I’ve been to Germany a lot of times over the past few years and every trip I discover new things.
Partly it’s because each region has its own identity, with its unique types of historical sites and cultural attractions. And partly because Germany is much more than the stereotypes. When you start to explore properly, you discover the depth of what’s on offer.
Most first time visitors just head to the big cities or the most famous landmarks. But it doesn’t actually take much effort to get off the beaten path and discover incredible nature, history, and local culture.
I think a visit to Germany is much more rewarding when you are able to spend some time exploring the smaller sites and towns – and luckily they are some of the best places to visit in Germany!
To help you with the planning for your next trip, I’ve put together a list of my favourite places in Germany. Have a look on the map below to see where they all are.
Some are quite famous and I’m sure you’ve heard of them – but hopefully I’ll be able to introduce you to some new special ones too.
Best cities in Germany
Germany is a really decentralised country. This means that, rather than having just one or two large cities, there are actually large cities spread out across the whole country. And each of them has their own identity.
Of course the two best cities in Germany (at least in terms of visitors numbers) are Berlin (by a long way) and Munich, so I’m not going to include them on this list. Just take them as a given! Instead I want to tell you about the best German cities that aren’t the obvious ones.
Hamburg is Germany’s second-largest city but it hasn’t always had the same allure as Berlin. That’s definitely changed in recent years, partly because of the huge waterfront redevelopment that includes the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall.
I love exploring the old warehouse district of the Speicherstadt and the nearby Maritime Museum is excellent. But it’s the cool cultural areas of Sternschanze and Karolinenviertel that are making Hamburg particularly popular amongst young travellers.
I’ve stayed in Stuttgart a few times and each visit I discover more things to do. It’s a really underrated city that has a vibrant cultural scene, including the new Stuttgart Museum of Art.
There’s also the Mercedes-Benz Museum, the Porsche Museum, and Ludwigsburg Palace. Plus it’s an excellent base to explore the beautiful Baden-Wurttemberg region.
I would also recommend visiting for the Cannstatter Volkfest, a beer festival that rivals Munich’s Oktoberfest!
Unfortunately a lot of people associate the name Nuremberg with events around the Second World War but the Old Town is really where the focus should be. The wonderful medieval architecture includes Nuremberg Castle and the Church of Our Lady.
There’s a long history of beer here and I recommend trying some of the breweries. And if you visit Nuremberg during the Altstadtfest, you’ll find an excellent selection of local food stalls!
The thing I love about Bremen is the combination of historical sights and welcoming social scene. In the city centre, you can’t miss the World Heritage-listed town hall, which is one of the best in Germany. The Opera House and the Cathedral of St Peter are also impressive.
But then wander along the river and you’ll find cool pubs for a beer and a meal – or join a group of friendly locals. There’s also great street art in the Das Viertel neighbourhood. For a big city, Bremen has a very relaxed atmosphere.
Best towns in Germany
Firstly, let’s not get too caught up with the definition of the word ‘town’. Most of my recommendations here are probably technically cities, but I wanted to try to differentiate them from the much larger ones I’ve already suggested, which all have more than 500,000 people. Visiting these smaller places allows you to get to know the place a bit better.
Quedlinburg is how I imagine a movie set of a medieval town would look. The town hall was built in 1330 and almost everything inside it has been preserved untouched since then.
As you wander through the winding streets of Quedlinburg, you’ll see rows of timber-framed houses, each beautiful in their own way with exposed beams and painted walls.
The central square with the government buildings has a Middle ages charm about it but the most important building is the impressive Collegiate Church of St Servatius.
You don’t hear a lot about Wismar these days but it was once an extremely rich city. As part of the Hanseatic League, it was an important trading city in the 14th and 15th centuries and you can still see the spoils of this wealth today.
The Market Place in Wismar is one of the largest in northern Germany, with 500 years worth of architectural styles. Meanwhile, St Nicholas’s Church has an amazingly-high vaulted ceiling and a great view from the roof.
