History, culture and natural beauty perhaps best describe the essence of vacationing in Germany. With its historic towns and small towns, along with an abundance of forests and mountains, visitors are spoiled for choice. Those who want to see or experience the art should head to the metropolitan areas, while those engaged in recreational activities should head to places such as the Bavarian Alps, the Black Forest or the Moselle Valley. Beautiful old cathedrals and grand palaces are everywhere, and many ancient traditions continue in the smaller towns and villages. In the cultural heart of Germany lies the capital Berlin, home to many fine museums and galleries, while nature lovers will find a world of opportunities in Germany’s nature.
1 Editor’s Pick Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate
Modeled on the Acropolis in Athens and built for King Frederick II in 1791, the monumental sandstone Brandenburg Gate in Berlin’s Mitte district was the city’s first neoclassical structure. With an impressive height of 26 meters – including the spectacular four-horse stack on top – the six huge columns on each side of the structure form five impressive passages: four were used by regular traffic, while the center was reserved for the royal carriages. Huge Doric columns also decorate the two buildings on either side of the gate, once used by toll collectors and guards. Arguably Berlin’s most iconic structure, it was also once part of the infamous Berlin Wall and for a few decades symbolized the division of Berlin into East and West.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Berlin: Best Areas and Hotels
2 Dom van Keulen (Cologne Cathedral)
The towering cathedral of St. Peter and St. Mary, Kölner Dom, on the banks of the Rhine is Cologne’s most impressive landmark. One of the largest cathedrals in Europe, this masterpiece of High Gothic architecture was begun in 1248 and was the most ambitious building project of the Middle Ages. Impressive as its façade may be, its magnificent interior covers an area of 6,166 square meters and features 56 enormous pillars. Above the high altar is the Reliquary of the Three Kings, a 12th-century work of art in gold designed by Nicholas of Verdun to house the remains of the three kings brought here from Milan. Other highlights include the panoramic views from the South Towers , the 12th and 13th century stained glass in theThree Kings Chapel , and the treasury with its many precious objects.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cologne
3 The Black Forest
The beautiful Black Forest with its dark, densely wooded hills is one of the most visited mountain regions in Europe. In the southwest corner of Germany, stretching 100 miles from Pforzheim in the north to Waldshut on the High Rhine in the south, it’s a hiker’s paradise. On the western side it drops steeply to the Rhine, traversed by lush valleys, while in the east it slopes gently to the upper Neckar and Danube valleys. Popular spots include Germany’s oldest ski area in Todtnau, the wonderful spa facilities of Baden-Baden and the attractive seaside resort of Bad Liebenzell. Other highlights include the spectacular Black Forest Railway centered on Triberg with its famous waterfalls, and Triberg itself, home to theBlack Forest Open Air Museum .
Accommodation: Where to Stay in the Black Forest
4 The Ultimate Fairytale Castle: Neuschwanstein
Between the Ammergau and Allgäu Alps, the old town of Füssen , a popular alpine resort and winter sports centre, is a good base from which to explore the nearby Neuschwanstein Castle, one of Europe’s most famous royal castles. From 1869 to 1886, King Ludwig II of Bavaria built this fantasy fortress with many towers and battlement – the inspiration for the famous castles of the Walt Disney theme park. A variety of excursion options are offered, including tours of the lavish interior of the Throne Room, the Singers’ Hall, and some of the most spectacular views in the country.
Adres: Neuschwansteinstraße 20, 87645 Schwangau
Official site: www.neuschwanstein.de/englisch/tourist/index.htm
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Neuschwanstein Castle
5 miniature wonderlands and the historic haven of Hamburg
In the heart of the historic port of Hamburg, the beautiful Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway, is an attraction that appeals to young and old alike. Featuring sections dedicated to the USA and Scandinavia (as well as Hamburg), this massive scale model with over 12,000 meters of track contains 890 trains, over 300,000 lights and over 200,000 human figures. It’s not unheard of for guests to spend many hours exploring this fascinating world with its remarkably detailed miniature airports (and planes that actually take off!), bustling cities, scenic rural scenes, and bustling harbors. Speaking of ports, discover Hamburg’s sprawling harbor when you’re there. Covering 100 square kilometers, this huge tidal harbor known as the gateway to Germany is best explored by boat. Afterwards, visit the harbor at the harbour, a beautiful pedestrian route, and the Warehouse district with its unbroken lines of tall brick-built warehouses.
