15 best things to do in Germany
Nature, culture, history, nightlife - Germany has it all in spades - winding cobblestone alleys, chocolate-box houses, soaring cathedral spires, Roman ruins, fascinating museums, crystal-clear lakes, pristine white beaches, and some of the best beer in the world. You’ll never struggle to find things to do in Germany, but all that choice can quickly become overwhelming. If you are putting together a bucket list of must-sees and must-dos in Germany, you’ve come to the right place.
15 top things to do in Germany
No matter whether you want a jam-packed schedule oozing culture and history, or simply a relaxing time, Germany’s got you covered. Here is our pick of the top 15 best things to do in Germany.
1. Visit a fairytale castle
Germany has no fewer than 20.000 castles scattered across its 16 federal states, so you’re never far away from an impressive pile of battlements and towers. No German castle is quite as famous (or as photographed!) as Schloss Neuschwanstein, the supposed inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. The undeniably breathtaking Neuschwanstein can be visited as a day trip from Munich. If you’re looking for something different, honourable mention goes to Hohenzollern Castle, Eltz Castle and Liechtenstein Castle for pure wow factor.
2. Walk a stretch of the Berlin Wall
If you haven’t wandered East Side Gallery - the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence, and nowadays the world’s longest open-air gallery - have you even been to Berlin? Brightly painted and surrounded by tourists though it is, the wall is still a living, poignant reminder of one of the most important chapters of German history. For a more sober reflection on the human cost of the long division of Germany, head to the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse.
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3. Hike in Berchtesgaden National Park
There are no fewer than 16 national parks in Germany, but the award for the most stunning has to go to Berchtesgaden, nestled away in the mountainous south of the country, on the border with Austria. The park is a haven of dense forests, crystal-clear lakes, towering rock faces and flowering meadows, all crisscrossed with plenty of trails for cycling and hiking. The Königssee, the huge lake at the centre of the park, has to be one of the most photogenic sites on Earth.
4. See Roman ruins in Trier
Did you know that Trier, a city in Germany on the Moselle River, contains a veritable treasure-trove of Roman ruins? Trier was once one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire, known as the “second Rome”. It has one of the biggest and best-preserved collections of Roman monuments north of the Alps, and is a must-see for anyone interested in ancient civilisations. The sheer size of the Porta Nigra, the unfinished remains of an old city gate, is jaw-dropping.
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5. Take a ferry to the island of Sylt
When the weather takes a pleasant turn in the warmer months of the year, many Germans take a ferry ride over to one of the country’s islands. While Rügen is the biggest, Sylt is probably the most popular and prettiest. Nicknamed the “Queen of the North Sea”, Sylt is a top destination for glamorous holidaymakers looking for sea, sand and sun, with some water sports and great opportunities for nature spotting thrown in.
6. Scale the tower of Ulm Minster
It’s no small effort to climb the 768 steps to the top of the spire of Ulm Minster, officially the tallest church in the world, but those who make it to the top will be rewarded with some breathtaking views across Ulm and Neu-Ulm. On clear days, you can see as far as the Alps and Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak. Other great cathedral spires worth mounting include Cologne Cathedral and St Michael’s Church in Hamburg.
7. Play princes and princesses in Sanssouci Palace
Germany doesn’t just do castles; it’s also got more than its fair share of sumptuous palaces, and no finer than Sanssouci Palace, a magnificent Rococo confection located on the outskirts of Potsdam in Brandenburg. A tour of the incredibly ornate rooms is well worth your time, but on fine days just a stroll through the immaculate park and grounds is a glorious way to spend the day.
8. See half-timbered houses in Quedlinburg
Of all kinds of architecture in Germany, none is so iconic as the half-timbered house. There are an estimated 2,5 million of these beloved historical buildings scattered across the country, but some of the finest are to be found in the beautiful town of Quedlinburg in Saxony-Anhalt. The narrow, cobblestone streets of Quedlinburg are lined with 1.300 incredibly well-preserved half-timbered houses and churches, all winding their way up to a castle on the hill. Walking the streets is like taking a stroll back to medieval times.
