Travel Guide Germany

Though it remains far less well known or understood by outsiders than some of its neighbours, since reunification Germany has at last gained a higher profile as a place to visit, thanks partly to the remarkable resurgence of Berlin, one of the most fascinating and exciting cities in Europe. But the appeal of the reunified Germany is not limited to the capital. Use our travel guide to Germany to get inspired and plan your travel to Germany. If you prefer to be more hands-on, get a copy of the Rough Guide to Germany.

    Travel facts about Germany

  • Germany occupies 357,112 square kilometres territory in Central Europe. It has land borders with nine countries and a coastline of 2389km on the North and Baltic seas.
  • Politically, Germany is a parliamentary democracy, with an upper house – the Bundesrat – and a lower chamber, the Bundestag, both in Berlin. The administrative structure is federal, with the sixteen Länder (states) having a high degree of autonomy.
  • Germany is the largest economy in the European Union, and it is the world’s largest exporter. As the economic heart of the euro zone it is also home to the headquarters of the European Central Bank.
  • With a population of around 82 million, Germany is the most populous nation in the European Union, and it is also among its most densely populated and highly urbanized. The four largest cities are Berlin (3.46 million inhabitants), Hamburg (1.8 million), Munich (1.35 million) and Cologne (1 million).
  • Germans DO have a sense of humour and they DO love to sunbathe naked. DON’T feel you can’t mention the war though. Today Germans are avid consumers of their own history, and the Nazi era is picked over exhaustively in TV documentaries, in books, and at the cinema.
Aerial view of Berlin cityline with TV tower, Germany © canadastock/Shutterstock

Berlin is at the top of the list for places to visit in Germany / © canadastock/shutterstock

Where to go in Germany

Best cities and towns in Germany

For many visitors, one of Germany’s cities will be where to go first. Berlin is genuinely exciting – a metropolis on fast-forward, growing into its rediscovered role as the nation’s capital yet preserving evidence of its sometimes unhappy role in European history.

