Things to Do in Germany
Located close to the Austrian border and soaring to a height of 9,718 feet (2,962 meters), the snow-crowned Zugspitze is Germany's highest mountain and one of its most popular ski resorts. The views from the top are spectacular, spanning the German and Austrian Alps.
A vast tract of untended land southeast of Nuremberg's medieval city center, the Nazi Party Rally Grounds were once the stage for some of Adolf Hitler's most infamous and dangerous speeches during the rise of the Third Reich. The nearby Documentation Center museum chronicles the terrors inflicted by the Nazi party during World War II.
The Holsten Gate (Holstentor), a medieval city gate that marks the border of Old Town in Lübeck, Germany is known for its two imposing iron-clad turrets. Dating back to 1464, the landmark—which is also known as the Crooked Gate due to the seemingly sunken south tower—is now home to a museum about Lübeck’s medieval past.
The waters of the mighty Rhine split Cologne in half, and the city is united across a series of seven bridges, with none more splendid than the spans of the Hohenzollernbrücke, which stretch 1,342 feet (410 meters) across the river in three great steel arches.
This spectacular city landmark is almost as famous as Cologne’s twin-spired Gothic cathedral – the largest in Europe – and was completed in 1911, with four railway lines joining Cologne to cities across Europe. German troops destroyed the bridge at the end of World War II in the face of advancing Allied soldiers but it rose phoenix-like once more in 1948. Today it is both a pedestrian and rail bridge with around 1,200 trains passing over it daily and pairs of equestrian bronzes punctuating both ends.
A curious tradition has recently grown up around the Hohenzollernbrücke; lovers affix padlocks to its sides and throw the key into the Rhine in exchange for eternal love. So far the city fathers believe over two tonnes of extra metal is now attached to the bridge.
Opened in 2017, the Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic) is a striking work of modern architecture on the banks of the Elbe River in Hamburg. Made with 1,096 individual glass panes, it houses two concert halls, as well as a hotel and residential apartments. The halls’ acoustics are considered among the best in the world.
The Karl-Theodor-Bridge (Alte Brucke) in Heidelberg is a sandstone pedestrian bridge that goes across the Neckar River linking the old town on one side with the Neuenheim district on the other. It was built in 1786, and even though there were several other bridges before it in this location, it was the first one made of stone. On the city side of the bridge, there are two towers that once formed part of the city walls. They contain old dungeons which were used to hold criminals. Between the towers, you can see a plaque honoring the Austrian troops who helped defend the bridge against an attack from the French in 1799.
Another feature visitors will notice is a statue of a monkey holding a mirror. The monkey represents the idea that neither those who lived within the city walls nor those who lived outside the city were any better than the other, and that they should look over their shoulder as the cross the bridge to remember this. Other sculptures on the bridge include a monument to Prince Elector Carl Theodor, who had the bridge built, and one devoted to the Roman goddess Minerva.
One of two places of worship in the center of Leipzig, St. Thomas Church is home to the remains of composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who once worked as the church’s music director. The current building dates to the end of the 15th century, and the roof above its vaulted ceiling is one of the steepest in Germany. Martin Luther preached at St. Thomas on Pentecost Sunday in 1539, but the church may be best known for the St. Thomas Boys’ Choirs founded centuries earlier, in 1212.
A 223-foot (68-m) church tower rises above the surrounding skyline, featuring four bells that ring hourly and on the quarter hour. The church contains two organs, one of which was built in semblance to Bach's in the Paulinekirche—as well as a Gothic altar. Next to the church is a sculpture of Bach, added in 1908.
The Neues Palais (New Palace) is the largest 18th-century structure in Potsdam’s Sanssouci Park. Situated on the western side of the park, the building was completed under Prussian King Friedrich II in 1769. It is the last palace that Frederick the Great built in the Potsdam park grounds — no further baroque palaces were built in Germany after this one. Once the royal residence during the German Empire (1871-1918), the New Palace is made up of opulent main reception rooms, beautiful galleries, and luxurious royal apartments.
