For grand castles and gritty industrial architecture, half-timbered taverns and edgy techno nightclubs, head to Germany.

Explore culture-rich cities like Berlin or Hamburg; dive into the great outdoors by visiting epic mountains and national parks; or examine to modern history and reminders of a divided past. Here are some of the top things to do across the country.

Pedestrians and cyclists walk on the runway of the abandoned Tempelhofer Feld airport in Berlin, Germany
Tempelhofer Feld, a former city airport, is now a gathering place for Berliners to cycle, roller skate and picnic © hanohiki / Shutterstock

1. Skate down the runway at Berlin’s abandoned airport

Complete with runway markings, grounded planes and old hangars, Tempelhofer Feld in the south of Berlin is a much-loved spot in the city. The airport stopped operating in 2008 and opened as a park two years later. 

Today, it is roller skaters and cyclists who accelerate down the tarmac, while the greenery is used for picnics, community gardens or just to hang out. Look out for the information boards telling the story of the site, including its vital role during the Berlin Airlift from 1948 to 1949. 

Local tip: In summer, the airport is a good spot for a barbeque – just make sure you stick to the designated areas.

The Ruhrgebiet in western Germany was once a global hub for coal mining and metal production. Since its decline, the area has undergone a major makeover – with repurposed industrial infrastructure at the forefront.   

Highlights include the Zeche Zollverein, a former coal-mining complex now home to museums, cultural spaces and an outdoor swimming pool; and Landschaftspark Duisburg-North, a decommissioned ironworks with a diving center in the gasometer and climbing walls in the old ore storage bunkers. 

Planning tip: For a full list of locations to visit, check out the Industrial Heritage Trail (Route der Industriekultur).

A cable car station with viewpoint pearched at the top of a mountain with snowy peaks stretching into the distance
The cable car is a pricey but wonderful way to head up Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain © ON-Photography Germany / Shutterstock

3. Scale Germany’s highest mountain 

The Bavarian Alps have fantastic hiking and climbing routes, as well as cable cars that help you gain height a bit faster. The most awe-inspiring of these is the modern Zugspitze cable car on Germany’s highest mountain. 

In operation since 2017, this state-of-the-art construction has the world’s longest unsupported rope span and an epic top station perched on the rocky summit. While the journey doesn’t come cheap, the views are spectacular. 

Planning tip: If possible, leave time to walk around the Eibsee lake at the base of the mountain. In warmer weather you can also go for a dip in the strikingly blue water.

The Deutsche Weinstrasse connects vineyards, villages and a number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the attractive Palatinate (Pfalz) region. The 53-mile (85km) route can be done as a road trip and provides a great introduction to the country’s vino.  

Renowned for rieslings, this area also produces several other whites as well as an increasing volume of reds. Thanks to a moderate climate, you’ll even spy figs, kiwis and lemons growing here.

Detour: For a lesser-known wine region, head up to Rheinhessen. Here, locally-based company BottleStops offers excellent tours in English.  

People walk past a series of padlocks attached to railings on a bridge
Padlocks are symbols of couples' undying love on the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne © PHOTO BY PRASIT CHANSAREEKORN / Getty Images

One of the best ways to approach Cologne Cathedral is to walk across Hohenzollern Bridge. Take in the city skyline and watch large barges glide along the Rhine below as the famous gothic towers loom ever closer.

In 2008, people started attaching “love locks” to the bridge’s railings. Most are engraved with couples’ names or initials, with the key thrown into the water as a sign of eternal love.

The former Nazi Party Rally Grounds are located on the edge of Nuremberg. With many of the imposing structures still standing, such as the Zeppelinfeld Grandstand and the unfinished Congress Hall, the large site is an eerie place to walk around. 

Elsewhere, the Memorium Nuremberg Trials examines the process that saw leading Nazi figures answer for their crimes and shaped the future of international criminal law. If not in use, you can visit the courtroom where the trials were held.

A clifftop castle surrounded by mountains and woodland
Schloss Neuschwanstein is a 19th-century Romanesque Revival palace built for King Ludwig II © bluejayphoto / Getty Images

Set against a beautiful mountain backdrop, this fairy-tale castle has to be seen to be believed. Said to have inspired Disney, Schloss Neuschwanstein was built as a retreat for “mad” King Ludwig II.

Opened to the public just a few weeks after the king’s mysterious death in 1886, it 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.

Planning tip: As with any major tourist attraction, avoid the crowds by arriving early or visiting outside of peak season.

8. Hit the spa in Baden-Baden 

The mineral waters in the Black Forest have long attracted wellness fans to this region, in particular to Baden-Baden. Home to 12 thermal springs, the well-known spa town is perfect for a bit of pampering and luxury. Even celebs love it.

Get started at Friedrichsbad, a grand Renaissance-style building with domed ceilings, elaborate frescoes and a multi-station bathing circuit. Submerge yourself in thermal whirlpools, hot-air baths and cold water before heading to a relaxation room with a handy wake-up service.

