11 incredible and iconic buildings around Germany
Unsurprisingly for a country with a history stretching back thousands of years, Germany boasts a real treasure trove of buildings in different architectural styles, with generations of builders and makers each contributing to the look of the landscape as they experimented with bricks, mortar, metal and glass.
Germany's best buildings
Historical monuments, half-timbered houses and fairytale castles sit comfortably side-by-side with sweeping city landmarks, industrial complexes, and modern structures. Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic buildings all across Germany.
1. Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg (2017)
Part old brick warehouse and part futuristic glass confection, the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg is one of the city’s greatest landmarks. Intertwining old and new, resembling a ship, the sea, and something more spectacular, it stands as a testament to Hamburg's proud mercantile history. Known affectionately as “Elphi” by locals, it took forever and a half to finally open, but now offers affordable concerts, guided tours, and a viewing platform with incredible views over the port and the Speicherstadt.
2. Aachen Cathedral (c.800)
Dating all the way back to the eighth century, Aachen Cathedral is one of the oldest and most beautiful cathedrals in Germany and a stunning example of Carolingian, Gothic and Baroque architecture. Much of the mystique surrounding the cathedral comes from its association with Emperor Charlemagne, who ordered the cathedral’s construction and is buried within its walls. The cathedral is open to tourists when services are not taking place.
3. Berlin TV Tower (1969)
Love it or hate it, Berlin’s TV Tower earns itself a place on this list as an iconic symbol of the fascinating history of this German city. Built in the 1960s by the East German State to demonstrate the superiority of the communist system, it is still the most visible landmark in Berlin and attracts over 1 million visitors per year to its 360-degree viewing platform, revolving restaurant, and Panorama bar.
4. Stadtbibliothek, Stuttgart (2011)
Spectacular and minimalist both at the same time, the Stadtbibliothek in Stuttgart is one of the most famous libraries in Germany and a gorgeous building in its own right, alluring bookworms and Instagrammers alike. While the outside is an unassuming concrete block, the interior is coloured entirely white to create a sense of openness and peace, and allow the colourful book spines to shine. At night, the library transforms into a blue light sculpture.
5. Bauhaus Building, Dessau (1926)
Championing a union of functionality, accessibility and aesthetics, perhaps no other German movement has had such a lasting impact on design as the Bauhaus art school. The Bauhaus building in Dessau, Saxony-Anhalt, is a built manifesto of the movement’s vision and an architectural icon of modernism. The minimalist, angular construction of concrete, glass and white facades has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1986.
6. Commerzbank Tower, Frankfurt (1997)
The Commerzbank Tower is the stand-out architectural landmark of Frankfurt, Germany’s only real city of skyscrapers. Standing at 53 stories tall, upon completion it was the tallest building in Europe and considered the world’s first ecological office tower, thanks to its clever design which helped lower the consumption of energy to nearly half that of standard office tower blocks. You don’t need to work here to marvel at this soaring skyscraper: at the tower’s heart there is a public gallery with restaurants, cafes and spaces for events, which are all open to the public.
7. Museum Brandhorst, Munich (2009)
Slap bang in the middle of the Kunstareal, the vibrant district in Munich that squeezes more than 40 museums, art galleries and exhibition halls into less than a quarter of a square kilometre, is the Museum Brandhorst. Hidden behind its spectacular facade of 36.000 ceramic rods in 23 different colours you will find one of the best collections of contemporary art in Munich. Outside, the tones of the rods shimmer, stretch and pixelate as you pass. Inside, the white walls and solid wooden floors provide a neutral background to let the artworks shine.
8. Semperoper, Dresden (1841)
The Semperoper in Dresden is perhaps most famous for its opulent annual ball, but its long and eventful history stretches back to 1841, when it was first opened and proclaimed the most beautiful theatre in the world. It was reconstructed in 1878 as a result of a fire and again postwar after being bombed in air raids. Although stunning from the outside, you really need to watch a ballet, concert or opera in the glittering auditorium to truly gain a sense of the Semperoper’s wonder.
9. Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin (1688)
Home to no fewer than three spectacular buildings: the Deutsche Dom, the Französischer Dom and the Konzerthaus, Gendarmenmarkt Square in Berlin is one of the city’s prettiest sights. The square dates back to the 17th century, when it was home to a regiment of French Huguenot soldiers, and has been lovingly restored after sustaining severe damage during World War II. It hosts open-air concerts in summer and a famous Christmas market during the winter.
10. Grüne Zitadelle, Magdeburg (2005)
Located in the heart of Magdeburg in Saxony-Anhalt, the eye-catching Grüne Zitadelle is the brainchild of the alternative visual artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. A pink, whimsical and twisting complex of apartments, shops, cafes, a hotel and a kindergarten, the Green Citadel was intended as an “oasis for humanity and nature in a sea of rational houses”. When it was first completed in 2005, it polarised the city, and it remains controversial and debated to this day - which was perhaps exactly what the architect intended.
11. Kirschgarten, Mainz (1329)
This isn’t exactly one building, but a whole square of them - it’s one of the best places in Germany to see postcard-perfect half-timbered houses looking pretty much the same as they have for centuries, with flowers tumbling out of window boxes, windows flung wide, crude carvings in wooden shutters, and even a petrified ancient tree stump. Wander among the many boutiques, or simply order a coffee at one of the cafes and watch the world pass by.
Explore the best architecture Germany has to offer
With each city in Germany home to hundreds if not thousands of beautiful and iconic buildings, this list is barely scratching the surface, but it certainly makes a good starting point for your explorations. Have you got any favourites to add? Let us know in the comments below!