Naumburg Cathedral
Naumburg CathedralSights & Places
StraubingSights & Places
ThaleSights & Places
Zentrum für Kunst
Zentrum für KunstSights & Places
Upper Middle Rhine Valley
Upper Middle Rhine ValleySights & Places
Schloss Linderhof
Schloss LinderhofSights & Places
Kloster Lorsch
Kloster LorschSights & Places
AltonaSights & Places
Bad Doberan
Bad DoberanSights & Places
Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth
Margravial Opera House in BayreuthSights & Places
Speyer Cathedral
Speyer CathedralSights & Places
Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps
Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the AlpsSights & Places
Fagus Factory in Alfeld
Fagus Factory in AlfeldSights & Places
Wartburg Castle
Wartburg CastleSights & Places
Luther memorials Wittenberg
Luther memorials WittenbergSights & Places
Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust in Brühl
Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust in BrühlSights & Places
Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau
Stiftung Bauhaus DessauSights & Places
Germany's Ancient Beech Forests: Hainich National Park
Germany's Ancient Beech Forests: Hainich National ParkSights & Places
BraunlageSights & Places
Town hall and Roland statue in Bremen
Town hall and Roland statue in BremenSights & Places
Carolingian Westwork and Civitas Corvey
Carolingian Westwork and Civitas CorveySights & Places
The Wadden Sea
The Wadden SeaSights & Places
BoppardSights & Places
Aachen Cathedral
Aachen CathedralSights & Places
The Grube Messel
The Grube MesselSights & Places
The Altes Rathaus
The Altes RathausSights & Places
WeilburgSights & Places
The Dom (Cologne cathedral)Sights & Places
Völklingen Ironworks
Völklingen IronworksSights & Places
Classical Weimar
Classical WeimarSights & Places
FriedrichshafenSights & Places
Schierke and the BrockenSights & Places
Mathildenhöhe, Rosenhöhe and the Grosser Woog
Mathildenhöhe, Rosenhöhe and the Grosser WoogSights & Places
TodtnauSights & Places
Historic Centre of Wismar
Historic Centre of WismarSights & Places
The Hermannsdenkmal
The HermannsdenkmalSights & Places
Mercedes-Benz-MuseumSights & Places
Bamberg Old Town
Bamberg Old TownSights & Places
The Rathaus
The RathausSights & Places
RübelandSights & Places
Schloss Colditz
Schloss ColditzSights & Places
WetzlarSights & Places
The historic Altstadt
The historic AltstadtSights & Places
The Wutachschlucht
The WutachschluchtSights & Places
Bauhaus sites in Bernau
Bauhaus sites in BernauSights & Places
Berlin Modernism Housing Estates
Berlin Modernism Housing EstatesSights & Places
Germany's Ancient Beech Forests: Müritz National Park
Germany's Ancient Beech Forests: Müritz National ParkSights & Places
Bauhaus sites in Dessau
Bauhaus sites in DessauSights & Places
HafenCitySights & Places
Schloss Pillnitz
Schloss PillnitzSights & Places
Wieskirche Pilgrimage Church
Wieskirche Pilgrimage ChurchSights & Places
Frontiers of the Roman Empire: Upper Germanic-Rhaetian Limes
Frontiers of the Roman Empire: Upper Germanic-Rhaetian LimesSights & Places
The camp
The campSights & Places
KonstanzSights & Places
Obersalzberg and the Eagle’s Nest
Obersalzberg and the Eagle’s NestSights & Places
Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura
Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian JuraSights & Places
The Schanzenviertel
The SchanzenviertelSights & Places
Muskauer Park
Muskauer ParkSights & Places
Germany's Ancient Beech Forests: Grumsin Forest
Germany's Ancient Beech Forests: Grumsin ForestSights & Places
Collegiate Church, Castle and Old Town of Quedlinburg
Collegiate Church, Castle and Old Town of QuedlinburgSights & Places
The Wartburg
The WartburgSights & Places
Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Wörlitz
Garden Kingdom of Dessau-WörlitzSights & Places
BlankeneseSights & Places
Messel Pit Fossil Site
Messel Pit Fossil SiteSights & Places
Historic Centre of Stralsund
Historic Centre of Stralsund Sights & Places
Hanseatic Town of Lübeck
Hanseatic Town of LübeckSights & Places
Berlin Museum Island
Berlin Museum IslandSights & Places
BeuronSights & Places
KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau
KZ-Gedenkstätte DachauSights & Places
Palaces and parks of Berlin
Palaces and parks of BerlinSights & Places
Monastic Island of Reichenau
Monastic Island of ReichenauSights & Places
St Mary's Cathedral and St Michael's Church in Hildesheim
St Mary's Cathedral and St Michael's Church in HildesheimSights & Places
Around the Aussenalster
Around the AussenalsterSights & Places
Roman monuments, the Cathedral and Church of Our Lady in Trier
Roman monuments, the Cathedral and Church of Our Lady in TrierSights & Places
Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen
Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in EssenSights & Places
Cologne Cathedral
Cologne CathedralSights & Places
Around Jungfernstieg
Around JungfernstiegSights & Places
Bauhaus sites in Weimar
Bauhaus sites in WeimarSights & Places
Würzburg Residence Palace and Court Gardens
Würzburg Residence Palace and Court GardensSights & Places
Mines of Rammelsberg, Historic Town of Goslar and Upper Harz Water Management System
Mines of Rammelsberg, Historic Town of Goslar and Upper Harz Water Management SystemSights & Places
The water management system of Augsburg
The water management system of AugsburgSights & Places
Palaces and parks of Potsdam
Palaces and parks of PotsdamSights & Places
Germany's Ancient Beech Forests: Kellerwald-Edersee National Park
Germany's Ancient Beech Forests: Kellerwald-Edersee National ParkSights & Places
LübbenauSights & Places
Park SanssouciSights & Places
Germany's Ancient Beech Forests: Jasmund National Park
Germany's Ancient Beech Forests: Jasmund National ParkSights & Places
Schloss Moritzburg
Schloss MoritzburgSights & Places
The Archeological Border Complex of Hedeby and the Danevirke
The Archeological Border Complex of Hedeby and the DanevirkeSights & Places
Old Town of Regensburg and Stadtamhof
Old Town of Regensburg and StadtamhofSights & Places
Starnberger See
Starnberger SeeSights & Places
Erzgebirge Mining Region
Erzgebirge Mining RegionSights & Places
The port
The portSights & Places
Kloster Ettal
Kloster EttalSights & Places
Maulbronn Monastery Complex
Maulbronn Monastery ComplexSights & Places
Schloss Augustusburg
Schloss AugustusburgSights & Places
Le Corbusier's work – the houses in the Weissenhof housing estate
Le Corbusier's work – the houses in the Weissenhof housing estateSights & Places
Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus district with Chilehaus
Speicherstadt and Kontorhaus district with ChilehausSights & Places
Luther memorials in Eisleben
Luther memorials in Eisleben Sights & Places
Lorsch Abbey
Lorsch AbbeySights & Places
Wilhelmshöhe Park
Wilhelmshöhe ParkSights & Places

Many other cities have proud histories as independent city-states or as capitals in their own right: thus, there’s nothing remotely “provincial” about ancient, liberal Cologne, Dresden’s restored Baroque splendour or the proud Bavarian metropolis of Munich. The financial capital, Frankfurt, impresses with its dynamism and international spirit, while Bonn, the former West German capital, charms with its scenic setting and excellent museums.