9. Stroll from the Reichstag to the Brandenburg Gate
Berlin may be big, but one of its blessings is that a huge number of its major sights and attractions are concentrated in a square mile or so on the west side of the city. It’s a short, walkable distance from the Reichstag building, past the Brandenburg Gate, and on to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a harrowing reminder of the darkest chapter in German history. From there, you can take a turn through Tiergarten, the most popular park in Berlin, or divert onto Unter den Linden, past the Humboldt University, and onto Museum Island, one of the best collections of museums and art galleries in the world.
10. Drink a Stein in the Hirschgarten beer garden in Munich
Any German bucket list would be remiss if it didn’t mention the nation’s favourite pastime: relaxing in the shade of a chestnut tree, nursing a crisp half-litre of German beer, in one of the country’s beer gardens. In the summertime, you’ll likely stumble across a beer garden almost anywhere in Germany, but the most famous is probably the Hirschgarten in Munich, with seats for 8.000 patrons. This is also the perfect place to try some hearty, traditional German dishes.
11. Get tipsy at the world’s largest wine festival
German beer is so famous that the country’s wine industry often gets unfairly overlooked. Germany’s best-known wine is Riesling, the grapes for which are grown on the sloping valleys surrounding the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. Many cities have their own wine festivals, but none can outdo the Bad Dürkheim Wurstmarkt (yes, that does literally mean “sausage market”), officially the largest wine festival in the world. Sample local vintages, eat a meal at a restaurant housed inside the largest wine barrel in the world, or even take a turn on the Ferris wheel.
12. Bare all at a day spa
Uncomfortable as it might make some foreigners when they first arrive, Germany’s relaxed attitude to nudity is refreshing and surprisingly infectious. You can do like the locals - and get super relaxed in the process - at one of the country’s glorious spa complexes, where swimwear is generally a big no-no. Some of our favourite spas in Germany include Vabali in Berlin, Hamburg and Düsseldorf, and Neptunbad in Cologne. Until you’ve sat sweating in a sauna with 50 other naked people, you haven’t truly lived.
13. Say “hello” to Charlemagne in Aachen
If you’re into history, Aachen in North Rhine-Westphalia is a real gem. Finalised in 935, its cathedral is the oldest in the whole of Northern Europe and is the site where German kings and queens were crowned in the medieval period, including the most famous emperor of all: Charlemagne. The cathedral itself is an impressive example of Carolingian architecture, but it also contains Charlemagne’s remains, and his impressive marble and bronze throne.
14. Take a ride up the Zugspitze
Standing at 2.962 metres above sea level, the Zugspitze is the highest peak in Germany. Keen hikers can attempt the ascent themselves during walking season, but a much quicker (and perhaps more pleasant!) way to the top is the cogwheel train that runs from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, or the cable car. On clear days, the vista from the summit is second-to-none, giving hundreds of miles of views across four different countries amid the crisp Alpine air.
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15. Cruise (or cycle!) down the River Rhine
Germany is criss-crossed with thousands of kilometres of rivers, but none are as famous as the River Rhine. The Rhine forms one of the country’s most important economic arteries, functioning as a major highway for goods transportation, but it’s also long been a magnet for tourists and creatives. It is possible to follow the whole course of the Rhine through Germany via a well-maintained cycle path, but for the best views you’ve got to get on the water. A large number of companies offer river cruises. Chugging along with the barges, wooded valleys, castles and picture-postcard villages passing by - there is truly no greater way to travel!
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Time to start ticking things off your Germany bucket list!
This should get your Germany bucket list off to a good start, but really we’ve barely scratched the surface of all there is to do in the federal republic. If you think we’ve missed an absolute gem of what to do in Germany off our list, let us know in the comments below!