Several years ago, if you told me I’d visit Germany nearly 10 times in the course of a few years, I likely would have asked, why?
It’s not that I didn’t think Germany was beautiful, or worthy or exploring. But, more so, there are so many other fantastic places to visit in the world- what would draw me back to Germany time after time?
As it would turn out, a lot of things.
Gorgeous castles, charming Christmas markets, great wine, beautiful hikes, cool cities, unbelievable festivals, and beautiful, old towns- just to name a few.
Very quickly, Germany became one of my favourite places in Europe, especially when I moved to London and flying to Hamburg, Berlin, Munich or Cologne for a weekend jaunt became easy.
Even though I’ve been to Germany several times and see different parts of the country, there’s still so much I’d like to return and see.
If it’s your first time visiting Germany, don’t try to do it all. Pick one or two regions, and make the most of your time in them. Even though there’s still so much I’d like to explore in Germany, these five places would be at the top of my list for first time (or return!) visitors.
5 Unbelievable Spots in Germany You Can’t Miss
Having visited Neuschwanstein, I knew Germany was home to some pretty epic castles, but I hadn’t heard of Burg Eltz before.
Looking up Burg Eltz, I realised I could visit it in a weekend if I flew into Frankfurt or Cologne. Having heard good things about how cool of a city Cologne was becoming, I booked a Saturday am flight and late Sunday return, planning to visit Burg Eltz and the Mosel Valley on Sunday.
From Cologne, you can easily drive to Burg Eltz, but if you’re like me, and prefer taking transit, it’s also possible to get to the castle- just takes a tad longer.
Eltz castle is unlike any other castle in Germany, it’s deeply hidden in the woods. You don’t even see it driving on roads near the castle- you have to either hike down to it, or hop on the shuttle service to the entrance.
If you choose to walk, there are two paths to take- a quicker, steeper one down a paved road (there’s a nice overlook on this route), or a less step, slightly longer, scenic walk through the woods.
Walking up to the castle took my breath away. It felt as if I’d stepped into a fairy tale. If you take the scenic route, you turn a corner, and suddenly, amidst trees, the castle comes into view.
Burg Eltz is a beautifully well preserved castle. The center area was build in 1290, almost 200 years before Christopher Columbus set out for America.
It’s never been destroyed, and has remained in possession of the original family since it was built.
The castle is only open for tours from April-November. You can visit the castle during the off months, but won’t be able to go inside. I visited at the end of July and decided to do the guided tour (€10) to see more of the castles rooms (there are over 100 of them).
As far as enchanting castles go, Burg Eltz is a strong contender.
It’s tough to pinpoint just one thing that makes Burg Eltz so wonderful- it may be that it’s hidden from view, or that it sits atop a giant rock in the middle of a lush forest, or that it’s so well preserved and easy to imagine what it’d be like to live there.
Whether you’re visiting Cologne, Frankfurt or driving through Germany, I can’t recommend stopping at Burg Eltz and a few of the towns along the Mosel River enough.
A day full of magic.
Even though I only had a few hours in Cologne, on a weekend venture to see Burg Eltz, I loved my time seeing a bit of the city, and am eager to return one day.
Whether you’re short on time like I was or can take a bit more leisurely pace to exploring the city, don’t miss out on:
- Wandering through the historic part of the old city centre, Altstadt has beautiful colourful houses and quaint side streets. The Market Row (row of brightly coloured houses) has been there for decades
- Gazing up at the towers of the Cologne Cathedral (also known as Koln Do- it’s the most iconic feature of the city. The towers dominate the skyline, it’s a cathedral whose gothic architecture makes it a must visit
- Strolling the Hohenzollern Bride, stretching across the Rhine. For most people arriving by train, it’s their first glimpse of the city. Walking across, you’ll see thousands of love locks secured to the bridge’s iron railings. If you walk the whole way across, you’ll have a great view of the cathedral and city from across the river
- Cruising down the Rhine River
- Visiting the Lindt chocolate museum
- If you’re hungry in Cologne and on a budget as I was, Cafe Rico does great coffee, and the Bay Area Burrito Company is like Chipotle/Chilango, but so much better. Because I saved money on lunch and dinner, I decided to treat myself to a nice cocktail at Seiberts, a famed speakeasy for having the best garden terrace and drinks in Cologne
At first, Berlin was a stop-over city for us. While planning a trip to Oktoberfest, I wanted to see another city in Europe, but it had to be one that was a short flight from Munich, and ideally nearby Amsterdam. Berlin just so happened to fit the geographic bill.
Prior to visiting, I’d heard mixed things about Berlin- some people I knew loved it, others felt like there were other (and better) places to visit in eastern Europe. I understand why people may not like Berlin on their first visit-compared to other European cities, it’s not the most beautiful or friendliest. Look below the surface though, and you’ll hopefully see it’s a city with rich history that has a lot to offer.
On a day packed with exploring the city, we planned a stop at the Berlin wall.
