Volklingen Ironworks Image of Volklingen Ironworks Saarland Germany

Visiting Völklingen Ironworks: Off the Beaten Path Germany

About the author: David Angel is a British photographer, writer and historian with 30+years experience exploring Europe. His work regularly appears in global media including the BBC, Condé Nast Traveler, and The Guardian.

Völklingen Ironworks is an astonishing World Heritage Site in the Saarland region of Germany close to the French border.

We only had time to visit Volklingen Ironworks because of a change in our Germany itinerary.  It’s one of the least-known German UNESCO World Heritage Sites, in one of the quietest parts of the country for tourism. 

And yet it’s one of the most fascinating places to visit in Germany, somewhere that deserves far more attention than it gets.

My Völklingen Ironworks guide delves into the history of the site and explains why you should visit this astounding site. I also explain what there is to see at Völklingen, from its superbly preserved industrial remains to the art installations around the site.

Finally, I explain how to get to Völklingen Ironworks and suggest other places to visit in Saarland and the surrounding region, including trips over the border to France and Luxembourg.

Why Visit Völklingen Ironworks – Völklinger Hütte

Image of Volklingen Ironworks Germany
The view over the blast furnaces of Volklingen

Völklingen Ironworks is the only complete ironworks complex from the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the world.

It is the one of the first modern industrial sites in the world to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of 51 UNESCO sites in Germany in total.

Anyone with even a passing interest in industrial heritage should try to visit Volklingen Ironworks – it’s an incredible monument to heavy industry, now a vast, spectacular Cathedral of Rust which you can explore extensively.

Image of a statue of a worker outside Volklingen Ironworks Germany
The worker statue outside the Ironworks
Image of an artwork on the inside of a chimney in Volklingen Ironworks
The inside of a chimney, given a new lease of life

Much of the site has been left as it was when it closed in 1986, offering a fascinating insight into mid-20th century heavy industry in Europe.

Other parts of Völklinger Hütte have been put to other uses. Some are used as art exhibition spaces, and another area, the Paradise, has been left for nature to take it over, which it largely has.

Völklingen Ironworks History

Image of Völklingen Ironworks Germany
Völklingen Ironworks
Image of a partly bricked-up window in Völklingen Ironworks
Paradise in Völklingen Ironworks

The first Völklingen steel mill was opened by Julius Buch in 1873, but this was closed by 1879 as cheap pig iron imports made his business unprofitable.

Saarbrucken businessman Carl Röchling bought the site in 1881, and within ten years he had built up the business, adding five blast furnaces and, later, smelter and coking plant.

By the early 20th century, the Röchlings also added gas blowing engines to power the blast furnaces, the first ironworks in the world to do so.  All the necessary processes for producing pig iron, which in turn is used to make steel.

Image of gas blowing engines at Völklingen Ironworks Germany
The original gas blowers at Völklingen Ironworks
Image of plants growing on old industrial equipment in Völklingen Ironworks Germany
Another part of Paradise, which will gradually be reclaimed by nature

The Ironworks operated during both World Wars, manufacturing items from armaments to steel helmets for soldiers. Forced labour was used during both Wars, a mixture of prisoners of war and deportees from the former USSR.

Owner Hermann Röchling was close to Hitler and the Nazis, and was imprisoned after the war for his crimes. The Ironworks remained in French administration until 1956, when the Röchling family regained control.

Volklingen Ironworks reached its peak in 1965 when it employed over 17,000 workers.

However, within a decade, Völklingen Ironworks was facing more difficult times due to the worldwide steel crisis, and by the early 1980s a new steelworks was built very close to the Ironworks. The Ironworks were finally closed in 1986.

Völklingen Ironworks then became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

What To See At Völklingen Ironworks

Image of the exterior of Völklingen Ironworks Saarland Germany
Völklingen Ironworks
Image of Völklingen Ironworks
Deep in the inner workings of Völklinger Hutte

The exterior of the Volklingen Ironworks is hugely impressive. You get a good view of it just before you arrive at the train station, and it’s a vast Cathedral of Rust, with brick chimneys for spires and blast furnaces for flying buttresses.  It’s an imposing sight by day, and it’s also lit superbly at night.

Image of gas blowers at Völklingen Ironworks
Gas blowers at Völklingen Ironworks

You enter the Ironworks through the ticket area and shop, before ascending to the Blower Hall. These enormous gas blowers powered the blast furnaces, and the vast Hall in which they stand also plays host to temporary exhibitions. When I visited in August 2022 an exhibition on the history of pop music videos was ongoing.  

The Sintering Hall was a major innovation at the Völklinger Hütte. Small pieces – even particles – of metal waste are brought together in a single solid mass, which is then broken into usable larger pieces.

Volklingen Ironworks Image of Volklingen Ironworks Saarland Germany
The blast furnaces of Volklingen Ironworks
Image ofg the Futuring installation at Völklingen Ironworks Germany
Part of the Futuring installation

The Blast Furnaces are visually the most impressive part of the Ironworks.  You can walk below them or don a plastic safety helmet and climb up among them.

This was one of the highlights of my visit, ascending a warren of steel staircases before reaching some amazing vantage points, looking over the site, the town and the nearby steelworks.

Image of people looking at an artwork in Völklingen Ironworks
Visitors looking at an artwork at Völklingen Ironworks
Image of people in art gallery in Völklingen Ironworks
Part of the art gallery at Völklingen Ironworks

One of the most striking aspects of Völklingen Ironworks is its use as an exhibition space for art. They vary greatly, from large canvases like the one shown above to murals inside chimneys or the ‘Futuring’ exhibit in the outdoor area of the site.

