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Rolling hills in the Black Forest region of Germany
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The 19 best things to do in Germany

The best things to do in Germany are a conveyor belt of the best things to do in travel. Nature, culture and more await

Written by
Eliza Apperly

Germany is a remarkable country. Few states around the world bring together history, culture and nature like this place, and few have been as influential. More than 30 years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall brought about Germany’s reunification, and a leading international player was reborn.

What are the best things to do in Germany? We’re glad you asked because running through them is a real treasure. Every corner of the country provides something stunning, from architectural wonders in the north to sweeping forests in the south. You can’t go wrong with Germany. The food? That also happens to be delicious.

Best things to do in Germany

Climb the Reichstag dome

1. Climb the Reichstag dome

The Berlin landmark has been a distinctive site for German politics and identity ever since the February 1933 fire that enabled Hitler to impose emergency law and consolidate his one-party state. Bombed during the war, disused under East German rule and buttressed by the Berlin Wall, it became the modern home of the German parliament in 1999. Book online to visit its glass dome, offering great views across the capital and a timeline of the building’s turbulent history.

Visit the Holocaust Memorial

2. Visit the Holocaust Memorial

Just south of the Brandenburg Gate, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe defies the conventions of a typical memorial. Featuring no names, dates or focal points, it consists of 2,711 concrete slabs of varying height arranged in rows with narrow, undulating paths in between. The site is free and accessible day and night, 365 days a year, but go first thing in the morning or just after dark if you want to reflect in solitude.

Swim in the Königsee

3. Swim in the Königsee

Freshwater paddling is one of Germany’s greatest pleasures, with thousands of spectacular lakes across the country, from sparkling Alpine pools to mellow waters in the pine forests near Berlin. If you have to choose just one, head to Königssee in Bavaria’s Berchtesgadener Land, a pristine beauty flanked by startling mountain faces. To work up a sweat before you dive in, take the short trek up to the Malerwinkel, a shady woodland clearing with sublime views down to the water.

Say hallo to Elphi

4. Say hallo to Elphi

The Elbphilharmonie, or “ElPhi,” is the pride and joy of Hamburg’s skyline and one of the most acoustically advanced auditoria in the world. On a dramatic peninsula of the Elbe river, the spectacular building combines a vast red-brick harbour warehouse with a soaring glass structure, shimmering with reflections of the sky and surrounding water. Even if you don’t manage to get tickets for a concert, the building itself is well worth admiring from the outside, or from the public Plaza viewing platform, with its 360-degree view of the city and harbour.

Bike through the Black Forest National Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Bike through the Black Forest National Park

Tucked between the genteel spa centre of Baden-Baden and the market town of Freudenstadt, the 100-square-kilometre Black Forest National Park is the Schwarzwald region at its untamed and evocative best. Whether or not the Brothers Grimm based their stories on this wild and wooded area, there’s sure a fairytale whisper through its deep valleys, high mountains, and near-pristine coniferous forest. Visit the National Park Centre in Ruhestein for maps, bike and hike routes and great discovery trails for kids.

Stay the night like a Bauhauser at the Prellerhaus
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Stay the night like a Bauhauser at the Prellerhaus

With more than a century of Bauhaus brilliance now in the pocket, immerse yourself in the ethos and aesthetics of this pioneering art school with an overnight stay in its original studio building in Dessau. Badly damaged during WW2, the Prellerhaus is now meticulously restored to its Bauhaus days—a haven of clean lines, minimal forms and great washes of sunlight. For extra authenticity, you can book a room dedicated to a specific practitioner like Alfred and Gertrud Arndt, Josef and Anni Albers or Franz Ehrlich.

Swing a Stein in Chinesischer Turm beer garden

7. Swing a Stein in Chinesischer Turm beer garden

From May through September, Germans flock to biergartens, and nowhere more so than Munich. For a picture-book experience, head for Munich’s Chinesischer Turm, a vast beer garden at the heart of the Englischer Garten, centred around a pagoda-styled building. Sit down at one of the communal tables, order your Stein, and tuck into some Schweinshaxn (roasted pork knuckle) if you get hungry. En route, swing by the Eisbachwelle, the man-made surf spot that is one of Munich’s most incongruous and enjoyable sights.

Wander above the Sea of Fog at the Hamburger Kunsthalle
Photograph: Kotomi Yamaura

8. Wander above the Sea of Fog at the Hamburger Kunsthalle

The Hamburger Kunsthalle in Hamburg is one of the most important museums in Germany, spanning 700 years of European art history. Swoon at major works by Holbein, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Rembrandt and van Dyck, and the paradigm of German Romanticism—Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. Don’t miss out on the Kunsthalle’s exciting exhibition program, which includes a strong run of women artists to offset all those Old Masters.

Max out on Schloss at Neuschwanstein

9. Max out on Schloss at Neuschwanstein

If you’ve seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Disney’s Cinderella, you’ve already seen something of the outlandish Schloss Neuschwanstein—a favourite movie set inspiration and the most infamous architectural project of “Mad King Ludwig.” Constructed in the late 19th century, the castle was conceived by the notoriously profligate Bavarian monarch both as his private retreat and as a vast tribute to Richard Wagner. One of Germany’s most famous attractions, the Schloss can only be visited on a 30-minute tour.

