Official language: German with English being spoken
Guten Tag und Wilkommen! - To the land of Beer Fest, Bratwurst and Impressive Architectural Marvels
As a founder member of the European Community, Germany is located in northern Central Europe. Bordered by Poland to the east, Czech Republic to the southeast, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, Luxembourg and Belgium to the west, Netherlands to the northwest and Denmark to the North, it’s a country that still stands strong in its impeccable culture and vibrant history, despite being surrounded by countless outside influences. As far as touristic attractions go, Germany’s resources are virtually inexhaustible, and with its ever-changing landscapes that include mountains and the sea, rolling forest covered uplands and even the Bavarian Alps.
The German folk are just as much of a draw as the natural landscapes, and their architecture never seized to amaze. From the isolated farmhouses to the clustered village houses, captivating medieval castles to the old walled towns that peacefully coexist next to modern industrial cities, there’s a lot to explore for visitors in these parts of the world. Germany is essentially a place where old world charm lurks around every corner, and whether you choose to explore the countryside in the charming summer months or warm up with the locals while sipping some Glühwein amidst the freezing winter, its magical atmosphere is bound to captivate you and the endless possibilities will leave you longing to linger just a little longer. Soak up the rich history, the unique culture and the intoxicating natural beauty of Germany; you’re really spoiled for choice here.
Must see places in Germany
Germany’s capital is ever so intriguing, which isn’t hard to understand once you take into consideration the fact that it is the major center of politics, culture, media and science. Berlin has a unique cultural flair and a diverse art scene, so much so that it boasts the famous Museum Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The infamous Berlin Wall is but one show of the country’s cultural and economic importance in the world, which is why you’ll find an astounding array of attractions in the mother city.
Frankfurt am Main is Germany’s old imperial city located on the River Main, and it is one of mainland Europe’s most important commercial and economic centers thanks to its ideal central location. Frankfurt is iconic for its high-rise buildings in the skyline and a North American flavor, which is probably why it’s been named as the best city to live and work in countless times.
Located on the River Isar, Munich is Germany’s 3rd largest city and the capital of Bavaria, fringing the Bavarian Alps. The historic inner city of Munich you might have seen on a postcard before, with its iconic Marienplatz, but Munich is also known for its beautiful churches, breathtaking parks and intriguing parks.
After the capital of Berlin, Hamburg is Germany’s 2nd largest city, and also one of its most important since it’s a massive link to the country’s waterways. It’s also the link to popular islands like Neuwerk and Scharhörn at Elbe estuary’s mouth. It’s watery importance is why the Port of Hamburg (the Gateway to Germany) is the city’s most iconic sight, covering an area of roughly 100 square kilometers between the Norder and the Süderelbe rivers. Aside from its transport importance, Hamburg is becoming a boom spot for world-class attractions.
Germany’s largest state, Bavaria, is bordered by Austria and the Czech Republic, and it’s also one of Germany’s most popular touristic destinations. Its best known for its magnificent natural scenery that includes captivating mountain peaks, rolling hills and wide rivers. If you are in Baravia, visit The Burghausen Castle. It is one of the most impressive and largest castle complexes in Germany and in all Europe. It is known for being the longets castle in Europe. I was the second residence of the dukes of Lower Bavarian from 1255. The castle is open for visitors all year around!
Cologne is an old cathedral city located on the river Rhine, and it’s one of western Germany’s most important commercial and cultural centers since its home to the 12 Great Romanesque Churches. The splendid Cologne Cathedral and its counterpart churches seamlessly blend in with modern arts and entertainment facilities, well over 100 galleries and over 36 museums.
The one convincing reason you’d pay a visit to the town of Füssen between the Ammergau and Allgäu Alps, is because it’s your best base from which to explore the ultimate fairytale castle. Neuschwanstein Castle is arguably one of Europe’s most famous royal castles and has a history that dates back to 1869 when Kind Ludwig II of Bavaria built this fantasy fortress. If you’re wondering, Neuschwanstein was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s theme park castles.
Baden-Baden is arguably one of the best spa towns in the world, and it has a lot to do with its mild climate and natural hot springs! From skiing in winter to hiking in summer, Baden-Baden has a lot to keep visitors more than entertained. The Spa Garden - Kurgarten - is the hub of the town’s cultural life and it’s surrounded by most of the town’s best attractions. You can take your pick of where to feast with the numerous boutiques, galleries, cafés and restaurants. Don’t miss out on the Kurhaus and Kurpark. Some of Baden-Baden’s other top attractions include the Lictentaler Allee (shopping street), the Carcalla Baths, Old Town, the Roman Bath Ruins, Brahms House, The Paradise Cascade and the ever-impressive New Castle.
