Germany Tours and Travel Guide
Germany Attractions & Landmarks Guide
Germany is a land of contrasts, where walled Medieval towns coexist with high-speed Mercedes-filled autobahns, and where quaint Black Forest and Bavarian villages share the same soil as ultra-hip Berlin and pulsating cities like Munich and Hamburg.
Rhine River cruises and Moselle River cruises are ever-popular, and the long-defunct "East Germany" has been resurrected -- witness the total rebuilding of Dresden, firebombed during World War II and now a showplace. Heidelberg, Nuremberg, Cologne, Lubeck, Stuttgart, Leipzig -- the list of intriguing German cities is long, but the alluring countryside beckons as well.
History buffs will love visiting Germany. There are a multitude of museums for you to visit to learn about the area. In Berlin, pay your respects at the Holocaust Memorial, or explore the remains of the wall that used to separate East and West Germany.
Many German cities such as Frankfurt and Munich offer walking tours, so make sure to join one to get a new view of the city. While in Munich, visit the Nymphenburg Palace to see where Ludwig was born.
Germany has its share of castles and medieval villages just waiting to be explored. Stop in Heidelberg to see a 12th century castle and Germany's oldest university. While you're there, take a slow stroll along the river and imagine what life used to be like. While in Munich, treat yourself to a day trip to see the famous Neuschwanstein Castle and soak up the beauty of the Bavarian Alps. You'll feel like you're in a fairy tale (Sleeping Beauty's castle was supposedly based off of it, after all)!
Beer and Bratwurst
When you think Germany, you may think beer, and for a good reason. It's best known for Oktoberfest, a 16-day beer festival which takes places in late September in Munich. Be sure to bring your lederhosen for the experience of a lifetime! After you've had your share of beer, head south to Bavaria to try some mouthwatering sausage. The west side of the country has their share of tasty treats as well. Explore the markets in Cologne to get some German sweets.
Germany is such a big country, so you have a huge selection to choose from when planning your trip. Head to Cologne to see Cologne's Dom, a giant Gothic cathedral that took over 600 years to build. If nature is more up your alley, venture into the Black Forest to learn about its history and its past with cuckoo clocks. For impressive architecture, the gothic town of Rothenburg will amaze you with its cobblestone lanes and 16th century houses. Germany is sure to have something to please everyone!
Despite the stereotypical predilections swirling around about Germans - stern, punctual - they are quite the fun-loving, festival-going bunch.
Here are a few Germany festivals and celebrations to time your Europe tour around:
1. Oktoberfest in Munich - Granddaddy of all famous German festivals, Oktoberest is a must if you’re in Munich between late September and early October. It’s the largest folk festival in the world, taking over this Bavarian capital for two weeks.
This most quintessential of Germany’s festivals is a top tour attractions for its general merriment, drinking, eating and the chance to visit Munich’s castles and monuments.
Teetotalers, take note: Oktoberfest admission doesn’t require a mug of beer in hand at all times - enjoy the carnival games and rides, eat to your heart’s content and shop for your own traditional German dress clothes.
2. Carnival - Your spring German tour may coincide with what is also called the “Fifth Season” in Germany, the highlight of which is the Rose Monday Parade. The cities most renowned for their Carnival festivities are Cologne, Düsseldorf, Muenster and Mainz.
3. Berlin International Film Festival - Film buffs flock to the annual film festival for more than 400 movies from around the world, grand parties and special events open to almost anyone.
4. Rhine in Flames - If you’re taking a river cruise along the Rhine in May and September, look for this festival of lights that illuminates the river banks and the castles, making the whole ambience even more magical.
5. Bach Fest in Leipzig - Music tours in Germany may center on this world-class festival celebrating Johann Sebastien Bach, who lived in Leipzig. Take in a classical performance by celebrated artists in historic venues, including the gorgeous Thomas Church (Thomaskirche).
6. Wurstmarkt in Bad Dürkheim - Despite its moniker as “sausage market,” this Rhineland Palatinate festival is the world’s biggest wine festivals. River cruises focusing on the wine-growing regions of the Rhine River won’t want to miss this September festival!
