Pills and potions build thriving town and top club

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

The conglomeration of Leverkusen has grown in tandem with the local football club and its parent company, pharmarceutical giant Bayer. When the club was formed a century ago, this area just over the Rhine from Cologne 15 minutes away, was nothing but a grouping of small settlements. Four joined together to form the town of Leverkusen in 1930. The more tourist-friendly settlement of Opladen joined after the war.

The club owes much to the worldwide success of headache tablets. This modest local pharmaceutical company, co-founded by Friedrich Bayer, patented the aspirin in America the same year that they founded their sports club, 1904. Aspirin went on to become the world’s biggest selling painkiller, taken to the moon by Neil Armstrong.

The population in this industrial centre has tripled since 1930. With it, the company’s football club of Bayer Leverkusen have gone from regional league also-rans to Champions League finalists. In fact, the football club had separated from Bayer’s sports department shortly before that narrow defeat to Real Madrid at Hampden Park in 2002.

As a separate entity, despite the tag of ‘Neverkusen’ for second-place finishes, Bayer’s consistency has been remarkable, only twice finishing out of the Bundesliga top ten since 1996. This record was nearly disrupted in 2022-23 when even relegation was a possibility – before the arrival of Xabi Alonso as manager that October. 

Not only bringing European football to the BayArena yet again, Alonso set the momentum for the greatest season in Leverkusen’s history, one that led to a memorable first title win in 2024. The fact that Bayer broke Bayern’s 11-season grip on Germany’s salad bowl did wonders for the club’s kudos, so often maligned for Leverkusen’s substantial company backing. 

This is a football culture built on the principle of 50+1 ownership, allowing for communal fan involvement, so that an oligarch or a petrodollar sheikh cannot buy success. This golden rule was first broken by Bayer Leverkusen, who were granted this concession following “20 years of substantial and consistent” financial support.

Until Bayern’s monopoly through the 2010s and beyond, Bayer’s promotion of a Bundesliga club was frowned upon by many across Germany. Alonso winning the title by a country mile in 2024 changed that negative outlook, not least because the players he has nurtured, forward Florian Wirtz and Robert Andrich, became key members of the German national side.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Köln-Bonn is the closest airport to Leverkusen. A train or S-Bahn takes just over 30mins, changing at Köln Hauptbahnhof, for €10 or under, to Leverkusen Mitte. A taxi (+49 221 2882) would take 15mins and cost around €€50-€55.

There is a network of buses that serves Leverkusen and surrounding communities but walking is the easiest way to get around the small town itself. Even the walk from Leverkusen Mitte station to the BayArena is a short and pleasant one.

The local taxi firm is Taxi-Ruf Leverkusen (+49 214 3333).

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Light, refreshing Kölsch is the beer you’ll find around Leverkusen, at bars clustered around the small pedestrianised centre of Friedrich-Ebert-Platzclose to Leverkusen Mitte station. You’ll find live games screened at Brückenschänke, proudly displaying a mural of Leverkusen across the back wall. In the same complex, Uncle Sam’s is a games centre (snooker, pool, darts) with live match broadcasts and a full menu. There, too, Kölsch is the beer of choice.

Nearby, just off Wiesdorfer Platz, Bierbar Trend is a major match-watching spot, as is Treff, a great local spot revered by its many regulars. Each is close to the Bayer Leverkusen’s downtown store. 

Just behind, evening-only Notenschlüssel is Leverkusen’s Irish pub, with live acts rather than sport the focus, as well as a decent range of whiskey. Ireland aficionado Gerhard added the shamrock touch in 2013 when he took it over from a popular music bar.

By Marktplatz, Früh am Markt isn’t so much an early-opening bar as a late-closing one, 1am during the week, 3am at weekends – the name refers to the brand of Kölsch rather than a tendency to offer dawn beers to market traders. Known to give out free beers for every German goal during major tournaments, all the same.

On the stadium side of the station, near Manfort cemetery, Kleines Brauhaus serves lashings of beer and food in plentiful portions, best enjoyed on the front terrace. 

Where to stay

The best hotels for the stadium and in town

Leverkusen City Hall has a database of local hotels. Neighbouring tourist mecca Cologne is full of hotels.

Leverkusen has one of Germany’s best stadium hotels, the four-star Lindner Hotel BayArena, built into the North Stand of the ground. It usually offers match-night and weekend packages involving credit on a stadium card, breakfast and a drink in its bar. Sauna, steam and gym are also on hand. The upscale bar/restaurant, Winners’ Place, with its numerous TVs for sport, is for hotel guests only on match days.

A pleasant walk by the Dhünn through greenery to the BayArena, the LEOSO recently converted from a Best Western and offers match packages for certain weekends. Each of its 196 rooms is equipped with Sky Sports TV. Until recently, this was a Best Western and has long been catering to the business community – a conference centre stands next door and Leverkusen Mitte station nearby.

Within a short walk of the stadium along Bismarckstraße, the Manforter Hof should tick most boxes, both a traditional German Braustube with a beer garden and a comfortable lodging. Free parking is another plus.

Options in Leverkusen line Lichstraße, such as the reliable chain ibis Koeln Leverkusen and the somewhat flashy Nikii City, with its valet parking and 24hr bar. More traditional is the Hotel Altstadt, run by the same König family for nearly half a century.

Near Leverkusen Mitte station, the ibis Budget Koeln Leverkusen City offers 82 standard rooms with free parking available.