Best things to do in Germany
Find out more about those top places in Germany
Berlin has the reputation that comes with great European cities, the beauty, freedom and courage. On the surface the city might present itself as a serious minded one, that is only interested in the business aspect of life but if you dig a little deeper you will see it has so many gems to be discovered.
Most of Berlin’s attraction are linked to when Germany was still separated as West and East Germany and the Holocaust - so be sure to check out its museums, monuments, and memorials of the Holocaust.
The impressive Brandenburg Gate is generally recommended by locals as one of the must-see city’s attractions. Constructed between 1788 and 1791, it was designed by Prussian architect Carl Gotthard Langhans and is considered to be Berlin’s first Greek revival building. The neoclassical Gate is one of great historical significance, as it is the only surviving historical city gate which symbolizes the end of the country’s cold war division of East and West Germany. It was at the gate where thousands of people gathered to celebrate the fall of the wall and the unification of Germany.
The iconic Berlin TV tower is the city’s most visible landmark, which stems from the fact that is the highest structure in Germany – rising at an incredible height of 368 meters. Situated in the Marien quarter, close to Alexanderplatz – it was constructed in1969 by the East German government as a symbol of the nation communist strength. Presently the tower is an observation tower, making it the highest building open to public view and also a restaurant.
One of the calmest part of the city, the Tiergarten is the most popular park in Berlin. Covering 520 hectares, it is one of the largest urban gardens in Germany - with several activities to get involved in at the park it is often a good place to socialize with locals and other tourists. Its highlights are the Berlin Zoo and its numerous monuments including the Soviet War Memorial built to commemorate the fallen soldiers of Germany most especially the 80,000 soldiers of the Soviet Union who died in the famous Battle of Berlin.
The holocaust will forever be a looming part of Germany history, a period that saw thousands of Jews murdered. Located at Cora-Beliner Strabe which significantly had the highest population of Jews in the country before the war – the memorial was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and Engineer Buro Happoid and consists of 2,771 concrete slabs which extends over 200,000 sq. ft.
Beautiful both during the day and night, the Reichstag Building is one of the best pieces of architectural work in Germany. Built between 1884 and 1894, the Reichstag is another building with much history – burnt down in 27 February 1933, it has since been renovated and currently houses the Federal German Parliament. One of the amazing features of the building is its dome that has a 360-degree view of Berlin.
Given Heidelberg’s evocative setting in the wooded gorge of the River Neckar it is of no surprise that the picturesque university town has for centuries been a source of inspiration for romantic writers and artists the world over. Unlike most other German towns that emerged from World War Two as little more than rubble, Heidelberg, owing to its relative remoteness and lack of heavy industry, survived unscathed. The result is an enthralling medieval townscape of uniform red roofs, half-timbered houses and ancient bridges crisscrossing the Neckar. Heidelberg’s main draw is undoubtedly its distinctive half-ruined castle, which provides breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Heidelberg is also home to five universities, one of which is the oldest in Germany, which gives the town a lively buzz often missing from Germany’s smaller towns.
Perched on the verdant Neckar Valley hillside above the Altstadt, Schloss Heidelberg is Germany’s renaissance castle par excellence. Alongside the breathtaking views it offers, the semi-ruined palace complex houses life-size sculptures of the German kings and emperors of past and an atmospheric central courtyard built in the Gothic style. The only way to view the interior of the castle is as part of a tour, which departs regularly from the Altstadt during summer months.
Heidelberg’s Alte Brücke, translated in English as Old Bridge, was built in 1786 to connect the glorious Altstadt with the Neckar’s right bank. Today the bridge throngs with visitors and locals alike and crossing its 300 meters length is one of Heidelberg’s most enthralling experiences.
Comparable to England’s Oxford and Cambridge or America’s Ivy League colleges, Heidelberg’s Ruprecht Karls Universität is Germany’s oldest and most prestigious higher education institute. Founded in 1386, the university’s most impressive sights can be found in the old quarter, including the infamous Karzer where badly behaved students were imprisoned during the 19th century. To get to grips with the institution’s history, and hear a roll call of its most famous students, take a guided tour.
For the best views of the Altstadt, take a tour to the top of the 14th century Heiliggeistkirche, translated in English as the Church of the Holy Spirit. If you are brave enough to climb the near 300 steps to the top of the precipitous steeple you will be rewarded with a bird’s eye view into the old town’s romantic squares and courtyards.
