As summer knocks on your door, and you get ready to plan your great European holiday, we tell you the best cities to visit in Germany, and give you a lowdown on the many wonderful sights and experiences that lie in store for you in this beautiful and fascinating country. Whether it’s the big city buzz or the famous architecture, the historical sites or the packed shopping streets, the enchanting medieval houses or the scintillating nightlife, there’s something for everyone in Germany’s towns and cities.
Berlin: The World Capital
When the tributes were pouring in following the passing of music legend David Bowie, it brought into focus one of the great cities of the world that had been the muse of some of his best albums. Although much has changed from the Cold War days of the late 70s, one thing about Berlin has remained constant: its cultural energy and vitality. These days, Berlin often tops lists like The Most Fun City in the World, and with good reason too. Few other cities can boast of the same potent travel mix of museums, bars, restaurants, activities, nightlife and shopping. To start with, there are the evocative historical sites, from the brilliant 19th century Brandenburg Gate, and the pleasure gardens of the Berlin Cathedral, to the Museum Island in the middle of the Spree River. A veritable storehouse of western art and culture, including works from Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantium, the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the Museum Island now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Then there are the Holocaust and Cold War museums, as well as the graffiti-laden remains of the Berlin Wall, which ensure the need to remember the darkness as well as the light. Modern Berlin’s USP is its creativity and multiculturalism, and nowhere is it more evident than at places like the Turkish district of Kreuzberg and at the entire section from the Oberbaum Bridge to the Ostbanhof Station called the East Side Gallery, the very centre of the street art movement. Check out the grand boulevard of Unter den Linden, catch a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic, home to one of the most famous orchestras in the world, gaze at dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History, have a drink at the Modernist marvel Potsdammer Platz, shop at Ka-De-We department store or at the fashion mecca of Kurfürstendamm, and dance the night away at any of the thousands of nightclubs!
Hamburg: Gateway to the North Sea
What David Bowie is to Berlin, The Beatles is to Hamburg. The Fab Four, in their pre-fame days, spent a few years honing their rock’n’roll chops in the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, the great maritime city of Germany, a twin to their own hometown of Liverpool. Today, the city on the mouth of the Elbe is a potent mix of the historic and the modern, home to both Europe’s second largest port and also to the largest inner-city construction in all of Europe, the HafenCity. Take a boat from the Landungsbrücken jetty for a ride down the Elbe for a feel of the North Sea port, with the many ocean liners. Visit the old town and admire the old houses of the famous Hanseatic traders of the city. Definitely visit the Unesco World Heritage Site of Speicherstadt and admire the traditional brick warehouses standing on a myriad oak supports on the Fleets, Hamburg’s waterways. Hamburg has great shopping too—fish auctions at the Altona fish market and the Jungfernsteig, the city’s shopping centre. The riverside promenade here is great for a leisurely walk. Head over to Perlenkette where the high-end restaurants are, or climb the viewing platform at the Dockland office for great views of the city. Hamburg has a bit of everything.
Düsseldorf: From Luxury Boulevards to the Trendiest Shops
Situated in eastern Germany, on the eastern bank of the Rhine, Düsseldorf’s over 800 showrooms make it the fashion capital of the country. If you want to go shopping, look no further than the Königsallee, the street fondly referred to as Kö, where the fashionistas gather for some Hugo Boss and Calvin Klein, Prada and Gucci. It’s also a great place for dining out, and just generally bask in the luxuriousness of it all. A hidden gem is Carlstadt, with its antique shops and galleries, and Schadowstrasse, just off Königsallee, is another great shopping street. If all this shopping leaves you thirsty, head over to the old town, which has so many bars and pubs, it’s called ‘the longest bar in the world’. And it isn’t just shopping at Düsseldorf. There’s the Kunstpalast Museum, which houses the collection of the passionate art collector, the Elector Palatine John Wilhelm II, who created this gallery in 1710. It is also an important repository of important paintings. Oh, and apart from the ‘world’s longest bar’, the old town is also home to beautiful old buildings, lovely squares and a riverside promenade that plays host to jazz festivals and book fairs. If you’re interested in cutting-edge modern architecture, don’t miss the Media Harbour, home to impressive buildings made by the renowned architect Frank Gehry.