Admire Charlemagne’s throne at Aachen Cathedral

10. Admire Charlemagne’s throne at Aachen Cathedral

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Aachen Cathedral may be smaller than the Cologne Dom, but in historical significance and atmosphere, it is both older and more serenely situated than its Rheinland counterpart. Emperor Charlemagne´s own Palatine Chapel, built between 793 and 813, constitutes the nucleus of the building, with further enlargements added during the Middle Ages. Charlemagne was buried here in 814, with more than 30 German emperors later crowned on his white marble throne. 

Call by Karl Marx’s house

11. Call by Karl Marx’s house

It’s been 200 years since Karl Marx was born in this picturesque house in Trier in southwest Germany, but his intellectual legacy is as influential and inflammatory as ever. Whether you salute him as a prophet of disastrous globalized capitalism or condemn him as an enabler of tyrannical communist regimes, you’ll find fascinating material on his ideas and their reach in this birthplace-turned-museum. Devotees be warned: there is a flagrantly capitalist gift shop featuring, among other marked-up souvenirs, Marx champagne.  

Sweat in Liquidrom’s saunas
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/mac42

12. Sweat in Liquidrom’s saunas

Only slightly less fanatical than the Finns, Germans love to sweat it out. Historic spa towns, thermal baths and elaborate sauna complexes span the length and breadth of the country, revered for their health and relaxation benefits. Unless you opt for a Hamam, which typically offers male or female-only hours, be prepared for a naked and all-gender experience. With its striking architecture, four (nude) saunas, and a saltwater pool with underwater electro music, Liquidrom in Berlin is a particularly modish choice.

See art in a bunker named Bunker

13. See art in a bunker named Bunker

Bunker, the concrete behemoth on the corner of Reinhardtstrasse and Albrechtstrasse in Berlin, is one of many Nazi-era bunkers designed to be indestructible and have indeed proven too expensive to tear down. Fifteen years ago, this one was acquired by advertising bigwig Christian Boros, who converted the cavernous space into a home and gallery for his contemporary art collection. Book online to join a guided tour of the remarkable building and rotating exhibitions featuring the likes of Kitty Kraus, Santiago Sierra and Guan Xiao.

Hit the seaside in Rügen

14. Hit the seaside in Rügen

You might not think of Germany as a beach destination, but with its white-sand shores, national parks and beautiful copses of chestnut, oak and elm, the Baltic coast has Riviera charm aplenty. Beloved by Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein and Caspar David Friedrich, Rügen is Germany’s largest island and the jewel in the Ostsee crown. As well as 60km of sandy beaches, you’ll find great sailing, extensive bike trails and dramatic white chalk cliffs. For quirky neo-classicism and bygone seaside grandeur, don’t miss the 19th-century resort of Putbus.

Explore the Stasi Headquarters

15. Explore the Stasi Headquarters

In Berlin’s eastern Lichtenberg district, the Stasi Museum is located in the same mammoth, grey concrete complex that was once the Stasi Headquarters. A permanent exhibition details those who worked for the Stasi and the insidious and oppressive methods they employed, but the chilling centrepiece of the museum is upstairs. In the preserved offices of Erich Mielke, Minister for State Security from 1957 and one of the most despised and notorious officials in East German history.

Work a creative web in Leipzig’s Baumwollspinnerei
Photograph: Shutterstock

16. Work a creative web in Leipzig’s Baumwollspinnerei

For those who think Berlin has sold out, Leipzig is a popular next port of call. Crumbling during GDR times, this historic university city has seen such a boom in the last decade that locals worry about the survival of its green spaces, affordable rents and underground nightlife. Before the “Hypezig” gives way to private investors and concept club nights, visit the creative hub of the Baumwollspinnerei, a sprawling former cotton mill turned vibrant community of galleries and artist studios.

Visit the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism

17. Visit the Munich Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism

Compared to other German cities, Munich has taken longer to confront its Nazi heritage, despite being the historic “capital of the movement” and home to the Nazi party apparatus. The Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism sets out to correct this absence with an unflinching interrogation of the local origins—and continued consequences—of the Third Reich. Afterwards, walk down to the Haus der Kunst, the site of the Nazi’s notorious “Great German Art” exhibition.

Revisit the Middle Ages in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

18. Revisit the Middle Ages in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Set in the Tauber valley between Stuttgart and Nuremberg, this astonishing walled town is arguably the most authentic throwback to medieval Europe you can find. Formerly a Free Imperial City, its narrow passageways boast a near seamless run of half-timber houses, stately towers, remarkable churches and an imperial castle. For ultimate Rothenburg romance (and quiet once the tourist buses have departed), stay the night at the Burg Hotel, offering panoramic views across the valley, a beautiful cloister garden and sumptuous four-poster beds.

Take the cable car up the Zugspitze

19. Take the cable car up the Zugspitze

At 2,962 m above sea level, the Zugspitze is the highest mountain in Germany. Bridging the border with Austria, it promises a rousing dose of Alpine air and knockout views, stretching across four countries and some 250 kilometres on clear days. In hiking season, walkers can take one of five routes to the summit; a swifter ascent runs on the cogwheel train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to idyllic Lake Eibsee and on in the Zugspitze cable car.

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