Known for its rich history, thriving culture, stunning architecture and natural beauty, Germany offers endless possibilities for an unforgettable travel experience. Imagine walking into a chocolate shop and finding an array of flavors, each unique but all equally inviting—that’s Germany for you. This comprehensive guide cherrypicks the ultimate highlights for visitors seeking to maximize their precious time when planning a German getaway.
After exhaustive research consulting numerous travel guides, German tourism sites, friends’ tips, and drawing on our own extensive travels through Germany, we are delighted to provide a definitive single resource for travelers to fully experience captivating Germany. Whether you have one week or one month for your trip, this guide curates must-see recommendations tailored for you.
Ready to immerse yourself in Deutschland? Take the leap! This comprehensive guide will help you discover the best cities and towns to visit, top outdoor activities, famous landmarks, major events, German food and budget tips. An interactive map at the end aids in planning your customized German itinerary.
Best Cities to Visit in Germany
Germany is filled with vibrant metropolitan hubs that showcase the country’s fascinating history, culture, cuisine and nightlife. Travelers looking for urban adventures will find plenty to see and do in the nation’s largest and most popular cities. From historic landmarks, museums and castles to beer halls, festivals and shopping, Germany’s urban centers offer endless activities. Some of the top cities to explore include Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne.
Berlin: Historical sites, museums, nightlife
Berlin serves as Germany’s capital and cultural epicenter. The city offers an intriguing mix of history and modernity. Visitors can reflect on Berlin’s turbulent past at historical sites like the Berlin Wall Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie and Brandenburg Gate. The city’s world-class museums cover topics from Egyptian artifacts to Prussian paintings. Berlin also shines when the sun goes down. Night owls can explore hip bars and clubs that keep the party going into the early morning hours. During the day, relax at sprawling city parks and gardens like Tiergarten. Graffiti artists have also transformed Berlin into an outdoor art gallery with colorfully painted murals across the city.
Munich: Oktoberfest, Beer halls, Neuschwanstein Castle day trips
Munich emanates old-world Bavarian charm. The city’s iconic Oktoberfest draws millions for boisterous beer drinking in packed festival tents. Even outside of the festival, beer halls like the Hofbräuhaus perpetually overflow with revelers hoisting overflowing steins. Along with beer culture, Munich offers architectural gems like the Frauenkirche church and lively public squares. The city also serves as an ideal base for day trips to Neuschwanstein Castle. Rising from the hilltops, this fairy-tale castle inspired the one in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
Hamburg: Harbor, Miniatur Wunderland model railway, nightlife
Hamburg sits along the Elbe River and contains one of Europe’s largest harbors. Visitors can tour the bustling port and ride on ships that cruise along the city’s canals. When seeking indoor adventures, check out Miniatur Wunderland, an elaborate model railway depicting detailed scenes from around the world. At night, the Reeperbahn district comes alive with neon-lit clubs and cabarets that gave birth to the city’s famous red light district.
Frankfurt: Finance hub, museums, green spaces
Modern skyscrapers tower above Frankfurt, which serves as Germany’s financial center. While here on business, make time to visit world-class museums like the Städel Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Frankfurt offers a respite from the steel and glass jungle with abundant nature spots. Have a picnic in Bethmann Park, take a stroll through the Palmengarten botanical gardens or ascend the forested hills along the riverfront.
Cologne: Cologne Cathedral, Roman-Germanic Museum, shopping
Cologne dazzles visitors with its massive Gothic cathedral along the Rhine River. Equally impressive is Cologne’s Roman-Germanic Museum, which displays intricate mosaic floors and archaeological artifacts from ancient Roman settlements. Outside of museums and historic landmarks, Cologne boasts extensive shopping outlets and a robust art scene in the Belgian Quarter.
The Most Beautiful Towns in Germany
Beyond its bustling cities, Germany entices visitors to slow down and appreciate sublime scenery in its picturesque smaller towns. With winding cobblestone streets, ancient hilltop castles, soaring cathedrals and timber-framed houses, these charming destinations transplant travelers back in time. Among the loveliest towns to explore are Cochem, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden, Bamberg and Bacharach.
