This medium-sized tree grows to a height of 15 to 20 metres and has a broadly conical to ovoid crown. Its bark is smooth and dark grey in colour, with paler stripes. The leaves are alternate, oval to elliptical, and serrated at the edge. They are deep green, turning golden-yellow in autumn. The male catkins are green and feathery and made up of a number of flower groups. The short female catkins grow near the tips of the twigs, and each flower group comprises two flowers. The fruits grow in pairs, and each individual fruit is fused in a three-lobed wing.
The hornbeam grows in parks and gardens in much of Europe. It has long been grown commercially for its hard, dense timber.