Wismar is known for its seafood so make sure you try a good fish meal while you’re here.
Bamberg is sometimes called the ‘Rome of Germany’ because in the 11th century a German king built a series of incredible churches and public buildings to compete with the Italian city. They sit on the top of a hill and are great sights to visit.
But I think the real charm of Bamberg lies at the bottom of the hill, where you’ll find the medieval markets, residences, and businesses along the banks of the river.
Bamberg is also famous for the 400 types of beer it produces, particularly ones with a unique smoky or bacon flavour. Do a tasting at one of the 11 breweries!
The legacy of Weimar is still felt in Germany today. It was here that some of the country’s greatest minds gathered in the 18th and 19th centuries to inspire each artistically. People like Goethe would go on to influence the national culture.
These days you can visit the buildings that were important during that time most decorated in the Baroque style. The most interesting of these is the home of Goethe, that has been turned into an excellent museum.
Best nature in Germany
While it makes sense to plan your travels in Germany around the cities and towns you’ll stay in, there are also some fantastic natural sites that are worth the effort to visit (not that any of them are particularly hard to get to!).
Upper Middle Rhine
The Rhine is one of the longest rivers in Europe, flowing from Switzerland, through Germany and the Netherlands. But the most scenic part of it is known as the Upper Middle Rhine.
This section in western Germany is lined with quaint towns like Bacharach and Boppard. In the hills on either side of the water are wineries and other local producers.
With a path going along the length of the Rhine here, it’s perfect for walking or cycling, while you explore the towns and sample some of the local delicacies.
The Wadden Sea is part of the North Sea that is known for its special biodiversity. Along the coast here in the northwest of Germany, you’ll be able to spot a huge number of birds in the air and seals in the water.
The mud flats that are formed when the tide goes out are also home to interesting animals and you can go on a guided tour to explore them.
It’s best to base yourself in the town of Norden, which is a busy holiday destination full of people here for sailing, kite surfing, kayaking, and swimming.
The Black Forest is one of the most famous natural sights in Germany. Popular for skiing in winter and hiking in summer, it always makes me think of the fairy tales that the Brothers Grimm set here.
There are lots of ways to discover the Black Forest but I think walking or cycling along some of the paths gives you the best experience.
You can stay in some huts along the way or base yourself somewhere like Freiburg and make day trips in.
There are lots of beautiful lakes in Germany that I could have recommend (especially including the wonderful Lake Constance) but there’s something extra special about Lake Tegernsee because it’s not normally on the international tourist’s radar.
This mountain lake south of Munich is in the Bavarian Alps. Its deep blue water touches a wooded shoreline that rises up into mountains on every side. Although it can snow here in the winter, the warmer months are sunny with bright green fields.
Around the shore are lots of wonderful little towns. In December, the Christmas markets are a real delight and a boat can take you between them.
Best castles in Germany
This could probably be a whole article on its own! Germany is famous for its stunning castles so it’s hard to choose just a few. But I think visiting these German castles gives you the best variety.
You’ll find Wartburg Castle at the top of a hill in the town of Eisenach. It was first built in the 11th century and expanded over the centuries, each owner adding their own touch in their style.
It’s one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Germany and has a drawbridge, a glittering golden chapel, and an enormous wood-panelled hall.
It’s worth taking a tour to see the magnificent interior – and the rather drab room where Martin Luther did his translation of The Bible.
Nobody has officially lived in Hohenzollern Castle for centuries but it used to be home to the Hohenzollern family, whose members once ruled the German Empire. Even though this was a personal, rather than public, residence, it’s still decorated with the grandeur you would expect.
There are 140 rooms, each with its own character. As you wander through them, you’ll find golden chandeliers with candles that need to be replaced every day, high cathedral-like ceilings, plush blue lounges, and stained glass windows.
When it comes to Lichtenstein Castle, it’s all about the exterior, rather than the interior. It’s a remarkable castle, tall and relatively thin, jutting out from the top of a cliff with a deep valley beneath it.
