K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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There are plenty of reasons to visit Germany, from its fabulous food and medieval villages to fairytale castles, exciting cities, festivals, and of course, the fun-filled activities during Oktoberfest, but if you’re not sure exactly where to go, this list of the country’s most unforgettable places is sure to give you a great head start on your itinerary.
While many travelers pass through Fussen and head straight to Neuschwanstein Castle without a second thought, both are well worth a visit. Germany is full of fairytale castles but this one is special, tucked within the Bavarian Alps nearby. It is the most photographed structure in Germany and served as the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. Built in the late 19th century, it wasn’t meant for defense purposes as most castles were, but as an elaborate retreat for King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The interior of the castle can be explored through a guided tour, and horse-drawn carriage rides are available to bring you to the top of the hill if you don’t want to take the 30 to 50-minute walk to get there. In Fussen, you’ll find a lovely pedestrianized Old Town (Alstadt) lined with brightly colored buildings, many of which are adorned with frescoes. The cobblestone streets give the 700-year-old town an old-world charm, and you can enjoy the traditional Bavarian fare at the restaurants and cafes.
Berlin is a sprawling city that is five times larger than Paris, spread out over a vast expanse with forests in every direction, with the historic buildings of Mitte elegantly coexisting with the modern Reichstag. Berlin Mitte contains the historical heart of Berlin with most of the city’s major attractions located here. Be sure to visit the Brandenburg Gate, the only surviving city gate and an important symbol of Berlin, symbolizing reunification after dividing East and West Berlin for decades. Of course, a visit to the Berlin Wall is a must as well. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, take a stroll through Grunewald forest. On a warm day, you can even take a dip in the clean waters of the Wannsee or the Schlachtensee.
Second only to Berlin in size and population, Hamburg, a port city in northern Germany, is home to one of the biggest harbors in Europe. Take a stroll along its many waterways and canals, and you’ll immediately see why it’s been called the “Venice of the North.” With its flair and maritime charm, it truly is one of the most picturesque cities in all of Germany. It’s also famous for its nightlife hub, “Reeperbahn,” which also houses the city’s red-light district, though this area tends to be quite a bit touristy. The Sternschanze offers an alternative scene, much more relaxed and less crowded. On a beautiful summer day, you can enjoy dining and soaking up the sun on one of the many terraces. You’ll have to eat a hamburger while you’re in Hamburg, and the best place to do it is Otto’s, near the central station.
Rothenburg sits along Germany’s legendary Romantic Road. This spectacular medieval city is one of Europe’s top fairytale-like towns that should be on or near the top of your must-visit list. If it looks familiar, that’s because it’s the very same town that inspired Walt Disney to create Pinocchio. It was also the location for the Vulgarian village scenes in 1968’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” The still-intact medieval walled city seems to exist in a time capsule – although about 40% of it was destroyed during the Second World War, locals quickly rebuilt it to its former style, reclaiming its magnificent architectural past. Walk the wall that encircles it to get various perspectives of the architecture from the Middle Ages, and climb to the top of the Rothenburg Town Hall Tower to get a wide-angle view of the city and surrounding countryside.
Almost completely destroyed between the two world wars, Munich boasts plenty of things to do and see. Marienplatz is the central square in the heart of the city, and from here you can explore many of its wonderful landmarks, buildings and churches, including the Mariensaule, the Marian Column topped with the golden statue of the Virgin Mary, as well as the Old and New Town Hall. In the New Town Hall’s tower, there is a beautiful carillon, a Glockenspiel that is more than a century old, and you can hear it chime and watch the life-sized figures reenact historical Bavarian events at 11 a.m. and noon each day. While Oktoberfest is legendary, you can still visit the Hofbrauhaus any time of the year to enjoy a ginormous-size brew. It’s also worth visiting the concentration camp at Dachau, while it’s intense and somber, it provides an important glimpse into the horrors of the Holocaust.
One of Germany’s charming small towns, Lindau is a former free imperial town of the Holy Roman Empire that dates back to the 9th century and looks like a fantasy Bavarian lakeside village from the movies, but it’s very real. Lose yourself in its lovely streets and passageways flanked by houses that are hundreds of years old, and wander down to the harbor to take in the spectacular views. Sometimes called the “Garden of Eden,” this city on the shores of Lake Constance, with its glistening turquoise waters, is filled with medieval and half-timbered buildings while offering incredible Alpine views and lakefront cafes. If you visit in the summertime, be sure to take one of the boat tours that leave from the small harbor, offering the chance to admire the impressive views of Austria, Switzerland and the Alps across the lake.