The Black Forest
As one of the most visited regions in Europe, the dark tree-covered hilly landscapes of the Black Forest extends some 160 kilometers from Pforzheim to Waldshut, descending to the Rhine Valley in a steep well-watered area. For visitors, the most popular stretch is the 150 kilometers long Black Forest Railway and the Triberg with its breathtaking waterfalls. Some of the Black Forest’s best attractions include Freiburg with its Augustinermuseum and Schlossberg, the quaint town of Kloster Maulbronn, the town of Pforzheim, the Black Forest Museum, the Baths of Badenweiler and Karlsruhe.
The art and fashion university town of Düsseldorf is one of Germany’s important cultural centers, which is why it’s home to a wide variety of museums and galleries like then astounding Art Collection North Rhine-Westphalia to name but one. The city boasts dozens of squares and riverside walks (seeing as it lies on the banks of the Rhine), Düsseldorf is truly a relaxing escape if there ever was one.
As the capital of the Baden-Württemberg state, Stuttgart is a picturesque city fringed with orchards and forest-covered hills. The River Neckar at the bottom of the valley runs past the older part of the city with its historic buildings. The houses and building rise up the hills with steps and stepped lanes that smooths out the steepest of hills, which mean adventure is to be found around every corner of the city. Stuttgart is a gem just waiting to be explored!
Located in a wide basin of the Upper Elbe Valley, the city of Dresden is arguably one of Germany’s prettiest. The natural landscape, great climate and its location on important trade routes is what made it as popular, but it’s also a vibrant cultural and entertainment hub these days. Dresden’s Frauenkirche is one of Europe’s most beautiful churches, which means you cannot afford to miss the sight if this impressive Baroque church. The Zwinger is another unmissable attraction, as it’s a museum complex that’s housed in an 18th century palace and comprises of the Dresden Porcelain Collection, Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments and the Old Masters Picture Gallery. Other top attractions include the magnificent ‘Balcony of Europe’ Brühl's Terrace, the Dresden Residential Castle and Museums, the Landhaus, the lovely Great Garden, the Japanese Palace, the Blue Wonder suspension bridge and the captivating Pillnitz Palaces.
Located just 20km outside of Dresden is the Burg Stolpen, an area most famous for its medieval castle and basalt formations. Stolpen Castle stretches some 220 meter long and comprises of 4 courtyards and a route that leads visitors to the main features of interest. Make sure you swing by the on-site museum and see the 82 meter deep well in the fourth courtyard, the world’s deepest basalt well. The hill of basalt columns on which the castle stands is protected as a natural monument, with some of the finest columns found on the west side and inside of the castle where they appear like organ pies. Stolpen’s Old Town is also well worth visiting, in particular the Markt.
At the Polish border, over 100km out of Dresden you’ll find the beautiful town of Görlitz, most famous for its massive round tower that dates back to 1490, the Kaisertrutz, which houses the Municipal Museum. Then there’s also the impressive Reichenbacher Turm that dates back to 1376, the medieval Untermarkt, the Late Gothic Lange Lauben, the Brauner Hirsch and the old Town Hall.
Hanover is an important commercial center, but it’s also an important trade fair and festival center, most notably being the host of the Hanover Oktoberfest. With its countless museums, parks, gardens and amazing attractions, Hanover is truly the City in the Countryside. The Herrenhausen Gardens and the Grosser Garten are two of the city’s most popular gardens, while the Marktplatz is the center of most historic buildings like the Old Town Hall, the Marktkirche and the Kramerstrasse with its half-timbered houses. Hanover’s artificial lake, Maschsee is the city’s largest and busiest sports and recreational area and the Hanover Adventure Zoo (Germany’s 5th oldest) provides fun for the whole family! Make sure you squeeze in a visit to the breathtaking municipal forest of Eilenriede that covers roughly 1,600 acres of land, but other “green spots” that are well worth visiting include the Hermann Löns Park and the adjoining Tiergarten.