Growing up, we learned about the Berlin Wall in history class. I thought I understood (to some degree) what it meant and what it stood for- but visiting the memorial, I was taken aback by how chilling it was.
Until you’re walking along the memorial, you don’t realize just how split the city was, and the impact those decades had on residents, past and present. I’d recommend making time to visit the memorial, no matter how long or short your trip is. We spent a little over two hours here, but you can adjust how much you see based on the amount of time you have.
Frequently spotted on Pinterest and in Instagram pictures, Neuschwanstein is one of the most well-known castles in the world. Many know it as the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Yet, others know it for its sight alone- a castle sitting atop a rocky ledge in the Bavarian Alps, it looks like something straight out of a fairytale.
Neuschwanstein is located in Bavaria, near the town of Fussen. King Ludwig II, also known as the “Fairytale King” built the castle.
Ludwig loved Richard Wagner’s (the great composer) work, and Neuschwanstein was built in his honor. Many of the castle’s rooms are inspired by Wagner’s characters. What’s more, the word “Neuschwanstein” literally translates to “New Swan Castle”, a reference to “the Swan Knight”, one of Wagner’s characters.
The castle overlooks the Hohenschwangau valley, a beautiful part of the Bavarian Alps. It was meant to serve as a place for escape for Ludwig, who was known for being a bit of a recluse.
Ludwig began building the castle in 1869, and because he wanted the castle to be perfect, it was still in construction 17 years later when Ludwig died. At his death, only 14 of the rooms inside the castle were done. Cost to build the castle was extraordinary, and to this day, the castle remains unfinished.
The rooms that are finished though, are stunning. The throne room is designed in a majestic Byzantine style, and there’s even an artificial cave. No photos are allowed inside the castle, so you’ll have to visit for yourself to see how beautiful it is.
Before or after your visit to the castle, walk ~15-20 minutes to the Marienbrucke Bridge. Just follow the signs to the bridge from the castle, and you’ll be treated to great views of the below valley, as well as of the castle itself.
In truth, I was on the fence about visiting the Neuschwanstein Castle until the day before going when I finally booked a reservation. I wanted to visit the castle because it looks like a literal fairytale come to life in the mountains of Bavaria. But, friends of mine who had visited the castle said they weren’t too impressed with the experience. They compared it to other castles in Europe, which are much older and have the historical presence Neuschwanstein lacks.
All said though, I’d recommend visiting Neuschwanstein. I booked my visit as part of a Grayline tour, which meant I saw two beautiful castles, visited a Bavarian town and drove part of the Romance Road, allowing me to see parts of Bavaria I would have otherwise missed.
Nowhere is the yuletide celebration more evident than at German Christmas markets. It is, after all, the country where a lot of present day holiday traditions started.
German Christmas markets are like stepping back in time, usually set outdoors in charming town squares. Each market has dozens of wooden booths filled to the brim with crafts, food and drinks.
The tradition of Christmas markets dates back to the 14th century in Germany, attracting nearly 200 million people a year.
Present day, most are referred to as Christkindlmarkt or Weihnachtsmarkt. Set outdoors in idyllic town squares, usually in city centers, each market is composed of dozens of wooden booths, selling trinkets, holiday decor and tasty food.
Can’t forget the presence of gluhwein! The beverage of choice across the Christmas season, gluhwein is red wine served hot with spices, cloves and sometimes citrus. When you order gluhwein, you pay for both the wine and a deposit on the mug, usually €2-4. If you don’t return the mug, they simply keep the deposit. I’m not much of a souvenir person, but I do enjoy collecting one mug for every market I visit.
My first holiday season living in Europe, I travelled to Munich to visit the city’s main Christmas market in Marienplatz and took a day trip to Nuremberg before continuing on to see the markets in Vienna.
Everything I’d imagined German Christmas markets to be we found in Munich and Nuremberg– gingerbread, gluhwein, wooden booths selling homemade crafts, giant pretzels and bratwursts, piping hot Spatzle, caroling- all the elements that make a Christkindlesmarkt great.
Munich’s Christmas market is one of the bigger ones, spanning across many blocks. I’d recommend doing a lap around before deciding to try food/drink or buy anything. We ended up spending a few hours at the market on the day we visited, but it should be noted- much of that time was spent cheersing gluhwein in tents fireside.
And, everything I’d imagined German Christmas markets to be we found in Nuremberg. As you walk down the cobblestone street to the main market in Nuremberg, you can’t help but be impressed by its size. With over 200 vendors, it’s one of the most famous Christmas markets in the world, drawing over 2 million visitors annually.
Have you ever been to Germany? Which places in the country would you recommend to a first time visitor?
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Other Posts You May Enjoy
- A Fairytale Reality at Burg Eltz
- A Charming Day in Bremen
- 48 Hours in Berlin
- 10 Things to do in Munich
- Christmas Magic in Nuremberg
- A Weekend in Hamburg, Germany
- Winter Wonderland Lives in Nuremburg
- What to Know About Oktoberfest Before You Go
- A Fairytale Day at Neuschwanstein
- A Whirlwind Weekend in Cologne