Lower Saxony is a German state situated in northwestern Germany and is second in area, with 47,624 square kilometres (18,388 sq mi), and fourth in population (8 million) among the sixteen Länder of Germany. In rural areas Northern Low Saxon, a dialect of Low German, is still spoken, but the number of speakers is declining. Lower Saxony borders on (from north and clockwise) the North Sea, the states of Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia, and the Netherlands. In fact, Lower Saxony borders more neighbours than any other single Bundesland. The state Free Hanseatic City of Bremen forms two enclaves within Lower Saxony, one being the city of Bremen, the other, its seaport city of Bremerhaven. The state's principal cities include the state capital Hanover, Brunswick, Lüneburg, Osnabrück, Oldenburg, Hildesheim, Wolfenbüttel, Wolfsburg and Göttingen.
The northwestern area of Lower Saxony, which lies on the coast of the North Sea, is called East Frisia and the seven East Frisian Islands offshore are popular with tourists. In the extreme west of Lower Saxony is the Emsland, a traditionally poor and sparsely populated area, once dominated by inaccessible swamps. The northern half of Lower Saxony, also known as the North German Plains, is almost invariably flat except for the gentle hills around the Bremen geestland. Towards the south and southwest lie the northern parts of the German Central Uplands: the Weser Uplands and the Harz mountains. Between these two lie the Lower Saxon Hills, a range of low ridges. Lower Saxony's major cities and economic centres are mainly situated in its central and southern parts, namely Hanover, Brunswick, Osnabrück,Wolfsburg, Salzgitter, Hildesheim and Göttingen. Oldenburg, near the northwestern coastline, is another economic centre. The region in the northeast is called the Lüneburg Heath (Lüneburger Heide), the largest heathland area of Germany and in medieval times wealthy due to salt mining and salt trade, as well as to a lesser degree the exploitation of its peat bogs up until about the 1960s. To the north, the Elbe river separates Lower Saxony from Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg. The banks just south of the Elbe are known as Altes Land (Old Country). Due to its gentle local climate and fertile soil it is the state's largest area of fruit farming, its chief produce being apples. Most of the state's territory was part of the historic Kingdom of Hanover; the state of Lower Saxony has adopted the coat of arms and other symbols of the former kingdom. It was created by the merger of the State of Hanover with several smaller states in 1946.