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33 Things To Do In Germany: Travel Tips From A German Transplant

This list of 33 things to do in Germany was compiled to give travelers like yourself an easy, digestible overview of what unique and popular sights you can find across the country complete with the occasional clip from my time as host of The Germany Travel Show (click here for more on that). To go more in-depth, follow the links below, watch the videos, and check out the off the beaten path guide. If you’re interested in something more literary, you can read a few chapters from my upcoming book on moving to and living in Germany. Have more questions about traveling to Germany? Contact me to set up a consultation.

Now, let’s get on with these 33 things to do in Germany.

Cycle the Berlin Wall Trail

Berlin Wall tourism is what brings millions of travelers to the German capital every year. Of all the mass tourism in the world, this one bothers me the least. I’m all on board for people coming to learn about how stupid border walls are through the tragic history of the Berlin Wall. That said, hotspots like Checkpoint Charlie can get obnoxiously crowded, especially in European summer. A breezy way to see the Berlin Wall sights is to sign up for a tour with Berlin on Bike. Tour guide Sascha Möllering has encyclopedic knowledge of the history made all the more interesting when coupled with his own personal anecdotes of growing up in the former German Democratic Republic. The obvious joy he stills gets cycling through Brandenburg Gate, the ease of doing such a thing in borderless Germany, is wonderful to see.

Tip: Read more things to do in Berlin.

Make Instagram Happy at Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz

If you follow any travel blogger on Instagram or a Germany-specific account, you’ve seen moody shots of Burg Eltz — perhaps one of the most fairytale-looking castles in all of Germany. (Except this castle is where the villain lives in the story.) You can roll your eyes all you want at the number of people setting up their shot of the castle, but there’s a reason so many people visit Burg Eltz — and why it gets so many repeat travelers. Avoid crowds by hiking up to the castle before it opens and plan your visit in the fall. This will help you get your foggy, moody shot without anyone ruining the picture. (Tourist season ends October 31st in the Moselle region, which is a good time to visit the castle. But don’t wait too long. It eventually closes for the year and doesn’t re-open again until April 1.)

Hike and Bike Along the Moselle

Moselle River

Speaking of the Moselle, this is a region you really should spend a few days in — at least. You can hike the Moselsteig from town to town (I did Moselkern, Beilstein, Ediger-Eller, Trier) or cycle the flat road parallel to the river. You always have trains and ferries as backup options if your legs get tired.

See Germany’s Roman Ruins in Trier

Most people associate the Roman Empire with Italy, but empires being empires, the Romans stretched their map throughout western Germany. Trier is one of the most intact Roman cities still around in Germany. The most Romanesque of the ruins is the Potra Nigra (black door or black gate) which still serves as the entrance to the city’s old town. You can walk around inside before continuing to some of the old Roman baths. (If contemporary history is more your jam, then you can check out all things Karl Marx. The communist philosopher was born in Trier.)

Drink Lüttje Lage in Hanover

Press play to skip ahead in this episode of The Germany Travel Show where I drink a Lüttje Lage

Drinking Lüttje Lage involves holding two drinks in one hand. You’ve got your middle finger wrapped around your schnapps behind a small glass of beer, held by your index finger, and thumb. You stand straight up and tilt your head backward as you pour both into your mouth at the same time. (Do not tilt the glass or you’ll spill all over yourself.)

Das Viertel in Bremen

Unless you’re a German travel pro, you’ve probably never heard of Bremen, but it quickly jumped to the top of my personal list of favorite German cities thanks to its artsy Das Viertel corridor covered in street art. It felt like a mini Berlin of sorts. Follow the main road (Ostertorsteinweg) and wander around the cobblestone side streets to your heart’s content. Hungry? Check out Cafe Piano. (Beer drinkers, take note that although Craft Bier Bar is just outside of Das Viertel, it’s a stop worth making. They have the largest selection of German craft beer I’ve seen yet.)