Cochem: Medieval Reichsburg Castle, riverside scenery, Riesling wines
Sitting on the banks of the Moselle River beneath a dramatic medieval castle, Cochem charms visitors with its riverside setting in the heart of Riesling wine country. Take the chairlift up to Reichsburg Castle, with its impressive octagonal tower and panoramic views. Stroll flower-filled streets like Endertplatz and Kaplanei, taste local Reisling white wines, and walk along the riverside promenade.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Preserved medieval architecture, night watchman tours
With impressively preserved medieval walls and towers enclosing red-roofed dwellings, Rothenburg ob der Tauber fully transports you back in time. Stroll Market Square, walk along covered walkways like the Kobolzeller Steige, and see relics like St. James’ Church. Join the classic Night Watchman’s Tour for entertaining anecdotes of local history and legends.
Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden: Alpine village under Watzmann mountain
Nestled dramatically amid the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden National Park, Ramsau bei Berchtesgaden epitomizes traditional Alpine charm. Quaint chalets cluster around St. Sebastian Church with magnificent views of the Watzmann massif. Hike through the mountain scenery, breathe clean Alpine air and sample hearty regional cuisine.
Bamberg: Historic city center, Gothic cathedral, Old Town Hall on an island
With its entire Altstadt or old town listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bamberg showcases one of Germany’s largest and undisturbed medieval townscapes. Marvel at the quartet of church spires, see ornate Baroque architecture and stroll the Tiny Bridge over narrow canals flanked by charming fisherman’s houses.
Bacharach: Postcard-perfect vineyards, half-timbered houses, medieval charm
Walking Bacharach’s narrow cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered houses, it’s easy to see why this town inspired ancient legends of sorcery and magic. Climb to the ruins of imposing Burg Stahleck Castle overlooking the village. Gaze out over surrounding hillside vineyards along one of the many scenic trails.
Best Outdoor Activities in Germany
Beyond its bustling urban centers, Germany’s diverse landscape provides endless opportunities for outdoor recreation and adventure. Alpine peaks, dense forests, crystalline rivers and massive lakes set the scene for hiking, biking, swimming and watersports across the country. Germany caters to outdoor enthusiasts of all levels with scenic trails, world-class climbing and action-packed waterways.
Hike through stunning scenery in the Bavarian Alps, Saxon Switzerland, Black Forest
Lace up your boots and head for the hills to experience Germany’s magnificent hiking trails. The Bavarian Alps offer towering peaks and flower-filled meadows. Summit Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, then ride a cable car back down while soaking in panoramic views. Saxon Switzerland dazzles with its soaring sandstone cliffs and deep gorges. Meander through the cuckoo clock-making region of the Black Forest, past cascading waterfalls and mythical woods.
Cycle along the Elbe River, Romantic Road or Lake Constance
With thousands of miles of dedicated cycling paths, Germany provides heavenly terrain for avid cyclists. Pedal along the Elbe as it winds past vineyards and castles. Bike the famous Romantic Road through quaint medieval villages and rolling farmland. Circle Lake Constance and cross between Switzerland, Germany and Austria.
Swim in Alpine lakes like Königssee, Eibsee or Schluchsee
Cool off from the summer heat by plunging into Germany’s crystalline, sapphire-blue Alpine lakes. Boat across glassy Königssee to swim in secluded coves with views of steep cliffs. Dive into the depths from platforms at Eibsee, nestled dramatically beneath the Zugspitze. Enjoy Schluchsee’s shallow shores and waterfront cafés.
Canoe or kayak down rivers like the Elbe or Neckar
Paddle through scenery along Germany’s gently flowing rivers. Drift beneath hilltop castles along the Romantic Road’s Neckar River. Row downstream on the Elbe as it winds through the UNESCO-listed Saxony Switzerland National Park. Rent a canoe or kayak to navigate sheer sandstone cliffs rising hundreds of feet straight from the water.
Climb cliffs in Saxon Switzerland near Dresden or at Frankenjura near Nuremberg
Saxon Switzerland’s spires and arêtes offer heart-pounding climbing. Scale the Bastei cliffs to reach panoramic viewing platforms. Boulder on huge sandstone blocks or tackle overhanging routes on sport climbs. Frankenjura also impresses climbers with its sweeping walls and dramatic shapes.
Famous Landmarks and Monuments in Germany
Germany harbors an array of striking landmarks and monuments that offer windows into the nation’s multifaceted history and culture. Grand palaces, stoic memorials and enduring fortifications stand as icons throughout the country. Visitors flock to admire their impressive architecture and learn about Germany’s complex past.
