoroughfare cutting through right in the middle.

This is the legacy of Dortmund being a proud fortified city in the Middle Ages. Alas, the city walls are long gone and have been replaced by a ring road. Yet, there are still many interesting sights to explore inside the “Wall” (i.e. the ring road) that I would like to mention.

Check out the big main churches St. Reinoldi (dedicated to the city patron) and St. Petri (the golden altar is particularly nice). Have a cool glass of beer on Alter Markt (particularly nice on a warm summer night). Shop to your heart’s content on Westenhellweg and Ostenhellweg, both pedestrianised shopping streets which offer a choice of main street shops and boutiques.

Want to explore more? Book yourself into an introductory Segway tour in English language!*

#2 Dortmund Nightlife: Restaurants and Night Clubs

To be honest, since my partying days in the mid-90’s the Dortmund nightlife scene has changed a lot. Gone are many of my favourite hang-outs and the big discos in industrial halls like the Soundgarden. But don’t despair: There are still plenty of options around if you are headed out for a drink, the scene has just changed a fair bit.

The bar scene is pretty spread out but if you are looking for a 100% fun guarantee, head to Kreuzviertel, just south of the city centre. Kreuzviertel is one of the most charming quarters in Dortmund, a former workers’ area that has in recent years developed into a trendy location for bars and restaurants. Have a look, for example, at Uncle Tom’s (Arneckestr. 76), Balke (Hohe Str. 127) and Schönes Leben (Liebigstr. 23).

After a couple of beers you may feel like dancing, so join the crowds in some of Dortmund’s most popular night clubs and discos, for example Nightrooms (House, RnB and DJ sets), FZW (pop and rock), and The View (rooftop bar with house music).

#3 DFB Football Museum Dortmund

Are you a soccer fan? If so then you will probably know that Dortmund is home to one of the mega clubs of the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund. The club has come a long way from its humble beginnings around the famous Borsigplatz (a roundabout in the northern end of the city, the Nordstadt). Today, the club is home to some of the best players in the world.

At the football museum you can learn more about the history of Borussia Dortmund, but also about soccer in general: it is indeed a mecca for all football fans.

You can easily spend half a day here, exploring the history and the cultural aspects of the sport, browse the fan shop, watch 3D movies, and maybe even attend an football-related event. Displays are also in English language.

Get your skip-the-line tickets to the German Football Museum here!*

Zeche Zollverein Dortmund
Zeche Zollern is a former colliery which has been turned into an interesting museum about the history of coal mining in Dortmund. Photo by KarinKarin on Pixabay

#4 Zeche Zollern

The main reason why Dortmund’s population exploded in the early 1900 was the discovery of coal. Within a very short amount of time, coal mines were popping up all around the city (as well as other parts of the Ruhr Valley), providing work to thousands of people. Working conditions were harsh and dangerous, but the mines supported families and shaped Dortmund in uncountable ways.

Today, all coal mines in Dortmund are closed down, but Zeche Zollern remains as a symbol and a reminder of these times. The former colliery offers some great insights into working conditions back in the day, the industrial developments that were introduced over the years, and the very distinct architecture.

It’s best enjoyed if you can bring along a friend who speaks German and who is able to translate some of the signs or the tour. Don’t miss the currywurst at the restaurant!

Haus Rodenberg in Dortmund
Haus Rodenberg is one of the most beautiful day trip destinations in Dortmund. In summer, the beer garden is a great place to spend a couple of hours with friends. Photo by Anneke Wardenbach, Stadt Dortmund

#5 Haus Rodenberg

Haus Rodenberg is a baroque style water castle in Dortmund, one of many that used to dot the area. I particularly like water castles because the water in the moat always shows such a pretty reflection of the architecture.

Haus Rodenberg is a heritage-listed building which today houses a community education centre, a fairytale theatre for kids and adults and lovely Italian restaurant.

This is one of the place you wouldn’t expect to find in the Ruhr Valley – romantic, pretty, green. A great place also to mingle with the crowd and meet the locals. A perfect romantic escape in particular in summer, when you can make use of the beer garden in the castle park overlooking the mill pond.

#6 Westfalenpark and TV Tower

As a child I loved visiting the Westfalenpark right in the centre of the city. This large park is easy to find: It is also home to the TV Tower which is clearly visible from pretty much every spot in the city. The park is huge and covers an area of around 70 hectars which means there is plenty of stuff to explore.

Highlights of the Westfalenpark include the gorgeous rose garden, the park train, the cable car, the Kneipp bathing pools (great for your immune system and blood circulation!), and the many amazing playgrounds. Note that this is not a free park to visit, but on a sunny day with the flowers in full bloom it’s definitely worth every penny.