Hike Into Sauerland

Hiking in Germany Rothaarsteig

Sauerland is an underappreciated hiking region within Germany full of small towns and trails you’ve never heard of. It’s also where you start to get some decent elevation (at least, coming from western Germany). Take the train out to Hagen, a gateway city of sorts to Sauerland hiking, and try the Drei Türmer Weg or start in Brilon and pick up the Rothaarsteig to Willingen and Winterberg.

Cycle the Rhine Velo Route to Xanten

Official EuroVelo routes criss-cross the European continent. Since Germany is smack dab in the middle, we’ve got plenty of our own routes. One I specifically enjoyed was the Rhine Velo route, which traces the Rhine River from the Netherlands to Switzerland (or vice verse). Try cycling it up to Xanten to visit another (but smaller than Trier) Roman city.

Wander the Gardens of Schwerin Castle

Schwerin Castle (or Schwerin Schloss on your Google Maps) seems to be a lesser-traveled castle (by foreigners, at least) despite being one of the most ornate castles I’ve seen in Germany. If you’re traveling between Hamburg and Berlin, it’s worth the stop to frolic around the castle gardens.

Party at the Hamburg Fish Market

The Hamburg fish market is a sight to behold. It runs just once a week, on Sundays (5 – 9:30 a.m. or 7 – 9:30 a.m. in the winter), but the crowd is a stupefying mix of older shoppers getting groceries and young partiers still drunk from the night before, rocking out to live music. Of all the things you can do in Hamburg, this is the one that truly separates it from the rest of Germany.

Grab a Fish Sandwich in Kiel

Kiel is just about as far north as you can go in Germany before you’re slipping into Denmark. A lot of massive cruise ships start here, which is the last reason I’d recommend going. On the contrary, go for a fresh fish sandwich and a summer stroll along the boardwalk.

Get Your Strandkorb on in Usedom

Germany has islands. It’s true. Quite a few, in fact. No, they’re not dangling down in the Mediterranean, but come summer, you can get plenty of beach time on these Baltic Sea sands. A typical German thing to do would be to rent out a Strandkorb, essentially a beach chair that’s slightly fancier than what you’re imagining, and chill out for the day — probably naked. (Also while in Usedom, eat more fish.)

Aachen Cathedral

Visiting churches isn’t really my thing, but Charlemagne’s Aachen Cathedral is an obvious exception to the rule. Besides being as visually pleasant as you’d expect a church of a Roman emperor, you’re also surrounded by Germany’s typically walkable Old Town-style streets.

Drink Kölsch in Cologne

Beer drinkers are probably familiar with Kölsch either by name or experience. When you realize that Cologe in German is Köln, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that this is where that beer style comes from. Don’t expect to get much else from the Köbse (waiters) no matter where you go, so you might as well visit some of the best traditional joints. Früh, Zum alten Brauhaus, and Brauereiausschank Severin all come to mind.

Walk, Drink, and Eat Japanese in Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf Germany Rathaus

Picking just one thing to do in my hometown was impossible, so I’m cheating and suggesting a walk where you can do most of my favorite things in the city. With visitors, I often start at the Heine Haus in the Old Town and guide theme around the city center. We’ll meander up to Rattingerstraße for some Alt Bier (the beer of Düsseldorf) at Füchschen Brauerei before heading over to the Rhine. On weekends, you’re likely to find a different festival setting up every week on the banks of the river. Once it gets too cold for festivals, the Germans make the most of the season by setting up the Weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas Market. If you’ve got energy in your legs, walk over to Immermanstraße to eat in some Japanese restaurants, like Naniwa and Soba-An (Düsseldorf has one of the largest Japanese immigrant populations in the world). Keep the eating going in Flingern at 485 Grad (the Hellboy with chorizo and honey chili is one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had — I do not exaggerate).

Visit Kurt Vonnegut’s Bunekr in Dresden

Seestrasse Dresden Germany

Much of the inspiration for Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five came from his experience of surviving the firebombing of Dresden as a POW in a bunker. You can sign up for a tour of the bunker with Nightwalk Dresden. While you’re in town, Dresden rebuilt Old Town is arguably one of the most impressive on the continent and the Neustadt neighborhood across the Elbe River is full of interesting street art.

