The Joys of Exploring Germany’s Lesser-Known Historic Cities
As discerning travelers seek off-the-beaten-path destinations that are easy to explore on foot—yet as equally rewarding as their bigger, more well-known counterparts—Germany checks all the boxes, and then some. Rich in history, culture, and charm, these smaller cities prove ideal for a perspective-shifting trip in delightful locations.
Germany is an explorer’s destination. For those who know it only as home to the world’s largest beer festivals, an incredible wine scene, and the world’s oldest brewery—it’s more than that. Beyond its icons, history, architecture, and incredible culinary scenes make for bustling cities and towns, all easily accessible by plane, train, and the autobahn. To get the inside scoop on these places that many have yet to discover, I recently sat down with Sascha Mayerer, CEO of Historic Highlights of Germany, as an AFAR Special Correspondent for an AFAR Spotlight Video. We discussed current travel trends and how the cities he represents embody what travelers are looking for today. Watch the video and keep reading to learn more about why these destinations reward the most curious and discriminating of travelers.
The enduring appeal of remarkable places and fewer crowds
What sets apart Germany’s Heritage Cities—17 smaller yet extremely historically significant and culturally relevant cities—is something special that there’s naturally a word for in German. They inspire what Germans refer to as Glücksgefühle, intangible moments of happiness that are hard to express, but so incredibly joyous to experience.
Interest in destinations where you can have these kinds of joyous experiences without throngs of people has only increased in the COVID era. Easy to navigate on foot and with ample opportunities to be outdoors, these German cities also have other traits that the pandemic has made more popular. In 2022, travel is all about hidden spots that are authentic and one of a kind, which aptly describes Germany’s Historic Highlights, Aachen, Augsburg, Bonn, Erfurt, Freiburg, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Lübeck, Münster, Osnabrück, Potsdam, Regensburg, Rostock, Trier, Tübingen, Wiesbaden and Würzburg.
For those that don’t speak German, they need not worry. One of the requirements of each of the Historic Highlights of Germany cities is that it is home to a university. Every city has people of all ages who nearly all speak English.
Fascinating history and beyond
While Munich, Frankfurt, and Berlin shouldn’t be overlooked, each of these 17 cities complements the cultural experience travelers can find in larger destinations and offer a distinct combination of vacation options for itineraries unlike any others. With an abundance of history and light on crowds, they are where travelers get to experience the heart of Germany.
Imagine walking through the halls of the monastery where Martin Luther began his theological studies in Erfurt, exploring the site of the great events hosted by Frederick the Great in Sanssouci Palace, and seeing all the different architectural styles represented in the Würzburg Residence. There truly is a story around every corner. For history fans, it’s a no-brainer. For everyone else, experiences of witnessing and feeling the energy of these places change how they see the world. This isn’t history that’s pretentious—it’s tangible, accessible, and relatable and bound to make a history aficionado out of any traveler.
Local German cuisine
Those motivated by their tastebuds will also be wowed by the Historic Highlights of Germany. Of course, the country is known for its beer and bratwurst—and there’s plenty to be had throughout. And there are many local dishes that are unique to each destination. From Thuringian dumplings to Franconian wine to mustards and chocolates, even those with dietary restrictions, spanning vegetarians to vegans, will find themselves pleasantly surprised by the number of options.
It’s not just the food and drink itself, it’s the German way of life too. There’s wine tasting at vineyards in the countryside; sampling Fischbrötchen (a traditional fish sandwich) while overlooking the Baltic shoreline; sharing a plate of delicious Kaiserschmarrn, a sweetened “scrambled” pancake, for dessert; and even sipping local wine on the Alten Mainbrücke (or old bridge) in Würzburg. Pro tip: Brückenschoppen literally translates to “glass of wine on the bridge.” Próst!
The world’s best train system
Another recent shift is a slowing down in the pace of things. Travelers have been opting for longer trips, allowing them to dive deep and savor experiences, a way of traveling that Germany’s train system lends itself to perfectly.
The DB Deutsche Bahn is timely, comfortable, and very affordable. With advanced planning, first-class tickets are extremely reasonable. Pro tip: book a seat assignment too for a slight additional cost but certainly recommended experience. Taking in the beautiful countryside through train windows, seeing the day-to-day lives of commuters, and grabbing a sandwich or local treat in any of the local train stations adds to the travel experience.
Impressed with all these German cities have to offer? Find out more by watching the video.