The city was established in the 13th Century during a period of Germanic colonisation of Slavic areas. Wismar was first mentioned in a document in 1229. It was part of the Hanseatic League, originally an association of North German merchants, which grew to become a trade network of about 200 ports and inland towns. During the Thirty Years' War (1618–48) Wismar came under Swedish rule, a status which it kept until 1803. Today, Wismar's old town contains traces of history going back to the middle ages, including several outstanding brick gothic churches and old houses.
Wismar's railway station is near the old town and close to St. Nikolai church. It is about a 5–10 min walk to the market square. There are slow regional trains to Schwerin and eventually Berlin, and in the other direction, to Rostock further east. Change at Bad Kleinen on the Schwerin line for trains to Lübeck and Hamburg.
Two main Autobahn routes serve Wismar. The A14 arrives from Magdeburg in the south via Schwerin to join the east/west-oriented A20 at Kreuz Wismar. Motorists coming from Schleswig-Holstein and Lübeck on the A20 will exit before Kreuz Wismar at Wismar Süd, while those travelling westwards from Stralsund, Greifswald or Rostock can leave at either junction.
The old town (Altstadt) and harbor areas are easily covered on foot. If you want to visit some of the outlying suburbs or countryside, either check out the local bus services or take a bike.
- Wasserkunst, Am Markt. Literally "the water art", this old well structure was built between 1580 and 1602 following a Dutch design, and supplied drinking water to the town until 1897. Inscriptions in German and Latin can be found on the sides of the well.
- Rathaus and market place, Am Markt. Wismar's central market square covers 10,000 sq m and is one of the biggest in northern Germany. The town hall occupies the northern side of the square. The current classical building was reconstructed between 1817 and 1819, but incorporates remnants of the original gothic structure, especially in the cellars. There is a permanent historical exhibition about Wismar on display in the Rathauskeller.
- St. Nikolai, Kirchhof. This stunning brick gothic church dates from the 14th century. The 37-meter nave is still being restored after one of the towers collapsed in 1703, but the scale of the building is still impressive.
- Heiligen-Geist-Kirche, Lübsche Strasse. This rectangular gothic church emerged in its current form in the 15th century. Inside, a painted wooden ceiling from 1687 shows scenes from the Old Testament.
- St. Georgen, St-Georgen Kirchhof. One of Wismar's three main churches and an outstanding example of north German brick gothic architecture. The origins of St. Georgen lie in the 13th century, but the current structure was not complete until 1594. The building was severely damaged by bombing during World War II, but renovations began in 1990. The church often hosts concerts and other cultural events.
- Marienkirchenturm, St-Marien-Kirchhof. The 80m-high tower is visible for miles. Much of the church was damaged by wartime bombing and was demolished in 1960, despite a reputation as one of the most beautiful brick churches in northern Germany. At the base of the tower is a small exhibition and a 3D film show (in German) explaining how the original church was built and extended in the 14th century.
- Wassertor, Spiegelberg/Am Hafen. The "Water Gate" is the only survivor of five medieval city gates, linked by a 4m high city wall. The current structure dates from around 1450 with a typical late-gothic step gable, but on the harbor side the gable was rebuilt in the early 17th century in a different style.
- Baumhaus, Alter Hafen. This rectangular 18th century building takes its name from the tree trunks that were used to block the harbor entrance at night or when the city was under threat. Outside two "Swedish heads" or Schwedenköpfe guard the door. The originals stood on mooring posts at the entrance to the harbor.
- Explore the Altstadt on foot. Wismar's old town is full of history and picturesque charm. If your feet get tired on cobblestones, take a break in one of the many cafes and bars, or refuel with a smoked fish roll in the old harbor. The tourist office operates guided city tours in a small electric bus that take about 50 minutes, departing every hour between 10AM and 5PM (April–October) and 11AM to 3PM (November-March). Tickets cost €9 for adults, €4.50 for children/students/pensioners.
- Harbor cruise, Am Hafen. Several companies offer trips around the harbor and Wismar bay. Details available at the quayside. Wismar has both a working commercial harbor and a shipyard, alongside the leisure boats, so there is plenty to see. Some boats run excursions to the island of Poel during summer months.
- Alter Schwede, Am Markt 22, ☎ . Good food and service. Also worth a visit for the 14th century building and interesting décor.
- Altstadt Hotel, Dahlmannstraße 4, ☎ . On the edge of the old town with basic, but comfortable rooms. Free wifi and free parking for around a dozen vehicles. Breakfast buffet included. Cash only, no credit cards. €25-60.
- Tourist-Information Wismar, Am Markt 11, ☎ , fax: +49 3841 251-3091, e-mail: email@example.com. 9AM-6PM daily.
The island of Poel is relatively unspoiled and easily reachable by bus, bike or boat from Wismar. A long-distance cycle path connecting the whole of Germany's Baltic coast runs through Wismar. Alternatively, take the train south to provincial capital Schwerin, or travel east to the commercial, industrial and university town of Rostock. Further east lie Wismar's fellow UNESCO cultural heritage city of Stralsund and the island of Rugia (Rügen).