Industy Lives At Landschafts Park

Landschaftspark Duisburg Germany

Duisburg’s Landschaftpark sits in the middle of Germany’s Rust Belt. Like in the U.S. Rust Belt, once prosperous towns now struggle with the loss of obsolete industrial jobs. What Germany’s done that the U.S. could learn from is they’ve repurposed some industrial sites as public parks where visitors can learn about the industrial and labor heritage of the region. Landschaftspark is just one prime example just outside of Düsseldorf.

Völklinger Hütte

If something like Landschaft Park is your jam, then you’ll dig Völklinger Hütte in Saarbrücken as well. It’s not near any major travel hubs, but it’s worth the effort if you either happen to be in the area or simply want to continue your German industrial education.

Watch The Munich Surfers

Of all the images Munich and Bavaria conjure up, surfing probably isn’t one of them. Nonetheless, it’s precisely what you’ll find people doing down year-round at the Eisbachwelle in the Englischer Garten.

Hike the Bavarian Alps

Austria, Switzerland, Italy — they get all the credit when it comes to the Alps. It’s fair, but Germany has its own slice of Alpine life in Bavaria. Garmisch-Partenkirchen would be your most popular spot, but just as I got sent to Mittenwald (off a tip from a writer friend), so too will I send you there. From Mittenwald you’re surrounded by mountains and hills you can hike with great food along the way. Head out to Ferchenbach and Lautersee with a stop at Gasthaus Ferchensee, meander over into Austria to hike along the cliffs over the Geisterklamm, and reward yourself with a beer at Brauereigaststätte Postkeller and then the best damn schnitzel I’ve had yet — Gasthaus zur Romerschanz’s version with melted cheese and blueberries.

Settle Into The Black Forest

Baden-Baden Germany

After Bavaria’s Oktoberfest, the Black Forest is probably what comes to mind when people think of Germany. Indeed, this is where many of those Brothers Grimm fairytales come from that have since been Disney-fied. More importantly to contemporary Germans, it’s where you find spas on spas on spas. Baden-Baden, a town whose name would literally translate to “Bath-Bath,” is just one example of a spa town in the Black Forest, but one I highly recommend visiting for a few days. Plus from here, because it’s Germany, you can hike in any direction from town. (If you’re into castle ruins, then do the jaunt over to Altes Schloss.)

Visit Heidelberg

Walk the Philosophenweg in Heidelberg, across the Alte Brücke into the historic old town and back up to one of the most intricate castles in all of Germany, Heidelberg Castle. From here, you can pick up the Neckarsteig Trail just outside of the garden and head east to make like Mark Twain in A Tramp Abroad and visit some smaller towns along the river, like Neckargemund, Neckarsteinach, Hirschhorn, and Eberbach.

Drink German Wine in Mainz

Mainz is arguably the urban heart of Germany’s Riesling wine country. That means you can occupy yourself during a visit to Mainz with plenty of Wein trinken in the various Stubes around town. If you’d like something a bit more formal, you can sign up for a tour that includes a stop at the wonderful Weinkontor Kessler store.

Apfelwein and Green Sauce in Frankfurt

Keep that liver treatment going by drinking some traditional Apfelwein (apple wine) in Frankfurt. Although it does taste a bit like apple juice, don’t let that deceive you. You may feel like you can drink the night away with this stuff, but there is still alcohol in there. I could probably count the number of debilitating hangovers I’ve had in my life on one hand. One of them came at the hands of Apfelwein. Complete the traditional Frankfurt experience with some green sauce at Zum Gemalten Haus.

Drachenfels Ruins and Drachenburg Castle

Drachen-Schloss-Castle-Siebengebirge-Germany

Know what’s a cool name for a castle? How about — Dragon Castle. That’s precisely what’s waiting for you in the Siebengebirge region just outside of Bonn. From Königswinter you can hike up into the hills, visit the castle, and go even higher for the ruins complete with amplified sounds of a dragon growling. (If you visit during the Christmas season, Drachenburg turns into a Christmas Market.)