Dresden: The Culture-Rich City
Dresden the beautiful, beating cultural heart of Germany is situated to the wet, beside the stunningly picturesque Elbe River in Saxony. Once capital to the kings of Saxony, it can today be called the culture capital of the country. The centerpiece of this architecturally rich city is the Zwinger Palace, the one of the great Baroque palaces of Europe, built in 1709 during the reign of Augustus the Strong. The sandstone palace, the Crown Gate, the fountain of Nymphaeum and the Rampart Pavillion are classics of Baroque architecture. The palace houses some very important museums, especially the Old Masters and New Masters Galleries in the Semper Wing and the Brühl Terrace respectively. Among the highlights of the Renaissance masterpieces here is the Sistine Chapel’s Madonna by Raphael. Nest to Zwinger Palace is the Church of Our Lady, dating back to the early decades of the 18th century. Once you’re done here, head over to the atmospheric Neustadt Market Hall, where you can indulge in some very modern shopping in surroundings dating back to the 19th century. Neustadt itself is the hip centre of town, with many bars, cabaret theatres, restaurants, galleries, boutiques and clubs. Round off your Dresden experience with a visit Volkswagen’s ‘transparent factory’.
Leipzig: A Treat Amongst Unique Arcades and Courtyards
Home to both Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn, and a regular host to Gustav Mahler, Franz Liszt and many others, Leipzig isn’t just the music capital of Germany, but also a key city in the history of Western Classical Music. And at the root of it all is the St. Thomas’ Church. Originally erected in 1212 CE over an older religious site, the present Gothic Church was built instages over the 14th and the 15th centuries. However, its traditional boy’s choir can be traced back to 1254 CE. Many great musicians served as the cantor of the St. Thomas Choir, but none more famous than Bach, who worked at the church until his death in 1750. Visit this stunning church (you might even catch the choir if you’re lucky), beforeheading over to the multimedia Bach Museum for an immersive experience. Mendelssohn was a 19th century prodigy who became a hugely popular composer and conductor during his brief life. His house is now the Mendelssohn Museum, with most of his belongings arranged as they were when he died. The music room in the house is the venue for weekly concerts. The war memorial Monument to the Battle of Nations to commemorate the Napoleanic Wars, is an iconic Leipzig landmark, as is the Baumwollspinnerei, a former cotton mill that houses artists’ studios, a choreography and dance centre and many galleries and workshops. For some unique pub experience, head over to Auerbachs Keller, which opened in 1525! If you want to take a break from the city, take a coach tour of the scenic Leipzig New Lakeland region or go for boat and canoe rides as you get to know the beautiful rivers and lakes around the city.
Munich: Germany’s Beer Capital
Munich is known the world over for being home to one of the world’s most iconic football club: Byern Munich. Allianz Arena, the club’s home stadium is now a big draw for tourists, so go check out the jaw-dropping trophy room, and even watch a match if you can. Away from the stadium, this beautiful and happy city has much to offer. Walk over to the Marienplatz Square in the centre of town and enjoy the beautiful 15th-century The Cathedral of Our Dear Lady, and the Devil’s Footstep near its entrance. Climb the south tower of the church for fantastic views of Munich and the distant Alps. See the St. Mary’s Column in the square and the neo-Gothic New Town Hall. Nearby are the main shopping streets and one of the largest inner city parks in Europe, the English Garden. With its Chinese Pagoda, and Beer Garden, it’s certainly worth exploring. Close to Marienplatz is Hofbräuhaus beer hall. It was once a brewery, now it’s a beer temple. For an offbeat museum experience, you can’t beat the BMW Welt with its fantastic collection of cars. You could spend a whole day admiring the Nymphenburg Palace complex, built in 1664 by the Bavarian Elector as a gift for his wife. Finally, drop in at the Viktualienmarkt near Marienplatz, Munich’s largest fresh produce market, and treat yourself to beer and Bavarian cuisine. Munich is home to some great old breweries, including the Löwenbräu, which was serving beer as early as 1324. Treat yourself to some of the finest beers here especially during the legendary Oktoberfest.
