Germany is a combination of cutting-edge cool and timeless tradition, wrapped up in a package of spectacular landscapes, vibrant metropolises and idyllic half-timbered villages, architectural masterpieces and fairy-tale palaces.
The world’s fourth-largest economy is also a powerhouse when it comes to spirit-lifting culture, with an extraordinary wealth of museums, a thriving art scene, renowned orchestras and high-octane nightlife.
And in a country that’s given the world the Hanseatic League and the Reformation among many other key moments in history, it’s no surprise that you'll find fascinating vestiges of the past around many a bend in the road. If you're visiting Germany for the first time, here are the highlights you shouldn't miss.
More than a generation after reunification, the German capital has become increasingly grown-up, but it hasn't surrendered its indie spirit and contagious energy. Berlin spoils visitors with classic and quirky diversions.
There’s haute cuisine in an ex-brewery, all-night parties in power stations, world-class art in a WWII bunker and the chance to chill in a river barge-turned-swimming pool.
Buildings marking milestones in history – the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie among them rub shoulders with 175 museums, including such top acts as the Pergamonmuseum, with its monumental antiquities, and the Hamburger Bahnhof, which boasts bold contemporary art.
Sweeping views unfold from the TV Tower and the Reichstag Dome, while down below, tourist boats glide past the Nikolaiviertel, the site of Berlin’s medieval beginnings.
The Bavarian capital is always happy to oblige when it comes to delivering on the clichés that visitors to Germany expect. Yes, Munich is indeed a city of bosoms in Dirndls and beer halls with oompah bands. But beneath the cutesy veneer lies a sophisticated, proud and wealthy town.
Art lovers can feast on fabulous canvases from the Middle Ages to today in the trio of Pinakothek museums or in the exquisite Lenbachhaus. Munich’s arc of masterful architecture spans from the medieval to the futuristic BMW Museum.
Cafe culture thrives in such boho-chic quarters as the Glockenviertel and the Gärtnerviertel, which also teem with trendy indie boutiques. One of Europe's most beautiful city parks, with its beer gardens and surfing wave, also invites a sightseeing break.
Romantic Rhine Valley
Few rivers have captured the imagination of artists and travellers so passionately as the Rhine.
It’s a landscape of magical beauty where legend-shrouded castles lord over villages full of half-timbered buildings, embraced by steeply terraced vineyards that yield some of Germany’s most fabled Rieslings.
Like a fine wine, this region needs to be savoured in sips, not gulps. It can be explored by car, train, bicycle, on foot and most romantically by boat.
Each village has its merits, of course, but highlights include Braubach with the mighty Marksburg Castle.
Germany’s most popular holiday route is the Romantic Road, a scenic ribbon of cultural, natural and historical riches. It meanders for 400km from Würzburg famous for its wine and Unesco-listed baroque Residenz palace where the Alpine foothills cradle King Ludwig II’s mock-medieval fantasy palace of Neuschwantein (which reportedly inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle).
The Bavarian Alps fan out from south of Munich and east to the Austrian border, and are an intoxicating pastorale of muscular mountains, clattering brooks, forests of towering evergreens and meadows smothered in wildflowers.
Steeped in timeless mystique, the Black Forest is a sylvan slice of Germany where patches of woods are indeed so dark and thick that one might expect to stumble upon the witch’s house in the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale.
Make it Happen
Frankfurt and Munich are the most popular airports, but there are dozens of others, many of them served by budget airlines such as easyJet and Germanwings. Germany has an excellent train network that links most towns, large and small.
It’s perfectly possible to travel in Germany without speaking a word of German, but it helps to master a few simple phrases. People are more likely to speak English in big cities, in the western part of the country and in tourist hotspots. Peak season is July and August but some holiday weekends in May and June can be busy too.