It was built in the 1840s in the Gothic Revival style and was inspired by a famous novel called Lichtenstein. It was built over the site of a former castle that was a setting in the book.
Probably the most famous castle in Germany, I can’t really neglect to mention Neuschwanstein Castle. Built by the Bavarian King, Ludwig II, it was intended to be his private home but he died a few months before it was opened in 1886.
Neuschwanstein Castle is best known as the inspiration for Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, although it’s also been used in other movies and TV shows.
The castle gets more than a million visitors each day so be prepared for crowds if you want to go inside.
Best palaces in Germany
For the sake of this guide to the best places to visit in Germany, I’m drawing a distinction between castles and palaces. The places I’ve already mentioned are fortified structures up on hills. Now let’s look at the more royal sprawling palaces.
The Wurzburg Residence is enormous – more than 160 metres wide with about 400 rooms spread over two levels. It’s a masterpiece of Baroque design, particularly the central staircase, the domed Imperial Hall, and the White Hall with its stucco decorations.
Although it was originally opened in 1744, what you see today is an incredible reconstruction after it was virtually destroyed by fire in the Second World War. The 40-year and 20-million-euro project was done out of national pride and the result is amazing.
Potsdam is one of Germany’s absolute treasures and, being just outside Berlin, is very easy to visit. It’s not a single palace – in fact, there are more than a dozen of them. After all, this is where the Prussian kings wanted to build their legacy.
It’s easy to spend days visiting Potsdam and seeing it all. If you’re short of time, the most beautiful (and famous) palace is Sanssouci and the largest is the New Palace. My other suggestions to visit are the Orangery Palace and Charlottenhof Palace.
Just outside of Stuttgart is Ludwigsburg Palace, built in the early 1700s as the residence for the Duke of Wurttemberg. It became one of the largest Baroque palaces in Germany and, combined with its park and location in the centre of town, was designed to feel like Versailles.
The staterooms are magnificent and the chapel is enormous, as is the throne room. But the delicate decorations in the bedrooms are also a highlight.
Although you’ll find lots of examples of Rococo architecture across Germany, it all started here at Augustusburg Palace. With light colours, gold elements, and ornate stucco, it’s a wonderful example of the flowing and graceful style of design.
The palace is in Bruhl, which is easily accessible from Cologne. As well as the palace, there’s a beautiful park around it. You can also visit the estate’s hunting lodge, Falkenlust Castle, which is also in the Rococo style.
Best industrial sites in Germany
Germany isn’t just castles and palaces. It is also an industrial powerhouse in Europe. A lot of this is not particularly appealing to tourists, but there are some really interesting industrial sites in Germany that are open to the public.
You get into Rammelsberg Mine by a small train down a dark tunnel and emerge into a maze of tunnels. Some of them are old because there’s been mining here for more than 1000 years. As you tour around, you can see a mix of equipment used over the centuries.
Rammelsberg Mine is in the town of Goslar and there are a few different tours you can do to go underground. It’s an amazing experience and gives you a real sense of what it would have been like to work down here.
Zollverein Coal Mine
Although Zollverein is also a mine, it’s a very different experience. It’s got the nickname of the ‘most beautiful coal mine in the world’ because the architecture above ground has been influenced by the Bauhaus style.
These days, the buildings have been transformed into cultural spaces with museums, theatres, and other exhibitions. You can still learn about the industrial side of things but it’s the transformation of the site that I think is most interesting.
The Volklingen Ironworks started operation in 1883 and wasn’t closed until 1986. During this time, it produced steel that was used for everything from railway tracks to weapons. Since it fell silent, the structures have barely changed.
That’s what makes it so interesting to walk around this metal jungle, exploring the different parts of the plant and seeing all the different machinery. In total, there are more than six kilometres of paths and there’s no need to stick to a particular route.
Of course, Germany is known for its cars. Some of the biggest motoring brands are based here and there are a few ways to connect with them – most brands have some kind of museum.
But I think the Mercedes-Benz factory on the outskirts of Stuttgart is the most authentic experience. You can organise a tour that will take you along the production lines where you’ll see cars being made and learn all about the development and manufacturing.
