6 best spots in Germany for exploring the great outdoors

Jeroen van Marle

written by
Jeroen van Marle

updated 03.05.2024

The open landscapes along the North Sea coast and the deep green beech forests inland are just two of the best nature areas in Germany. Several other World Heritage Sites in spectacular natural settings allow you to combine culture with a taste of the great outdoors.

1. The Upper Middle Rhine Valley

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley is a picturesque stretch of the Rhine Gorge spanning 65-km (40 miles), between Bingen and Koblenz.

For centuries, the spectacular region has inspired writers, composers and artists with its dramatic landscapes, medieval castles and historic towns. The area heralds some of the best-known scenery in Germany, and is famous for its wine production.

Despite being a major European transport artery for both shipping and rail, it's surprisingly easy to slow down here. There are many legends that surround the valley and its forests. 

The Lorelei, a legendary rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine River near St. Goarshausen, is steeped in German folklore as the tale of a captivating siren who bewitches sailors with her voice and appearance. It's also a fantastic picturesque spot to enjoy views of the surrounding landscape. 

Beside the Lorelei viewpoint, highlights of the Rhine valley include the half-timbered towns of Bacharach, the castles at Burg Katz, Stolzenfels and Marksburg and Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, in the middle of the river at Kaub. 

Oberwesel: Stadt im Oberen Mittelrheintal, UNESCO Welterbe

Oberwesel: Stadt im Oberen Mittelrheintal © Lookphotos/Guenther Bayerl

2. The Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea is a unique coastal wetland located in the southeastern part of the North Sea, and is one of the best places for observing coastal nature in Germany. Stretching from the Netherlands to Denmark, this million-hectare area partially falls dry every low tide, creating exposed sandbanks, providing ideal conditions for wildlife to flourish.

The Wadden Sea is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species, many of which are specially adapted to survive in the harsh coastal environment. It's a crucial habitat for numerous bird species, and in season, you can observe some of the twelve million birds that pass along  each year.

Deep channels and fast rising tides make venturing out alone very dangerous, but guided Wattlaufen trips are possible in many places along the coast, taking you out across the dunes and salt marshes onto the seabed, possibly to one of the islands. Come dressed for windy weather, and wear high-top sneakers to prevent losing your shoes in the mud.

Island Neuwerk: UNESCO World Natural Heritage National Park Hamburg Wadden Sea

Island Neuwerk, the Wadden Sea © Lookphotos/Guenther Bayerl

3. Kassel’s Wilhelmshöhe Park

Kassel’s Wilhelmshöhe Park, also known as Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, boasts over 800 years of history across 240 hectares (600 acres) in Germany. It features the unique Wilhelmshöhe mountain park, showcasing European garden art. 

The park's highlight is the three-hundred-year-old Hercules monument, where the "water games" commence. These games involve releasing 750,000 liters of water twice a week, cascading down from the monument, through various water features, including the grand Baroque cascade and the towering Great Fountain. 

This spectacle, unchanged for centuries, operates solely on the principles of physics, without any pumps. Visitors can best experience the park by taking a bus to the visitor center near the Hercules statue and timing their visit to coincide with the scheduled water displays.

Kassel Wilhelmshöhe station is on the ICE rail line between Hanover (1 hour) and Frankfurt (1.5 hours).

Palace Wilhelmshöhe, palace garden

Palace Wilhelmshöhe, palace garden © GNTB/Florian Trykowski

4. Monastic Island of Reichenau

The low-lying island of Reichenau on Lake Constance, 5 kilometres (3 miles) long and connected to mainland by a dam, has three churches that are outstanding examples of early medieval monastic architecture. The 1200-year-old St Mary and Marcus basilica was part of a large monastery which wielded great influence in Europe and had a Roman-style heating system.

The St Peter and St Paul church has incredible wall paintings dating from 1105, while the scenic late-10th-century paintings in St George's church are the largest and oldest north of the Alps. The island is also a natural paradise – you can walk along a lovely path following the north shore of the island, or look for birdlife among the reeds in the nature reserve to the east.

Reichenau Island is 10 kilometres (6 miles) west of Konstanz, and easily reached by boat, or by bus from Reichenau station on the mainland.  For more outdoor inspiration see 10 reasons why Saxony in Germany should be on your travel list.

Insel Reichenau: Herb garden with poppies

Island of Reichenau's herb garden with poppies © Helmut Scham/Tourist Office Reichenau

5. Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura

Around 40,000 years ago humans arrived in what is now the Swabian Jura area of Baden-Württemberg. Excavations in a series of caves in the forested valleys of the Ach and Lone rivers have uncovered some of the oldest figurative art in the world. The mammoth ivory Venus is the oldest female figurine ever found, while the Lion-man is a figure linked to mythical beliefs.

Other finds include carved mammoths, horses, cows, fish and several bird-bone flutes – the first-known musical instruments. These caves illuminating the origins of human artistic development, and are collectively a World Heritage Site. 

The 50-metre long Vogelherd Cave can be accessed from the Archäopark Vogelherd Visitor Centre, which also has an original mammoth figurine on display.

The Lonetal Valley with the sites of two other caves makes for a lovely 2-3-hour hike. Three further caves are partially accessible to hikers just south of Blaubeuren, where a museum displays the Venus figurine and some bone flutes. The Lion-man can be viewed at the Museum Ulm.

World Heritage Ice Age Caves: Vogelherd Cave © H. Schlaif

6. Germany’s Ancient Beech Forests

Germany's lowland beech forests are unique in the world, and have inspired generations of romantic painters and nature enthusiasts. Beech has successfully spread all over northern Europe ever since the ice age, yet most forests have been decimated by logging.

The survival of five beautiful beech forests in Germany has led to these being added to the World Heritage List. Spread over several German national parks, these forests can be found along the seaside cliffs and inland lakes of the Jasmund and Müritz national parks in the north. They can also be found in the Grumsiner Forest north of Berlin, along the former GDR border zone in Hainich National Park, and on the steep slopes of the Kellerwald-Edersee National Park.

In all cases, difficult access, hunting requirements or military restrictions prevented their destruction by Big Wood. Now protected, they provide a fantastic place to hike along well-maintained trails.

Ancient beech forests in Jasmund National Park © Lookphotos/Guenther Bayerl

Planning your trip to Germany

Skip the hours research it takes to plan a great holiday, and leave the details to us instead. Our tailor made trip service takes care of the planning and booking for you. Our trips are created by local travel experts and are completely customisable.

  • Explore Saxony (8 days): One of Europe’s most versatile destinations for art and culture.
  • Self drive from the Rhine Valley to Bavaria (7 days): Explore the heart of Germany on a road trip from Heidelberg to Rothenburg to Nuremberg, concluding in Munich. 
  • Best of Germany (12 days) : Enjoy guided tours in Berlin and Dresden, followd by Schloss Neuschwanstein, and the Black Forest.

Or browse our other existing itineraries for inspiration.

Jeroen van Marle

written by
Jeroen van Marle

updated 03.05.2024

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