Munich is a great base to explore the Bavarian countryside from, like the nearby Lake Constance, which form the border between Germany and Switzerland. Explore the historical town of Constance, unchanged since the Medieval Ages. Today, it’s a beautiful, laid back university town that’s perfect for exploring on foot. Lake Constance is the largest freshwater lake in Germany and a great way to explore it is by taking excursion ships that ply all over the lake, and the Rhine visiting the different shores of the lake for breathtaking views of the German, Swiss and Austrian Alpine countryside.
Frankfurt: A Multitude of Beauty and Virtue
Frankfurt, by the river Main, or Frankfurt am Main, is the main financial hub in Germany. But don’t think that this makes it a boring city. Far from it! The hometown of Goethe can very easily be called the Museum City of Germany, primarily due to the museum embankment by the Main. This includes one of the best art galleries in Germany, the Städel Institute of Art with the Municipal Gallery. This gallery is home to over six centuries of European art, including 3,000 paintings, 600 sculptures, thousands of photographs and more than a 100,000 drawings and graphic art. The museum embankment itself lies on the southern bank of Main in Sachsenhausen, and contains 13 different museums, including the Museum of Arts and Crafts, the Museum of Ethnology, the Museum of World Cultures and the Film Museum. An important museum here is the Liebieghaus, with a collection of sculptures spanning some 5,000 years of Human civilization. There’s even a museum of maths and computing called Experiminta. While you’re in Sachsenhausen, go for a sightseeing tour on the historical tram Ebbelwei Express, and check out any of the over a 100 bars to enjoy some local cider. Across the river, on the north bank in the old quarter is the Schirn Kunsthalle which is famous for organising themed, temporary exhibitions. Take a break from the museums and head to MyZeil shopping centre. This futuristic building has 8 floors of stores, a delicatessen, restaurants and Europe’s longest escalator. For some pretty historical buildings, head for the centre of the city’s old quarter, Römberg Square. Finally, don’t forget to check out Goethe’s house, which is now a museum, and Frankfurt Zoo!
Nuremberg: A Year-Round Attraction for the Family
Nuremberg is an old city, dating back t at least to the 11th century. In its 1,000-year-old existence, it’s been the unofficial capital of the Holy Roman Empire, an Imperial Free City and the centre of the German Renaissance. It was also repeatedly devastated by the Black Plague in the Middle Ages, and was practically destroyed during World War II. However, with post-war reconstructions of many of its historic buildings, Nuremberg today is full of monuments that testify to the city’s long history. This starts with the city’s famous fortress, begun in 1140 and expanded upon for the next half a century. Nuremberg’s Historical Mile begins at the Kaiserburg castle, which includes the castle’s 12th century double chapel and 16th and 17th century tapestries and paintings in the royal chambers. Nuremberg’s medieval old town has beautiful half-timbered houses and you can visit the 16th century artist Albrecht Dürer’s house. Nuremberg was the site of the Nazi trials after World War II and you can see the documents at the Nuremberg Trials Memorial. On a lighter note, visit the exquisite Toy Museum and Germany’s oldest Railway Museum. Another great highlight of this ancient city is the Christmas Children’s Market or the Christkindlesmarkt that’s on from November 25 to December 24 every year. It dates back to the Reformation in the 16th century, when the tradition of giving gifts on Christmas Eve to children and family members first began. Every two years, a girl between 16 and 19 years old is selected as the Christmas Angel or Christkind on the basis of their knowledge of the city. She then presides over the festivities. At the market, enjoy Nuremberg’s famous sausages, try the Nuremberg Gingerbread, take a stagecoach tour around the city, buy gifts from all over the world, meet the Christkind, buy the tiny handmade Prune Men, enjoy the hot mulled wine and, of course, market itself, with its merry-go-round, Christmas Bakery, Santa Claus house and much more!