7. Christmas Markets throughout Germany - Get into the holiday spirit with old-fashioned festival fun at holiday markets brimming with homemade treats, mulled wine and traditional song and dance. Read about the most popular German Christmas Markets in our Germany in Winter section.
Germans love their food as much as their beer - savor late, lingering dinners and soak up the traditional and the haute cuisine throughout your Germany tour. Be sure to try:
- Spätzle: Pasta lovers, you’ll fawn over this egg, flour and salt dough that puffs up and melts in your mouth when accompanied by meats, soups and Swiss cheeses. The ultimate German comfort food.
- Schnitzel: Unlike in Austria, where actual law mandates that Wiener Schnitzel be made with veal, in Germany, schnitzel is typically made with pork. Try it with a variety of delicious sauces: Jägerschnitzel (mushroom sauce), Zigeunerschnitzel (bell pepper sauce), Rahmschnitzel (creamy sauce), to name a few.
- Fischbrötchen: You’re right, it’s a fish sandwich, but you won’t want to miss this favorite food of northern Germany. Look for fischbrötchen with Bismarck herring, rollmops or salmon from the North and Baltic seas.
- Currywurst: You’re likely to run across a street food stall during your Germany tour selling currywurst, a popular grilled sausage delicacy, smothered in a ketchup-and-curry-powder sauce. If you’re in Berlin or Hamburg, it’s typically served with fries or a roll.
- Bratwurst: With over 1,500 types of sausage made in germany, you won’t run out of options (this seasoned sausage made of pork and veal and typically served with sauerkraut is a street food favorite in just about every German city). Also look for knockwurst (boiled) and Weisswurst (bacon sausage).
- Potato pancakes: Similar to a latke, typically served with applesauce and sour cream or with eggs for breakfast.
- Kartoffelkloesse: Traditional German potato dumplings.
- Sauerkraut: Finely cut, fermented cabbage that is served with just about every sausage you’ll eat in Germany.
- Apple cake: Buttery pastry filled with apples, spices and raisins.
Top Historical Sites in Germany
- Brandenburg Gate - What was once the gateway to Berlin is now a top historical site and a highlight of your Germany tour. Let your expert guide regale you with the story behind the structure that was modeled after the Acropolis in Athens and has now stood for more than 200 years as a symbol of freedom and unity.
- Berlin Wall - A top must-see on your history tour of Germany, the Berlin Wall symbolizes the separation of East and West Germany between 1961 and 1989. Gaze upon the remains of the graffiti-adorned wall and learn about its storied history.
- Checkpoint Charlie - Complementing the Berlin Wall as a popular historic attraction in Germany, this crossing point, where Allied forces were permitted to cross the border, is another important symbol of the Cold War.
- Imperial Baths of Trier - Outside of Rome, these Ancient Roman baths are among the largest you’ll see anywhere in the world.
- Schwerin Castle - For history and art lovers on Germany tours, this beautiful castle was where the dukes of Mecklenburg lived and now houses local government and a comprehensive art collection, including 17th-century Dutch and Flemish masterpieces.
- Neuschwanstein Castle - Been to Disneyland? Now visit one of the most beautiful castles in Germany, Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for more than a few of Disney’s theme park palaces. This must-see attraction tops just about all sightseeing lists in all of Europe.
- Holstentor - Wander through the arched entrance and two round towers of the “Holsten gate,” a favorite historic attraction in Germany. Built in 1464, today it is one of the remaining examples of Germany’s medieval defense. There’s an insightful museum inside to further understand this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Cologne Cathedral - Don’t miss the magnificent Gothic Cologne Cathedral, which began construction in 1248 and took more than 600 years to finish. One of the highlights of the Cologne Cathedral is the Shrine of the Three Magi.
It’s ironic - King Ludwig II built this magnificent castle to step away from the public eye due to his intense shyness. Today, Neuschwanstein Castle is one of Europe’s most popular castles, visited by nearly 1.4 million people every year. Shifting earth and climate factors are contributing to conservation issues with the beautiful castle, but despite some renovation efforts, all rooms are open to the public.
Music tours of Germany will likely hone in on the fact that King Ludwig II was such a big admirer of renowned composer Richard Wagner that the castle was built in his honor - music lovers will notice that many of the rooms inside are inspired by Wagner’s operatic characters.
