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Years of extracting salt from the earth have taken a toll on Lüneburg, delightfully so. Given the subsidence of the salt dome beneath the town, facades buckle, towers lean precariously, and entire streets seem a little off kilter. (A few medieval landmarks actually toppled over in the 20th century). That only adds to the delight of walking along Am Sande and other old lanes in the Altstadt. Am Sande (so named for the sandy ground that predated today’s cobbles) is also the name of the city’s most beautiful square, where salt merchants once laid out their wares. The Schütting, or "Black House," on the western side of the square takes its name from the glazed black bricks that cover its façade.

Nearby rises Lüneburg’s most beloved landmark, St. Johanniskirche, with its 108-m (350-ft) tall sloping tower. The definite lean of the tower is all a bit of a visual trick, as the corkscrew shape of the structure makes it seem more off balance than it really is. As the story goes, the 14th-century architect was so appalled when he saw the effect of his design that he jumped out of a window of the tower but landed in a hay cart. To celebrate his good fortune the poor fellow retired to a tavern, drank himself into a stupor, fell over, hit his head on the stone hearth, and died. Too bad, as he had much to be proud of. The five-naved church is a masterpiece of Northern Gothic architecture and often resounds with the sounds of a massive pipe organ on which Johann Sebastian Bach once honed his craft.

Another monument to the town’s industriousness is the Alter Kran, or Old Crane, on the Stintmarkt quayside in the old river port. The sturdy wood and iron device now hanging over the waters of the River Ilmenau is an 18th-century replacement for the medieval original that was used to load the town’s precious cargo onto barges. Salt also traveled north to Lübeck and Scandinavia via wagon along the Old Salt Route.

Lüneburg is also the ideal starting point for excursions into the Lüneburg Heath, nearly 775 sq. km (300 sq. miles) of sandy soil mainly covered with brush, heather, and sheep. In late summer, the flowering heath turns from green to purple. You’ll find the most dramatic, wind-swept, and bleakly evocative scenery in the center of the heath in the Naturschützpark Lüneburger Heide (Luneberg Heath Nature Park; www.naturpark-lueneburger-heide.de), a preserve for plants and wildlife. To reach the park from Lüneburg, drive 35km (22 miles) west, following the signs to Salzhausen. After you cross the bridge over the A7 Autobahn, follow the brown-and-white signs into the park.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.