If this is your first time attending Essen Spiel, you’ve probably read it’s the biggest board game convention on the planet. Having went last year, I was definitely say this is true. Actually arriving to the Messe Essen convention center can be intimidating, even for well traveled people, for a variety of reasons. This post is all about getting from where you’re staying to the entrance, navigating the necessary German trains, buses, trams, and tickets for those.

First, know where you’re staying.

Staying in Essen means you’re paying one of the highest per-night prices for the privilege of having a roof over your heads, whether it’s a hotel, an Airbnb, or hostel. I simply can’t recommend staying in Essen, not when prices are as crazy as they are. (This also assumes you’ve even found a hotel with rooms left — lots of places get booked up months in advance.
Better options are hotels or hostels in nearby cities (starting north and continuing clockwise):
  • Bottrop (population: 116,000)
  • Bochum (population: 362,000)
  • Dortmund (population: 581,000)
  • Wuppertal (population: 345,000)
  • Düsseldorf (population: 605,000)
  • Mülheim (population: 167,000)
  • Duisburg (population: 485,000)
  • Oberhausen (population: 209,000)

Dortmund, Wuppertal, and Düsseldorf are a bit further out, while the rest are closer.

Second, get to the train station.

Called a Hauptbahnhof (and often abbreviated to HBF or Hbf on maps), Germany runs on trains. It has its issues like any first-world public transportation system does, and construction or train work can sometimes cause delays, but it gets people where they’re going. You win bonus points if you confirm your hotel is within walking distance of the local train station, or if there’s an easy bus / tram way to get from hotel to train station.

Third, get your train tickets.

My 7-day ticket from 2017. Don’t try to use it or you’ll seriously get in trouble.

(If you purchased the Kombi-Ticket when you purchased your Essen ticket (as mentioned on the official page), you already have your public transportation squared away while in the local area — do read the fine print, obviously. Sadly, this option is only available to people buying day tickets, not the four-day ticket.)

This is a lot tricker than it should be, mainly because of the wide variety of tickets available. The good news: train stations have ticket machines that speak multiple languages, and larger train stations have info booths staffed by humans that speak multiple languages. The bad news: the exact ticket that’s best for you may not be as clearcut as it should be — and in some cases, can’t be purchased at said machines.

In general, simply buying a one-way ticket at the machine just before you intend to depart is the most expensive, but most convenient way to go. The further in advance you buy, or the more rides you buy at once, the less expensive the overall journey becomes.

This is where bahn.com will really help out. This is essentially the national site for buying tickets online — head there, type where you’re going, then compare prices for the 10’er ticket (essentially 10 single rides) and the 7-TageTicket (an unlimited ticket to ride most trains the given region for a period of 7 days). Be aware not every possible ticket can be purchased from this website, and doing this on other sites is a convoluted process that may not worth the time and trouble. Buy it on bahn.com if you can.

Fourth, get from the train station to the convention center.

This is one of the easier parts. Now that you’re at Essen Hbf, follow the signs for U11 to platform 2 — a tram you catch underground that will emerge above ground in short order.

Be on the platform heading towards Messe West-Süd/Gruga, better known as ‘the platform with all the people on it.’ Ride U11 to the Messe Ost/Gruga-Halle stop, four stops away. (If you miss this, don’t panic — the next stop is Messe West-Süd/Gruga, which is also the terminus of the tram line.) From here, it’s safe to say you can follow the crowd up the stairs and towards the ginormous building in front of you.

Over to you

What are you looking forward to seeing at Essen? Any good restaurants / bars you recommend?