This fairytale castle has been the inspiration for many of Disney’s theme park palaces - it’s easy to see why with its picturesque Bavarian Alps location and traditional medieval architecture. At the time of its construction, Neuschwanstein Castle was quite technologically advanced.
Ask your Germany history tour guide about the automatically flushing toilets, water supply and air heating system that were part of the castle’s design. From the castle, it’s easy to explore the popular tourist town, Fussen.
Stroll around the brightly colored Old Town, then drive north along one of Germany’s most popular scenic routes, the Romantic Road, a must-drive stretch with countless traditional German towns and villages to visit.
Outdoor Travel in Germany
Germany tours focusing on outdoor and adventure travel can be surprising in their breadth of activities. In a country most often recognized for its history and culture, it’s easy to overlook the natural beauty that lies in just about every corner of the country, from the Alps to the Black Forest.
Here’s a list of top outdoor adventures to have in Germany:
- Oberstdorf: Hike, ski, ice skate, paragliding and hang-glide in Oberstdorf in southern German’s central Bavaria region. The real stunner here is the Breitachklamm gorge, one of the deepest and most beautiful in Europe.
- Garmisch-Partenkirchen National Park: Zugspitze is Germany’ highest mountain and home to one of the country’ largest national parks, the Garmisch-Partenkirchen National Park. Hike along the trails of the Wetterstein Mountain Range and zoom up to the Zugspitze summit by cable car or train.
- Black Forest: The mythical, fairytale-inspiring Black Forest is one of Germany’s most popular outdoor travel destinations with good reason. Sail and surf on the Schluchsee Titisee lakes, hike and bike through the massive fir trees of the forest, canoe on the Rhine River, take a guided ATV tour deep into the woods and cross-country ski in the winter.
- Bavarian Forest National Park: For wildlife viewing in Germany, look no further than the 300 kilometers of this vast and stunning park, home to lynx, bison, wolves and wild boars. Walk along the treetops on a 1,300-meter-long wooden walkway. Hike and bike past sweet brooks and stunning mountain vistas.
- Berchtesgaden National Park: If you’re seeking some of the best hiking in Germany, head to this biosphere reserve and national park, a favorite adventure travel destination in Germany.Hike past thundering waterfalls along the Almbach Gorge trail, climb to Eagle’s Nest, go rock climbing and try paragliding and hang-gliding.
- Bastei: One of Germany’s most beautiful hiking regions is Malerweg, or Painter’s Way, where you can see the stunning Bastei rock formation. From this renowned sandstone bridge, you can reach the Neurathen fortress and see the famous Elbe Sandstones.
What to See and Do in Bavaria
Escape the crowds of Frankfurt and Berlin and head to one of Germany’s most beautiful and popular regions: Bavaria.
This is where your quintessential German tour will include traditional cuisine (bratwurst and beer, and lots of it), hiking through pleasant forests, getting to know the locals in rural villages and touring historic castles.
Here are a few of the top things to do in Bavaria:
- Visit Munich: Munich is the capital of Bavaria and if you’re on a tour of Germany that includes hiking, you’ll likely access the Alps through this beautiful city.
- See Neuschwanstein Castle: You’ll feel like you’re in Sleeping Beauty’s palace, straight out of Disneyland, at Neuschwanstein, quite possibly the most famous castle in the world. Tour the somewhat gaudy interior, including the over-the-top Minstrels’ Hall.
- Attend Oktoberfest: A fall Germany tour wouldn’t be complete without a day at Oktoberfest, the world’s largest fair with more than six million worldwide attendees. Sing, dance and dine along to merry-making Bavarian bands.
- Tour Nuremberg: Take a guided history tour of 950-year-old Nuremberg, home to the Imperial Castle, a romantic Old Town full of half-timbered houses, theSchoner Brunnen fountain (rub it for good luck) and the Nazi Rally Party Grounds. If you tour Germany in the winter, consider including Nuremberg for its famous Christkindlmarkt holiday market. And don’t miss the best Nuremberg food, the signature Rostbratwurst.