Elsewhere, chic Düsseldorf and laidback Stuttgart embody aspects of the German economic miracle, while the eastern city of Leipzig fizzes with fresh energy. Mercantile Hamburg looks askance at the rest of the country, maintaining the worldliness of a great port, while Nuremberg evokes the triumphs and tragedies of Germany’s past.

Cultural attractions of capital city-quality are not limited to the bigger cities, and many of the most rewarding places are quite small: the cathedral cities of Bamberg and Regensburg; the Hanseatic ports of Lübeck, Stralsund and Wismar; the “Prussian Versailles” of Potsdam; and micro-capitals like Weimar, Schwerin and Eichstätt.

Germany has university towns as evocative as any: Heidelberg is the most famous, but Freiburg, Marburg and Tübingen are just as charming. As for the spa towns, at their best – in Baden-Baden, Bad Homburg or Wiesbaden – they combine health benefits with turn-of-the-century elegance and lovely natural settings.

Landscape, nature and road-trips in Germany

For a potted digest of Germany’s cultural riches the Romantic Road is deservedly popular, a road journey linking Rococo churches with medieval cities and eccentric royal castles. Other themed “roads” are devoted to fairy tales, half-timbering or wine. Often, the most magical places – a fortress on a crag, a placid village rising above vineyards, an ancient market square of improbable quaintness – await discovery on such routes.

Nor should Germany’s undeniable natural beauty be overlooked. The Bavarian Alps, the Black Forest and the valleys of the Rhine and Mosel have long been celebrated. Still, the talcum-powder softness of Rügen’s beaches, the smart resorts of Sylt and the lonely splendour of Mecklenburg’s lakes have yet to make it onto the international travel agenda. A shame, but great for travellers who like to explore great outdoor places away from the crowd.

One unsung pleasure of a visit to Germany is the opportunity to meet its people. The officious neighbour who complains if you don’t hang your socks out to dry in alphabetical order may not be entirely fictional, but you’re far more likely to be struck by the warmth and open-mindedness of Germany’s people – and particularly its young people. You can have fun testing how liberal a place is by observing how the locals react to the red Ampelmann when crossing the street: the bigger and more laidback the city, the more likely they are to ignore the no-jaywalking rule. In contrast, the sight of upright citizens waiting patiently for the green light despite an absence of traffic as far as the eye can see is still one of the more comic pleasures of small-town Germany.

UNESCO world heritage sites in Germany

Germany sport a whopping 46 UNESCO world heritage sites worth your visit. There is a bit for everyone: from places of historical significance and cultural achievements to industrial heritage sites, palaces and castles, the natural beauty of parks and landscapes, whole medieval towns, modern architecture, and even some really obscure listings. If you intend to include some of these sites in your trip to Germany, download a free copy of the Rough Guide to the World Heritage sites in Germany.

Food and drink in Germany

The pleasures of travelling to Germany are not only intellectual. The excellence of its beer derives from the sixteenth-century Reinheitsgebot, the world’s oldest food purity law.

Germany’s food culture is traditionally characterized by wholesome but hearty dishes, a vast array of sausages and excellent but calorific cakes. Yet the impact of immigration, travel and increasing culinary ambition has been powerful, and most towns nowadays offer a wide selection of international options, usually including Balkan, Greek, Italian and Turkish. Learn more about food and drink in Germany.

Outdoor activities and sports in Germany

Though the dangers of over-indulgence are ever present, so too is the antidote. The tradition of the Kur or spa visit has endured to a far greater extent in Germany than elsewhere. If you want to unwind in saline or hot springs while travelling in Germany, there are innumerable spa towns up and down the country.

In summer, the nation’s endless forests and mountains play host to hikers and cyclists while the Alps tempt international visitors with an excellent array of downhill ski runs in winter. Find out more about outdoor activities and sports in Germany.

Germany's Black Forest landscape

The Black Forest in Germany is popular for hiking, cycling and motorcycle road trips © Funny Solution Studio/Shutterstock

German wines: A wine-making renaissance

Germany’s wine growers did themselves no favours when, in the 1970s, they responded to growing demand from abroad by exporting the cheapest and worst of what they produced. German wine was saddled for decades with a reputation for poor quality.

All that is now changing. A new generation of wine makers is eschewing high technology, chemicals and the mass market in favour of organic production that reflects the terroir, or soil and climate conditions of the region. It helps that Riesling – Germany’s most popular grape – strongly reflects the conditions in which it has been grown. The result is a resurgence of light, drinkable, dry white wines that range from elegant crispness to the subtly mineral. German wines are increasingly common on wine lists in North America and in parts of Asia, where they match the cuisines well.