One of Germany’s most iconic gardens, the Philosophenweg that sprawls along the banks of the Neckar is a joy to explore. Peppered with romantic 19th century monuments, atmospheric beer gardens and ruins of palatial pavilions, the gardens are a glimpse into the Heidelberg of days gone by. Despite their tranquility, the Philosophenweg also holds a dark history as its amphitheater was built during the 1930s to hold Nazi Party rallies.
Just west of Heidelberg and sandwiched between the Neckar and Rhine lies Schloss Schwetzingen, the grandiose summer residence of the 18th century Prince-Elector Carl Theodor. Built in a baroque style, the palace’s numerous banquet halls, grand reception rooms and other gilded interiors can be visited as part of a regular guided tour.
For the best views of Schloss Heidelberg and the Altstadt, take to the waters on a romantic boat tour. For the best experience, go at sunset when the castle looks at its most photogenic.
Hamburg is a city of two contrasting halves. For many tourists, Germany’s second city is a radical place defined by anarchist squats, avant-garde art and sleazy, if kitsch, red light district, known as the Reeperbahn. For Germans, on the other hand, Hamburg is a main business hub with the highest count of millionaires per head in the country. Of course, Hamburg is both things and is all the most captivating for it. The sleek department stores and upscale restaurants of the city’s lakeside Aussenalster district give way seamlessly to the distinctive redbrick Hanseatic architecture of the historic port side Altstadt; the politically charged bohemian neighborhoods of St. Pauli and Sternschanze melt comfortably into former Jewish district Altona; and the chic waterside regeneration HafenCity, dominated by the futuristic Elbphilharmonie, now runs into the neon-lit Reeperbahn, which nurtured the Beetles during their early years. In short, Hamburg is an exhilarating city constantly in flux.
One of Europe’s most (in)famous streets, the Reeperbahn is illuminated in a hazy neon glow 24 hours a day. Equal parts seedy and über-cool, the street forms the heart of vibrant St Pauli where nightclubs that once played host to the Beatles still open their doors every night. For the best experience of this gloriously grungy neighborhood, hit the streets with a local guide who can take you on a Beatles tour and show you the best the neighborhood has to offer.
Towering over Hamburg’s mammoth port side regeneration project, known as HafenCity, the Elbphilharmonie is one of Europe’s most enthralling pieces of modern architecture. Designed by Herzog and de Meuron, the sleekly curving iceberg of a concert hall sits atop Wilhelmine warehouses and is open for daily tours and orchestra performances.
With its thrilling contemporary art, buzzing nightlife and brand-new waterfront, it is easy to forget that Hamburg is one of Germany’s most historic cities. There is no better place to immerse yourself in the past than that Mahnmal Saint Nikolai. Once the world’s tallest building, the former church was bombed out in World War Two and today stands as a haunting memorial to the horrors of Nazism. For the best experience, make sure to climb to the top of the spire for breathtaking views over the city.
Straddling the banks of the Elbe and somewhat dwarfed by the massive container ships passing by, the Fischmarkt is an iconic Hamburg institution. Opening its doors in 1703, the market today is home to one of Europe’s most vibrant culinary spectacles with over 70 000 locals descending on the place per day to buy and sell fresh fish. To make the most of the experience, make sure to get there early in the morning.
One of Europe’s most grandiose townhalls, Hamburg’s Rathaus is testament to the city’s maritime wealth. Towering over much of the downtown area, the baroque building is the city’s most iconic with nearly 700 rooms, a gravity defying vaulted ceiling and an atmospheric inner courtyard. To get a glimpse inside, regular tours depart throughout the day.
With a collection spanning from the Middle Ages to groundbreaking contemporary art movements, Hamburg’s Kunsthalle has something for everyone. Comprised of two spectacular buildings linked by an underground passageway, the gallery is one of Europe’s most renowned.
For anyone interested in architecture, a tour of the Kontorhaus district and its star attraction, the ship-like Chilehaus, is a highlight of any trip to Hamburg. Comprised of six vast blocks that once housed Germany’s most powerful shipping companies, the district oozes history and interwar political intrigue and has recently made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage list for its avant-garde architecture.
Just a short hop on a train from Hamburg, the Hanseatic city of Lübeck gives you a taste of what Hamburg’s Altstadt would have looked like before World War Two. Boasting more than 1000 listed historic buildings, the city rose to prominence in the 12th century and has changed little since. To make the most of a day trip to this hidden gem take a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Altstadt with an expert local guide.