- Hike the Bavarian Alps: Germany tours focused on outdoor recreation focus on the hiking, biking and skiing opportunities of the Bavarian Alps and Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain. Among the ski resort towns to check out are Fussen (close to Neuschwanstein Castle), Berchtesgaden and Oberstdorf.
- Visit Eagle’s Nest: The Nazi party gifted Eagle’s Nest (near Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps) to Hitler for his 50th birthday. Today, you can tour this historic sightseeing attractions - atop a mountain, no less - and see its underground bunkers and original brass elevator.
- Bamburg: Some call Bamburg the “Franconian Rome” - German history tours often include this Bavarian town for its huge Old Town center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a satisfying collegiate vibe here, thanks to the University of Bamberg, as well as a thriving brewery industry - try the Rauchbier (smoked beer)!
Cities in Germany
One of the prettiest Germany cities, Heidelberg escaped destruction in World War II. Explore the charming, cobblestone streets with your expert guide, snapping photos on the Old Bridge across the placid Neckar River, touring the ruins of Heidelberg Castle and hiking the lush Philosophenweg across the river from the city.
Take time for a visit to the university, one of the world’s best education institutions, which gives the city its scholarly, youthful ambience.
Sunny, warm friendly and brimming with historic and culinary treasures, Freiburg is one of the loveliest cities in Germany. It’s also one of the oldest - during your Freiburg tour, visit the Gothic cathedral, local-run restaurants and breweries and the large weekly farmer’s market in the cathedral square. Festivals run throughout the year - from International Kulturborse in January to a massive Christmas Market.
Include Hamburg in your German tour for its Roman history, World War II stories and modern aerospace and naval industries. Check out one of Hamburg’s most interesting museums, the Miniature Museum, as well as the famous fish market, open early each Sunday at the port.
Visit one of Germany’s oldest cities, Cologne, which was founded by the Romans and is known for its sky-high cathedral (which also just happens to contain the bones of the Three Kings).
Take a tour of old town and the banks of the Rhine River (many Europe river cruises stop here), pop in to excellent art galleries and museums and most definitely partake in a glass (or two) of the local Kolsch (beer of Cologne). As for festivals, Cologne reigns during Carnival season in Germany with huge parades, festive balls and general merriment before Lent.
Your Bavarian tour will center on Munich, the region’s capital and famous for its Oktoberfest celebrations and multicultural atmosphere. Visit Munich’s beautiful parks and gardens, tour its flea markets, dine on every manner of cuisine, including traditional German food, and snap a photo of the famous Glockenspiel on City Hall.
Tour Germany’s capital and its biggest city, reunited in 1990 after a Cold War separation into East and West. Head to Mitte for ethnic street food, explore countless museums and art galleries and enjoy some of Germany’s best festivals and certainly its popular Christmas markets.
Your Berlin tour is sure to include the grand Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the East Side Gallery, a portion of the inner Berlin Wall that has been long preserved and displays years of graffiti art.
Extend your Berlin tour to include nearby Dresden, a treasure trove of art and Baroque architecture. Believe it or not, much of the historic center of the city was destroyed during World War II but much has been restored to its former glory.
Top Dresden sights include the Church of Our Lady in Dresden, the Procession of Princes (a huge porcelain mural), the Zwinger Palace and the Bruhlsche Terrasse. Reminisce about your favorite Dresden tour moments at one of the city’s countless biergartens.
Include Dusseldorf in your tour of the most popular German cities - it’s recognizable by its Gehry and Chipperfield architecture and the whimsical symbol of the Dusseldorfter Radschlager (boy who does cartwheels), seen everywhere throughout the city.
German art tours celebrate the city’s rich art scene, both on stage and on canvas - Robert Schumann and Mendelssohn lived here and Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter graduated from the Dusseldorf Art Academy.
Dusseldorf is also a popular shopping destination in Germany - a huge fashion show takes place here each January and upscale shops line King’s Avenue (known by the locals at Kö). The beer of choice in Dusseldorf, a top-fermenting German-style brown ale called an Altbier.
Things to Know Before You Go
Do’s and Don’ts for Traveling in Germany
When preparing for your trip to Germany, consider these do’s and don’ts to help make your stay more enjoyable. First, a few things to keep in mind not to do, or to be aware of.
