History, culture and natural beauty perhaps best describe the essence of a vacation in Germany. With its many historic cities and small towns, along with an abundance of forests and mountains, visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a unique place to visit.
Those who want to see or experience art should go to metropolitan areas such as Munich, Frankfurt or Hamburg. For those looking for fun activities, consider visiting places like the Bavarian Alps, the Black Forest or the Rhine Valley.
Beautiful old cathedrals and grand palaces are everywhere, and in small towns and villages – some with their original medieval old towns still intact – centuries-old traditions, including traditional Christmas markets, festivals and fairs, continue to this day.
Germany’s cultural center is the capital, Berlin, home to many fine museums and galleries, while nature lovers will find a world of possibilities in Germany’s great outdoors.
For ideas to help you plan your trip, read our list of Germany’s top tourist attractions.
Also read: 15 fun things to do in Düsseldorf, Germany
1. Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate
Built on the Acropolis in Athens and built for King Frederick William II in 1791, the monumental sandstone Brandenburg Gate in Berlin’s Mitte district was the city’s first neoclassical structure. It measures an impressive 26 meters high, topped by the quadriga , a spectacular four-horse chariot carrying the goddess of victory.
Its six massive columns on each side of the structure form five imposing avenues: four were used by regular traffic, while the center was reserved for royal carriages. Massive Doric columns also adorn the two buildings on each side of the gate, which were used by toll-collectors and guards.
Undoubtedly Berlin’s most iconic structure, it’s hard to believe that the magnificent structure you see today was severely damaged during WWII and was once part of the infamous Berlin Wall and, for a few decades, symbolized the division of Berlin into East and West.
2. Cologne Cathedral (Cologne Dome)
The massive Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) – the cathedral of St. Peter and St. Mary – stands on the banks of the Rhine and is undoubtedly Cologne’s most impressive landmark. This masterpiece of High Gothic architecture, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, was begun in 1248 and was the most ambitious building project of the Middle Ages.
As impressive as its facade, its grand interior covers an area of 6,166 square meters and has 56 massive pillars. Above the high altar is the Reliquary of the Three Kings, a 12th-century gold work of art designed by Nicholas of Verdun to house the relics of the three kings brought here from Milan.
Other highlights include the panoramic views of the South Towers, the 12th and 13th century stained glass in the Three Kings Chapel and the Treasury with its many valuables , all of which remained largely intact after WWII. For some of the best views over the city and river, climb the 533 steps to the viewing platform in the South Tower. (A small entrance fee is required.)
3. Black Forest
The beautiful Black Forest with its dark, densely-wooded hills is one of the most visited highlands in all of Europe. Located in the south-west corner of Germany and extending 160 kilometers from Pforzheim in the north to Waldshut on the High Rhine in the south, it is a tourist’s paradise.
On the western side, it descends to the Rhine, crossed by lush valleys, while on the east, it descends more gently to the upper Neckar and Danube valleys. Popular destinations include Germany’s oldest ski area at Todtnau, the magnificent spa facilities of Baden-Baden and the charming resort of Bad Liebenzel.
Other highlights include the spectacular Black Forest Railway which centers on Triberg with its famous waterfall, and Triberg itself, home to the Black Forest Open Air Museum .
The best way to catch them all? Get a map of the Black Forest Panoramic Route, a 70-kilometer driving tour that takes in some of the best views over the region, along with top historical attractions including its stunning castles and countless medieval towns and villages.
4. The Ultimate Fairytale Castle: Neuschwanstein
The quaint old town of Füssen , nestled between the Amargau and Olgau Alps and a popular alpine resort and winter sports center, is a good base for visiting nearby Neuschwanstein Castle, one of Europe’s most famous (and picturesque) royal castles.
King Ludwig II of Bavaria built this many-towered and battlemented fantasy castle – the inspiration for Walt Disney’s famous theme park castles – from 1869-86. A variety of travel options are offered,
Including a guided tour of the Throne Room, Singers Hall… and the magnificent interior taking in some of the most spectacular views in the country.
5. Miniature Wonderland and Historic Port of Hamburg
In the heart of Hamburg’s historic harbor, the magnificent miniature wonderland , the world’s largest model railway, is an attraction that appeals to young and old alike.
Boasting over 12,000 meters of track, this massive scale model includes sections dedicated to the USA, England and Scandinavia (as well as Hamburg) and includes 890 trains, over 300,000 lights and over 200,000 human figures.
It’s not unheard of for guests to spend hours exploring this fascinating world with its remarkably detailed miniature airports (and actually flying planes), bustling cities, quaint countryside scenes and bustling ports.
For a memorable experience, book one of the behind-the-scenes tours, a fun thing to do especially at night.
Speaking of ports, be sure to explore Hamburg’s vast harbor while you’re there. Spread over 100 square kilometers, this huge tidal port – one of the world’s largest cruise ship terminals, and known as the gateway to Germany – is best explored by boat.
