Top 10 places to visit in Germany
Whatever you’re into – vibrant cities, stunning natural scenery, castles, culture or beer – Germany has something for everyone. Here’s a taste of the best sites in Germany.
If you're planning some Germany tourism, it can be difficult to pick which top cities in Germany to see first. There are many top places to visit in Germany offering a range of German tourist attractions from fairytale castles to rave clubs to river cruises to hiking through lush forest. There are also many world-class museums in Germany and the top German Christmas markets make it a magical place to vist in the holidays.
The quirky and colourful side of German culture can be seen in the many top German festivals, especially carnival in Germany. Travelling Germany also gives you the opportunity to dig into the top German foods and the many regional varieties and specialities.
With great German public transport links, it is easy to travel Germany but watch out for the top scams and make note of emergency numbers in Germany and national German holidays, when many of Germany's attractions typically close. Find out which German destinations are the top places to visit in Germany.
Things to do in Berlin, the city of cool
Exciting and vibrant, Berlin is the capital of Germany and the centre for all that is hip in art, fashion, music and design, packed with amazing architecture, art galleries, museums and restaurants. You can also find some of the wildest clubs in Berlin and many quirky activites off the tourist track. Take a stroll down Unter den Linden, where you’ll find museums, the cathedral, opera house and the Brandenburg Gate, which was impassable during the days of the Berlin Wall and now symbolises German reunification. Other must-sees include UNESCO World Heritage site Museum Island, the Jewish Museum, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall Trail to get you started. You can read more about the top things to do in Berlin and where to stay in Berlin.
A walk in the Black Forest
Bordering the Rhine to the west and undulating farmland to the east, the Black Forest region covers 11,000 square kilometres of peaks and valleys, vineyards, lakes and nature reserves to explore on foot, bike or horseback.
It’s also where you’ll find the world famous thermal spa town of Baden-Baden, dating back more than 2,000 years. It's where the Romans came to bathe and was also Europe’s summer capital for the rich at the turn of the 19th century. The mineral enriched waters continue to bubble up from 12 thermal springs for today’s visitors.
Heidelberg castle and old town bridge
The partially ruined yet still magnificent red-sandstone Heidelberg Castle towers over the city of Heidelberg and is one of Germany’s – and Europe’s – most famous landmarks. Built as a fortress around 1300, it grew to symbolise the power of the Electors, whose statues appear on the façade of the Freidrich building. Don’t miss the glorious Renaissance fireplace in the Ruprecht wing, the ornate Otto-Heinrich wing, the castle church and the Hortus Palarunus pleasure garden, which although never completed was once considered the eighth wonder of the world. The old bridge in the town centre crosses the Neckar River, and provides a great view of Heidelberg's scenic riverside location in southwestern Germany.
Since 2014 Heidelberg has been recognised as an UNESCO City of Literature, and indeed you'll see the city's omnipresent traces of literature and creativity in numerous publishing houses, bookstores, libraries, authors, public poetry slams, literature awards and Heidelberg's annual literature festival.
Cologne: more than just its world-famous cathedral
Cologne’s famous cathedral, the epitome of Gothic architecture, dominates the skyline and contains the world’s oldest large-scale sculpture – the Ottonian Gero Cross – and a window designed by 20th-century icon Gerhard Richter. Cologne also has major museums, theatres and loads of great restaurants and bars. Check out those around Alter Markt and Heumarkt squares, plus the brewery taverns in the old quarter where waiters refill your glass with Kölsch beer until you put a beer mat over the top to say ‘no more’.
Cologne's is also Germany’s carnival capital with a ‘fifth season’ of celebrations lasting from November through to Lent. Sweet-toothed visitors will love the Chocolate Museum with 2,000 exhibits – including a 3m high chocolate fountain into which you can dip a waffle – covering 3,000 years of chocolate history.
The 'mad' king's castles
Close your eyes and imagine a romantic fairytale castle and chances are your image will look like Schloss Neuschwanstein – the castle was reputedly the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang flew over it in the film. The castle's confection of turrets sits atop a craggy, wooded hilltop in southern Bavaria, which was built by ‘Mad’ King Ludwig II in the 19th century as a retreat to escape after losing the throne of Bavaria. The king lived as a recluse in a fantasy world of myths and legends in his magnificent castle, with its golden double height, galleried throne room, Hall of the Holy Grail, swan-shaped taps and grotto. From the hilltop, you can also admire Bavaria's lakes and countryside.
