Many European destinations are described as “something out of a fairytale,” but when it comes to Kassel that’s not just a cliche. Located along Germany’s fairytale route made famous by the Brother’s Grimm, the city located two hours north of Frankfurt draws visitors in search of history, culture and beautiful architecture. Best of all, you only have to go one place to find it all: Wilhelmshöhe Park.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 240 hectare Bergpark (“mountain park”) boasts an embarrassment of riches, including a towering monument, greenhouse, waterfalls, loads of lush green space, walking trails, a museum and not one but two castles. It may sound like a lot to take in, but with a good pair of walking shoes it’s easy to explore the highlights in just half a day.
The crown jewel of the entire park is the Hercules Monument, which is impossible to miss. The eight-metre high, copper monument was designed back in the 1700s by an Italian builder, to symbolize the virtues of famous Hercules.
Directly in front of it is a visitor’s platform overlooking not only Wilhelmshöhe Park but also the whole city of Kassel, and it’s hard to beat the birds-eye view of the dozens of stone steps framed by waterfalls that stretch towards the city.
While the monument is a spectacle in itself (unless it’s covered in scaffolding, which sadly it has been for a few years as part of restoration efforts), the real draw is the water display. On Wednesdays, Sundays and holidays from May to October, more than 750-thousand litres of water rush down the hillside towards the Grand Fountain at the base, where jets then shoot it high into the sky. Those lucky enough to catch the show on the first Saturday of every month will also get to see the spectacle illuminated, which makes it even more breathtaking.
There aren’t too many places you can find not one but two castles smack dab in the middle of a park, but Wilhelmshöhe Park delivers on that front as well. The first one most visitors will see is Wilhelmshöhe Castle which is near the base and is made up of three wings. One is home to an art gallery and antique collection, while the other serves as a historical museum with rooms full of original furnishings. Visitors can see all 23 of them as part of a guided tour, which costs €6.
The other castle is beautiful Löwenburg Castle, a sandstone masterpiece which looks like something out of a storybook. Built back in the late 1700s, it housed royal apartments as well as an armoury, which can also be seen as part of a guided tour. However, parts of the castle as well as the exterior can be explored for free.
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The greenhouse and park
While most people walk through the greenhouse, I enjoyed it from a different angle: sitting on the floor for two hours. Yup, my time at the greenhouse was actually spent at an Indian wedding—fun, right?! Needless to say, the leafy greenery and huge bright windows were the perfect backdrop for a beautiful ceremony, which is why it’s a popular place for couples in Kassel to tie the knot. If you happen to visit during a summer weekend, expect to see at least a few newlyweds posing in the English landscape gardens outside, trailed by a photographer or wedding party.
Built out of steel and glass, the greenhouse is stunning both inside and out, and today is home to many tropical and exotic plants. During the winter the plants are cultivated inside, then are moved outside in the springtime as per tradition.
Getting there and around: There are good public transportation options in Kassel that drop visitors off at the entrance, otherwise those with a car or on a tour can drive all the way up to the Hercules monument. It’s also possible to walk through the entire park, and takes about 30-45 minutes without stopping.
When to go: The popular season is from May through October, which just so happens to be when the water show is also on.
Top tip: Be sure to wear comfortable shoes with good grip if you plan to walk up to or down from the Hercules monument, as the path is steep and not paved in some places.
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