Today I’m running through my top 10 places to visit in Germany that aren’t painfully obvious. That means your Berlin, your Munich, your Neuschwanstein-Disney Castle all gone. Why? Because listicles can be irritating enough without someone stating the obvious like, “Berlin is a place in Germany to visit! It’s got history! There was a wall. And now there’s not! (mostly).”
Instead, I’m showing off my favorite spots around the country that I don’t think I would’ve ever found without living and traveling around here for four years.
So, los geht’s, as they say.
First off, the Ahrtal.
This has been one of the biggest surprises I’ve come across in my time living in Germany.
I literally found it just by scrolling and clicking around on Google Maps, so for once that wasn’t a thorough waste of time!
Turns out, it’s a lesser-celebrated wine region that’s just as worthy of your love as the much-more traveled Mosel region. I’ve been twice, first staying in tiny Walporzheim a short walk from the train station, and the second time in Altenahr for a trail race.
You’ve got hikes, good wine, and impressive sights (Ahrweiler Markt). Suffice it to say, there’s plenty to love about the Ahr Valley.
Baden-Baden is plenty popular with German tourists for some spa time and relaxation. (Baden means bathing, so in English it’s technically “Bathing-Bathing” which sounds like a weird town name but just go with it.)
For me, Baden-Baden was a great jumping-off point for the Black Forest with plenty of short and long-distance hiking trails skating across the hills and through the trees. You’ve also got great rail access to other destinations around the Black Forest and even eastern France if you’re so inclined to hop over for some stanky cheese.
Düsseldorf and the Rhineland
Yeah, I lived here for three years and got part of this region tattooed onto my right shoulder, but Düsseldorf and the Rhineland aren’t just on the list for sentimental reasons.
Düsseldorf really is a fun city to visit with a proud Japanese community serving up tasty noodle and sushi dishes along Immermanstraße. If you’re the partying type, it’s also home to the längste Theke der Welt or the longest bar in the world.
Basically, it’s just a bunch of bars in the Old Town that are technically connected. But a fun fact nonetheless.
For me, my favorite thing to do was go for a walk along the Rhine or hop on the train and head south for a day hike along the Rheinsteig.
Heidelberg and the Neckar River
Heidelberg is on the verge of being an obvious recommendation but it makes the list because it’s a great hub for another long-distance hiking trail called the Neckarsteig. So after you’ve had a day or two to admire this university town, you can pick up the Neckarsteig from Heidelberg Castle and continue onward to lesser-traveled corners of the region.
Most international travelers make a beeline for Garmisch-Partenkirchen when visiting the Bavarian Alps for the first time. I, however, followed a tip from a fellow travel writer and spent a few days in Mittenwald hiking in and out of Austria and devouring the best damn schnitzel I’ve ever had. That’s cheese and blueberries, people! I mean, holy salivating goodness.
The blueberries make it healthy.
Monschau remains my favorite village in all of Europe. It’s got that medieval, Deutsch-y configuration we all love but with its own aesthetic that I struggle to describe, so I just took pictures instead.
From here, you’ve also got hiking trails going into the surrounding Eifel National Park. Monschau also makes an appearance in my Germany tattoo, so you know it’s good.
The Mosel Valley itself is somewhat of an obvious pick but I’m going to give you some spots that aren’t as overrun with tourists –– AKA –– not Cochem (picture).
It’s nice but the retrospective lack of social distancing makes me anxious to this day.
You can always hike through Cochem to catch a scenic glimpse of town, but I spent my nights in Moselkern, Ediger-Eller, and Beilstein. Moselkern gave me quick access to the ever-popular Burg Eltz (just go early to beat crowds), Ediger-Eller is full of Mosel wine to indulge in, and Beilstein looks like this, so… Yeah.
I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve seen it before. The streets around here give you that fairytale vibe travelers expect out of a medieval town or village. And hot damn, Quedlinburg delivers. I was dumbfounded that there weren’t more tourists roaming around. I visited in late May, no less, which is a month chock full of bank holidays in Germany.
Not that I’m complaining. I was plenty content to roam around these streets on my own.
Saxony Switzerland National Park
This park is a world unto itself with its glorious mix of wild Utah’s alien landscape and Pacific Northwest greenery. It’s a short train outside of Dresden or you can set up shop for a few days in a town like Bad Schandau.
Whatever you do, make sure you dive into this park for hours on end. Hike the Malerweg––or Painter’s Trail––deep into the eastern edges of the park toward the Czech border and don’t just visit the Bastei. It’s cool, but you get the same views around sites like Schrammstein. There’s just no bridge, but there’s also a fraction of the tourists. When I went, I was blissfully alone.
Travel + Germany does not usually equal beach, but it does in Usedom––a Germany island on the Baltic Sea.
Yes, Germany has islands and this one, in particular, is worth visiting if you dig solid, casual seafood straight from the source. Make like the locals and reserve your own Strandkorb or, Hell, rock out on the beach in your birthday suit. Just make sure you’re doing it in the designated areas so you don’t scar a small child for life.
And those are my top 10 places to visit in Germany that aren’t painfully obvious. Leave a comment if you have a question or let me know what your favorite spot in Germany is.
Until next time, remember that classic German motivational saying, Kleinvieh macht auch Mist or small cattle also make poop.
Looking for more Germany? Check out the Germany off the beaten path travel guide, my top things to do in Germany, the most important German travel phrases, and how to ride the German train system. Want something more literary? Read chapters from my upcoming memoir on moving to and living in Germany — There Must Be Order.