Visit the Baroque Herrenhausen Gardens in Hannover, Germany

The large formal baroque garden at Herrenhausen, the botanical Berggarten, and the Sea Life aquarium are top sights to visit in Hannover.

Großer Garten of Schloss Herrenhausen in Hannover

The Herrenhausen Gardens (Herrenhäuser Gärten) in Hanover, in Lower Saxony, Germany are a collection of four gardens that formed part of the court gardens surrounding a summer palace of the Elector (and later King) of Hannover. The most famous garden here is the formal Great Garden (Großer Garten) — a rare original large Baroque palace garden that survived to the present in Germany. The Berggarten is a botanical garden, while the Georgengarten and Welfengarten are English landscape style public parks that are always open for free. The Schloss (Palace) was rebuilt in 2013 — the interior is modern with a small museum but it is mostly used as an event center. The Grotto in the formal garden is the last major work by Nikki de Saint Phalle.

Visit the Herrenhausen Gardens in Hanover

The Herrenhausen Gardens (Herrenhäuser Gärten) are the gardens attached to Schloss Herrenhausen, a former summer palace of the House of Hanover. It is located in the northwestern suburbs of Hannover and one of the top sights to see in the state capital of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen). 

The Herrenhausen Gardens complex consist of several separate sights:

  • Großer Garten / Great Garden — this is the large Baroque garden that is mostly understood when the term Herrenhausen Garden is used.
  • Berggarten / Hill Garden — a botanical garden with greenhouses and the Hanover family Mausoleum.
  • Schloss Herrenhausen — a modern reconstruction of the original palace that was destroyed during the Second World War. It houses a small museum but is mostly used as a conference and event center.
  • Sea Life Center Hannover — an aquarium on the edge of the Berggarten.
  • Georgengarten / George’s Garden — a large English landscape garden.
  • Welfengarten / Welf Garden — a similar landscape garden now part of the university but open to all.

House of Hannover

Historic Copper Plate of Herrenhausen Great Garden around 1708
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Herrenhausen Great Garden Around 1708

The House of Hanover was established in 1635 by Duke George when the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg was divided. It is a cadet branch of the House of Welf (Guelph), one of Germany and indeed Europe’s most influential noble families. 

The first member of the dynasty that came to real prominence was surprisingly Ernst August (1629-98). As the fourth son of Duke George, he had limited prospects but outlived two of his brothers and by the time of his death was the designated ninth prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire (although he died before this appointment could take effect).

The marble statue of a seated Electress Sophie

His wife, Sophia of the Palatinate (1630-1714), missed out on becoming Queen of Great Britain by less than two months — her son became King George I of Great Britain. The personal union of the kings of Britain and the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg (kings of Hanover from 1814 to 1866) continued for over a century until Victoria became British queen in 1837 but the rules of primogeniture required a male heir — her uncle Ernest Augustus — to ascend to the throne of Hannover. 

The Kingdom of Hannover came to an inglorious end in 1866. King Georg V, despite opposition from parliament, backed the wrong side in the Austro-Prussian War. Despite winning the first battle, Hannover was forced to surrender, and the kingdom became the Prussian province of Hannover.

The House of Hannover thus lost power but also increasingly lost control of properties. (The current head of the house also struggles with finances.) Many of the family’s estates and palaces in Hannover were confiscated in the 1860s with the Great Garden finally sold to the city of Hannover in 1936. The Schloss was lost in an air raid during the Second World War.

Hannover, whether city or noble house, is spelled with a double “n” in German while the correct English spelling is Hanover with a single “n”. In German, the first n is not pronounced separately but its presence influences the sound of the preceding a. It is often claimed that Hanoverians speak the purest dialect-free German (but that is widely disputed). 

Schloss Herrenhausen in Hannover

Schloss Herrenhausen Seen From the Swan Ponds

Schloss Herrenhausen, original a manor house of 1640 but later enlarged, was throughout its history mostly overshadowed by its magnificent baroque garden. Plans for a matching palace never proceeded further than the grand gallery, as money was rather spent on the garden and water features. 

Elector Ernest Augustus and especially his educated and well-traveled wife Electress Sophia (1630-1714) were largely responsible for the enlargement of the Great Garden of Herrenhausen to one of the most important formal baroque gardens in Europe. She was passionately fond of the garden and used Herrenhausen as her dowager residence until she died of a heart attack at the far end of the great parterre during her daily stroll. 

Große Fontäne (Great Fountain)

After her death, the palace saw only limited use but George I continued to spend money on the water features in the garden. George II, who was born at Herrenhausen, kept the baroque garden in magnificent condition, as he used the palace for diplomatic receptions until his last visit in 1755. 

George III, who never visited Herrenhausen, had the palace modernize in a neoclassical style by GF Laves in 1821. It was again used more frequently in the mid-19th century and the years prior to the end of the monarchy in 1866. However, at its core, the Herrenhausen Palace remained the original half-timbered manor house. When it was hit in an RAF air raid in 1943, it burned down literally to just the external staircase. 