A man stands on a sandy dune and stares out over the beach towards the sea on a sunny day
Sylt is a staycation hot spot in Germany’s North Frisian Islands © Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

9. Try water sports on Sylt, Germany’s glitziest island

Sylt is the biggest of Germany’s North Frisian Islands and a top staycation destination. Sometimes referred to as the "Saint-Tropez of the north" or the "Hamptons of Germany," it has grassy dunes and sandy beaches, as well as upmarket restaurants and hotels that cater to a wealthier crowd.

It is also a water sports hot spot. Thanks to choppy surf off the western coast and calmer waters in the Wadden Sea, the island accommodates both beginners and those with more experience.

Planning tip: Sylt is no secret and can be very busy during the summer months. Book ahead if you plan to visit then. 

Known for its cheese, the Allgäu region is home to alpine dairies, cow-filled meadows and wooden farmhouses. Best explored by bike, you’ll find several routes that pass different producers.

Staples include Bergkäse (mountain cheese) and Allgäuer Emmentaler. Don’t worry if the shops are closed; it won’t be long before you stumble upon a cheese-filled vending machine. 

Local tip: Be sure to visit the soft cheese experts at Hoimat in Eschach. The young team behind this small business have created a stylish shop and cafe in a gorgeously restored barn.

Embrace your inner culinarian with the best things to eat and drink in Germany.

It’s not hard to find beer in Germany, but for something a little different, visit the beautiful Franconian town of Bamberg. Here you’ll discover the local tipple Rauchbier (smoked beer), best enjoyed in a cozy, half-timbered tavern. 

According to legend, Rauchbier was invented by accident following a fire in a brewery. Today, the beer is served in many places, but only two breweries still stick to tradition and kiln malt over an open wood fire: Schlenkerla and Brauerei Spezial

Local tip: Keep an eye out for the beer in dishes such as pork-filled roasted onion served with mashed potato and Rauchbier sauce.

Detail from Berlin's East Side Gallery featuring Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing
The East Side Gallery displays artworks on old sections of the Berlin Wall © turtix / Shutterstock

12. Stroll along the murals on the Berlin Wall 

There are several locations in the German capital where you can see remaining parts of the Berlin Wall, but the East Side Gallery stands out. The 0.8-mile (1.3km) stretch running parallel to the river Spree is covered in murals created by international artists following the fall of the wall, including Birgit Kind's iconic image of a Trabant (Trabi) car. 

Surrounded by many new apartment blocks and office complexes – some complete, some still under construction – this part of town demonstrates the vast scale of redevelopment that has shaped the city since reunification.

Local tip: For a more sober look at the impact of the divide, head to Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer at Bernauer Straße. This outdoor memorial includes another original piece of wall.

Berlin-based writer Barbara Woolsey gives us the intel on the city's famous club scene with How Berlin is ushering in a new era of club culture.

Standing proudly on a peninsula in Hamburg, the Elbphilharmonie or “Elphi” is an architectural masterpiece. Opened in 2017, the concert hall consists of a new shimmering glass structure sitting atop 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.

Local tip: Some harbor boat tours go past the outside of the building, allowing you to see it from a different angle. 

Located on the outskirts of Munich, Dachau was one of the first concentration camps to be built and later became the first memorial of its kind in Germany. Known as KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau, you can wander around the site, including the tree-lined camp road and the roll call area – all overlooked by watchtowers.

Permanent exhibitions provide extensive information about the camp and the prisoners, as well as what happened after liberation. Entrance is free and all texts are provided in English and German.

Planning tip: The memorial is easy to reach using public transport from Munich. Take the S-Bahn (S2) to Dachau station and pick up the 726 bus from there. It drops you right outside the entrance.

A brick factory building with an exterior spiral staircase
Artists have turned Leipzig's old industrial spaces into hubs of creativity © Andreas Bauer / Getty Images

Fans of Berlin’s edge should also visit Leipzig. The former East German city is constantly evolving and appeals to artists and designers, many making use of empty industrial spaces.

Discover alternative neighborhoods, cool projects and edgy installations, before exploring connections to creative masterminds of the past. Leipzig is where Richard Wagner was born, as well as where Mendelssohn and Bach lived for many years.

Sandstone pinnacles and tabletop mountains create this unusual landscape in the east of the country. Germany’s only non-alpine rock national park, Saxon Switzerland (Sächsische Schweiz) is a haven for sporty types. The best-known spot is the Basteibrücke, a magnificent stone bridge between two towers of rock. 

Detour: Easy to reach by car or public transport, the nearby city of Dresden is where you’ll find landmarks such as the Zwinger Palace and the reconstructed Frauenkirche.  

Hit the trails with these 6 incredible hikes in Germany.

17. Spend an afternoon in a Munich beer garden 

Beer gardens are central to Munich life. As soon as the good weather hits, locals head to their favorite one for a cold beer and a chinwag with friends. You’ll also often see groups celebrating birthdays and other events at the long tables.

While all serve lager by the liter, each garden has a USP. Go to Seehaus in Englischer Garten for drinks by a lake, Paulaner am Nockherberg for a modern in-house brewery or laid-back Biergarten Muffatwerk for some organic grub.   

This article was first published Sep 26, 2021 and updated May 10, 2024.

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Panorama of Marienplatz square with New Town Hall and Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Lady).


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