Image of an overgrown area of the Paradise section of Völklingen Ironworks Germany
An overgrown patch of Paradise

The Paradise area of Volklingen Ironworks has been left to nature since the closure of the site in 1986. Parts of it are heavily overgrown with bramble bushes and buddleia sprouting from brick walls.

This is nature’s ongoing work of art, something you rarely get to see. The nearest parallel I can think of is the deserted town of Pripyat near the Chernobyl site in northern Ukraine which, coincidentally, was also abandoned in 1986.

Image of King Kong sculpture at Völklingen Ironworks
King Kong

The only change to this part of the Ironworks has been the installation of some artworks, most notably the fine 11-metre sculpture of King Kong by Ottmar Hörl. 

Völklingen Ironworks Opening Times

Image of Völklingen Ironworks Saarland Germany
Völklingen Ironworks
  • The Ironworks are open daily except for the 24th, 25th and 31st December.
  • From 1st April to 1st November, they are open from 10 am to 7 pm.
  • From 2nd November to 31st March, they are open from 10 am to 6 pm.

Völklinger Hütte Tickets

Image of a 400 volt warning sign at Völklingen Ironworks Germany
Völklingen Ironworks
  • A day ticket to the Völklingen Ironworks site costs 17 euros, while under-18s and students up to the age of 27 can visit for free.
  • There is also free entry on Tuesdays after 4 pm.
  • You can book your tickets online through the link here.

Where Is Völklingen Ironworks

Image of tower in Völklingen Ironworks Germany
A tower and chimney at Völklingen Ironworks

The Ironworks are closed to the centre of the Saarland town of Völklingen, which is 11 km (7 miles) west of the city of Saarbrucken. 

The site is also around 5 km (3 miles) north of the border with the Lorraine region of France, and 10 km (6 miles) from the French border town of Forbach.

How To Get To Völklingen Ironworks

Image of Völklingen Ironworks Germany
Völklingen Ironworks is close to a main train line

Völklingen is on the Trier to Saarbrucken train line, and the Ironworks are less than five minutes’ walk away from the station. The journey takes just 11 minutes, and the Ironworks are under the bridge to the left as you leave the station.

Trains leave from Saarbrucken main station (Saarbrucken Hbf on timetables).

If you’re driving, the most direct route from Saarbrucken is the B51 (also known as the E29).  You can also travel via A620, leaving at exit 8 for Völklingen. Follow the signs for ‘Weltkulturerbe’ from there.

Places To Visit Near Völklingen Ironworks

Image of the Ludwigskirche Saarbruecken Germany
Saarbrucken’s symbol, the Ludwigskirche

Völklingen is very close to Saarbrucken, the regional capital, which is well off the tourist trail but a good base if you’re planning to explore the surrounding area and across the French border.

There are enough things to do in Saarbrücken to take up a day, from the lovely Baroque Altsaarbrucken area around the Castle to the many restaurants around St Johanner Markt. 

Völklingen is also within reach of Trier, the ancient Roman capital of the Empire north of the Alps. The city has several fine Roman monuments, including the splendid Porta Nigra gateway.

The city’s prosperity continued after the demise of the Roman Empire, and Trier Cathedral is one of the outstanding churches in Germany. Also check out our article on things to do in Trier for much more information on the city’s many attractions.

Image of the Porta Nigra gateway in Trier Germany
The Porta Nigra in Trier

If you’re staying in the Saarland region, it’s also worth spending a few hours at the Freilichtmuseum Roscheider Hof, one of the best open-air skansen-style museums we’ve visited in Europe.

The Saar river, which flows into the more widely known Moselle, is one of the most underrated rivers in Germany. We travelled along the Saar valley several times and there’s plenty to see along the way, from the vast Saarschleife bend in the river to the gorgeous little town of Saarburg, best known for its waterfall and Castle.

The French border is also close to Völklingen, and the nearest major city is Metz, with Nancy an hour further away.

Völklingen Ironworks – Final Words

Image of Völklingen Ironworks Germany
The tramway at Völklingen Ironworks
Image of an artwork at Völklingen Ironworks
Art at Völklingen Ironworks

I’ve always been fascinated by places like steelworks. One of the first places I taught myself photography was the hillside overlooking Port Talbot steelworks on the South Wales coast.

Smoke would billow from the chimneys and furnaces, seeming almost serene against the backdrop of a spectacular sunset over the sea. From my vantage point I couldn’t hear the deafening din within, nor feel the Dantesque inferno of heat near the blast furnaces.

Years later I would meet my father-in-law, who spent his whole working life in the Tubemakers Steelworks in Newcastle, Australia. He looked at the pictures of Völklingen Ironworks, and immediately remarked how similar the place looked to his old workplace, and was amazed that a place like Völklingen had survived.

The Völklinger Hütte is the most complete ironworks from the late 19th and early 20th centuries anywhere in the world.  I’m delighted that fate sent me close to this astonishing place, and to anyone with any interest in industrial history, it’s worth travelling a long way to see. It’s almost certainly the best UNESCO World Heritage Site you’ve never heard of.

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Image of David Angel found of Delve into Europe Travel Blog / Website

David Angel is a British photographer, writer and historian. He is a European travel expert with over 30 years’ experience exploring Europe. He has a degree in History from Manchester University, and his work is regularly featured in global media including the BBC, Condé Nast Traveler, The Guardian, The Times, and The Sunday Times.  David is fluent in French and Welsh, and can also converse in Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Czech and Polish.