- Don’t jaywalk unless you want to be scolded by a nearby German who will quickly call out any rule breakers.
- Don’t forget the pfand, a deposit on all glasses and bottles in Germany. If you keep the mug as a souvenir, you’ve likely already paid that deposit, otherwise, get your money back by turning your glass back in to the bartender after leaving a beer garden.
- Please don’t break out the selfie sticks at concentration camps and Jewish memorial sites - honor the memorial with the respect and soberness it deserves.
- Don’t plan to shop or visit many of the country’s museums on a Sunday as they’ll likely be closed.
- Don’t test your inner race-car driver on the Autobahn - those not comfortable driving at high speeds shouldn’t try it for the first time here.
- Don’t be late for a reservation - punctuality is of utmost importance in Germany.
Now, as you plan for your trip to Germany, a few Do’s to remember:
- Learn a few words in Germany, but rest assured that most people speak English (Guten Appetit, Prost, Guten Tag, etc.)
- Place your order fairly quickly in restaurants - unlike in the US, the waitstaff will not keep coming back to your table if you’re taking your sweet time.
- Get familiar with the train timetables - this is the quickest, easiest way to travel around Germany to all of its most popular sightseeing spots.
- If your guided tour of Germany takes you into a local resident’s home, remove your shoes and bring a small hostess gift.
- Travel with cash - not all restaurants accept credit cards.
Ask your Germany tour guide for additional tips and tricks while visiting Germany so that you feel comfortable and don’t immediately stand out as a foreign tourist.
How Long Are Most Germany Tours?
A Germany trip may range anywhere from 3 days to three weeks, depending on your mode of travel, what you want to see and any individual interests (hiking, river cruising, cycling, castles, etc.).
If you have just three days, consider touring Munich and the Bavarian Alps. A week in Germany might also include the Rhine Valley (perhaps on a short river cruise) and Rothenburg. Stay two weeks and tack on Berlin, the Mosel Valley (another great opportunity for Germany river cruising) and Nurnberg.
And if you have upwards of three weeks, add in the Black Forest, Trier and Baden-Baden. To see the majority of the country’s top attractions and regions, the popular tours range from 12 to 15 days.
Who Will Enjoy Germany Tours?
With so many things to do in Germany, the country serves as the perfect starting point for a grand European tour or as a stand-alone destination full of beauty, culture, history and cuisine. It sits in the very heart of Europe and is touched by nine country’s borders.
Those who enjoy city life can visit modern, yet historic Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Berlin, Munich and Rothenburg. Those seeking wineries and pastoral cycling routes can take a river cruise along the Rhine or Mosel, stopping in storybook villages in lush, green valleys for guided tours and meeting local residents.
German history tours satisfy those with an interest in the ancient side of Europe - visit castle after castle, including the Disney-inspiring Neuschwanstein Castle - and more than 42 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Beer and brat lovers are in for a treat with Germany’s traditional food culture. Festival fans can find an event to attend practically any month of the year - some of the most popular festivities include Oktoberfest in Munich, pumpkin festivals and Christmas markets.
When to travel to Germany is almost entirely dependent on your personal weather preference and resilience. Visitors arrive at this popular European country year-round despite its chilly winters and hot, often rainy summers. The weather in Germany is ever-changing, but if you’re well prepared (layers!) and flexible, you’ll still make the most of your visit.
Germany’s high seasons are the summer months and then again around the winter holidays - thanks in large part to the popular German Christmas markets.
Fall can be a particularly lovely time to visit Germany, if mainly for its many wine-related and harvest festivals, as well as Oktoberfest in late September-early October. Wine tours in Germany will also run in late spring into early summer, taking advantage of the warming temperatures for wine festivals and tastings.
The best weather months in Germany are May through September and the country’s driest months are typically July and September, also a perfect time to visit the magnificent Neuschwanstein Castle.
Germany in Winter
Pack a heavy coat and hat and you’re ready to travel to Germany for winter - and with good reason! Beyond the Christmas markets (more on those in a moment), there is a winter wonderland air throughout the country during these colder months.