Afterwards, visit the Harborside Promenade , a beautiful pedestrian walkway, and the Warehouse District with its continuous rows of brick warehouses.
6. Rhine Valley
The Rhine is not only the most important waterway in Europe, it is also the most beautiful. With a total length of 1,320 kilometers, this magnificent river stretches from Switzerland through Germany to the Netherlands.
There are many places in Germany to enjoy this majestic river, while the beautiful Upper Middle Rhine Valley section – designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit. Here, this dramatic 65-kilometer stretch of river is home to over 40 castles and nearly 60 picturesque medieval towns all waiting to be explored by river cruise or car.
Looking for a great place to start your Rhine Valley adventure? The historic town of Bingen , where the river passes through a deep bay before entering the Bacharach Valley , is a good place to start.
7. Berlin’s Museum Island
Berlin’s world-famous Museumsinsel, or Museum Island, lies between the Spree and the Kupfergraben, a 400-meter-long canal near the river. This outstanding attraction includes one of the city’s oldest and most important museums.
The centerpiece of this pedestrian-friendly district is the Old Museum , built in the 1830s to display royal treasures. Soon, the land behind the museum was set aside for art and “the knowledge of antiquity”.
A new museum took shape between 1843–55 , and the National Gallery was added in 1876 , with the Bode Museum built in 1904 and home to a collection of antiquities.
Another highlight of this amazing places of interest walking tour is Pergamon with its reconstructed historical buildings from the Middle East. But be warned: there’s so much to see in these amazing museums that you can’t possibly cram it all into one day.
8. Munich’s Marienplatz
Germany’s third largest city, Munich (or München in German) has plenty to offer the adventurous traveler. The capital city of the state of Bavaria can trace its origins to the 12th century when a monastery was founded here, and it quickly grew to become the region’s most important center of trade and commerce.
The center of this rise was the Marienplatz , a large square where merchants from all over Bavaria gathered to trade and where locals gathered to shop and watch medieval jousting tournaments.
These days, this huge square still draws crowds, but for different reasons: they come here to stroll or to enjoy a visit to one of the square’s trendy cafes and restaurants, or to shop in its unique boutique stores.
There are plenty of points of interest for tourists. Here, you’ll find both the “new” and “old” town halls – Neues Rathaus and Altes Rathaus – where much of the city’s history is written. Both are attractive and worth visiting.
Other landmarks include the tall monument to the Virgin Mary, the Mariensaul , built in 1638 , as well as the magnificent Fischbrunnen , a 19th-century fountain with its bronze figures.
For a truly memorable experience, why not consider visiting in winter? If so, you ‘ll have the chance to see Marienplatz come alive with a spectacular display of lights and decorations during the annual Christmas market.
Other winter festivals are also held here, including the ancient, month-long Fasching Carnival. Held every January to February, locals and visitors alike take part in the fun dances and events that have been held here for centuries.
Visit Marienplatz at any time of the year and you’ll still have fun. From March to October you can see the Neues Rathaus’ famous glockenspiel performing its merry dance, its mechanical figures thrilling spectators three times a day in performances enjoyed since 1908.
Location: Marienplatz, 80331 Munich, Germany
9. Bamberg and Burgerstedt
Located in the valley of the Regnitz, where the river splits into two arms, sits Bamberg. This old imperial city is the most important city in Upper Franconia and one of the best preserved of Germany’s many charming old towns. It is one of the best to explore on foot.
Your walking tour should begin in its old episcopal quarter, home to a 13th-century cathedral and the old Benedictine Abbey of Michaelsburg . It’s between two river branches that you’ll find the stunning Burgerstadt , a small borough of Bamberg with Grüner Markt, a fine pedestrian area that ‘s home to the 17th-century baroque church of St. Martin .
To the north is the New Town Hall , or Neues Rathaus, built in 1736. But perhaps the town’s most important structure is the Old Town Hall, built atop the Obere Brooke (Upper Bridge) .
10. Zagspitz Massif
Part of the Wetterstein mountain range, the Zugspitze massif straddles the border between Germany and Austria and is surrounded by steep valleys. The eastern peak, at 2,962 meters, is crowned by a golden cross and can be reached by the Berische Zugspitzbahn , the Kog Railway, or the cable car.
Another great way to enjoy this area of outstanding natural beauty is to ride the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn , a railway that goes up to the Zugspitzkam station at 2,805 meters. From here, the journey can be continued by cable car to the Zugspitz-Westgeipfel station at 2,950 meters (be sure to dine at the excellent panoramic restaurant located here).
A highlight of the tour is the opportunity to walk through the 800-meter-long tunnel, complete with viewing windows, to the Schneefernerhaus station at the top of the Bavarian Cog Railroad. From here, you can climb the eastern peak with its viewing platform. And, thanks to the many nearby ski resorts, the Zugspitze is a wonderful German place to visit in winter.