Germany is blessed with some of Europe's most high-powered sights. There's spectacular scenery — the jagged Alps, flower-filled meadows, rolling hills of forests and farms, and mighty rivers — dotted all over with castles and churches of every variety. In Deutschland's idyllic half-timbered villages, you can enjoy strudel at the bakery or sip a stein of beer while men in lederhosen play oompah music. And don't overlook the “real” Germany of today — a world of high-tech trains, gleaming cities, social efficiency, and world-class museums celebrating many of history's greatest cultural achievements.
At a Glance
▲▲▲ Munich Lively city with a traffic-free center, excellent museums, Baroque palaces, stately churches, rowdy beer halls, convivial beer gardens, and beautiful parks (such as the English Garden) — plus the sobering concentration camp memorial at nearby Dachau.
▲▲▲ Southern Bavaria and Western Tirol Pair of Alps-straddling regions (one in Germany, the other in Austria) boasting the fairy-tale castles of Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, and Linderhof; inviting villages such as the handy home base Füssen, Austrian retreat Reutte, and adorable Oberammergau; the towering Zugspitze and its high-altitude lifts; and hiking, luge rides, and other mountain activities.
▲▲▲ Salzburg (Austria, just over the border) and Berchtesgaden Austrian musical mecca for fans of Mozart and The Sound of Music, offering a dramatic castle, concerts, Baroque churches, and an old town full of winding lanes; plus nearby Berchtesgaden, soaked in alpine scenery and Nazi history.
▲▲▲ Berlin Germany's vibrant capital, featuring world-class museums, gleaming modern architecture, and trendy nightlife, along with evocative monuments and reminders of the Wall that once divided the city and country.
▲▲ Rothenburg and the Romantic Road Well-preserved medieval city full of half-timbered buildings and cobbled lanes surrounded by walkable medieval walls; jumping-off point for the "Romantic Road" scenic route through lovely countryside and time-passed towns, including Dinkelsbühl and Nördlingen.
▲▲ Rhine Valley Mighty river steeped in legend, where storybook villages (including charming home-base towns Bacharach and St. Goar) cluster under imposing castles, such as Rheinfels and Marksburg.
▲▲ Mosel Valley Peaceful meandering river lined with tiny wine-loving cobbled towns, such as handy Cochem and quaint Beilstein, plus my favorite European castle, Burg Eltz.
▲▲ Nürnberg City with old-fashioned sandstone core and great museums, with reminders of Nazi past thoughtfully presented on the outskirts of town.
▲▲ Dresden Art-filled city offering exquisite museums, Baroque palaces, a pleasant riverside promenade, and hard memories of a notorious WWII firebombing.
▲ Baden-Baden and the Black Forest High-class resort/spa town of Baden-Baden, with decadent bath experiences, a peaceful riverside stroll, and a grand casino; lively university city of Freiburg and cozy village of Staufen; and a thickly forested countryside rife with healthy hikes, folk museums, cute hamlets, and cream cakes.
▲ Würzburg Home to the impressive Residenz palace (with manicured gardens and dazzling Rococo chapel) and lively wine bars.
▲ Frankfurt Europe's bustling banking center, offering a stunning skyscraper skyline and a look at today's Germany.
▲ Trier Germany's oldest city, with a lively pedestrian zone and imposing Roman monuments, including the Porta Nigra gate.
▲ Cologne Spectacular Gothic cathedral looming above a busy, museum-packed city on the Rhine River.
▲ Lutherland Charming university town of Erfurt, where Martin Luther spent his youth; Wartburg Castle, where he hid out from the pope's goons; and Wittenberg, where he taught, preached, and revolutionized Christianity.
▲ Leipzig Formerly derelict “second city” of East Germany, now rejuvenated (if architecturally dull) with excellent Bach and Cold War sights.
▲ Hamburg Big port city with emigration, World War II, and Beatles history — and Las Vegas-style nightlife.