Winter in Germany: 5 best things to do and places to visit
Winter in Germany can be a particularly hard time when hot summer days by the lake seem a million miles away. Once the Christmas holidays have passed and many of the winter months still remain, going outside can feel rather uninspiring.
Though Germany in January means 4pm sundown and counting down the days until the clocks go forward, there is a bounty of cosy activities and places to visit, to help while away the frosty months.
Germany in the winter
German winters are long and dark. Though the wintertime officially begins in December, during November the bitter cold might jump out and surprise you out of nowhere. Spring weather typically begins to appear in mid-to-late March, when from one day to the next Germany’s skeletal trees awake in a hurry.
When November to February means starting work in the darkness and ending the day in the darkness, it can feel very hard to be energised, never mind get your dose of vitamin D! But embrace the shiny, lamplit streets and German winters can be great fun, as long as you know how to get through them with some gusto.
Things to do in Germany in winter
Whether indoors or outdoors, every federal state has a wealth of activities to offer and places to visit during winter. From enjoying views of the pale, wind-bitten beaches in out-of-season Sylt to the craggy, snow-dusted burg of the iconic Neuschwanstein, here are some of our favourites.
Discover the castles of Germany’s Fairytale King
The Germans have a perennial penchant for the outdoors. And if you’re looking to integrate into the activities and passions of your new-found home, learning to love an outdoor challenge in the frost, snow, rain and wet during the German winter is certainly a start.
If you’re looking for new German places to visit, the country’s 25.000 castles and palaces are often surrounded by magnificent woodland scenes or national parks, made all the more dramatic by snowy or misty grey winter weather. The earliest German castles date back to the 11th century and every federal state has an endless supply of strikingly fairytale-like fortresses.
That said, Bavaria is the place to go if you’re looking for a good, wintery castle visit. And in the history of Germany’s castles, there is nobody more important to mention that the so-called Fairy Tale King. Ludwig II of Bavaria ascended the throne in 1864 and spent much of his reign commissioning Germany’s most architecturally elaborate castles and palaces, complete with their fairytale turrets. Herrenchiemsee, Linderhof and the legendary Neuschwanstein were all his doing, the latter of which has added elements of fairytale magic, with walls decorated with scenes from Wagner’s operas.
The inevitable sharp incline en route to any castle is sure to warm you up whatever the winter weather.
Ski across Germany’s landscape for cheap
Switzerland indisputably claims the title of skiing capital of Europe. And while much of Germany cannot compete with the alpine peaks, skiing cross-country doesn’t require such dramatic heights and accommodates a chat at the same time. Cross-country skiing is a good starting point for any expats in Germany from warmer climes who are not so accustomed to the northern and central European hobby.
It’s also possible to cross-country ski on a budget. Many secondhand shops and fleamarkets in Germany offer a wealth of second-hand skiing boots, suits and skis, though if you’re a beginner it might be worth doing some research in advance to make sure everything is in good nick.
Like with its castles, much of Germany’s top cross-country ski spots are located in Bavaria. Baden-Württemberg is also a winner. But if you’re further up north, Saxony offers Fichtelberg, Schönebeck and Rölzhang, through the ridge of the Ore mountains. At Rölzhang a day ticket will set you back only 8 euros!
What's more, if you’re torn between the winter magic of a fairytale castle and a cross-country ski through snow-heavy firs, spend a January weekend down south and cross-country ski through Schwangau, directly below the 19th-century Neuschwanstein.
Explore the catalogue of German cinema
Contrary to popular expat belief, German cinema does not begin and end with The Lives of Others. The country has a long, at some points politically charged historical relationship with the silver screen.
Whiling away your winter by exploring the vast cultural landscape of German cinema is an activity that can be done from the comfort of your home or with a trip out to your nearest Kino (cinema). If you have indeed ventured beyond The Lives of Others and Good Bye, Lenin! you may have exhausted the selection of German classics on Netflix, or maybe there is a top indie film from a few years ago that you can’t find on any streaming service. It’s time to get to the library!
Resist the urge to mock the old-fashioned and invest in a 10-euro per year card for one of Germany’s many state-run libraries. Once you put on your cosiest woolly hat, an adventure to the library can feel like the most perfect winter activity. Free heating, free films, and an endless supply of books and magazines peruse at your pleasure without parting ways with your pennies.
Once you’re an aficionado of German film, wise to your Wims from your Werners, you might want to delve a little deeper. Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich and Düsseldorf all have their own film and television museums, the perfect place to spend a rainy January afternoon.
Let yourself be liberated in the sauna
Summers slip by in Germany with endless dips in local lakes. Germany’s lakes are beautiful during the wintertime too, and if you are brave enough to strip off for a January dunk, you definitely won’t be alone. There are many places to visit in winter that make for an excellent swimming spot and you’ll be joining the German geniuses with your new hobby - Goethe is said to have enjoyed a regular, icy few minutes in the Ilm River.
For those looking for some winter comforts, the sauna or spa might be a better scene. Like their Scandinavian neighbours, the Germans love a good, naked hang out in the sauna. And is there a better season for sauna than wintertime?
Sauna lounging is proven to improve sleep and reduce the risk of dementia. If you’re looking for winter extravagance, a trip to Vabali, the Balinese-style spa located in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Hamburg, will set you up for the rest of the winter. But no fear, a budget sauna excursion is always possible with many public swimming pools offering sauna tickets for as little as 9 euros per day.
Eat your way through the winter months
Falafel and Döner make for comforting company on the walk home from a night out whatever the time of year, but most of Germany’s cuisine, warm and rich, is a better fit for the winter in Germany.
Food is the foundational delight of the wintertime, an everyday pleasure you get to enjoy at least three times a day, so why not invest your winter by discovering more of the German palate? If you spent December enjoying all the predictable delicacies of the Christmas market, make a turn for the more everyday, traditional German food.
Frozen Kartoffelpuffer (hash browns) are okay, but have you ever made them from scratch? Invest 10 minutes in grating your own potatoes and you could earn some stronger arm muscles and a batch of freshly make Puffer! Same goes for Eintopf (stew). It’s a dangerous game, though: spend a Sunday afternoon making your own Eintopf, and you never be quite satisfied by the tins in Lidl again. Proceed at your own risk.
Germany in winter
In Germany, winter can be a pleasure if you find exciting, affordable and new ways to spend your time in your adopted homeland! What are your hot tips for passing the cold months?
Thumb image credit: Daniel Bahrmann / Shutterstock.com
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