Address: Kehrwieder 2-4 / Blok D, 20457 Hamburg
Official site: www.miniatur-wunderland.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Hamburg
6 The Rhine Valley
The Rhine is Europe’s most important waterway, and its most beautiful. With a total length of 1,320 kilometers, this magnificent river stretches from Switzerland through Germany all the way to the Netherlands. While there are many places in Germany to enjoy this majestic river, the beautiful part of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley is probably the best place to see it. Here, this often dramatic 40-mile stretch of the river has more than 40 castles and some 60 picturesque medieval towns all waiting to be explored by river cruise or car. Bingen , where the river cuts through a deep gorge before entering the Bacharach Valley , is a good place to start.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mainz
7 Museum Island in Berlin
World-renowned Museumsinsel, or Museum Island, lies between the River Spree and the Kupfergraben – a 400m long channel from the river – and contains many of Berlin’s oldest and most important museums. The heart of this pedestrian-friendly neighborhood is the Ancient Museum , built in 1830 as a place to exhibit the royal treasures. Soon after, the land behind the museum was set aside for art and the “knowledge of antiquity.” Between 1843-55 the New Museum took shape, and the National Gallery was added in 1876, along with the Bode Museum , built in 1904 and home to collections of antiquities. Another highlight of a walking tour of these spectacular museums is the Pergamonwith its recreated historical buildings from the Middle East. But be warned: there’s so much to see in these amazing museums that it’s impossible to cram it all into one day.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Berlin: Best Areas and Hotel
8 Bamberg in the civil city
In the valley of the Regnitz, where the river divides into two arms, Bamberg, the old imperial city and the most important city in Upper Franconia, is one of the best preserved German charming towns. The old Episcopal Quarter is home to the 13th-century cathedral and the old Benedictine Abbey of Michaelsberg . It is between the two river branches that you will find spectacular Bürgerstadt , a small municipality of Bamberg that contains the Grüner Markt , an excellent pedestrian zone that is home to the 17th-century baroque church of Saint Martin and, to the north, the New Town Hall , or Neues Rathaus, built in 1736. Perhaps the city’s most important structure, however, is the Old Town Hall, built on top of the Obere Brücke (Upper Bridge).
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bamberg
9 Zugspitze massif
Part of the Wetterstein Mountains, the Zugspitze Massif borders the border between Germany and Austria and is surrounded by steep valleys. The eastern summit, at 2,962 meters, is crowned by a gilded cross and can be reached via the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn , a rack railway, or by cable car. Another great way to enjoy this area of outstanding natural beauty is aboard the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn, a railway line that runs to the Zugspitzkamm station at 2,805 meters. From here the journey can be continued via a cable car to the Zugspitz-Westgipfel station at 2,950 meters with its excellent panoramic restaurant. A highlight of the trip is the chance to walk through an half-mile tunnel, complete with viewing windows, to the Schneefernerhaus station at the top of the Bavarian rack railway, from where you can ascend the eastern summit with its viewing platforms.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Zugspitze
10 The island of Rügen
Rügen is the largest and most beautiful of the German Baltic islands, separated from the mainland by the Strelasund and connected to the mainland town of Stralsund by a causeway. The island’s beauty stems from the diversity of its landscape, which includes everything from flat farmland and forest-covered hills to sweeping sandy beaches, lagoons and beautiful peninsulas. Highlights of a visit include the Jasmund Peninsula , reaching a height of 161 metres, and the beautiful beech forests of Stubnitz, ending dramatically at the Königsstuhl, where a sheer chalk cliff plunges down to the sea from a height of 117 metres. Another must see is the small old holiday resort of Putbus, seat of the Princes of Putbus and with numerous neoclassical buildings and parks.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on the Island of Ruegen
