Despite missing out on hosting a World Cup game this summer, KIM SMITH says the German city of Bremen has more to it than meets the eye.

With a car park no bigger than Tesco’s, it’s no wonder Bremen’s football stadium failed in its bid to host World Cup matches. A windfall like that would have put the little city on the map, although being chosen to stage the Table Tennis World Championships in April delivers a smidgen of compensation.

Bremen – a medieval Hanseatic town that became a free imperial city in 1646 – is beaut. Home to the world-famous Town Musicians from the Grimm Brothers’ fairytale, this north-west German city has an agreeable mix of liberated heritage and cosmopolitan pride.

Alongside a growing number of new attractions like the Universum Science Museum, remain a string of iconic landmarks, including the Weser Renaissance Town Hall and the Roland statue in Market Square, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Trendy bars and friendly cafes neighbouring the main sites beg a break from your itinerary and with some as distinctive as the traditional tourist bait there is no reason why you shouldn’t settle with bites of sight-seeing and pub (Beck’s beer is brewed here) and restaurant crawling. As long as the latter doesn’t wear you down before the essential tourist sites have been ticked off your list.

Bremen is a rather long and compressed city, lined on both sides by the river Weser. Much of it can be seen by pounding the ground or, if you decide not to opt for cheeky drink pit-stops, by bike. You can hire some wheels at the railway station or several bike shops in town. There are also trams and buses which you might need to use at the end of the day.

The city’s unique architecture is also worth a look. Almost 70% of the city was destroyed during World War II, but reconstruction efforts in the ’60s produced some aesthetic replacements to complement the buildings that survived. For centuries Market Square has been the heart of Bremen and ranks as one of the most elegant in Germany, boasting buildings from eight centuries. The oldest is St Peter’s Cathedral (1042); but it’s the Gothic Rathaus (town hall) – a classic example of German Gothic architecture built between 1405 and 1410 – that is the most remarkable. That it managed to get through both world wars without much damage, hence keeping the city’s heart ticking, and with its opulent Renaissance-style facade, demands an approving once-over, even if you aren’t interestered in ‘pretty’ buildings.

Below the Rathaus is the renowned Ratskeller, a restaurant and wine cellar – or what I tagged up as the city’s flat-out-tourism-blessing-must-see.

This 600-year-old cellar lists more varieties of wine than its age (650) and is decorated with massive vaults, quaint dining cubicles, large pillars, ornate wine vats with amazing carvings and murals. So if the wine doesn’t tantalise – which is unlikely – the interior will. The cellar holds the largest collection of German wine and boasts one bottle from 1727 (worth about €1500), although Hendrick, my discerning tour guide, pointed out that much of the stock – especially from that far back – is not for sale. Instead, a lot of it is saved to be presented to people when they do something honourable, he says. I helped an old lady across the street earlier, I lie, but it doesn’t quite measure up.

The restaurant is equally as impressive, with food to match. Guests sit at long, wooden tables and are served up traditional German grub by waiting staff in traditional costume. For a more intimate setting, it’s also possible to sit in one of the ‘Prioelkens’, a small, semicircular room built in 1600.

Quirkier attractions include the world’s only elephant made completely of brick, representative of Bremen’s effort to maintain relations with former German colonies in Africa. The city’s oldest area, the Schnoor quarter – filled with winding alleyways of 16th and 17th century buildings – is home to the world’s smallest hotel, known as a Hochzeitshaus (‘wedding house’). It costs €321 to stay at the one-suite hotel and, as thrilling as that may be, I’d suggest a walk-by should suffice and stay at the stylish Überfluss hotel on the Weser-Promenade for a third of the price.

When it comes to refuelling, you’ll get drunk on the options alone. Head for a traditional pub if you’re in the city centre. The Störtebeker, filled with atmosphere and hot-to-trot Germans, or Achim’s Beck’shaus, an old cosy pub, are two good choices.

If the sun is out when you visit, take advantage of the parks and open spaces – especially the historic Wallanlagen, decorated with a typical Dutch windmill that houses a café with sweeping views of the parkland. Other worthwhile landmarks include the Focke Museum and the Beck’s Brewery, which includes a tiny museum, mash house and sampling opportunities.

Whichever way you take to the city, you’re bound to leave with a satisfying aftertaste. And a wee hangover.