Schloss Herrenhausen was only rebuilt in 2013 with the appearance of the Laves neoclassical palace building but with a modern interior used as a small museum and mostly a conference and event center.

The new palace’s moment in diplomatic history came in 2016 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed US President Barack Obama to Germany in the Great Garden.

Great Garden of Herrenhausen

Great Garden at Schloss Herrenhausen in Hanover viewed from the viewing platform above the Grand Cascade
The Great Parterre of the Großer Garten at Schloss Herrenhausen in Hanover viewed from the viewing platform above the Grand Cascade.

The Großer Garten, or Great Garden, is the top sight so see when visiting Herrenhausen. This is the large, formal baroque garden that survived since the late 17th century. In contrast to many other formal palace gardens in Germany and Europe, the baroque garden was never changed into a cheaper-to-maintain English landscape park. 

However, it was neglected at times and largely overgrown when the city of Hannover acquired it in the 1930s. The garden was restored mostly according to historic plans and despite damage during the second world war still largely corresponds with the layout of 1937.

Highlights of the formal garden include the typical baroque parterres de broderie, sculptures, fountains, and the tallest court garden water spout in Europe. The original baroque open-air garden theater is still in frequent use while the interior of the grotto is the final work of Nikki de Saint Phalle.

See Visiting the Baroque Great Garden of Herrenhausen for a more detailed description.

Visit the Schloss Herrenhausen Museum

Medals in Schloss Herrenhausen Museum

Schloss Herrenhausen burnt down completely following an air raid in 1943 — only a small part of the external staircase survived. The palace was only rebuilt in 2013 with the exterior resembling the neoclassical facade of Laves but the interior completely modern. 

The palace is now mostly a conference and event center but a small part is used as a museum on the Herrenhausen and the House of Hannover. It explains the importance of the garden in the baroque era, highlights a few historical figures closely associated with the garden, as well as the personal union between the kingdom of Great Britain and Hanover. Temporary exhibitions go into more detail of specific themes such as the fascinating history of the great fountain and waterworks. On the whole, the gardens are far more interesting.

Berggarten Botanical Garden

Mausoleum of the House of Hannover in the Berggarten

The Berggarten is to the north of the palace and now separated from the Great Garden by the wide Herrenhäuser Straße and a light railway line — convenient stop right between the two gardens. Originally established as a kitchen garden in 1666, electress Sophia increasingly planted the Berggarten with exotic specimens and from 1750 it was exclusively used as a botanical garden.

The botanical garden has several hothouses and is famous for its collection of orchids. The plants from all over the world are often planted in special thematic gardens. In the Prairie garden, which is particularly colorful in high summer, are over 900 types of plants from North America. Other themes include irises, stone gardens, heath, and several water features. 

The mid-19th-century mausoleum of the Hannover family — not open to the public — is inside the Berggarten and optically in line with the Schloss, the Great Garden, and the Great Fountain. Ernst Augustus and his wife Sophia, as well as their son George I of Great Britain, are amongst the family members interned here.

The largest private mausoleum in the world with the largest mosaic in Europe was built in nearby Bückeburg by the Schaumburg-Lippe family.

Visit Sea Life Hannover Aquarium

During the mid-19th century, a glass and iron palm house was erected that allowed trees of up to 30 m. It had the most important palm tree collection in northern Europe. 

The palm house was destroyed during the second world and only replaced by a tropical rainforest house at the end of the 20th century. It was too expensive to maintain and was replaced by the aquarium Sea Life Hannover where visitors may admire sharks from a large glass tunnel at the bottom of the 4-m deep ocean tank.

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Georgen and Welfengärten

Herrenhäuser Allee

The Georgengarten (George Garden) and Welfengarten (Welf Garden) are two landscape gardens to the east of the formal gardens. Both are freely open to the public.

The two-kilometer long straight Herrenhäuser Allee with four rows of trees were laid out in 1726 to connect Herrenhausen with the city Hannover. The Georgengarten — named after George IV — is on both sides of this parade road. It was designed as an English landscape garden between 1828 and 1843. 

The Welfengarten is towards the city end of the Herrenhäuser Allee. At its core was the Welfenschloss — a palace built by the last Hanoverian King George V who lost his crown in 1866 before the palace was completed. The palace is now used by the local university and the surrounding garden is open to all.

The Großer Garten is by far the most interesting part of the Herrenhausen Gardens. If time is limited, spend all of it here. The Berggarten botanical garden is also interesting to see. The Georgen and Welfengärten are beautiful but with limited time, visit the formal garden and leave these two landscape gardens to the locals.

Visit Herrenhausen and Hannover

bell fountain (Glockenfontäne) with 164 individual spouts at Herrenhausen
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