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
This 18th-century neoclassical gate has come to symbolize German unity. Damaged in World War II then isolated by the Berlin Wall, the restored Brandenburg Gate now represents peace and freedom. Visitors can walk through the imposing sandstone columns and admire the Goddess of Peace statue on the gate’s top.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria
Nestled in Bavaria’s mountains, Neuschwanstein Castle is considered one of the most beautiful castles in Germany. Built by King Ludwig II, the Romanesque Revival palace inspired Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland. The lavish interior includes a simulated cave and colorful frescoes paying tribute to Wagnerian operas.
Cologne Cathedral, Cologne
Cologne Cathedral dominates the city’s skyline with intricate twin spires soaring 515 feet high. This UNESCO site took over 600 years to complete since construction began in 1248. Visitors are awed by its immense interior that can accommodate 40,000 worshippers at a time.
The Berlin Wall
Segments of the Berlin Wall still stand as a memorial to Germany’s divided past. Visitors can learn about its history at the open-air Berlin Wall Memorial. The memorial contains a preserved 200-meter stretch of the wall covered in graffiti artwork.
Reichstag Building, Berlin
Home to Germany’s parliament, the Reichstag’s sleek glass dome added during reconstruction has become an iconic Berlin landmark. Visitors can climb to the top of the dome for 360-degree views of the city.
Heidelberg Castle, Heidelberg
This dramatic hilltop ruin overlooks Heidelberg and the Neckar River. Repeatedly destroyed then rebuilt since the 13th century, the castle complex exudes romantic ambience. The grounds contain picturesque gardens, courtyards and a large barrel-shaped wine vat.
Major Events and Festivals in Germany
Germany hosts an array of lively festivals and events throughout the year that showcase the country’s culture, food and flair for revelry. These colorful celebrations, often centuries-old, attract visitors from around the world.
Oktoberfest, held annually from mid-September through early October, is considered one of the most famous festivals globally. Over 6 million beer lovers flock to Munich’s Theresienwiese grounds to fill massive beer tents decorated with colorful banners for boisterous drinking, eating and merriment. Revelers hoist overflowing one-liter steins and sway to oompah bands while donning traditional dirndl or lederhosen attire at the world’s largest Volksfest celebrating Bavarian culture.
Christmas Markets, Various Cities
During December, German cities like Frankfurt, Cologne, Berlin and Dresden transform into sparkling winter wonderlands with traditional Christmas markets centered around the town square. Vendors sell unique gifts, ornaments, toys and decorative items from festively adorned wooden stalls set amongst twinkling lights and decorative wreaths. Sip steaming cups of mulled wine, nibble gingerbread cookies and roast chestnuts, and shop for handmade crafts like wood carvings, ceramics and nutcrackers at these markets oozing old-world European charm.
Wacken Open Air (W:O:A) Heavy Metal Festival
Considered the world’s largest heavy metal music festival, Wacken Open Air gathers devoted metal fans to the village of Wacken every August. The first W:O:A festival debuted in 1990 with just 800 attendees, growing exponentially each year. Now over 75,000 metal lovers converge to rock out to bands playing on multiple stages.
Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale)
Each February, one of Europe’s premier film festivals showcases nearly 400 films from around the world to over half a million viewers in Berlin. Hollywood stars and directors regularly attend the prominent Berlinale, dressed to impress for flashy red carpet premieres and competitions. The festival sells over 300,000 tickets to screenings at various venues including the iconic Berlinale Palast as film buffs celebrate innovative cinema.
Rock am Ring and Rock im Park Music Festivals
Two of Germany’s largest outdoor rock music festivals, Rock am Ring and Rock im Park take place concurrently in early June featuring the same lineup of bands. Rock am Ring happens at the Nürburgring race track, while Rock im Park occupies the Zeppelinfeld in Nuremberg. The multi-day festivals showcase rock, metal, punk and indie acts on multiple stages. Past lineups have included bands like Green Day, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Die Toten Hosen.
Cologne Carnival (Kölner Karneval)
Taking place every year in February, Cologne Carnival is one of the largest street festivals in Europe. For six days, Cologne is transformed into a carnival hub overflowing with colorful parades, brass band music, dancing and elaborate costumes. With origins dating back to Roman times, this jubilant festival has grown into a spectacular annual tradition.
Airbeat One Electronic Music Festival
Airbeat One Festival occurs annually in early July in Neustadt-Glewe, focused on EDM, house, techno and other electronic dance music. With elaborate stage setups and pyrotechnics, Airbeat One brings Ibiza-esque festival vibes to northern Germany. The four-day beachside event attracts over 65,000 electronic music fans.
