While Germany is well-known for its hearty food and beer, fairy-tale castles, and gorgeously preserved medieval towns, the country offers so much more than clichés. In addition to some of Europe’s most distinctive cities—Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg, to name a few—Germany features diverse natural scenery (scenic coastlines, mystical forests, soaring Alps), a heavyweight cultural legacy (including contributions from some of the world’s most famous philosophers and musicians), cutting-edge architecture, and celebrated contemporary art.


Photo by Felix Bruggemann


When’s the best time to go to Germany?

Summer is the ideal time to visit Germany. The country’s sunlit landscapes—crisscrossed with rivers, peppered with forests and lakes, and dotted with charismatic castles—are in full bloom, and its cities transform into outdoor playgrounds. Still, summer can bring crowds and expensive prices, so spring and autumn are attractive alternatives, helped along by a slew of major events like Munich’s famous Oktoberfest. Winter holds its own charms, especially for ski and snowboard fans, as well as for those who wish to visit Germany’s Christmas markets, which run from late November until December 23, or the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

How to get around Germany

There are over 40 airports spread across Germany, providing easy and convenient access to the country’s 16 federal states. Frankfurt am Main and Munich are the largest airports, followed by Düsseldorf, Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Cologne Bonn. Once you’ve arrived in Germany, public transportation is generally excellent, with high-speed trains connecting all major cities as well as destinations across Europe. Some regions, like the Black Forest and Schleswig-Holstein, are more easily explored by car, but even there you can find buses and trains to get around.

Food and drink to try in Germany

Traditional German food is quite substantial—meat dishes like lamb, pork, and beef are popular, along with plenty of fish, rich sauces, and generous sides including potatoes, dumplings, and cabbage. Sausages are ubiquitous, and each region tends to have its own specialty. Be sure to try Rheinischer Sauerbraten (pot roast) in the North Rhine, spätzle (cheesy noodles) in the south, and quirky dishes like Handkäs mit Musik (pungent cheese topped with white onions) around Hesse. Contemporary German cuisine, on the other hand, often consists of lighter, updated versions of classics, and all the big cities offer a diverse range of international food.

Beer, of course, is a trademark of Germany, including the mixed drink Radler (beer with lemonade or any variation of juice), which is popular during the summer. In winter, sipping a steaming mug of Glühwein (mulled wine with spices) is recommended.

Culture in Germany

Germany is often referred to as Das Land der Dichter und Denker (The Country of Poets and Thinkers), which gives more than a clue as to its intellectual and cultural prowess. Famed for its contributions to everything from philosophy and literature to music and art, the country has produced many luminaries known worldwide by their surnames alone: Goethe, Bach, Hegel, Beuys, Hesse, Wagner, Mozart, among them. Germany’s contemporary cultural scene is just as dynamic, as evidenced by an annual calendar of events like the world-renowned Berlin International Film Festival and the Documenta art exhibition in Kassel.

Can’t miss things to do in Germany

Vibrant urban culture vies with romantic landscapes throughout Germany. The major cities, especially Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, and Munich, should not be missed, but smaller towns like Bayreuth, Weimar, Nuremburg, Dresden, Bamberg, and Lübeck are also attractive for their impressive architecture and charming atmospheres. Soaring cathedrals and grand palaces can be found across the country, while natural areas like the Black Forest, the Bavarian Alps, and the Baltic and North Sea coastlines provide an alluring mix of recreation and relaxation.

Practical Information

Americans and other non-E.U. citizens need a valid passport to visit Germany for less than 90 days, and a travel visa to stay longer. The local language is German, though the more urban the destination, the more English is spoken, especially among the younger generation. The currency is the euro, the voltage is 230 volts, and the socket type is F (round plugs with two round prongs).