King Ludwig's other castles include the grand Hohenschwangau Castle, Herrenchiemsee New Palace, the 'Bavarian Versailles', and the Linderhof Palace, the only residence the king completed. It's typically possible to visit selection of the king's castles from Füssen or Schwangau. There are also many hiking paths and a range of outdoor activities in Bavaria.
Bayreuth: world famous festival and opera house
Every year Bayreuth hosts the world-famous Richard Wagner Festival. In 2013, the festival celebrated the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Even if you’re not an opera fan, you won’t fail to be blown away by the extravagant interior of the 18th-century Margravial Opera House, one of the most beautiful Baroque theatres in Europe. Bayreuth has also aimed to preserve its rich culture and historical heritage by developing a diverse collection of more than two dozen museums and institutions, alongside a collection of sites of grand historical structures and castles associated with the Margraves of Bayreuth. This is also a city for beer lovers who can head below ground to the Bayreuth's catacombs, hidden under a brewery, and enjoy the city's beer history by tasting brews from more than 200 local breweries, among the highest density in the world, or by visiting Maisel's adventure world and Brauereimuseum (brewery museum), which holds the Guinness Book of Records award for being the most diverse beer museum.
The Upper Middle Rhine Valley
Lined with castles, palaces and vineyards, the Upper Middle Rhine Valley has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status – and you'll quickly see why this is a top place to visit in Germany. The Rhine cuts through a stunningly beautiful valley from the Roman town of Koblenz past the famous Loreley rock, a slate cliff over the narrowest point of the river. Legend has it that a beautiful siren called Loreley would sing and lure sailors to their death on the rocks.
Travelling down the Rhine takes you past the pitcturesque towns of Bingen and Rudesheim and vineyards lining the steep hills with rows of grapes grown for the Rhine's famous wines. Wine tasting, in particular the local Riesling and Pinot Noir varieties, is a great attraction when visiting this top German destination.
Munich: the capital of culture and beer
Munich, the capital of Bavaria, is a cosmopolitan city filled with museums, restaurants, bars, churches and, of course, Munich's famous beer gardens, called cellars (as in Löwenbräukeller and Hofbräukelle) because brewers originally sold their beer direct from their underground stores. Every autumn, the world’s biggest beer festival Oktoberfest takes place in Munich, complete with oompah bands and beer from the barrel; wearing leiderhosen is not obligatory although you'll see plenty at Oktoberfest.
The Marienplatz, where you’ll find the town hall and St Mary’s Column, makes a great base to explore the city. For more than 100 years, the town hall's Glockenspiel has entertained visitors with twirling figurines representing stories of Munich's history; you can watch the almost 12-minute show at 11am, noon, and, in summer months, 5pm. The building's tower has an observation deck at 85m, reached by an elevator, and in the cellar is a historical Munich restaurant.
The Deutsches Museum is one of the world’s largest science and technology exhibitions. Car – and architecture – buffs won’t want to miss the amazing BMW Welt. From Munich, you can also take day trips to visit the harrowing Dachau concentration camp and the fairytale castles in Upper Bavaria of King Ludwig II.
Lake Constance – a lake with a view
The view of the Alps from the shoreline of Lake Constance (Bodensee in German) will take your breath away. While the lake crosses the borders of Switzerland and Austria, more than half of the 270m shoreline is in Germany. You can sail, windsurf, canoe, swim or paddle from one of the many sand and pebble beaches or take a boat to visit one of the lake’s three islands. There’s plenty to explore in the surrounding area, too: beautiful towns and villages, Baroque castles and churches, vineyards, reconstructed Stone and Bronze Age dwellings in Pfahlbauten and the Zeppelin Museum.
The exhilarating Mount Zugspitze
If seeing the Alps from Lake Constance wetted your appetite, the next step is to reach the top of Germany’s highest mountain: the Zugspitze, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. At the top – 2,962m above sea level – there’s a 360° panorama of more than 400 peaks in Germany, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. With seven months of snow a year you can enjoy skiing, snowboarding and sledding, spend a night in the Igloo Village, or visit the mountain top in one day via an historic cogwheel train or cable car.
Travel abroad to more top European destinations:
- Top 10 places to visit in Belgium
- Top 10 places to visit in Berlin
- Top 10 places to visit in France
- Top 10 places to visit in London
- Top 10 places to visit in Paris
- Top 10 places to visit in Portugal
- Top 10 places to visit in Spain
- Top 10 places to visit in Switzerland
- Top 10 places to visit in the Netherlands
- Top 10 places to visit in the UK
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