Abandoned airports, half-timbered beer taverns and breathtaking cable cars: Germany has tons to discover. To get the full picture of the diversity of what there is to do in Germany, combine the things you might expect, such as Lederhosen-clad locals drinking oversized beers, with those you might not, such as lemon, fig and almond trees in one of the country’s biggest wine-growing regions.
Stroll along the murals on the Berlin Wall
There are several places in the German capital where you can find remaining parts of the Berlin Wall, but the East Side Gallery stands out. The 0.8-mile (1.3km) stretch running parallel to the Spree River is covered in more than 100 murals, created by international artists following the fall of the wall.
One highlight is Dimitrji Vrubel's Bruderkuss depicting a kiss between high-ranking Soviet politician Leonid Breschnew and East German leader Erich Honecker. Another is Birgit Kind's image of a Trabant (Trabi) car crashing through the wall. Surrounded by many new apartment blocks and office complexes – some complete, some still under construction – this part of town also demonstrates the vast scale of redevelopment that has shaped Berlin since reunification.
Roller skate down a runway at Berlin’s abandoned airport
One of the largest urban open spaces in the world, the abandoned airport is a much-loved spot for many Berliners. Complete with runway markings, grounded planes and old hangars, the park, known as Tempelhofer Feld, is popular with kite-flyers, rollerbladers, picnickers and the occasional windsurfer. Between the concrete, wild greenery has also become home to some protected animals and rare plant species. The airport stopped operating in 2008, and the site was opened to the public in 2010. A history trail provides more information about the airport’s past, not least its vital role in providing supplies to the western part of the city during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949.
Visit the castle that inspired Walt Disney
Set against a dramatic mountainous backdrop, Germany’s fairytale castle perched on a hill has to be seen to be believed. Said to be the model for the Disney logo and castles found in parks around the world, Schloss Neuschwanstein was built as a retreat for King Ludwig II. A shy and somewhat eccentric man, the young king designed much of the castle himself inspired by medieval legends and the operas of Richard Wagner. Opened to the public just a few weeks after the king’s mysterious death in 1886, the castle is now one of Germany’s top tourist attractions and one of Europe’s most visited castles, a far-cry from its intended purpose as a private refuge.
Scale Germany’s highest mountain
With blue lakes, rocky peaks and bell-wearing cows galore, the Bavarian Alps are a must for lovers of the outdoors. The region has ample hiking and rock-climbing opportunities, as well as a large number of cable cars that help you gain height much faster. By far the most dramatic of these is the Zugspitze cable car on Germany’s highest mountain. In operation since 2017, this state-of-the-art construction includes the world’s longest unsupported rope span and the world’s highest steelwork pylon for an aerial tramway. Rising up from the stunning Eibsee lake, it ferries visitors to an epic top station that sits majestically on a rugged ridge almost 10,000ft (3000m) above sea level.
Sip a smoked beer in Bamberg
It’s not hard to find beer in Germany, but for something a little different, head to the Franconian town of Bamberg. The entire old city district is a Unesco World Heritage Site that has half-timbered taverns, small breweries and Rauchbier, its famous smoked beer. According to legend, Rauchbier was invented by accident, following a fire in a brewery, but it soon became a popular local tipple. Today, you can find Rauchbier all over town, but only two breweries still stick to tradition and kiln malt over an open wood fire: Schlenkerla and Brauerei Spezial. Keep an eye out for dishes that use the beer, such as pork-filled roasted onion served with mashed potato and Rauchbier sauce.
Hit the spa in the Black Forest
The curative mineral waters that bubble up from under the Black Forest have long attracted wellness fans to this region. In Baden-Baden, one of the area’s best-known spa towns, 12 thermal springs produce around 211,340 gallons of water every day, with temperatures as high as 154°F (68°C). Head here for old-world luxury and traditional baths, starting with an afternoon at the Friedrichsbad Spa. Opened in 1877, this grand Renaissance-style building comes with domed ceilings, elaborate frescoes and a 17-station bathing circuit. Submerge yourself in thermal whirlpools, hot-air baths and cold water before heading to a relaxation room with a free wake-up service.
Attach a padlock to a bridge in Cologne
One of the best ways to approach the world-famous Cologne Cathedral is by crossing the Rhine River on the Hohenzollern Bridge. You can take in the city skyline and watch large barges glide along the mighty river as the Gothic towers of the iconic cathedral loom ever closer. In 2008, people started attaching “love locks” to the railings that separate pedestrians and cyclists from the trains that rattle over the bridge into the Cologne’s central station. Most are engraved with couples’ names or initials, but some have other messages. The colorful sea of sentiment is great to photograph or perhaps even add to. Many throw the key into the water below as a sign of eternal love.
Explore the German Wine Route
The Deutsche Weinstrasse winds its way through the Pfalz (Palatinate) wine-growing region. Running from Bockenheim in the north to Schweigen-Rechtenbach on the French border, the 53-mile (85km) route connects picturesque towns, countless wineries and a number of Michelin-starred restaurants. Known for its Rieslings, this region also produces a large number of reds and lesser-known whites, not to mention many great rosés and sparkling wines (called Sekt in German). The moderate climate also allows almonds, figs, kiwis and lemons to thrive, creating something of a Mediterranean feel in the southwest of Germany.
Reflect on Nazi history in Nuremberg
Nuremberg’s imposing buildings bear witness to both the scale of the events and the megalomania of the Nazi regime. The Nazi Party Rally Grounds were used for party meetings, speeches and parades. Many of the structures on the site, such as the Zeppelinfield Grandstand and the unfinished Congress Hall, are still there and can be visited on a walking tour. Of course, after the war, Nuremberg gained a different significance for the Nazis. The Nuremberg trials saw a number of party officials and high-ranking military officers answer for their crimes in a process recognized for changing international criminal law. An informative documentation center, the Memorium Nuremberg Trials, can now be found on the top floor of the courthouse building where the trials took place.
Catch a concert at Hamburg’s impressive concert hall
Located on a peninsula in the former port district of Hamburg, the Elbphilharmonie, often affectionately called “Elphi,” is an architectural masterpiece. Opened in 2017, the concert hall consists of a glittering glass structure, made up of more than 1100 window panels sitting on top of an old red-brick warehouse. Check out the program of events or simply head up to the Elbphilharmonie Plaza for panoramic views across the city and along the river. The open-air platform is free of charge and wraps around the entire building.
Join locals for breakfast in a Munich beer garden
A traditional breakfast in Munich involves two white sausages, a pretzel, a dollop of sweet mustard and a glass of Weissbier. Best enjoyed in one of the city’s many beer gardens, the dish should be eaten before noon as it used to be in the days before refrigeration. Cooked and often served in warm water, the sausages come with a skin that needs to be removed – best to watch the locals to see how it’s done. Beer gardens are also great at other times of the day and can be a good option for families. Most have playgrounds for children or at least plenty of space to run around. You can also consume your own food in most areas as long as you buy drinks.
Try watersports on Germany’s glitziest island
Attached to the mainland by a narrow causeway, Sylt is the largest of Germany’s North Frisian Islands. The popular staycation destination has grassy dunes, sandy beaches and postcard-perfect lighthouses, as well as upmarket restaurants, designer shops and chic hotels that cater for a wealthier crowd. In fact, the island is sometimes referred to as the Saint-Tropez of the north or the Hamptons of Germany. Sylt is also a watersports hub. Thanks to the choppy surf off the western coast and the calmer waters of the Wadden Sea to the east, the island accommodates both beginners and those with more experience. It even attracts international champions taking part in events such as the Windsurf World Cup Sylt.