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This may be northern Europe, but southern Germany positively glows. From the amber in the giant beer mugs to the golden sunshine in Freiburg to the sparkle of glorious alpine lakes, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg deliver warmth in more ways than one.

When you’re not tramping up glorious mountains and through lush meadows, or pottering down medieval lanes and alleys, the delights of this region are best appreciated by car. Germany’s roads are excellent, and the region’s landscapes might make you want to pull over and gawk in wonder. So when Germany’s tourist-heavy destinations are all sold out, here are some of our favorite road trip highlights from two of the country’s most picturesque states.

Street Cafe in Regensburg, Germany.
Regensburg was largely spared during World War II, which means its warren of streets and alleys remains © letty17 / Getty Images

Listen for music in the hills in Bavaria

Riverside Regensburg is home to one of only two Roman relics still standing north of the Alps – and it shows. What was once a remote Roman camp morphed into a convenient stopover for Charlemagne and the Carolingians. Eventually, the construction of a stone bridge across the Danube in the 10th century CE transformed Regensburg into a critical regional trade center, a position it held until the discovery of the Americas shifted trade routes west.

Unlike the rest of Germany, Regensburg was largely spared during World War II, which means its warren of streets and alleys remains much the same as it was a thousand years ago (or even two!). Even the Stone Bridge is intact, and it’s a thrill to stroll across it in the footsteps of crusaders who were once on the long march to Jerusalem (although hopefully you won’t be as preoccupied with holy war as they were).

While the medieval vibes are extremely fun, Regensburg is livelier than ever. Sure, there are museums both serious and quirky (golf fans, take heed), but the history here is for interaction. Don’t miss, for example, the Wurstkuchl next to the Stone Bridge, which has been slinging bratwurst, sauerkraut and Bavarian sweet mustard since 1135.

Young man hiking on valley path, Oberstdorf, Bavaria, Germany
You can enjoy the Bavarian Alps from behind a car windshield, but if you have the chance you should definitely go for a hike © Manuel Sulzer / Getty Images

You’ll be glad you had that extra wurst when you get into the Bavarian Alps. Even if you’re not hiking, the altitude and dramatic views alone are enough to make you hunger for some rib-sticking grub. Germany is home to only a small sliver (relatively, that is) of the Alps, but the peaks’ proximity to a major hub like Munich means that not only are they accessible, but you get to marvel at the mountains shooting up suddenly from the central German plain.

You can enjoy the Alps from behind a car windshield or over the rim of an oversized beer stein on the wooden terrace of a ski chalet, but if you have the chance to hike, absolutely do. The sweaty exhaustion of a few hours’ uphill journey makes the magnificent experience of rounding a bend and catching sight of jagged, snowy peaks as far as the eye can see all the sweeter. You wouldn’t be the first to burst into a spontaneous yodel (as soon as you catch your breath).

Some of Germany’s best hiking can be found in the Berchtesgaden National Park, as well as the region’s most picturesque mountain lake, the Königssee. To enjoy both, try the hike that travels from the southern end of the Königssee to Obersee.

Woman enjoying a view of lake Konigsee from ferry boat
The Königssee is a beautiful turquoise mountain lake with Alps views in Bavaria © Anastasia Shavshyna / Getty Images

Soak up the sun in Germany’s Med: Baden-Württemberg

Bavaria has the Alps, but Baden-Württemburg has the Black Forest. Start from the Schwabentor in Freiburg im Breisgau: day trippers can hike 800m from here to the adorable lookout tower on top of the Schlossberg, then survey the gabled houses, medieval street plan and storybook plazas before catching the Schlossbergbahn cable car back down the hill for a schnitzel lunch, Weizenbier, and a nap.

Serious walkers can carry on from the Schlossberg into the Black Forest. A 10.5-mile hike delivers you to the 11th century Saint Peter Abbey; a different 15.5-mile hike leads to Kandel Mountain, where medieval punters hunted witches. Keep your eyes peeled for the shapeshifting witch Gfällrote; you’ll know her by her two immortal canine companions and her wicked red eyes.

Downtown  Freiburg in Germany
Freiburg enjoys 2000 hours of sunshine a year – temperature-wise, it’s the warmest city in Germany © querbeet / Getty Images

Freiburg is a welcome respite from the deep, dark witchy woods. Not only are the cafes that spill out onto the plaza friendly and gemütlich, but the city itself also enjoys 2000 hours of sunshine a year – temperature-wise, it’s the warmest city in Germany. See if you don’t find it warm in other ways as well.

Clear across the state, straddling the borders of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Lake Constance is a scenic place to cool off. The German bit of the lake’s 168-mile shoreline is known as the Obersee; from the lakeside promenade at Friedrichshafen, you can gaze across the lake’s expanse at the spires of the Swiss Alps beyond.

German Zeppelin Museum
Friedrichshafen is known as the birthplace of the Zeppelin © Binder Medienagentur / Getty Images

Aside from the stunning views, Friedrichshafen is known as the birthplace of the Zeppelin. In the 1890s, the excellently named Constance-native scion, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, became a pioneer in the field of aeronautics when he invented the first passenger Zeppelin, a cigar-shaped ship fueled by hydrogen gas. The full story is available at the Zeppelin Museum, and actual Zeppelin rides are available to ferry the fearless over the lake to soak in the fantastic views over three countries. For those who have been paying attention, this won’t be another Hindenburg disaster; Zeppelins these days are powered by non-flammable gas.

When you’re back on terra firma, get off it again – and dive into the lake for a swim. The Strandbad Friedrichshafen is a convenient, public swimming spot right on the lake with a grassy strip for sunbathing, a snack bar, and even hot showers if you’re willing to part with 20 cents. After you’ve worked up an appetite, head to s’Wirtshaus am See, a jolly lakeside restaurant where you can sample lake perch or stodgier traditional fare like Allgäuer Käsesuppe (cheese soup) or Schweitzer Wurstsalat (Swiss sausage salad).

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