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This Fun, Jam-Packed Itinerary Will Have Your Family Saying “Ja” to Germany

More than bratwurst and pretzels, delights like chocolate museums, UNESCO-recognized castles, and Roman ruins fill Germany to keep kids delighted on the ultimate family vacation.

A view of Marksburg Castle along the Rhine River in Germany

Marksburg Castle

©Rheintouristik Tal der Loreley, St. Goar/Mahlow Media, Winningen

“Mehr, bitte!” More, please–this is what your children will ask when exploring these UNESCO sites from Frankfurt to Cologne in Germany. The options on offer are as diverse as they are inspiring. Think mythical mermaids (hello, Loreley), ghosts of knights in clanking armor, and clues of former times left by the Romans. History comes alive, the past popping from the pages to set imaginations on fire, regardless of age.

Toss some extra child-friendly elements into the mix, like a mouthwatering chocolate museum, arriving at a fortress by cable car, and hundreds of self-playing musical instruments for “only in Germany” experiences they’ll be recounting for years to come.

Start in Frankfurt

Many trips begin (or end) with Frankfurt where Europe’s 6th-busiest airport has easy, direct connections to the world. So slide in with a soft landing, walking directly from the airport via pedestrian skywalk to the gleaming glass dome of the Hilton Frankfurt Airport, as glamorous as it is well connected, perched above an Intercity Express (ICE) high-speed train station. Come here for the city- and forest-view restaurant Rise, a destination in its own right. Steps away is the Hilton Garden Inn Frankfurt Airport (with kids’ amenities on request). Or the Hampton by Hilton Frankfurt Airport is conveniently just a short shuttle ride to the airport terminals.

A photograph of a guest room with a view of Frankfurt’s skyline at Hilton Frankfurt City Centre, Germany

A guest room with a view of Frankfurt’s skyline at Hilton Frankfurt City Centre

Courtesy of Hilton

If you’d like to spend some time in Frankfurt, set up your base camp at the Hilton Frankfurt City Centre in the middle of downtown and close to the Old Opera House (Alte Oper). The kids can stretch travel-weary legs in the Bockenheimer Anlage park next door and splash off jetlag in the indoor pool. If parks are a priority, Günthersburgpark, Bethmannpark, and Lohrpark are near the Hampton by Hilton Frankfurt City Centre East (right next to Frankfurt Main Ost station), with the Zoo Frankfurt a ten-minute tree-lined walk away. The Hilton Garden Inn Frankfurt City Centre is two blocks from the Frankfurt (Main) train station for German and European connections.

Learn about ruins and Romans at Limes in Taunus and Porta Nigra

A photograph of Porta Nigra in Trier in Germany with a red rose in the foreground.

Porta Nigra in Trier


Near Frankfurt, the rebuilt Roman fort in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Limes in Taunus is like an immense outdoor playground, easily explored on a 45-minute Circle Route walk. The forested grounds feature a host of hidden outdoor archaeological monuments and vivid reconstructions of Roman houses, temples, and sanctuaries. A highlight of the onsite Saalburg Museum showcases daily Roman life in the Gambling Den, where numerous tables await with games from Roman times. You can also try your hand at ancient handicraft techniques like weaving.

Another nearby jewel in Germany’s archaeological treasure crown is Trier. A good day trip from Frankfurt is Germany’s oldest city dating to 16 B.C.E., featuring the UNESCO-designated Porta Nigra which is the best-preserved city gate from the ancient world. Lick gelato or sip a local Moselle wine in the Hauptmarkt square, enjoying the scene like locals have been for 1,200 years.

Castles, fairy tales, and mermaids in Koblenz and the Upper Middle Rhine Valley

Before heading to charming Koblenz, stop for something completely unexpected an hour west of Frankfurt in Rüdesheim am Rhein, Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Cabinet. Housed in Brömserhof, a 15th-century knight’s residence, are 400 self-playing musical instruments. Younger children will be charmed by the music that guides create, and the engineering dating back to the 1800s will fascinate all ages. Instruments ranging from large, ornate carousel players to tiny music boxes are impeccably kept, and the gorgeous building alone is worth the trip.

Rüdesheim am Rhein also acts as the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, which runs 40 miles towards Koblenz. This is one of the most atmospheric stretches of water in Germany and home to the mermaid Loreley, who (as legend has it) ensnared many sailors with her siren song.

The riverside patchwork of romantic small towns and wine-growing villages (you’ll find a statue of Loreley tucked in a river bend near St. Goarshausen) complements the castles found every few miles, with upwards of 40 more or less intact. Marksburg Castle, a magnet for medieval fans of all ages, remains virtually unchanged with some structures dating to the year 1239.