Consider a cold-weather tour of the Black Forest, where snow activities include everything from skiing and snowboarding to ice-skating and snowshoeing. Look for tours that follow the Black Forest Panoramic Route - and ask if you can stop for the renowned wine and cake in Sasbachwalden. Snow-draped castles and jaw-dropping lights displays add to the allure of Germany in the winter.
As for those holiday markets … even the Grinchiest among us can’t resist the traditional, olden-style costumes, soul-warming gluhwein and scent of roasting chestnuts (on an open fire, no less) emanating from Christmas markets in large cities and tiny villages all over Germany between late November and Christmas Eve.
A few favorite Christmas markets to add to your list as you research your winter vacation in Germany:
- Frankfurt’s Old Town - come for the picture-perfect, half-timbered houses of St. Paul’s Square; stay for the pealing of the bells on Christmas Eve
- Aachen - famous for its incredible gingerbread-like cookies, the Aachener Printen, a perfect complement to your mulled wine
- Nuremberg - visit in time for the opening ceremony to see the Christkind address the crowd with a traditional Christmas speech in Main Market Square (and be sure to pick up Nuremberg bratwurst, a favorite German delicacy and only available in this Bavarian city)
- Cologne - more than 150 stalls of traditional German food and crafts, holiday performers and the largest tree in the Rhineland
- Düsseldorf’s Old Town - step back in time on the century-old carousel, visit the life-size carved nativity scene and learn about the city’s history by way of the woodworkers, glassblowers and other artisans who set up shop in Renaissance-esque stalls
- Munich, on the Marienplatz - shop for holiday ornaments and nutcrackers to take home as your Germany souvenir at this, Munich’s biggest and oldest holiday market
Germany in Summer
Germany tours in the summer allow for ample outdoor activities, whether you’re strolling through the leafy Black Forest or cycling along the banks of the mighty Rhine River. Tour operators offering summer trips to Germany may include some of these favorite warm-weather activities:
- Visiting Spreewald, a UNESCO biosphere reserve just an hour by train from Berlin, and ideal for leisurely walks and canoeing
- Soaking up the university feel of Freiburg in the Black Forest - dip your toes in one of the Bächle water channels that run along the sides of the street (the locals do!) and while away a few hours at a bustling beer garden
- Explore the Black Forest (Schwarzwald), one of the prettiest regions of Germany and famed for its storybook villages, cuckoo clocks, hiking, biking and more
- Check several German water castles off your must-see list in North Rhine Westphalia - they’re surrounded by moats and the high-ceilinged rooms inside are naturally air-conditioned, a nice respite from the summer heat
- Take a river cruise on the Mosel from Trier to Koblenz - ask if your Germany tour includes a port stop in Beilstein, a cute little town with a Carmelite monastery and castle ruins
- Speaking of rivers, consider a summertime river cruise in Germany, making a point of exploring Passau, the “City of Three Rivers,” where the Danube, the Inn and Ilz all meet
- Take advantage of the sunny days of summer and visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Potsdam, capital of Brandenburg - many of the historic buildings here are more than a thousand years old and there are enough castles to keep you busy for at least a couple of days
- Stay in the warmest region of Bavaria, in Regensburg, often called the “Northernmost Italian City” for its Italian eateries and gelato shops nestled along cobblestone alleyways and medieval architecture (it’s also one of Germany’s UNESCO World Heritage Towns)
- Hike in Saxon Switzerland, a national park southeast of Dresden and a favorite area for summer hikes in Germany - make sure to snap a photo of the famous Bastei bridge, a natural rock formation over the Elbe River valley
- Spend hours at a Cologne beer garden, enjoying a local Kolsch - many day river cruises embark from Cologne, so don’t miss the opportunity to sail along the mighty Rhine
- Leave a piece of your heart in the university town of Heidelberg, a charming summer destination in Germany for its Summer Festival, lush Philosophenweg walk, Neckar River views and Königstuhl above its beautiful castle
- Join the student community of Karlsruhe in the Black Forest for countless warm-weather outdoor activities
- Hike, boat, fish, raft, attend countless local festivals and visit Eagle’s Nest and the Salt Mines in Koenigssee (also known as Berchtesgaden) in southern Germany - a favorite German location for summer outdoor recreation
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