Guide Editor

Paul Sullivan has lived in Berlin since 2008. In addition to running his local website, Slow Travel Berlin, he writes regularly on Berlin and Germany for international publications like The Guardian, The Telegraph, the Sunday Times, and the BBC, and has worked on Berlin and Germany guidebooks for publishers such as Fodors, DK, Rough Guides, Wallpaper, and more.
Read Before You Go
Resources to help plan your trip
The cultural traditions in southwest Germany (think cuckoo clocks, Black Forest ham, and Black Forest cake) offer delights for every budget—whether you’re after the five-star luxury of Baden-Baden’s baths or prefer camping and hiking on the lovely mountainsides of Feldberg.
Friedrichshain, once part of East Berlin, is now a popular neighborhood filled with flea markets, nightclubs, cool cafes, and restaurants. Stick near Boxhagener Platz to discover many of the hot spots.
Those ornate castles, picturesque abbeys, and clear mountain lakes don’t just exist in fairytales. They live in the Bavarian Alps. Just two hours from Munich, the 300-mile German Alpine Road winds along the Germany-Austria border from Berchtesgarden at Lake Königssee to Lindau at Lake Constance. Meadows, forests, and farm villages set the scene for this region’s old and enchanting way of life. Not to mention the 20 mountain lakes and 25 castles, palaces, and abbeys.
The oldest of its kind in the world, the German Wine Route takes visitors right through the heart of the scenic Palatinate Forest and wine-growing region. The road begins in Bockenheim, specifically at the House of the German Wine Route, and ends at the German Wine Gate in Schweigen-Rechtenbach, right on the border with France. Along its 50-plus miles lie a slew of historic sights (including castles), picturesque forests and valleys, and, of course, vineyards. While most people opt to drive the route, you can also hike or bike it thanks to a network of dedicated trails.
Baden-Württemberg’s Black Forest measures 124 miles from top to bottom, stretching magnificently from the spa town of Baden-Baden to the border of Switzerland. One of Germany’s most stunning natural landscapes, it’s been a popular leisure destination since the 19th century, especially among German and European nobility—and has served as the source of many a German fairy tale. In addition to 18,000 miles of hiking trails, which can also be used in winter for cross-country skiing, the area offers cycling routes and pristine lakes, plus top-notch spas, museums, and other cultural delights.
Formerly known as the “Gateway to the World” for its historic harbor, coastal location, and prominent role in the Hanseatic League, Hamburg is Germany’s second-largest city and generally regarded as one of its finest. In addition to an alluring maritime atmosphere, it offers trendy districts like the Schanzenviertel and St. Pauli and natural highlights like the Planten un Blomen botanical gardens and sparkling Alster Lakes, plus impressive architecture, top-notch restaurants, and famously vibrant nightlife.
Germany’s oldest and most famous university town, Heidelberg is known for its striking Old Town, beautiful setting on the Neckar River, and evocative hilltop castle. Destroyed by French troops in the 1690s, rebuilt during the 18th century, and miraculously unscathed during World War II, it’s proved a source of inspiration for everyone from Goethe to William Turner to Mark Twain. Equally romantic is the surrounding valley, full of forests, fortresses, castles, and charming villages like Bad Wimpfen.
In recent decades, postindustrial North Rhine has experienced a creative resurgence, especially around former rust belt cities like Essen, Duisburg, and Dortmund, which are now linked by the fascinating Industrial Heritage Trail. The region also has its fair share of scenic landscapes—particularly the charming Siebengebirge area, the pleasant Sauerland, and along the Rhine River—as well as bustling cities like Cologne, Düsseldorf, and the former West German capital of Bonn, where you can find culture, leisure activities, and shopping in spades.
Saxony is best known for its stunning Baroque capital, Dresden, which was completely rebuilt after World War II. However, the region’s largest city, Leipzig, is equally vibrant, with a strong cultural legacy (Wagner was born here, Bach worked here) and impressive architecture galore. Nicknamed the “Motherland of the Reformation,” Saxony also features a variety of attractions for history fanatics, as well as plenty for nature lovers, including the Erzgebirge Mountains, Saxon-Switzerland National Park, and several palace gardens dotted throughout the region.
A highlight of Bavaria—and Germany in general—Franconia is beloved for its picturesque landscapes, medieval towns, and rich beer and food traditions. Formerly a separate duchy of the Holy Roman Empire, the region is dotted with dense woodlands, national parks, and grapevine-covered hillsides, as well as castles, palaces, and UNESCO World Heritage sites like the old town of Bamberg and the Würzburg Residence.
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