Located in the Saxon Lowlands, Leipzig is best known for its fairs and markets, but it’s also well known for its art, culture, book and learning centers. Behind Leipzig’s Old City Hall you’ll find the Naschmarkt, a little square that dates back to 1556. The square has some great surrounding attractions like the Mädlerpassage, Auerbach’s Keller and the Sachsenplatz. The Leipzig Botanical Gardens and the Leipzig Zoological Garden are great attractions for the nature lovers while the Mendelssohn House will satisfy the history buff’s cravings.
As an important center for arts and culture, the ancient city of Nuremberg still has an almost tangible history that lingers in the air, and it’s a city well worth exploring. First off there’s the Nuremberg Castle, a 351 meter tall structure that all but dominates the skyline and one of Europe’s most important surviving medieval fortresses. Then there are the Town Walls that date back to the 14th and 15t centuries that are a must see, especially the Spittlertor. Nuremberg’s Hauptmarkt is where you’ll find it’s Beautiful Fountain, the Old Town Hall and the other famous fountain; Gänsemännchen. St Lawrence Side or Lorenzer Seite is also well worth seeing, located on the south side of the river Pegnitz. As one of the busiest parts of the city, it boasts great attractions like the Frauentorturm and the Handwerkerhof Alt Nürnberg districts, the Bahnhofsplatz and the busy Königstrasse that runs back towards the old town.
Located on the lower Weser River, the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen is one of Germany’s largest seaports and centers of seaborne trade. The Land of Bremen is also notable for its Bremerhaven, its cultural flair and its love of festivals. Make sure you see the Bremer Marktplatz and the Statue of Roland and the breathtaking Town Hall in the city. Bremen's narrow Böttcherstrasse is undeniably its most popular tourist attraction. This 100 meter long street of museums is fun to explore and includes great attractions like the Paula Becker-Modersohn Museum and the Ludwig Roselius Museum. Once you’re done exploring, go ahead and browse the street’s quaint shops and galleries while you try ad catch the tune of the famous Glockenspiel House, chiming 3 times daily. Also of note is the Schnoor District, The Rhododendron Park and Mühle am Wall (old town walls).
Heidelberg can be compared to Venice, with the emphasis on its romantic atmosphere. Its picturesque riverside location, stunning old bridges and majestic castle ruins are what have been drawing tourists here for centuries. It also happens to be one of Germany’s warmest cities, which might be part of the reason why it draws visitors of in excess of 4 million annually. Heidelberg’s Hauptstrasse and the Altstadt (Old Town) are beautiful and captivating to explore, but so is the astonishing Heidelberg Castle. The Karl Theodor Bridge has been immortalized in countless poems and paintings and dates back to 1788. To explore Heidelberg by foot, make sure you stroll along the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Walk) that runs along the side of Heiligenberg (Saint’s Mountain); it promises some of the best views across the river Neckar all the way to the Old Town. Outside of the cities lie many attractions like the 567 tall hill called the Königstuhl - or King's Seat - which can be accessed via the Heidelberg Mountain Railway. Then there’s also the breathtaking 18th century Schloss Schwetzingen castle which is also well worth seeing.
Brandenburg an der Havel
Located roughly 50km southwest of Berlin, Brandenburg and der Havel is surrounded by the Beetzsee, the Plauer See and the Breitlingsee. Among the top attractions you need to see here are sites like the Dominsel, Cathedral Island and the impressive medieval City Walls and Towers t name but a few. Brandenburg an der Havel is one of the best places you can start your countryside exploring from into central Germany, an area including roughly 3,500 lakes and over 6,700 kilometers of waterways. The Town Hall and its Statue of Roland are unmissable in Brandenburg an der Havel, but so are the Friedenswarte, Kloster Lehnin and the Marienberg.
Out of all the German Baltic islands, Rügen is the biggest and by far the most beautiful. The islands is separated from the mainland by the Strelasund and linked by a causeway, and it’s only once you’re there that you can appreciate the raw natural beauty. With its sandy beaches, lagoons and peninsulas Rügen is like heaven on earth. Some of the highlights you can look forward for is exploring the Jasmund Peninsula, seeing the beautiful Stubnitz Beech Forest and catching a glimpse of the Königsstuhl. Make sure you swing by the old resort town of Putbus with its neoclassical buildings and parks well worth exploring.
