12 Must-Do Experiences in Germany

From fairy-tale castles to edgy art, and from Christmas markets to the Baden-Baden spa, quintessential Germany is as old as the storybooks and as new as sunrise over the Elbe.

Neuschwansteinstraße 20, 87645 Schwangau, Germany
The most famous castle in Germany—and one of the best known in Europe—Neuschwanstein is renowned not just for its fairy-tale architecture (which directly inspired the Disney Castle) but also for its creator, “mad” King Ludwig II. Begun in 1868, it wasn’t completed until four years after Ludwig’s death, in 1892, but was very advanced for its time, with larger-than-usual windows, central heating, an elevator, telephones, and indoor plumbing. However, it’s the castle’s mountaintop setting and soaring towers that really impress. When visiting, be sure to check out the paintings inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner—Ludwig’s friend and the person to whom he dedicated the castle. Also take in the stellar views from the Marienbrücke, and if you want to visit in style, consider a horse-drawn carriage ride back to your car. There’s a restaurant on-site, but plenty of cheaper options are in the town below.
Mühlenstraße 3-100, 10243 Berlin, Germany
The most famous remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall gets its name from its location on the east side of the Spree River, as well as from its collection of political and satirical murals. Originally painted just after the wall fell, the murals were repainted (or in some cases painted over) in 2009 as a way of cleaning up the increasingly decayed originals and in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall. Today, a fence partly protects the gallery to prevent vandalism of the murals, but people throng here nonetheless, especially in summer. A museum at the site tells the fascinating story of the structure through interactive displays, original newsreel footage, and filmed interviews with Berliners who lived on both sides.
Karlspl., München, Germany
Karlsplatz, the city center nicknamed Stachus after a pub Beim Stachus, is home to local life and history, making it the perfect place to start exploring Munich. Around this central hub you’ll find that farmers’ markets, historical interest points, and traditional life come together for a wonderful mix in Bavaria’s largest city. When one thinks of Munich, Octoberfest is usually the first thing that comes to mind, and while it is an amazing event, Munich offers much more.
Schillerstraße 4/6, 76530 Baden-Baden, Germany
Opened in 1872, Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa enjoys a distinguished reputation throughout Germany and beyond. The Shah of Persia, the King of Siam, and a young King Edward VII all stayed here at one point, drawn by the hotel’s remarkable Villa Stéphanie—one of the most advanced, not to mention scenic, medical spas in Europe (it’s set within a picturesque park, bisected by the Oos River). Overall, the hotel balances five-star accommodations with an intimate ambience, thanks to the fact that it’s family-run and has just 104 guest rooms. Interiors are classic but welcoming, and include several stylish public areas and dining options, from the Wintergarten (for Mediterranean cuisine) to the newer Fritz & Felix (a more cosmopolitan restaurant-bar hybrid).
Am Sandtorkai 36, 20457 Hamburg, Germany
Stretching for 1.5 kilometers within the HafenCity quarter, the Speicherstadt is the world’s largest integrated complex of warehouses. The district comprises a series of warehouses built on oak piles rising from canals dug deep enough to allow ships to pass. The district dates back to 1883. In 2015 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first in Hamburg. While in Speicherstadt, check out Miniatur Wunderland to explore the intricate layout of the world’s largest model railway.
Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Occupying a prominent space between Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz, this memorial (also known as the Holocaust-Mahnmal, or Holocaust Memorial) has almost 3,000 gray oblong pillars (stelae), arranged at varying heights, that form a kind of labyrinth intended to reference the disorientation felt by Europe’s hunted Jewish population. Designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman, it opened in 2005. The effectiveness of the labyrinth is arguable; you may see groups of teenagers playing tag and picnicking on and among the blocks. However, there’s no denying the power of the site’s underground information center, which relates some of the life stories of Holocaust victims. Several other smaller but related memorials are nearby, dedicated to homosexuals, gypsies, and victims of National Socialist euthanasia killings.
Domkloster 4, 50667 Köln, Germany
One of the most famous sights in Germany, the Cologne Cathedral (known locally as the Kölner Dom) lives up to the hype. Its Gothic exterior, and especially its soaring twin spires, can be seen from all over the city, and its immense interior—measuring a whopping 66,370 square feet—brims with religious and cultural treasures. While its first stone was laid in 1248, the cathedral wasn’t finished until 1880. Today, its highlights include the Altar of the Patron Saints of Cologne by Stefan Lochner, the carved oak choir stalls, and the stained glass windows, which range from 13th-century examples to a more recent (and striking) addition by contemporary artist Gerhard Richter. The real treasure, however, is the Shrine of the Three Kings—an impressive work of medieval gold craftsmanship that’s bigger and grander than any other in Europe. Take it all in, then climb the 533 steps to the viewing platform on the south tower for a look over the city and, on a clear day, out to the Siebengebirge. Also be sure to visit the treasury, which holds artworks made from gold, silver, bronze, and ivory, as well as holy relics and sculptures from the Middle Ages.
Neumarkt, 01067 Dresden, Germany
A recently rebuilt Lutheran church that was destroyed in the fire bomb raid that devastated this city in February, 1945. Original pieces of the church were used in its reconstruction and are a darker color.
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