11 Königssee (King’s Lake)
This beautiful Bavarian lake is one of the most beautiful beauty spots in the region known as Berchtesgadener Land. Also known as the King’s Lake, this area is a hiker’s paradise. One of the most popular routes is the attractive footpath along the eastern side of Lake Königssee to the Malerwinkel, or painter’s corner, with its beautiful views of the lake and mountains. Another equally attractive sightseeing option is to take a boat trip to the 17th century Pilgrimage Chapel of St. Bartholomew on the south side of the lake, and walk to the Obersee from there. Berchtesgaden , at the end of the Deutsche Alpenstrasse, is perhaps the best-known tourist town and one of the most popular mountain areas in the Bavarian Alps.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Königssee
12 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
The old Franconian imperial city of Rothenburg, one of the most attractive places on the famous romantic route of the Romantic Road, lies on the steep banks of the scenic Tauber River. With its walls and towers untouched since the Thirty Years’ War of 1618, this fully preserved picture-perfect medieval town offers endless charm. Individual buildings of interest include the imposing 13th-century Town Hall (Rathaus); the wonderful Ratstrinkstube , or Council Tavern, built in 1466 with its interesting clock; St.-Georgs-Brunnen Fountain , built in 1608 at the end of Herrngasse; St. James’s Church with its fine high altar dating from 1466; and the Imperial City Museum. Just walking the old streets past these beautiful buildings is a timeless experience, especially when it comes to the Plönlein , one of the city’s most picturesque spots.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Rothenburg
13 Sanssouci Park and Palace, Potsdam
Spectacular Sanssouci Park, created between 1744 and 1756, is considered the most celebrated example of the Potsdam Rococo. Reflecting Frederick the Great’s personal influence, the park includes a beautiful baroque flower garden, over 3000 fruit trees and numerous greenhouses. It is a pleasure to stroll through this huge park, especially the straight, arrow-like, two-and-a-half-mile avenue, screened on either side with trimmed hedges, perfect lawns and beautiful gardens. A number of park buildings are also worth exploring, particularly the Picture Gallery with its many works of art; the beautiful Chinese House , a very extensive garden pavilion; and the beautiful Roman bathscomplex. The palace itself, a one-story Rococo building with an elliptical dome in the center and a circular room at each end, is notable for its grand oval marble hall and sumptuous apartments.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Potsdam
14 Insel Mainau: the flower island of Lake Constance
Insel Mainau, the spectacular flower island on the beautiful Lake Constance, covers an area of 110 hectares and attracts many visitors with its beautiful parks and gardens, lush with semi-tropical and tropical vegetation. Access to the island is by boat or via a pedestrian bridge that connects it to the mainland, so be sure to allow a little extra travel time in addition to the two or more hours it takes to properly explore this beautiful property. Another highlight is the 18th-century Schloss, notable for its beautiful white hall, old defense tower and gatehouse.
15 The Berlin Wall
While not exactly the most picturesque place, the Berlin Wall – or what’s left of it – is one of those attractions that any visitor to Berlin simply has to see, if only to say they’ve been there. Built in 1961, the wall was the most visible manifestation of the Cold War mentality that existed after World War II, and by the time it was torn down in 1990, it had expanded 155 kilometers. Fortunately, what remains of the wall today are small graffiti-covered sections, stark reminders of the more than 70 people who died trying to escape from the East. Sections of preserved wall include a short stretch at infamous Checkpoint Charlie, as well as a section at Humboldthafen opposite the Reichstag building that lists the victims of the wall. Also of interest is the excellent Berlin Wall Exhibition , with its permanent exhibitions related to the Berlin Wall, and the Berlin Wall Memorial .
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Berlin: Best Areas and Hotels