Kiel has a long shipbuilding and naval tradition but today it is characterised by its vibrant student scene, laid-back lifestyle and urban flair. You can sense this atmosphere from the city's beautiful setting on the Kiel Fjord, its modern and spacious city centre and Dänische Strasse, a street of late-19th century buildings full of maritime charm in the heart of Kiel.
Water is the dominant feature of this city by the sea and you can feel, see and breathe the maritime influence everywhere you go – along the Kiel Fjord, around the port or amidst the iconic container cranes of the shipyards, which are among the largest in Europe. The Gorch Fock, a well-travelled training ship and a star attraction at international sailing events, is as much part of the cityscape as the huge ferries docked at Skandinavienkai (Scandinavia quay). Northbound ships launch from docks situated just a few minutes' walk from the central station, while the elegant sea-going cruise liners depart from the Cruise Terminal in its central location at Ostseekai (Baltic sea quay). Then, of course, there's Kiel Week regatta, the annual international sailing festival that firmly cements the city's status as the maritime centre of the north. Formerly a Danish city, Kiel was annexed by Prussia in 1864 and there began a period of rapid development, halted only by the destruction caused by the Second World War. The city took a long time to recover, but eventually a brand-new, large, ultra-modern and spacious city centre was built. This development soon appeared dated, however, and so work began in the 1990s to restore and enhance the heart of the old town, including the complete reconstruction of historical Eggerstedtstrasse and the redesign of Alter Markt square. Together with the long-established Dänische Strasse shopping street and Holstenstrasse, one of Germany's oldest pedestrian precincts, Kiel city centre has regained its former flair and its distinctive laid-back character.
As the Kiel Week regatta is to sailors, so is the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival to culture lovers. Kiel is a major host city for this northern European event, one of the world's biggest classical music festivals; Kiel Castle, the opera house, a fjord-side venue and even the Howaldt shipyards create fabulous stages for international stars. The city also boasts a dynamic theatre scene with Kiel Theatre, the Low German Theatre, the Polish Theatre and regular student productions. The city's museums are of international standing as well and include the Maritime Museum on Sartorikai (Sartori quay), the Computer Museum, the Engineering Museum and the Kunsthalle art gallery with its 1,000 paintings spanning six centuries, its 200 sculptures, its 40,000 prints and its collection of antiquities first begun in the 19th century. Definitely worth a visit is the City Museum in Warleberger Hof, which dates back to the early 17th century and is Kiel's oldest surviving aristocratic residence. Its exhibitions on history and culture in the 19th and 20th centuries give an in-depth insight into Kiel and its sometimes troubled past. Happily, the city can today proudly count the world's busiest man-made waterway, Kiel Canal that connects the city to the North Sea, among its attractions. The canalside path for pedestrians and cyclists is ideal for days out and for visiting restaurants that offer views of the passing ships. And don't forget, it's free to cross to the other side of the canal on one of the many ferries. Not free of charge, but great value nevertheless, is the pleasure of sampling the local fish speciality, kieler sprotte (sprats). You simply have to try these, including, if you're feeling adventurous, the head and bones as well! And if you didn't know, kieler sprotte also describes born-and-bred Kiel locals, which goes to show just how much they love these tasty little fish here.