In February 1945, Dresden was virtually wiped off the map. However, after years of stop-start reconstruction under the East German government, the reunification of Germany in 1991 saw renewed impetus in restoring ‘Florence on the Elbe’ to its former glories. Today, Dresden’s baroque streetscape has been painstakingly restored and its stunning skyline of bulbous domes and gothic spires, including that of the landmark Frauenkirche, has been reconstituted as one of Europe’s most memorable. While the legacy of Elector Augustus the Strong, who transformed the city into an architectural gem in the 17th century, seems stronger today than ever, Dresden is not all about history. The multicultural Neustadt, on the north bank of the Elbe, is home to a host of funky restaurants, buzzing clubs and quirky independent boutiques that would not be out of place in Berlin’s Kreuzberg.
Built by Augustus the Strong between 1710 and 1728, Dresden’s Zwinger is one of Europe’s most remarkable palace complexes. Designed to rival the splendor of Versailles, the Zwinger has a host of grand fountain peppered courtyards, gilded buildings bedecked in fine sculptures and romantic gardens that stretch alongside a tranquil lake. Guided tours of the complex are available with many giving you access to the three superb museums that today call the palace home.
The Frauenkirche, the main landmark of Dresden’s reconstructed Altstadt, was rebuilt between 1994 and 2005 from the vast pile of rubble leftover from the Allied bombing of the city. Thanks to years of careful restoration, today the Frauenkirche is as resplendent as it would have been in the 18th century with cupola offering spectacular views of the city.
Home to Saxony’s royal family between the 15th and 20th centuries, the Residenzschloss is Dresden’s most historic building. The palace today houses various collections of precious artifacts from Saxony’s past, including the jaw-dropping Green Vault. With so many historic items and famed works of art displayed, tour guides are recommended to help you search out the must-see pieces.
Many tourists come to Dresden for the Altstadt but end up enjoying their time in the Neustadt even more. Laid out on a grid pattern in the 19th century, the area’s tenements are today populated with students, hipsters and artists who give the neighborhood a vibrant atmosphere. Make sure to go on a street art tour of the area, where huge murals adorn every unused wall, and check out its famous nightlife.
Nicknamed ‘the Balcony of Europe’, Brühl’s Terrace is one of Dresden’s most charming attractions. Elegantly stretching along the banks of the Elbe, the terrace runs past a number of Dresden’s landmarks and makes for a romantic stroll in the evening.
One of Europe’s best art collections is housed in this former gun arsenal. With works from artists ranging from Claude Monet to Marc Chagall, the Albertinum gallery has something for everyone and can be visited in the company of tour guides.
Making an ideal day tour from Dresden, Moritzburg Castle is one of Germany’s most spectacular. The baroque masterpiece is set on an island amidst what was once the vast hunting reserve of the Saxon royal family and is home to a treasure trove of historic artifacts and hunting trophies.
In recent years Leipzig has begun to usurp Berlin as Germany’s coolest city as a result of its cheap rent, proximity to the capital and empty warehouse space, much of which has been transformed into DIY art galleries and nightclubs. Unusually, most of Leipzig’s draws are located beyond the city center, which was heavily bombed during World War Two and was rebuilt without the care given to nearby Dresden. The city’s thriving nightlife and art scene is centered around the painfully cool Karl Heine Straße in the formerly industrial western neighborhood of Plagwitz while the politically anarchistic southern district of Connewitz is home to Karl Liebknecht Straße, known affectionately as ‘the Karli’ – a near 4 kilometer long stretch of pop-up restaurants, bars and other hidden gems. While Leipzig is thrillingly modern, it is still a German city at heart, as its connections to Bach, Mendelsohn and Wagner illustrate.
Built in 1797 but rising to international prominence for its ‘peace prayers’ that were one of the pivotal movements leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Nikolaikirche is Leipzig’s star attraction. With a graceful interior, including pillars designed like palm trees, it is a real architectural gem with a vibrant history to match. Tours of the Nikolaikirche are highly recommended, as they reveal the story behind the collapse of the East German government.
Built on Leipzig outskirts, this colossal monument, which is also the apogee of Wilhelmine architecture, commemorates the 1813 Battle of Nations where Prussian, Russian and Austrian armies defeated Napoleon. While the monument has spectacular views of the surrounding Saxon countryside, its architecture is the biggest draw with gigantic granite soldiers lining the walls and exterior.