Snap a Pic at the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt

Merchant's Bridge in Erfurt, Germany

Last year Germany celebrated 500 years of Martin Luther and all the complicated history that comes with the religious leader. In the German state of Thuringia, you’ll find all kinds of stops along the Lutherweg or Luther Trail. Erfurt is the capital of the state and is a natural launch point for religious travelers. Even if you’re not religious or are a bit disinterested with the history, Erfurt is nonetheless a great city that shows how far some places in the former GDR have come. The Krämerbrücke (Merchant’s Bridge) is an especially popular stop for photo-hungry tourists.

Hideout in Wartburg Castle

To summarize the history, Martin Luther pissed off the Pope and had to hide out for a bit in Wartburg Castle above the town of Eisenach. While in hiding, he translated the Bible into a more commonly spoken form of German, essentially modernizing the German language. Besides the history, it’s a scenic jaunt up to the castle and the castle itself is, as German castles tend to be, an impressive sight with expansive views of the surrounding region.

Hibernate In Monschau

Monschau, Germany Skyline

Just outside of Eifel National Park, Monschau is, in my opinion, the most beautiful town in all of Europe. This is the kind of place I’d love to hibernate in to write my next book. You can easily walk the entire town in an afternoon, but there’s an aesthetic to the place that warrants staying at least a day or two.

Hike To Vogelsang In Eifel National Park

Urft River Bike Trail in Eifel National Park, Germany

In case you couldn’t tell, Germany has more hiking trails than anyone could possibly know what to do with. Another prime example of the country’s multi-stage trail system are the Eifelsteig and Wildnis trails cutting through Eifel National Park. Lovely small towns surround the region, but there’s a darkness within the woods — Vogelsang, a former Nazi brainwashing camp. The Belgians took it over after the war, removing all signs of its Nazi past, but the site is back in German hands and now serves as a historical museum. There’s something understandably eerie about walking around such a place. Thankfully, you can always dip back out into the serenity of Eifel National Park.

See Where We Come From in the Neander Valley

Hiking on the Neanderlandsteig in Germany

Just a scenic bike ride or easy train journey away from Düsseldorf is the Neander Valley. Tour de France cyclists rode through here in the second stage of the 2017 race, but it’s better known as the place where the first Neanderthal remains were found. As a result, they’ve opened up a museum (just around the corner from a train station) and have carved hiking trails around the region, including yet another multi-stage trail — the Neanderlandsteig.

Real-Life Disney At Neuschwanstein Castle

You know the Disney Castle at the beginning of all their films? The one in the amusement park? Yeah, well, it was inspired by King Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein. I haven’t been myself, but chances are you weren’t waiting for me to tell you to go or not. If you’re in this area, it just makes sense to go. Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s visited the castle has said it’s worth it.

Head Up to the Brocken and Through the Harz

Ending on another one I haven’t done yet, but I’ve got plans to tackle this in May/June 2019. The Hexenstieg stretches across the Harz mountains in central Germany, climbing up to the Brocken where legends say witches once lived. In fact, they’re the witches referred to in Goethe’s Faust. Not coincidentally, Goethe (and Heine) hiked these trails way back when. Besides following in the scenic footsteps of Germany’s literary heroes, you’re also surrounded by even more fairytale towns, like Wernigerode and Quedlinburg. I’ll be reporting back next year.

Take the Train Out of Germany

Outside Hamburg German Train Station

Saving the last tip in this list of things to do in Germany to help you get to wherever you’re going next. This one is directed more toward North American readers who might not be as familiar with the joys of fast, relatively reliable train travel as Europeans. Germans will complain plenty about Deutsche Bahn, but relative to the world, it’s as phenomenal as it is extensive. You can truly get just about anywhere with Deutsche Bahn or public transportation. Truly, one of the greatest joys of living here is the ability to reach a different country, culture, and language in as little as an hour (Netherlands) or a few more (Paris). Hell, I’ve taken an overnight train from Düsseldorf to Vienna and easily got to Verona, Italy with a quick transfer in Munich. Trains and the ability to easily connect with people from different countries is just as much a part of modern German culture as anything else on this list. (Read more about the German train system and how to ride it here.)

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