Germany’s major wine regions are mostly in an arc that follows the course of the Rhine from the Mosel in the west to Baden in the south. To the east, wine is grown in more challenging climatic conditions in Franconia, Saale-Unstrut and along the Elbe near Dresden.

History and heritage in Germany

The 2006 football World Cup was something of a turning point, both with regards to Germany’s image abroad and to its own self-image, rehabilitating the idea of German patriotism for the first time since the war. When football fans descended on cities all over the country, they discovered a friendly, multiethnic and multicultural nation that was, for the most part, at ease with itself, finally happy to fly its own flag in a harmless display of national pride.

Zwinger Palace art gallery museum Dresden, Germany © Georgios Tsichlis/Shutterstock

Throughout Germany you will find landmarks of its rich history, like the Zwinger in Dresden - © shutterstock

It’s now three decades since the events of 1989 swept away the Berlin Wall and brought to an uplifting end a turbulent and agonizing century for Germany, ill-served at crucial points in its brief history as a united nation-state by erratic and adventurous rulers who twice led it into disaster. In 1918, as Kaiser Wilhelm II’s vainglorious dream of empire ended in defeat, starvation and revolution; and at the end of World War II, as Hitler’s vile race-war rebounded in terrible fashion on the German people who had chosen him as their leader. There followed a period of forty-five years in which not one Germany but two faced each other across a tense international divide – the so-called Iron Curtain – throughout the years of the Cold War.

Political fragmentation is nothing new in Germany. From the tenth century until the early nineteenth, the Holy Roman Empire provided only a loose semblance of sovereignty over a vast collection of states, and it’s this jumbled history, as much as the country’s varied geography, that explains Germany’s sheer diversity. According to an old German expression, city air makes you free, and for centuries many of Germany’s cities governed themselves without feudal overlords.

In stark contrast was the absolutist yoke of the feudal states, which ranged from substantial kingdoms like Prussia, Saxony or Bavaria to tiny landgraviates and prince-bishoprics. Yet each made its contribution to Germany’s heritage, in the architectural and cultural splendour of many a former Residenzstadt. The Lutheran Reformation and its aftermath left their mark too: northern Germany is predominantly Protestant, the south more Catholic, yet the division is not clear cut. Staunchly Protestant towns alternate with devoutly Catholic ones, while in some places the two traditions share a single church.

Art, architecture and culture in Germany

Germany’s contribution to the world of classical music is undeniable, and provides a powerful pretext for a visit, whether to experience the glories of the Berlin Philharmonic or of Wagner’s Ring at Bayreuth, or to follow in the footsteps of great composers: Bach in Leipzig, Beethoven in Bonn.

Television tower Berlin, Germany © Shutterstock

Television tower in Berlin - © shutterstock

Germany’s reputation as the cradle of modernism is also well deserved, and a pilgrimage to the Bauhaus in Dessau or the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart is sure to please design fans. German modernism was preceded by the older traditions of the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo, each of which left a rich legacy of artistic and architectural treasures.

Germany’s prowess in fine art is less well known, yet from the pioneering realism of Albrecht Dürer to the ethereal Romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich, it’s a powerful tradition that is well worth discovering. Most German cities of any size have excellent art galleries, with Berlin and Cologne hubs of the European contemporary art scene.

Modern architecture in Germany - Reinventing the urban scene

Since reunification, Germany has experienced a rush of high-profile building projects, adding style and excitement to the urban landscape.

Berlin led the way, at times seeming like a perpetual building site. Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum, the government quarter including the Reichstag, and David Chipperfield’s resurrection of the long-ruined Neues Museum all grabbed headlines, while Peter Eisenman’s monument for the murdered Jews of Europe ensures the Holocaust is remembered right at the heart of the capital.

But the action isn’t limited to Berlin. In Düsseldorf, star architects including Frank Gehry transformed a redundant dock into the Medienhafen, a funky setting for some of the city’s best restaurants and bars. In Munich, Herzog & de Meuron’s Allianz-Arena created a new symbol for the city, while a handsome new synagogue and museum reinstated a highly visible Jewish presence. In the Ruhr area, redundant industrial sites have been recycled to create some of Europe’s most original cultural spaces.

The stream of projects shows little sign of abating. Herzog & de Meuron’s extension of Duisburg’s Küppersmühle art gallery perches a translucent cube atop dockside silos, while their audacious design for the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg places a concert hall above a portside warehouse.

Top image: Neuschwanstein castle © VOJTa Herout/Shutterstock

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updated 22.07.2021

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