A birds-eye view of the triangular Ehrenbreitstein fortress overlooking Koblenz in Germany

The immense Ehrenbreitstein fortress overlooking Koblenz

©Rheintouristik Tal der Loreley, St. Goar/Mahlow Media, Winningen

Explore the river from Rüdesheim to Koblenz via the DS Goethe, the last remaining paddle steamer on the Rhine. Or perhaps a cable car is more your kind of transport? Upon arriving in Koblenz where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet, you can make the trip by cable car in the glass-encased Seilbahn Koblenz to the Ehrenbreitstein fortress. Half the fun of visiting this 800-year-old fortress-turned-museum (complete with fortified towers, great halls, moats, and drawbridges) is simply arriving and enjoying the views of the town and rivers en route. Pro tip: At the summit, you’ll find a creative playground for all ages, built using timber, rope, and rock.

The Hampton by Hilton Frankfurt City Centre Messe in western Frankfurt is well-situated for a Koblenz day trip, as is the DoubleTree by Hilton Frankfurt Niederrad near Frankfurt’s riverfront.

The Cologne Cathedral

A bridge over a river leading to the Cologne Cathedral, Germany

The Cologne Cathedral was once the tallest building in the world

©GNTB/Francesco Carovillano

A highlight of a UNESCO-themed, history-packed family trip is in Cologne–especially when kids see the in-room teepee (part of a Family Experience for those under 12 including a Kids Welcome pack and dedicated Kids Breakfast) at the Hilton Cologne. For location, this luxurious hotel ticks every box. It’s a two-minute walk from Central Station, 650 feet from the Cologne Cathedral, and a 10-minute stroll to the Old Town.

A cream-colored lamp lit in front of a window overlooking historic buildings at Hilton Cologne, Germany

Hilton Cologne

Courtesy of Hilton

Imposingly tall, the Cologne Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in northern Europe and features two immense towers that are 515 feet high. A masterpiece of Gothic architecture that took 600 years to complete, it’s a revered pilgrim site that was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1996. These numbers may fly over the heads of younger travelers, but they’ll still be awed by the filigree stained-glass windows, ecclesiastical treasures glistening in gold, and the 533 steps to a panoramic viewing platform passing through an impressive belfry.

For an activity designed for kids, the Odysseum is an interactive museum. The Harry Potter exhibition leads fans through the Room of Requirement, Newt’s Menagerie, and the Ministry of Magic. Exhibitions are revolving—you may catch one on Egyptology or science. Plus, in summer it’s a top spot to splash around in the water playground in the Sonnengarten.

If you’re staying in the Wasserturm Hotel Cologne, Curio Collection by Hilton, the former character-filled water tower is within minutes of the Chocolate Museum (Schokoladen Museum) by Lindt. From here you can also jump on the SCHOKO-Express train which leaves every 30 minutes, traveling along the Rhine embankment through Old Town to the Cologne Cathedral. Just don’t underestimate how long the family will take to watch the chocolate-making process and taste the final product.

The Brühl Palaces and beyond

Cologne, like Frankfurt, also has some fascinating day trips. Don’t miss out on visiting the UNESCO-recognized Brühl Palaces (Augustusburg Castle and Falkenlust Hunting Lodge), featuring symmetrical baroque gardens and marble halls and located only 30 minutes away.

You can also head to Aachen, tucked in the border triangle of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. The Aachen Cathedral, built around 800, was the very first site to be granted UNESCO status in Germany. The final resting place of Charlemagne, it’s also where emperors were crowned for 600 years. One day may not be enough to soak up charming Aachen, so stay overnight in the Hampton by Hilton Aachen Tivoli, a 10-minute walk from the Cathedral and Aachen Zoo.

TheA photograph of the dining area where guests can have complimentary breakfast at Hampton by Hilton Aachen Tivoli, Germany

Enjoy complimentary breakfast at Hampton by Hilton Aachen Tivoli

Courtesy of Hilton

A family-friendly trip doesn’t have to end here. Continue 90 minutes north from Cologne to Xanton Archeological Park. Located on the site of the ancient Roman city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana, this is Germany’s biggest archaeological open-air museum with loads of space for kids to discoverfrom excavations to museums and playgrounds (including a stellar water playground).

An exterior view of the Hilton Dusseldorf in Germany at daytime.

Hilton Düsseldorf

Courtesy of Hilton

Another option is to drive an hour west from Cologne to Düsseldorf, staying at the Hilton Düsseldorf, 10 minutes from the Rhine River, or the Hampton by Hilton Düsseldorf City Centre for more history and a trip up the Rhine Tower. You could also venture an hour away to check out the museums, art galleries, and concert halls of Dortmund and check in to the Hampton by Hilton Dortmund Phoenix See.

These are just some of the 52 UNESCO sites in Germany that make for a fun-filled, family vacation. If your crew wants to explore more, consider this action-packed eight-day itinerary from Cologne to Frankfurt.

Hilton and the German National Tourist Board
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