The South's Biggest Hits
- 2 Weeks
Follow this driving route linking the most storied stops in Germany's south, including majestic mountains, legendary rivers, historical towns, half-timbered villages and lordly castles and palaces.
Start in Frankfurt, where you can soak up culture in world-class museums, apple wine in traditional taverns and skyline views from the Main River promenade. Steer northwest to Koblenz, the gateway to the Romantic Rhine, a scene-stealing combo of steeply terraced vineyards, lordly medieval castles and higgledy-piggledy villages. Say hello to the legendary Loreley as you follow the western river bank south, perhaps stopping in postcard-pretty Boppard and fairy-tale-like Bacharach, or fancying yourself knight or damsel for a night in a luxurious castle hotel. The next morning, make a quick stop in Mainz, where Johannes Gutenberg ushered in the information age by inventing moveable printing type.
Next, follow in the footsteps of Mark Twain in bewitching Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town, with its imposing hilltop castle. Take a day's break from culture in Baden-Baden, the legendary spa resort where royals, celebrities, politicians and mere mortals have for centuries frolicked in elegant bathing temples. From here, go cuckoo for the Black Forest, an intoxicating mosaic of forest-cloaked hills, glacial lakes, snug valleys and half-timbered villages such as Gengenbach, Schiltach and Triberg. Build in at least a half-day in student-flavoured Freiburg, with its imposing minster; it's the place to enjoy crisp local wine al fresco amid tangled cobbled lanes.
From here, cut east to the vast Lake Constance and follow its scenic northern shore, perhaps stopping in pretty Meersburg, at the prehistoric Pfahlbauten (pile dwellings) or in Friedrichshafen, the birthplace of the Zeppelin airship. Consider overnighting in lovely Lindau, a teensy, alley-laced island. You’re now in Bavaria, en route to the fabled Schloss Neuschwanstein in Füssen and on to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where a train-and-cable-car combo delivers you to the top of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest Alpine peak. Come back down to earth in a beer hall in Munich before wrapping up your journey with a couple of days of oohing and aahing your way up the Romantic Road. Essential stops include Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Würzburg, from where it’s a quick drive back to Frankfurt.
- 1 Week
This itinerary hops around northern Germany to delightful cities shaped by the sea and a long mercantile tradition rooted in the medieval Hanseatic League. You can drive it, but thanks to fast and direct connections, it's just as easily done by train.
Kick off in cosmopolitan Hamburg, a maritime city that cradles an elegant historic centre, a converted docklands quarter, the red-brick Speicherstadt (warehouse district) and a gloriously seedy party and red-light district under its self-confident mantle. Venture on to enchanting Lübeck, where the landmark Holsten Gate is a shutterbug's favourite. Try the delicious local marzipan before heading to pastoral Schwerin, a cultural hub hemmed in by crystalline lakes; sitting pretty on an island in one of them is the much-photographed, golden-domed Schloss Schwerin. Carry on to Bremen, the northern terminus of the 'Fairy-Tale Road'. After greeting the statue of the Town Musicians, check out expressionist architecture, mummified corpses and the Beck's brewery before partying until dawn in Das Viertel. Steer north to Bremerhaven, the port of dreams for millions hoping for a better life in the New World. The superb German Emigration Centre tells their story.
Romans, Rivers & Rieslings
- 1 Week
This scenic journey folds grand architecture, absorbing history, world-class art and fine wine into once enticing package.
Start in Cologne, where you can stand in awe of the twin-spired Kölner Dom, explore engaging museums dedicated to chocolate, contemporary art or sports, and spend an evening guzzling Kölsch beer in a Rhenish tavern. Head to Aachen to walk in the footsteps of Charlemagne and to munch on a crunchy Printen cookie, then travel back in time another few centuries in storied Trier. More than 2000 years old, it's home to some of the finest Roman monuments north of the Alps. The following day, mosey along the Moselle River, which runs its serene, serpentine course past steep vineyards to meet the Rhine at Koblenz. En route, swoon over crisp Riesling in half-timbered Bernkastel-Kues or fairy-tale Beilstein, then compare it with wines grown in the slate-rich Rhine soil. Follow the Rhine south as it carves past picture-postcard villages including Boppard and Bacharach, craggy cliffs crowned by medieval castles and near-vertical vineyards. Wrap up in Mainz with its grand cathedral and fabulous museum dedicated to moveable type inventor and local boy Johannes Gutenberg.
Top of the Pops
- 2 Weeks
Bookended by great cities, this road trip is a fine introduction for first-timers that lets you sample the best of German culture, character, architecture and landscapes.
Kick off in Berlin to sample its top-notch museums, old and bold architecture and nice-to-naughty nightlife. Next, drive to showstopping Dresden, sitting proud and pretty in its baroque splendour on the Elbe River. Push south to Nuremberg, with its evocative walled medieval centre, and on to Munich to wrap up a day of palace- and museum-hopping with an evening in a beer garden. Head to Garmisch-Partenkirchen to breathe the fresh Alpine air on an exhilarating train-and-cable-car trip up the Zugspitze, then get up early the next day to beat the crowds swarming 'Mad' King Ludwig II's Schloss Neuschwanstein in Füssen. In the afternoon, point the compass north for the Romantic Road, possibly overnighting in Dinkelsbühl or Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Next, cut west to historical Heidelberg, with its romantically ruined fortress, then north to Worms and Mainz with their majestic Romanesque cathedrals. After a night in enchanting Bacharach, follow the Romantic Rhine through fairy-tale scenery before winding up in cosmopolitan Cologne for church-hopping, great art and rustic beer halls.
Tour de Germany
- 4 Weeks
With a month at your disposal, this epic trip offers the mother lode of soul-stirring landscapes and villages but also lets you experience urban edginess in Germany's top cities. It's best done by car but a train-and-bus combo is also an option.
Base yourself in Berlin for a few days and add a one-day excursion to park-and-palace-filled Potsdam. Putter around – preferably in a kayak or canoe – the canal-laced Spreewald before embarking on a quick detour to Görlitz on the Polish border, one of Germany's best-preserved small towns. Set aside two days to get properly acquainted with the cultural riches of Dresden, then continue on to Weimar and Erfurt to walk in the footsteps of Germany's greatest intellects – from Luther and Goethe to Gropius.
Spend the next three days exploring a trio of evocative medieval gems: compact Bamberg with its romantic old town; the powerhouse of Nuremberg that is also (in)famous for its Third Reich legacy; and Regensburg, a lively university town founded by the Romans and studded with medieval townhouses overlooking the coursing Danube. Wend your way towards Munich via the enchanting Altmühltal Nature Park, best savoured slowly, on foot, by bike or by boat.
Make a study of Munich for a few days, perhaps folding day trips up the Zugspitze and to King Ludwig II's Schloss Neuschwanstein into your itinerary. Continue west to Lake Constance, where stops should include enchanting Lindau and picture-perfect Meersburg. Revel in the youthful university spirit of ancient Freiburg for a day, then steer north for scenic drives through the Black Forest, ending in Baden-Baden for the night. Relax in the town's thermal spas before moving on to Heidelberg, with its ancient student taverns and charismatic ruined castle. Cut across the Rhine to Speyer for a spin around its Romanesque cathedral, then compare it to its upriver cousins in Worms and Mainz.
You're in the heart of wine country now, so sample the local tipple in idyllic villages such as Bacharach or Boppard as you follow the Romantic Rhine north through dramatic castle-studded scenery. Your grand tour culminates in Cologne; its magnificent cathedral will come into view long before you've reached town. Its great museums, Romanesque churches and Rhenish joie de vivre will easily keep you entertained for a day or two.