Best churches in Germany
I used to feel that Europe’s best churches were in countries like Italy and Spain – until I started spending time in Germany and realised there are some incredible ones here. Many of them are world-class historical sights and, although it’s a long list to choose from, I think these are the best churches in Germany.
I think Cologne Cathedral is the most impressive church in Germany. Its scale is incredible however you look at it, and it’s one of the largest churches in the world. Inside, the interior lives up to expectations.
The highlight is the golden casket behind the altar that apparently holds the relics of the Three Wise Men. But there are also plenty of other treasures to see.
I would also recommend you climb the steps to the top of the spire for an incredible view across Cologne.
Aachen Cathedral doesn’t seem too imposing from the outside but it’s actually one of the most significant churches in Germany. It was at the core of the German Empire for centuries.
Construction started in 796AD and was inspired by churches in the eastern part of the Holy Roman Empire – you can still see that influence in the design today.
The highlight of Aachen Cathedral is the shrine that holds the remains of the great emperor Charlemagne, who ordered that the church be built here in Aachen, the city he’d chosen as his imperial capital.
This large church in Dresden is significant for two reasons. The first is for its incredible design. The Baroque masterpiece has one of the largest domes in Europe and gives the city a unique skyline.
But perhaps the Dresden Frauenkirche is better known because of the massive effort to reconstruct it after it was destroyed in the Second World War. It was left untouched as a memorial for 50 years but now that it’s been rebuilt, it’s an important symbol of reconciliation.
Pilgrimage Church of Wies
You might think it’s odd for me to include this on my list. After all, the Pilgrimage Church of Wies is tiny and it sits in a green Bavarian field with not much else around. But that’s why I’m recommending it – because it is so different!
The Wieskirche was built in the mid-1700s after tears were apparently seen coming from a wooden statue of Christ. The result was one of the best examples of Rococo architecture. The interior is filled with amazing painted walls, statues, golden trims, and complex plasterwork.
It’s a little bit out of the way but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
So, before I finish up, I’ve got a few more bonus suggestions. These didn’t really fit into any of the earlier categories but they’re pretty cool so I wanted to be sure I mentioned them. You know, just in case you didn’t already have enough places to see in Germany!!
The Bauhaus Building
One of the most famous architectural styles to emerge from Germany was the Bauhaus movement. This modern design has influenced buildings across the world but it started in a small part of the country.
Visiting the Bauhaus Building in the town of Dessau gives you a fascinating insight into the architectural movement. And, as a bonus to the bonus, you can also see the vast romantic Garden Kingdom of Dessau-Worlitz while you are here.
OK, this isn’t going to appeal to everyone but Minitaur Wunderland in Hamburg is one of the coolest museums in Germany and I have to mention it.
It’s basically a collection of toy trains but the museum has large and detailed sets for them to ride through. In total, there are more than 15 kilometres of track with 64 computers controlling the movements of more than a thousand locomotives.
If you want to feel like a kid again, this is the place!
Bergpark Wilhelmshohe is built on the edge of the city of Kassel and rises on the side of a hill. It’s the second-largest hillside park in the world and can take hours to explore.
As well as landscaped gardens, it has water features and forests. There are also majestic buildings that hold galleries and other exhibitions that you can visit.
There’s lots to see with plenty of surprises hidden throughout. As well as a fun experience, you’ll be seeing one of the most magnificent examples of European garden art.
And, finally, I think it’s worth mentioning Rugen Island. Off the northeast coast of the country, it is connected to the mainland by road and rail and is easy to visit. It’s a popular holiday destination because of its long sandy beaches.
But there are lots of other things to see and do here too. I would recommend visiting Jasmund National Park, which is part of a World Heritage Site because of its beech tree and chalk cliffs. And there is the enormous complex built by the Nazis as a holiday resort that was largely abandoned.
If you have any other suggestions for the best places to visit in Germany, feel free to leave a comment below!