Baden Baden: An Exceptional Spa Experience
If you’re looking for a spa break in absolutely gorgeous surroundings, there’s really only one place that you should go to, and that’s Baden Baden. This city, renowned for its 12 thermal springs, stands in the beautiful countryside on the fringes of the Black Forest in western Germany. Baden Baden offers more than just luxurious spas however, as the city is a byword for style, elegance and the finer things of life. The location of the city has been a spa mecca for almost two thousand years—the Romans were the first to appreciate the healing waters of the thermal springs, setting up the first baths, as early as 69 CE. The therapeutic quality of these bubbling geysers, rich in minerals, is unmatched for their therapeutic powers, alleviating cardiovascular, rheumatic and respiratory ailments as well as joint disorders. What’s more, Baden Baden has even won awards for the sheer quality of its drinking water! The two most famous thermal pools are the Caracalla Therme and the historical Friedrichsbad, and the city’s spa clinics, spa hotels and wellness hotels are some of the best in the world. Away from wellness, Baden Baden retains the charm and the elegance of the Belle Époque, the European golden age of the late 19th-early 20th century, when the city was the unofficial summer capital of the continent. It has some of the most beautiful casinos anywhere, not to mention the Festspielhaus, Europe’s second largest opera house, Frieder Burda Museum in Lichtentaler Alee Park with its unmatched collection of modern art or the Fabergé Museum, to name just a few. The city also has a racecourse and some great shopping. The other highlight is the wine region nearby.
Freiburg: The City of The Black Forest
The premier city of the Black Forest, Freiburg is where you go to relax, and to get up to some adventure. Home to one of Germany’s most picturesque old quarters, sunny Freiburg is all about cafés, bars, delicious food, and incredibly scenic surroundings. Walk around the many squares following the narrow little water channels, the Bachle, that run beside the pavements in the old quarter. The main square hosts a vibrant market every Sunday, and its dominated by the grand Gothic Freiburg Minster, often considered one of Germany’s most beautiful religious buildings. Visit the16th-century Historical Merchants’ Hall or the Augustinian Abbey in the popular Augustinerplatz square. The city is filled with festivals from January to December, starting with the international trade fair of culture and ending with the Christmas Market and the Circus Festival. In between are the Freiburg Carnival and much more. Trails lead off from the city to the nearby Black Forest and you can climb the 4,200 foot Mount Schauinsland, or visit the many lakes in the region. But for the best Black Forest experience, head to Waldkirch a few kilometers away in the Elz river valley for the Zwaitalersteig Trail, one of Germany’ best hiking routes. This ‘trail of the two valleys’ is a perfect 5-day snapshot of The Black Forest: rolling meadows , woodland groves, old stands of black firs and pines, crags, gorges and lovely waterfalls. A well-marked 105km-trail dooes a long, looping circuit around the valley of the Elz river, one of the main tributaries of the Rhine. The route includes a bit of both the highland region of the southern Black Forest and the lower valleys of central Black Forest.
