History, culture, and natural beauty perhaps best describe the essence of vacationing in Germany. With its many historic cities and small towns, along with an abundance of forests and mountains, visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a unique place to visit. Those wanting to sightsee or experience the arts should head to the metropolitan areas such as Munich, Frankfurt, or Hamburg, while those looking for recreational activities should visit places such as the Bavarian Alps, the Black Forest, or the Rhine Valley.
Lovely old cathedrals and grand palaces are everywhere, and in the smaller towns and villages – some with their original medieval Old Towns still intact – many centuries-old traditions, including traditional Christmas markets, festivals, and fairs, continue to this day. At the cultural heart of Germany is the capital, Berlin, home to many fine museums and galleries, while nature lovers will find a world of possibilities in Germany’s great outdoors. For ideas to help plan your travels, read our list of the top tourist attractions in Germany.
Begun in 1248, the building of this Gothic masterpiece took place in several stages and was not completed until 1880. Over seven centuries, its successive builders were inspired by the same faith and by a spirit of absolute fidelity to the original plans. Apart from its exceptional intrinsic value and the artistic masterpieces it contains, Cologne Cathedral bears witness to the strength and endurance of European Christianity. No other Cathedral is so perfectly conceived, so uniformly and uncompromisingly executed in all its parts.
Cologne Cathedral is a High Gothic five-aisled basilica (144.5 m long), with a projecting transept (86.25 m wide) and a tower façade (157.22 m high). The nave is 43.58 m high and the side-aisles 19.80 m. The western section, nave and transept begun in 1330, changes in style, but this is not perceptible in the overall building. The 19th century work follows the medieval forms and techniques faithfully, as can be seen by comparing it with the original medieval plan on parchment.
The original liturgical appointments of the choir are still extant to a considerable degree. These include the high altar with an enormous monolithic slab of black limestone, believed to be the largest in any Christian church, the carved oak choir stalls (1308-11), the painted choir screens (1332-40), the fourteen statues on the pillars in the choir (c. 1300), and the great cycle of stained-glass windows, the largest existent cycle of early 14th century windows in Europe. There is also an outstanding series of tombs of twelve archbishops between 976 and 1612.
Of the many works of art in the Cathedral, special mention should be made to the Gero Crucifix of the late 10th century, in the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which was transferred from the pre-Romanesque predecessor of the present Cathedral, and the Shrine of the Magi (1180-1225), in the choir, which is the largest reliquary shrine in Europe. Other artistic masterpieces are the altarpiece of St. Clare (c. 1350-1400) in the north aisle, brought here in 1811 from the destroyed cloister church of the Franciscan nuns, the altarpiece of the City Patrons by Stephan Lochner (c. 1445) in the Chapel of Our Lady, and the altarpiece of St. Agilolphus (c. 1520) in the south transept.
- Cologne’s Old Town
- Rhine River Cruises
- The Wallraf-Richartz and Ludwig Museums
- National Socialism Documentation Center
- Cologne Zoological Gardens
- Cologne Cable Car & Bird’s-Eye Views of Cologne
- Chocolate Museum
The Black Forest
As deep, dark and delicious as its famous cherry gateau, the Black Forest gets its name from its canopy of evergreens. With deeply carved valleys, thick woodlands, luscious meadows, stout timber farmhouses and wispy waterfalls, it looks freshly minted for a kids’ bedtime story. Wandering on its many miles of forest trails, you half expect to bump into a wicked witch or huntsman, and might kick yourself for not bringing those breadcrumbs to retrace your tracks…
Measuring 160km from top to bottom, the Black Forest is a ludicrously lovely expanse of hills, lakes and forest, topping out at 1493m Feldberg. It reaches from the spa town of Baden-Baden to the Swiss border, and from the Rhine almost to Lake Constance. This corner of the country is made for slow touring: on foot, by bicycle or behind the wheel of a car on one of many twisty roads with sensational views.
- Freiburg im Breisgau
The Ultimate Fairytale Castle: Neuschwanstein
The quaint old town of Füssen, situated between the Ammergau and Allgäu Alps and a popular alpine resort and winter sports center, is a good base from which to explore nearby Neuschwanstein Castle, one of Europe’s most famous (and picturesque) royal castles.
King Ludwig II of Bavaria built this many-towered and battlement-covered fantasy fortress – the inspiration for Walt Disney’s famous theme park castles – from 1869-86.
A variety of tour options are offered, including guided tours of the sumptuous interior taking in the Throne Room, the Singers’ Hall… and some of the country’s most spectacular views.
In the heart of the historic Port of Hamburg, the magnificent Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway, is an attraction that appeals equally to young and old alike. Boasting more than 12,000 meters of track, this massive scale model includes sections dedicated to the USA, England, and Scandinavia (as well as Hamburg) and incorporates 890 trains, more than 300,000 lights, and in excess of 200,000 human figures.
It’s not unheard of for guests to spend many hours exploring this fascinating world with its remarkably detailed miniature airports (and planes that actually take off), crowded cities, quaint rural scenes, and bustling harbors. For a memorable experience, book one of the behind-the-scenes tours, an especially fun thing to do at night.
Speaking of harbors, be sure to explore the vast Port of Hamburg while you’re there. Covering 100 square kilometers, this huge tidal harbor – one of the world’s largest cruise ship terminals, and known as the Gateway to Germany – is best explored by boat. Afterwards, visit the harborside promenade, a lovely pedestrian route, and the Warehouse District with its continuous lines of tall brick-built warehouses.
The Island of Rügen
Rügen is the largest and most beautiful of the German Baltic islands, separated from the rest of Germany by the Strelasund and linked to the mainland town of Stralsund by a causeway. The island’s beauty stems from its diversity of landscape, including everything from flat farmland and forest-covered hills to expansive sandy beaches, lagoons, and lovely peninsulas.
A fun thing to do here, especially for outdoor enthusiasts, is to pay a visit to the Jasmund Peninsula, which in places reaches heights of 161 meters. Here, you’ll find Jasmund National Park, popular among nature lovers for its abundance of wildlife, with notable species found here, including rare white-tailed eagles.
Another draw are the island’s beautiful Stubnitz beech forests, part of Königsstuhl National Park. One of the most dramatic parts of the island’s scenery can be enjoyed where these dense old forests come to a dramatic end on the Königsstuhl (King’s Chair), a sheer chalk cliff plunges down to the sea from a height of 117 meters.
There’s also a great visitor center here, which offers plenty of valuable information regarding all aspects of the island. Another must see is the little old resort town of Putbus, seat of the Princes of Putbus and with numerous Neoclassical buildings and parks.