While you are there, make sure you also visit the TV Tower and the observation deck on the very top. It offers some fantastic views of Dortmund from above. The tower is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays; the rotating restaurant at a height of 137 metres is unfortunately closed at the time of writing.

Phoenix Lake in Dortmund is a rather new attraction which is very popular with the locals.
Phoenix Lake in Dortmund is a rather new attraction which is very popular with the locals. Photo by Marc B on Pixabay

#7 Lake Phoenixsee

Lake Phoenixsee is a great example of re-purposing industrialised areas and making it open to the public as a recreational spot to enjoy.

The lake is an artificial lake which was flooded in 2010 on the grounds of a former steel works. It is hard to imagine now how much the area has transformed from a toxic, industrial area to the pretty lake it is today.

The lake was welcomed by all Dortmunders, and very soon the well-off build their homes along the shores. Restaurants and craft beer bars popped up too, offering the public plenty of places to enjoy the scenic water views. While you cannot swim in the lake there is the option to rent a retro rowing boat or a paddleboat.

Make the most of your lakeside experience and join an English guided Segway tour around the lake!*

Kaiser Wilhelm statue in Dortmund
An impressive rider statue of Kaiser Wilhelm is overlooking the Ruhr valley in Dortmund. A great place for some of the most romantic views in the city. Photo by Peter H on Pixabay

#8 Hohensyburg

As a child I loved our trips out to Hohensyburg, a historic site just on the city fringe. It is so far outside of town that my husband and I had a heated argument the other day whether or not the Hohensyburg still belonged to Dortmund or was in fact part of a neighbouring city (I was right, of course, it is located in Dortmund).

Our excursions to Hohensyburg were always special: You could visit the romantic ruins of the castle, overgrown and with a creepy sarcophagus in the centre. The ruins date from the Middle Ages. There is also the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial which was first inaugurated in 1902 and is a massive memorial overlooking the valley of the Ruhr. Or you could gamble a bit at the Casino, one the best known attractions in Dortmund’s south. Just make sure you dress to impress.

Regardless of what brings you to Hohensyburg though, its position right on the city fringes has an irresistible charm which has attracted visitors for many, many years. You will find plenty of small hotels, inns and restaurants here, in historic locations with great access to hiking trails and lookout points. In fact, it feels so rural, you could almost forget that you are right in the middle of the Ruhr Valley.

#9 DASA Arbeitswelten Exhibition

I visited this fairly new exhibition only recently with the kids, and while it is a little bit outside of the city centre (near Dortmund University), it is surprisingly well done. The DASA Arbeitswelten Exhibition focuses on professions, safety, and workers’ history. I know, this sounds pretty boring, right?

But look a bit closer and you will see that there are plenty of cool things to explore! Never did I expect to be sitting behind the control centre of a power plant, for example, pushing various buttons. Typing on a circular typewriter. Manage an air control tower. Sit in a helicopter. Ride a historic Dortmund tram… See what I mean? The exhibition allows you to look into work environments that are normally way out of your line of experience, and it’s a great fun experience for the whole family.

Speaking of family: My kids both loved the playground in the inner courtyard of the DASA: a children’s construction site where they could add bricks to the walls of an almost completed house.

Union Brewery - Dortmunder U
The former Union brewery with the iconic U on top is today is popular arts and cultural centre which is known well beyond the city borders. Photo joerg kessler on Pixabay

#10 Dortmunder U

Dortmunder U is one of the most iconic buildings in Dortmund’s city centre. Formally one of the big breweries (Dortmunders love drinking beer!), it is today an acclaimed culture and art centre with lots of cool changing exhibitions and events.

There is a strong focus on the arts and digital media. Check out the LED screens under the big U which I believe reflects this mission really well. Just like the installations inside, these outside screens will change periodically.

The rooftop terrace offers some amazing views, and there is also a great steakhouse restaurant in the basement. Best of all: Almost all of the art exhibitions are free of charge!

Dortmund Panorama
A great night life, amazing museums, history, culture, and plenty of green spaces: Dortmund has it all. Photo by Soeren Spoo, Dortmund-Agentur, Stadt Dortmund

Dortmund: Plenty of fun things to do!

I hope the above 10 tips offers you some ideas to have a great time in my hometown of Dortmund. As you can see, the city is a very historic, varied, open-minded and exciting place and much more exciting than its reputation.

If you happen to visit Dortmund in December, definitely head over to the wonderful Christmas market which is one of the biggest and which is proud to present you with the tallest Christmas tree in Germany!

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Feature Photo by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke on Pixabay