Set along the banks of the Elbe River, Dresden, also known as the “Florence of the Elbe,” is a lush, green city packed with gardens, parks and forests. It’s also rich in art, culture and history – the great operatic composer Wilhelm Wagner debuted several works here in the 19th century. It features many excellent examples of baroque architecture and a number of outstanding museums, like Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister and Grünes Gewölbe museums. Although the majority of Dresden’s historic center was destroyed during the Second World War, all of its landmarks were rebuilt to their former splendor.
Weimar is a small town in the East of Germany is yet another picture-perfect town as well as a must-see for history enthusiasts. At the heart of German culture, Weimar was once home to many of the country’s great artists and thinkers, like Bach, Nietzsche and Goethe. Many visitors come to see where the legendary poet, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, lived and followed his muse. Some come to see the Buchenwald concentration camp with their own eyes, with the haunting ruins of the camp providing an eerie reminder of the terrors of the subsequent Nazi Regime. This is also the site where the constitution of the German Reich was drafted and the cradle of the Bauhaus movement, which revolutionized the aesthetics of the 20th century.
With 2,000 years of history in Cologne, which was founded by the Romans and is one of Germany’s oldest cities, visitors will discover everything from Roman towers to Gothic churches along with fine examples of modern architecture. Its soaring cathedral is the centerpiece of the city as well as its rich architectural history. Cologne is home to a wide variety of outstanding museums as well, including the Museum of Applied Art, the Museum Ludwig and even the Chocolate Museum. It’s also known for its contemporary art scene, and hosting the largest carnival celebrations in Germany.
Many people travel through Frankfurt for business, as a major transportation hub and an industrial and financial metropolis, but the 2,000-year-old city is worth spending time in to explore its top cultural attractions. Take the elevator to the top of the Main Tower, the city’s only high-rise open to the public, and you can enjoy sweeping vistas of the cityscape from the 650-foot-high platform. A few of its highlights include the Main River, a famous opera house, thriving theatre district, zoo, pedestrian shopping street, parks, a host of bars and dance clubs, and more than 50 museums. While you’re here, be sure to sample the city’s signature drink, “Apfelwein”, or “Ebbelwoi” as the locals say. The light alcoholic apple cider is produced in the regions around Frankfurt, and you can find some of the best and oldest apple cider taverns in the cobblestone streets of the Sachsenhausen district.
While few people associate Germany with beaches, the country surprisingly has some fantastic stretches of sand, and they can all be found on Rugen Island. This oasis in the Baltic Sea, as it’s often called, is known for its unique chalk cliffs that can only be found here. The most famous of the cliffs is called the “King’s Chair,” which soars nearly 400 feet above sea level. In addition to gazing at the cliffs and enjoying the beautiful beaches and relaxing spas, visitors can explore historic sites and museums like the U-Boat Museum which offers the chance to go inside a submarine and learn about how it functions, as well as the Chalk Museum, located inside an old chalk quarry where you’ll find out about the different kinds of chalk and all types of stones.
This beautiful small town near the border of Belgium in the Eifel region is known for its historic center with lovely narrow streets lined with preserved half-timbered houses. In the summer, all the restaurants and hotels have tables outside, making dining al fresco an especially joyful experience, given the beautiful vistas and fresh air, and the town also hosts an annual open-air music festival that draws visitors from across Europe. As it sits on the Rur River, which cuts through part of the old town, if you want to embark on a thrilling adventure, whitewater rafting is possible by renting a raft or taking a guided excursion. In the winter, Monschau becomes a picture-postcard Christmas town. The smell of warm apples and shortbread fills the air, luring visitors into bakeries, while wooden games and other toys spill out doorways looking as if they were just made by one of Santa’s elves. In its famous Christmas Market, wooden huts are packed like stockings, offering everything from hand-carved nutcrackers and elaborate music boxes to ginger cookies and mulled wine.
Quedlinburg is a must stop for those who are traveling through the Saxony-Anhalt region. This insanely charming place just north of the Harz Mountains still evokes the Middle Ages as it managed to survive World War II unscathed. In fact, you’ll find some of the best-preserved medieval and Renaissance buildings in Europe here. A perfect destination for wiling away the afternoon, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into another time, as you step through its rambling, cobblestoned streets that snake their way around countless red-roofed half-timber houses, ancient buildings and then suddenly, set upon a sandstone cliff, is the more than 1,000-year-old Romanesque collegiate church, St. Servatius, which towers over the city.
