Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

The Hanseatic League in Medieval Europe

The Hanseatic League greatly influenced trade, the economy and politics in northern Europe for over 400 years. This vast network of powerful cities and ports centred on Lubeck, the ‘Queen of the Hansa’, and stretched from Iceland in the west to Russia in the east; from the Bergen in the north to the French port of La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast. Striking architecture from these times has survived in many of these cities and ports. And today they commemorate their medieval heritage in a number of ways.

Exploring the Cities & Ports of the Hanseatic League

The Hanseatic League was a 14th to 17th century confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns. Founded towards the end of the 12th century by a small group of German towns on the Baltic Sea, the league went on to include some two hundred towns and dominate maritime trade in northern Europe for around four hundred years. Ports and cities in the league stretched from, what was then, Prussia in the east to England in the west, present day Bergen (Norway) in the north to Krakow (Poland) in the south.

The name Hanse or Hansa was the Middle Low German word for a convoy, which is how bands of merchants travelled between cities and ports by land and sea – largely because of the risk of piracy on the seas. The Hanseatic League was founded as a union of a few north German towns to protect their guilds’ economic interests and improve trading conditions. Also to establish diplomatic ties and privileges along the trade routes merchants established with foreign trading posts (known as Kontors). Although Hanseatic cities had their own legal system and maintained their own armies for mutual protection and aid, they were not a Medieval state.

Many warehouses and other trade-related buildings used by the Hansa merchants survive in a number of former Hanseatic cities and kontors. This trade and maritime heritage is often promoted by tourist boards and historical associations. Many destinations have Hansa museums, historical trails and some even host a programme of events throughout the year commemorating significant historical dates in the history of the Hanseatic League.

Hanseatic Cities & Ports in Germany

Lübeck: Queen of the Hanseatic League

Lübeck was the capital of the Hanseatic League, and despite the damage of World War Two, the Old Town has retained many of the medieval architectural features that bear testimony and exemplify the role Lübeck played at the centre of the medieval network. Over one thousand buildings, courtyards and alleys are listed historical monuments. Using state-of-the-art technology, the European Hansamuseum is the largest museum to tell the story of the rise and fall of the Hanseatic League.


From the 13th to the 15th century Wismar was one of the leading towns in the Wendish and Pomeranian quarter of the Hanseatic League. Many of the buildings in the Old Town of Wismar have surviving characteristic features and appearance that became typical in Hansa towns on the Baltic at this time. Notably, the Brick Gothic style of architecture as seen in many churches, and other commercial and residential buildings. Much of the Medieval harbour, that was crucial in the rise of Wismar as a leading regional trading centre, has survived.