Cologne: The City of the Chocolate Museum and Crazy Carnivals
Often voted the most liberal city in Germany, and unofficially noted as one of the most exuberant ones, Cologne, or Köln as the Germans call it, is certainly one of the most vibrant. There’s much to see and do in this city by the Rhine, and much to eat and drink as well, primarily chocolates and the city’s signature Kölsch beer. But more of that later. The great landmark of Cologne is its great Cathedral, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Dramatically looming over the city’s skyline, this masterpiece of Gothic architecture has been around since 1248 CE, making it one of Germany’s oldest as well. Designed after Paris’ Nortre Dame, the Cologne Cathedral is larger and grander, its mammoth twin towers the tallest twin spires in the world. The Cathedral houses the relics of the Three Kings, St. Peter’s reliquary and chain, as well as the oldest life-sized cross in Europe. Its stained glass windows are a marvel as well. You can go up the South Tower for fanatastic views of the city and its surroundings. Cologne also has 12 stunning Romanesque churches, some of which, like the St. Maria im Kapitol church date back to a thousand years. These churches are the setting for the Romanesque Summer, a lovely music festival. Cologne’s greatest festival is the carnival season, which lasts for 11 days from November 11 to Ash Wednesday. During these 11 days, normal life comes to a standstill as a giant, city-wide party gets underway. Presided by the mad trio of the virgin, the prince and the farmer, the street carnival, full of parades, and popularly referred to as ‘these crazy days’ kicks off at the Alter Markt. For the rest of the year, you can get a taste of Cologne’s bonhomie at any of the bars around Alter Markt and Heumarkt square. Full of large brewery-taverns, you can savour the different varieties of Cologne’s signature Kölsch beer, served by beer waiters called Köbes. Cologne’s chocolate museum is a one-of-a-kind, unique space. Lying next to the Rheinau harbor, in front of the old town and near the Cologne Cathedral, the museum’s 2,000 exhibits tell a story of chocolates, spanning some 3,000 years. A highlight here is the chocolate production area which also houses the confectionary and the Chocolate Studio where you can watch chocolatiers preparing some of the best chocolates in the world. You can also enroll for a chocolate workshop. You just can’t miss the chocolate fountain at the entrance! You should also check out the Ludwig Museum nearby for some contemporary and modern art masterpieces. Finally, if you want to relax, head for the huge Rhine Park in the heart of the city. Often voted as Germany’s most beautiful park, it’s a great place to rejuvenate.
Stuttgart: From Iconic Cars to Fabulous Wines
The capital of the state of Baden-Württembergin south-west Germany, visiting Stuttgart is something of a Holy Grail for car enthusiasts. Dating back to the 10th century, Stuttgart is certainly a very old city, but it’s primarily known for its automotive industry, as both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz are from here. So, the first thing that you should do is to hop over to the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche Museums. The former is 9 floors of automotive fantasy. No less than 1,500 of Diamler-Benz’s most iconic cars are displayed here. Divided into what are called the Legend rooms and the Collection rooms, the exhibits trace the history of over 125 years of the carmaker, the two-hour tour begins at the top floor, from where you wind your way down the levels, absorbing the history, and more fascinatingly, viewing some legendary cars in the Collection Rooms. The Porsche Museum is housed in a futuristic-looking building, and the exhibits are themed around the central tenets of the brand, ‘Fast’, ‘Light’, ‘Clever’, ‘Powerful’, ‘Intense’ and ‘Consistent’. The tours take you deep into the heart of the cutting-edge engineering and beautiful designs that have always been a hallmark of Porsche, apart from a crash-course on the life of founder Ferdinand Porsche. Every year, in March, the city plays host to the internationally famous Retro-Classics, a motor show.
There’s life outside the car museums in Stuttgart. The city is in the centre of Germany’s largest wine-growing region, and there’s plenty of great culinary delights and excellent wines on offer at the restaurants. You can also go for a wine tour outside the city, especially the Neckar Valley. The Stuttgart Wine Festival promotes the local Swabian lifestyle and culture, along with generous amounts of wine and local delicacies like the ravioli, cheese noodles, and sweet bread puddings. It’s held from end-August to early-September. Check out the New Palace at the Schlossplatz square, and get an in-depth view of history at the museum in the beautiful Old Palace. Catch a musical performance at the SI-Centrum entertainment Complex, do some world-class shopping at Konigstrasse and Calwerstrasse and drop in at the huge botanical garden and zoo at the Wilhelma Gardens.