Travel to Germany

Travel to Germany

Slip into your lederhosen and head to Deutschland, where there are more beer halls and fairytale castles than you can shake a pretzel at.

Germany has long been one of Europe’s foremost political, economic, and cultural centers. Today, its big, booming cities—which include Berlin (the capital), Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, and Cologne—are fun, fascinating destinations for experiencing German heritage. Architectural and natural beauty combine in many of the country’s top destinations, including the splendid towns along Lake Constance and the venerable Black Forest hub of Freiburg.

If cultural sightseeing attractions are a must on your vacation bucket list, you cannot fail with Germany! Home to some of Europe's oldest universities, best museums and an astounding 35 UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Sites, Germany has produced some of the world's best thinkers, writers, artists, architects and musicians. For classical music fans, Germany gave us Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, George Frideric Handel and Richard Wagner. It gave us Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, both fathers of modern architecture who led the prestigious Bauhaus School in Weimar. It has given us art masterpieces from the likes of Albrecht Durer, Max Ernst and Paul Klee – and screen legends like Marlene Dietrich.

The German language has given us works from Thomas Mann, Friedrich Nietzsche, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the Brothers Grimm! Some of our most cherished fairytales come from German origins including Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, The Frog Prince, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, and The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and Germany's scenic roads, castles, villages and dense forests make for picture-perfect settings. If this interests you, consider exploring the 370-mile "Fairy-Tale Road," known in German as the Marchenstrasse.

Germany's rich musical heritage isn't all classical; in fact, while on vacation in Germany, you're likely to hear traditional folk music, particularly in Bavaria during fall wine, beer and harvest festivals. The Germans continue their traditional celebrations on through the winter season with some of Europe's best Christmas Markets. (The largest are in the following cities: Dresden, Wurzburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Rothenburg, Nuremberg, Berlin and Cologne). Then a couple months later, the German cities of Dusseldorf, Mainz and Cologne all enjoy huge Carnival celebrations.

A vacation to Germany needn't be all play however. Germans also like relaxation, and fortunately for them the country is home to many historic spa towns – like Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden and Bad Reichenhall – where visitors soak away their aches and pains in the thermal springs.

One last aspect of German culture that we'd like to highlight is their love of cars. Germans automakers are so globally present in the auto industry that some of Germany's most interesting sightseeing attractions illustrate the country's advanced, innovative automobile technology. If this interests you, consider checking out Stuttgart's Mercedes-Benz Museum, the Volkswagen's Wolfsburg plant, Munich's BMW World, the BMW Museum or the BMW plant.

While most of us don't think of Germany as a gourmet destination, trust us – great gastronomic experiences can be had in this country! As its traditional cuisine is largely heavy, comfort food typical of Northern European climates, we're going to focus on Germany's alcoholic beverages.

Let's begin with the beer. As Germans have been brewing the stuff in monasteries and abbeys since medieval times, beer is now firmly engrained in the German culture. While the majority of German beer is brewed in Bavaria (hence, Oktoberfest is the largest beer festival in the world), don't miss out on other important beer cities in Germany like Bamberg, Leipzig, Dusseldorf and Cologne. It's always fun to visit a neighborhood biergarten for an inexpensive meal made of tasty snacks like sausages, sauerkraut, potato dumplings and pretzels. Alternatively, consider visiting one of the many beer halls available in Germany (like Munich's Hofbrauhaus), or tour a local brewery for an inside look at the brewing process.

Germany's reputation as a top-notch wine producer is steadily growing. The country has 13 wine regions, and all but two are located in the western side of the country along the banks of the Rhine River and its tributaries. Touring Germany's wine country is one of the best ways to experience its prettiest medieval towns, historic castles and gorgeous scenery. While most of Germany's wines are white (with Riesling being the most successful), its production of pinot noir (known in German as spatburgunder) is gradually capturing the interest of wine enthusiasts worldwide.

Moving on to the strong stuff, Germans also like to make schnaps out of fruits such as apples, cherries, pears, apricots.

As the most-populated country in the European Union, Germany is considered part of both Western and Central Europe. It shares borders with Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland. Its northern shores line both the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, and its southern Bavarian border fades into the dazzling Alps – home to Germany's highest mountain, the Zugspitze, which is located near the resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the lovely village of Mittenwald; both excellent bases for skiing and hiking in the Bavaria Alps.

Germany's natural scenery is so superb that it's almost overpowering; it's fairly easy to see why it is the backdrop of many of the world's best fairytales. The country is home to many rivers – including the Rhine, Moselle, Neckar, Danube and the Elbe – many of whose valleys host some of Germany's prettiest castles and top wine-producing regions (primarily Riesling). Taking a multi-night river cruise or simply a one-day sightseeing boat tour is one of the best ways to explore Germany's historic river castles, fortresses and wine estates – with the most famous stretch being the Rhine Gorge on the Middle Rhine (Bingen to Koblenz), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The natural beauty of the Black Forest, Lake Constance, the Thuringian Forest, the Harz Mountains and Bavaria's Lake Konigssee (inside Berchtesgaden National Park) will take your breath away, and for active vacationers looking for hiking trails and the chance to simply "get away from it all," Germany is home to wonderful national parks, nature parks and biosphere reserves.