German Foods and Culinary Delights
Germany is a food-lover’s paradise with flavorful culinary traditions ranging from hearty comfort foods to sweet treats and refreshing beverages.
Traditional dishes like bratwurst, schnitzel and spätzle satisfy any hearty appetite. Bratwurst refers to juicy grilled sausages, often served with mustard and sauerkraut. Tender pork cutlets pounded thin and fried in breadcrumbs make a classic schnitzel. Spätzle are soft, chewy egg noodles that pair well with meats and gravies. Finish a meal with rich desserts like moist German chocolate cake, decadent Black Forest cake topped with whipped cream and cherries, or fresh fruit tarts with flaky crusts.
Regional specialties add diversity to German cuisine. In Bavaria, taste savory sausages, sweet mustard and of course Bavarian lagers like the original Oktoberfest beers from Munich. The Rhineland’s wine country dishes include säuerbraten, a German pot roast marinated and braised in a tangy gravy. Up north, the coastal areas serve fresh seafood like trout, shrimp and Baltic fish often smoked or cured. Berlin offers currywurst, a beloved street food of grilled pork sausage sliced and seasoned with ketchup mixed with curry powder. The city’s trendy dining scene also includes international and modern German fare.
No matter where you travel, stop in any local bakery to find delicious pretzels, rye breads, and an array of rich cakes. Visit Christmas markets for additional treats like spiced gingerbread, stollen fruitcake and paper cones filled with hot roasted nuts.
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Cost and Budget for Traveling in Germany
Despite being one of the richest countries globally, living expenses in Germany may surprise you by not being as high as expected. Costs of goods, dining and accommodation are moderately aligned with other EU countries, with consumer prices averaging just about 8% higher than the EU norm.
Within the EU, Germany ranks 10th highest for cost of living. Still, it remains more affordable than visiting the UK, Denmark, Norway, France or the Netherlands. Significant variations exist even within Germany’s borders. Major metropolitan hubs in western Germany generally have higher daily costs than smaller towns in eastern regions of the country.
Unexpectedly, Berlin is actually one of Germany’s most budget-friendly cities, even though it serves as the nation’s capital and cultural center. By contrast, other major cities like Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Bonn all tend to be more expensive.
According to the cost comparison site Numbeo, prices in Berlin are around 40% less than New York City, and about 25% cheaper than London.
To give an idea, a meal at an inexpensive restaurant in Berlin may cost 12 EUR. Mid-range dining with a glass of wine averages around 30 EUR per person. Ordering a 0.5 liter draft beer will set you back about 4 EUR, while a cappuccino from a cafe runs approximately 3 EUR. Opting for groceries from markets often provides cheaper eating options if you want to cook some of your own meals while traveling.
In terms of lodging, well-rated Berlin hostels like Wallyard Concept Hostel or Three Little Pigs can be booked for around 25 EUR per night. Upgrading to a nice hotel like Amano Grand Central with a sleek rooftop terrace starts at about 75 EUR per night. Boutique hotels such as Hotel Indigo offer rooms for 100 EUR per person and up.
Overall, while costs vary based on location and preferences, Germany remains an affordable travel destination compared to the average European standard. With reasonable budgets and planning, travelers can readily enjoy Germany’s top-tier attractions and experiences.
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Map and Additional Resources for Traveling in Germany
After reading about Germany’s top destinations and attractions, it’s time to start mapping out your travel route. Planning your dream trip is easy with the help of this interactive map. It displays the various cities, landscapes and landmarks detailed throughout the article so you can visualize how to travel between them.
Here are some additional tips and resources to help you plan your ideal trip to Germany:
Safety: Germany is very safe for travelers. Exercise basic precautions against pickpockets or scams, especially in crowded areas. Violent crime is rare.
City Cards: Multi-day passes provide discounted access to public transportation, museums and attractions in major cities. Consider purchasing:
Opening Hours: Many attractions are closed on Mondays, so plan accordingly. Most shops close on Sundays due to laws restricting retail hours.
Public Transportation: Germany has an efficient network of trains, buses, trams and subways. Purchase tickets beforehand or at station machines. Use Deutsche Bahn’s website or app to easily navigate connections.
Rental Cars: Rental car rates are reasonable, but consider going car-free if staying mainly in cities. Parking is limited and expensive in urban areas.