The Rhine Valley
As one of Europe’s most beautiful rivers, the Rhine is also one of its most important waterways that cover some 1,320 kilometers from Switzerland through to the Netherlands and the North Sea. Germany’s Rhine Valley has to be one of its most appealing sections and its natural beauty attracts thousands of visitors annually. The stretch between Mannheim and Koblenz has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its spectacular scenery. The Pfälzer Wald is another breathtaking area that covers roughly 1,770 square kilometers of land, and its Germany’s largest expanse of forest, surrounding the towns of Kaiserslautern and Pirmasens. The Rhine Valley includes the picturesque spa town of Wiesbaden and also the quaint town of Braubach with its captivating Marksburg Castle.
- Explore Berlin by foot and see all the majestic historical sites
- Visit the ultimate fairytale castle, Castle Neuschwanstein
- Attend a German Christmas Market
- Experience the Munich Oktoberfest
- See the summertime fireworks festival along the River Rhine
- During July and August, head to Bayreauth to attend the Wagner Opera Festival, but book WAY in advance
- Take the ultimate drive, 300km along on Germany’s Romantic Road which stretches from Würzburg to Füssen
- Experience the Cologne Karneval on during the Easter Season which coincides with Oktoberfest, kicked off annually at 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th of November
Pick the time right!
Tourists travel to Germany from May to September
Germany has an overall temperate climate with warm summers and cold winters. Rain falls throughout the year, but most of the rains arrive during the high summer months. Germany’s winter time averages ranges at roughly 3°C in January, and summertime temperatures linger at the 22°C mark during July.
May through September is when Germany sees the biggest touristic flocks, but the autumn and spring are also wonderful to see the sights minus the crowds. December through March is hugely popular for two main reasons: skiing and Christmas Markets!
Did you know?
Getting around the towns and cities
All of Germany’s urban areas have great bus services which are complemented by trams and underground or suburban trains in the large cities, albeit you’ll have to purchase tickets in advance for these.
Then there’s also the Intercity-Express services from the Deutsche Bahn rail company that reaches speeds of up to 300kmph to take you from one city to another. They have a great InterTail One Country Pass on offer which enables you to unlimited travel on 3, 4, 6 or 8 days of your choice during the duration of a month. You can get more info and purchase tickets at www.voyages-sncf.com
As far as the waterways go, the KD German Rhine Line covers the Rhine and Moselle rivers, with a ship operating daily from April to October. If you want to cruise Lake Constance, make sure you purchase the Lake Constance Adventure Passes that entitles you to free travel on any vessel in the area as well as discounted admission tickets to the attractions.
- Bratwurst - grilled pork, beef and/or veal sausage
- Eisbein mit sauerkraut - cured and boiled leg of pork served with mashed potatoes
- Butterbrez’n - a soft pretzel sliced into two and topped with butter
- Eintopf - a vegetable and meat stew
- Eierpfannkuchen - pancakes
- Schwarzwälder kirschtorte - Black Forest gateau
- Lebkuchen - Christmas time gingerbread cookies
Germany has an extensive motorway network (autobahnen), which tend to get crowded on busy routes. German roads however are high quality; toll free and you won’t have to get stuck behind a truck since they’re banned from the autobahnen over weekends and summer holiday times.
In Germany they drive on the right-hand side of the road and their roads are classed as following:
- Autobahnen are 3 or 4 lane motorways near the cities
- Bundesstrassen are secondary B routes like federal highways
- Landesstrassen are state roads, also known as Straatstrassen
Driving across Germany is really easy since most major car hire companies can be found near the towns, airports and major railway stations. If you want to take a taxi, look out for these cream-colored Mercedes Benzes with their yellow and black rooftop signs. Save yourself the drama and just hop on one at a taxi stand rather than trying to flag it down, and keep in mind that you might be charged for extra luggage.
Cycling is kind of a big deal in Germany since they have loads of dedicated bike paths which will easily get you from point A to point B, but a cross-country tour is a little too enthusiastic since it’s probably going to take you a couple of weeks to get to the other side. Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich and Stuttgart all have 24/7 interactive bike-hire schemes where you can rent a bicycle. Check out www.callabike-interaktiv.de for more info.
- Brush up on some basic German phrases to make sure you’re able to converse with the locals at a basic level
- Germany’s high speed trains are very expensive to use, so rather stick to using the slower regional trains or overnight busses for getting to where you need to go
- Make use of the free sightseeing tours offered in Germany’s major cities
- If you book your train tickets in advance you’ll be able to save between 40% and 50% on traveling costs
- Make sure you plan (in detail) your trip around Germany
- Make sure you take enough small change with you out on daytrips for tips and bathroom trips; they can cost up to 50 cents a pop!