Largest cities: Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne and Frankfurt

Note: We recommend visiting some of Germany's fantastic eastern cities, which lay hidden to Western travelers during the Cold War; check out Meissen, Dresden, Weimar, Potsdam and Leipzig.

For better or for worse, Germany has often played a starring role in the history of Europe. Going back to days of antiquity, Germanic tribes are often unfairly portrayed as the "barbarians" who finished off the Roman Empire and cast Europe into the Dark Ages. While this is certainly debatable, what is certain is that these northern "barbarians" majorly shaped medieval Europe. For the most part, they upheld the hierarchical and cultural elements introduced by the Romans. They strengthened the presence of Christianity, and their political and social structures led to the prevalence of the fragmented, feuding kingdoms that now define medieval Europe. (This is why we see so many medieval fortresses and defensive castles throughout Europe; they never stopped fighting!)

Even today while on vacation in Germany, it's still possible to visit intact, walled cities from the medieval era; two of our favorites include Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Quedlinburg (the latter being a UNESCO World Heritage Site). One of the greatest rulers of this era was the Frankish emperor, Charlemagne (buried in the Aachen Cathedral, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site). His reign saw the rebirth of culture and scholarship in Western Europe and the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire. The Middle Ages also saw the formation of strong economic alliances, the best known being the Hanseatic League. The German city of Lubeck was the capital of this medieval league, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lubeck along with Bremen, Stralsund, Wismar and Hamburg remain wonderful cities to include on your itinerary when planning a vacation to Germany.

Traveling south to Bavaria, the Middle Ages saw the rise of powerful dynastic families like the Wittelsbach. Their spectacular palaces and patronage of the arts ultimately created many of Munich's best sightseeing attractions like the Alte Pinakothek, the Schloss Nymphenburg and the Bavarian National Museum. And further down the road, a 19th-century Wittelsbach, Ludwig II (also commonly referred to as "Mad King Ludwig" or "the fairy-tale king") was responsible for the commissioning of Bavaria's famous castles including the splendidly-rococo Linderhof Castle, Herrenchiemsee Castle and Neuschwanstein Castle, whose design later inspired Walt Disney who replicated it when creating his theme parks' iconic castles.

The 15th and 16th centuries carried the territories of Germany into the Renaissance, and a rebirth of classical subjects made manifest with German painters, musicians, humanists, philosophers, scientists and inventors. Perhaps the greatest figure of Germany's Renaissance is Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press in 1440. (The German winemaking city of Mainz houses the fantastic Gutenberg Museum; it is well worth a visit). Another event that took place in Renaissance Germany changed the face of Europe: Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, which began in 1517 when he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg. (Many travelers to Germany interested in Martin Luther-related historical attractions also visit the Dom St. Peter in Worms).

The 18th century saw the rise and dominance of the Prussian Empire under the command of Frederick the Great, who was part of the powerful Hohenzollern family dynasty. Although born in Berlin, the capital of Prussia, Frederick the Great preferred to be buried inside of his summer palace: Sanssouci in Potsdam; this beautiful palace and its grounds merit a visit and make for an easy day trip from Berlin.

After Napoleon conquered much of modern-day Europe, formally ended the Holy Roman Empire and eventually received the punishment of permanent exile – in 1871 Germany was unified (largely thanks to the efforts of Prussia's Otto von Bismarck).

Due to extensively-formed political alliances, the assignation of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary) in 1914 signaled the start of the most gruesome warfare the world had ever experienced. Germany unsuccessfully sided with the other Central Powers (Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Bulgaria) against the Allies: France, the British Empire, Russia, Italy, Japan and the USA.

For Germany, the loss represented a loss of territory, money (in war reparations), power and prestige. All of this led to the rise of fascism in German and culminated with the rise of Hitler's Nazi Party and the start of World War II. During the period of Nazi power, it is estimated that there were at least 1,200 concentrations camps and approximately 5,000,000 died in the camps including Jews, political prisoners, the disabled, and gypsies. Today it is possible to remember the victims by visiting memorial sites like the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site located a half hour northwest of Munich.

Following Germany's surrender at the end of the Second World War, the country was reduced in size and then further divided into four occupied areas and the Cold War commenced. East Germany (including the Eastern half of Berlin) became a communist satellite state under Soviet domination. The Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany established its capital in Bonn and began to rebuild its economy and prosper.

In one of the most memorable events in modern history, the Berlin Wall went down in 1989, signifying the end of the Iron Curtain. One year later, East and West Germany reunified, and after a transitional period of merging the very different economies and mentalities, Germany is now once again an economic and political powerhouse in both Europe and the world. Some of Berlin's most interesting sightseeing attractions today date back to this era including the neoclassical Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall Memorial, and the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie.

A few favorite historical sightseeing attractions: the medieval Eltz Castle (on the Moselle River), the magnificent Pergamonmuseum in Berlin, and the 13th-century Cologne Cathedral a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Travel Deals

Germany Fly & Drive

Germany Vacations

Munich at Its Best
Berlin, Prague & Vienna
Berlin, Dresden & Prague

Not Included