From Bavaria to the Baltic coast, there are dozens of scenic German towns in with romantic old town centres. The World Heritage List includes several with exceptional qualities besides their good looks and romantic atmosphere. Some also have an untouched medieval core, proud pointers to the enlightened era of Classicism, or unique buildings that inspired architects across Europe. Read on for more background on some of the most beautiful towns in Germany.
1. Bamberg’s Old Town
Beautiful Bamberg – located in northern Bavaria – is one of the largest and best-preserved medieval towns in Germany. It is an incredibly scenic place, from its original layout complete with city walls to its individual religious and civic buildings. In its heyday, from the 12th century onwards, it served as an example for towns across northern Germany and Hungary.
Thanks to limited bomb damage in World War II and an unusually careful programme of small-scale renovation projects, applied elsewhere as the “Bamberg model”, the city is a delight to explore. The river Regnitz bisects Bamberg's Old Town with its shopping streets, and the wonderful half-timbered town hall is perched on an island.
The seven hills to the west are crowned with Bamberg’s oldest monuments: the Romanesque cathedral with the bishops’ residences, the Altenburg castle and Michaelsberg Abbey. You can start your exploration in the city’s World Heritage Visitor Centre – and end your tour with the local speciality, smoked Rauchbier from one of the town’s nine breweries.
Nearest airport: Nuremberg Airport
Handy train connection: Bamberg is about a 40-minute train ride from Nuremberg, or just under one hour from Würzburg.
2. Classical Weimar
For a small town, Weimar in Central Germany comes with a lot of history. Besides its splendid Modernist Bauhaus monuments, it has twelve historical homes, churches, castles, palaces and parks, dating from the glorious Classical era, that have been honoured with a place on the World Heritage List.
Weimar was bustling with intellectuals and new ideas in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This development was kickstarted by Duchess Anna Amalia and driven by the presence of the great writer and scientist Goethe and the poet/playwright Schiller. They enjoyed a productive friendship spanning seventeen years. Today you can visit both their original houses.
Near the Old Town, the Baroque Stadtschloss Castle was rebuilt with Classical interiors under Goethe's supervision after a fire. Next to it is the astounding Duchess Anna Amalia Library with its towering bookshelves. It was badly damaged by a fire in 2004, but has been restored to its former glory. The romantic English-style Park on the Ilm is a good spot to unwind – Goethe clearly agreed, for he had an elegant garden house here.
Nearest airport: Erfurt–Weimar Airport
Handy train connection: Fast trains from Berlin to Weimar will get you there in just under 2 hours.
3. Hanseatic Town of Lübeck
For over three hundred years, from 1230 to 1535, the northern city of Lübeck was the centre of the world – the “Queen of the Hanseatic League”. The Hanseatic League was a powerful collective of merchant cities that controlled trade on the Baltic and North seas. Much of Lübeck’s central core around the cathedral and soaring St Mary’s church was destroyed during World War II. It has been sensitively reconstructed, and enough original buildings remain to give an authentic insight into the historic look and power of the town.
In the north and east of the Old Town, visitors can discover the Dominican Burgkloster convent, the 18th-century district around Koberg square and seven streets full of medieval buildings. Some of the richest patrician residences and trading houses can be seen in the southwest of the Old Town, near the river Trave. Finally, the iconic Holstentor city gate and several salt warehouses stand across the river to the west.
Nearest airport: Lübeck Airport
Handy train connection: Frequent trains from Hamburg take around 35 minutes.
4. Old Town of Regensburg and Stadtamhof
With a maze of narrow streets fronted by tall patrician houses, the Bavarian centre of Regensburg is one of the most beautiful towns in Germany. It is also a great example of an influential medieval trading centre, with more than 1300 listed monuments and several exceptional structures in a variety of architectural styles. The market square, the town hall with the stunning Reichssaal hall and the Gothic Regensburger Dom cathedral are all early medieval, while the Porta praetoria city gate dates back to Roman times.
The 12th-century stone bridge across the river Danube served as a template for Prague’s famous Charles Bridge and is the perfect spot to take in the views of the city skyline, and to reach Stadtamhof island with its medieval St Katharina’s hospital church. The Historische Wurstkuchl along the Danube has been grilling Bratwurst sausages for 875 years, making it the oldest outlet in the world and an essential stop on any visit. Start off at Regenburg's World Heritage Visitor Centre, set inside the large 17th-century Salzstadel salt warehouse next to the bridge.
Nearest airport: Munich Airport
Handy train connection: Trains from Munich to Regensburg take around one hour and three quarters.
5. Stralsund and Wismar
The medieval Hanseatic League towns of Stralsund and Wismar, 150km apart on the country’s northern Baltic coast, are two of the most beautiful small towns in Germany. Both became key trading ports in medieval times, were later ruled by the Swedes (who built impressive fortifications), and despite heavy damage in World War II are both still packed with the characteristic decorative brick Gothic architecture of the Baltic region.
Highlights in Stralsund including the Town Hall, with its remarkable brick facade, and St Nicholas’ Church, dedicated to the patron saint of sailors, with the world’s oldest original astronomical clock inside. The 14th-century Dielenhaus is a representative Gothic merchant’s house. Wismar’s delights include the original medieval harbour basin overlooked by the Wassertor city gate, the dainty Wasserkunst fountain on the main square and the Alter Schwede townhouse. The main church, the Gothic Marienkirche, was badly damaged in the war and demolished in the 1960s; only the tower was saved as a navigation mark for ships.
Nearest airport: Stralsund: Rostock Airport; Wismar: Lübeck Airport
Handy train connection: Trains from Berlin take around 2.5 hours to reach Stralsund; a direct train from Berlin to Wismar, meanwhile, takes 3 hrs 15 minutes.