One of the most beautiful towns in Bavaria, Regensburg is a hidden gem. Located on the Danube River, this city of churches was once the focal point from which Christianity spread throughout Germany and even into central Europe via the Danube. Enjoy a panoramic view of the roofs and spires of its Old Town from the 12th-century Steinerne Brucke, or Stone Bridge, spanning the Danube on 16 arches. The bridge was a milestone in the architectural history of bridges, serving as a role model to many other famous bridges like the Karlbridge in Prague and the London Bridge. By taking a stroll down Hinter der Grieb, you can enjoy a journey through the Middle Ages, with the ancient alleyway lined with 15th-century houses with high towers.
Sitting on the banks of the River Rhine, Duesseldorf, the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, is a modern, cosmopolitan city with a lovely Old Town, renowned for its hopping nightlife and Altbier, its native dark beer. The cobbled alleyways with pubs and bars, now referred to as the longest bar in the world, cater to every palette, with not only German beer, but brews from around the world. On a nice day, the promenade on the Rhine is filled with walkers, skaters and lovers picnicking on the banks. Boat excursions to the rejuvenated harbor in MedienHaften can also be taken here. If you like to shop, Dusseldorf’s famous shopping street, Konigsallee, referred to as Ko by the locals, offers lots of high-end shops to browse or spend.
One of the most picturesque Bavarian villages in Germany, Ramsau sits in a secluded valley in the Berchtesgaden basic, offering spectacular alpine views and a charming, laid-back atmosphere. It’s home to the third highest peak in the country, Mount Watzmann, and the picturesque church of Saint Sebastian, built in 1512 in baroque style. Ramsau’s image graces many postcards of Bavaria, with its single-onion-shaped tower a fine example of the architecture of the region. The church sits along the river, with the Alps behind it offering a spectacular backdrop. It not only makes a great place to relax, enjoy a bit of culture and outdoor activities, but it’s a perfect base for exploring Berchtesgaden National Park, Konigssee, Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden (salt works), the Eagle’s Nest, and other popular sites throughout the region.
Cochem is a tiny medieval riverside town that is absolutely idyllic. If you take a “grape tour” of the Mosel River Valley, this is a must-stop for the chance to see its towering castle with a thousand-year-old history. Surrounded by vineyards that produce outstanding Moselle wines, it looks like it was created just for a film set. Even the Romans sang the praises of its striking landscape, and while a few things have changed since then, the allure remains the same. The town itself boasts medieval town gates and pretty churches as well as narrow streets and winding alleys, lined with lovingly restored half-timbered houses with slate roofs. Stroll through the historic marketplace and pop into one of the eateries where owners will take the time to introduce you to some of the area’s great Rieslings.
Leipzig has been the home of some of Germany’s best-known artists for centuries. Goethe was a student here, while Bach worked in Leipzig as a cantor, and today, the New Leipzig School brings a fresh look into its artistic culture. In addition to being a center for German art and culture, Leipzig also became famous in the country’s more recent history, when demonstrators initiated the peaceful revolution that ultimately lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The sleepy little town of Erfurt offers a wonderful alternative to more of the touristy medieval, half-timbered German towns. A rare city in the heart of Germany that emerged pretty much unscathed from the Second World War, it feels like a step back in time. The Capital of the Land of Thuringia, it’s famous as the place where Martin Luther studied and became a monk, as well as being home to a stunning cathedral, an impressive Gothic cathedral with some Romanesque aspects set on a hillside housing many important art masterpieces inside. The Merchants’ Bridge (Kramerbrucke), is another one of its major landmarks. The bridge serves as the longest series of inhabited buildings of any other in Europe and is a place where craftsmen display and sell their wares in wood carving, pottery, and glass blowing studios.
Lubeck is one of the largest Baltic seaports in Germany, located in the country’s northernmost state, Schleswig-Holstein. Founded in 1143, it served for several hundred years as the capital seat of the Hanseatic League and also has strong associations with two of Germany’s most significant novelists. Thomas Mann and Gunter Grass. Although it was the first German city to be bombed and damaged during the Second World War, it still retains much of its medieval architecture, making it a popular tourist destination. In the Old Town, head to the Town Hall to see one of the oldest buildings of its kind in the country, featuring a distinctive blend of Renaissance and Gothic Styles. While Marinekirche was damaged by an Allied bombing raid, it has since been sensitively restored and serves as an excellent example of ecclesiastical Gothic architecture.