In recent years down at heel Leipzig has become known as ‘Hypezig’, owing to the influx of creative Berliners priced out of the gentrifying capital. In the former industrial area of Plagwitz warehouses, like the famed Baumwollspinnerei, have been repurposed as artists studios, contemporary art galleries and hip bars. Make sure to take a street art tour to immerse yourself in the area’s creativity.
While Leipzig is today famed for its modern art, the city has long been a creative hot spot. At the Bach Museum tours let you learn fascinating insights into the famed composers life in the city and listen to some of his most famous works.
Much like the Bach Museum, the Mendelssohn House immortalizes one of Leipzig’s other creative geniuses: Felix Mendelssohn. In the museum interactive exhibits let you immerse yourself in the life of the famed composer.
When in the former East Germany a tour in one of the former communist country’s famed exports, the Trabant car, is a must. With the help of an expert guide you can cruise the Stalinist boulevards of Leipzig in one of these retro cars and take in the city’s main sites.
For a glimpse inside the life of ordinary East German citizens head to the Stasi Museum where you can learn how the secret police monitored the population through disguises, surveillance devices and other, sometimes bizarre, means.
Despite the resurgence of Berlin since Germany’s reunification in 1991, Munich remains Germany’s economic powerhouse. Home to big name brands, including BMW and Siemens, it is no surprise that Munich is also one of Germany’s wealthiest cities with a wide array of glittering boutiques and high-end restaurants. Despite its upscale character, Munich knows how to let its hair down. The city is famed for its annual Oktoberfest, the world’s premier festival of all things beer related, and is known for embracing Bavaria’s quirky traditions, lederhosen and all. Beyond this, Munich has a host of world-class attractions that are the envy of many European capital cities. Many of the city’s most impressive sites date from the seven hundred year rule of the House of Wittelsbach, whose dominance only ended in 1918.
Some 5 kilometers north of the Altstadt lies Schloss Nymphenburg – the most grandiose palace built by the lavish Wittelsbach royal family. Initially constructed as a summer home for Adelaide of Savoy, the palace was extended throughout the 17th century until it became Bavaria’s most stately residence. Today, the palace is open to the public with guided tours providing you with plenty of interesting information on the Kingdom of Bavaria’s one time ruling family.
For a city renowned for high-octane motorcars, Munich also has its fair share of idyllic green spaces. None are more evocative than the Englischer Garten, where you can explore historic follies, tranquil lakes and lively beer gardens.
In the heart of the historic Altstadt is the vast Residenz, which was once home to generations of Bavarian royals. While no royals have lived in the palace since 1918, the building has been perfectly maintained with original fittings throughout and a dazzling array of historic artifacts. Make sure to pay a visit to the grandiose Antiquarium, a mammoth banqueting hall, and the rococo Reiche Zimmer.
A must-see attraction for petrol-heads, BMW World showcases the car manufacturer’s interesting history alongside its plans for future innovation. You will get the chance to hop on one of the world’s most expensive motorbikes, get in the driver’s seat of a racing car and design your own mock vehicle in workshops. Guided tours are also available for those who want to learn more.
No visit to Munich would be complete without a stroll around the picture-perfect Marienplatz. Dominated by the imposing Mariensäule, which was erected in 1638 to commemorate victory over Sweden in the Thirty Years War, the square is the city’s living room and is perfect for people watching, soaking up traditional Bavarian culture and marveling at the awe-inspiring architecture.
The area occupied by the surprisingly compact Olympic village has a storied history, including the world’s first zeppelin flight in 1909 and the traumatic events of the 1972 Olympics where Israeli athletes were taken hostage as the world watched on. To learn about this and more guided tours of the Olympiapark are available.
Perching atop the foothills of the Alps south of Munich, Schloss Neuschwanstein is Germany’s most iconic attraction. Built by King Ludwig II, who was inspired by the folkloric operas of his close friend Wagner, Neuschwanstein appears to be torn straight from the pages of a fairy tale – indeed, the castle even provided the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. In short, no visit to Bavaria would be complete without a tour of this spectacular palace.
Lying in Munich’s northern suburbs is one of Germany’s most haunting locations – Dachau. Established in 1933, the concentration camp was the Nazi’s first and was initially used for political prisoners before becoming part of Hitler’s twisted ‘final solution’. Today, the camp is a memorial to the tens of thousands who were murdered there with guided tours available to inform you of further horrors of the Nazi regime.