Today, the New Palace is home to the University of Potsdam’s philosophy department, and various other institutes. Out of the 200 palatial rooms, some 60 can be viewed by visitors. Among these are the Grottensaal (Grotto Hall), the Marmorgalerie (Marble Gallery), and the guest apartments. The Visitor’s Hall is located in the historic Südtorgebäude (South Tower), and is a reception point for groups of visitors as well as a multimedia information center for adults and for children. A bronze model located here allows blind and visually impaired visitors to literally get a feel for the park. The New Palace also has an on-site restaurant (Fredersdorf), which combines the fresh, modern kitchen with a royal backdrop.
Spread across nine levels and showcasing over 160 rare vehicles and car-related artifacts, Stuttgart’s Mercedes-Benz Museum is a must-visit destination for automotive enthusiasts. Debuted in 2006 next to the city’s Daimler factory, the museum is also an architectural marvel, thanks to its sleek, double-helix design.
With its imposing Gothic façade and dramatic twin towers, the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) is the city’s most recognized landmark. Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the magnificent cathedral is one of the most important in Germany and dominates the city skyline.
More Things to Do in Germany
The grand gateway to Unter den Linden Boulevard and Tiergarten Park, the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) is one of Berlin’s most recognizable landmarks. Built by Prussian kings, this monumental gate stood strong through World War I and the Cold War, becoming a symbol of reunified Germany and a poignant reminder of Berlin’s tragedies and triumphs.
Spectacular and historic Freiburg im Breisgau, commonly known just as Freiburg, sits on the edge of the mountainous Black Forest in southern Germany, a photogenic old city that was founded in 1120 that lays claim to having the most sunshine in the whole country. Life in this vibrant university city centers on the Altstadt’s cobbled and arcaded Rathausplatz (City Square), lined with Gothic churches and civic buildings interspersed with buzzy cafés and bars. The tangle of surrounding streets are stuffed full of medieval buildings, from half-timbered and gabled townhouses to the massive 11th-century Gothic Münster (Minister) encrusted with sculptured biblical scenes and adorned with dazzling stained-glass windows. One of the Freiburg’s stranger constructions is the bizarre Stühlinger Kirche (Stühlinger church), completed in 1897 and topped with bright-green tiled spires.
Freiburg’s proximity to the Black Forest National Park makes it the number-one base from which to explore its vineyards, pretty villages, crystal-clear lakes and scenic hiking trails; several way-marked walks begin at the Schlossbergbahn cable-car station just outside town. It is also close to Germany’s answer to Disneyland; Europa-Park is located near Freiburg at Rust, and has a vast array of rides, shows and amusements for a day packed with family fun.
The Frauenkirche in Dresden was built between 1726 and 1743. Its dome collapsed on Feb. 15, 1945, during the bombings of World War II. After the war, the ruins of the church were left as a war memorial. Once Dresden and the rest of East Germany were reunified with West Germany, reconstruction on the church began and was completed by 2005. As much as possible, the reconstruction of the church followed the original plans and methods and used the original materials. The church now serves as a symbol of reconciliation.
The reconstruction of the church was supported by donations from people all around the world. In order to honor those who donated, the church set up an exhibition area, which explains what was left after the destruction and what was was needed to start the rebuilding process. The exhibit includes original documents and finds from the archaeological site. Photographs and sketches outline the process from when the reconstruction idea was made public until the consecration of the church in 2005. There is also a computer to search for names of supporters.
A variety of guided tours of the church are available, and visitors can also climb the tower for views of the city.
With its snow-white limestone facade and fanciful turrets peeking out from the forested mountain tops of the Hohenschwangau valley, Neuschwanstein Castle (Schloss Neuschwanstein) could easily have been lifted from the pages of a fairy tale. In a way, it has—the German castle famously inspired Disney'sSleeping Beauty castle.
The Old Heidelberg University, Germany's oldest university, was build in the early 1700s. It now holds the Rector's Office, the Old Assembly Hall, and the University Museum. The museum shows the history of the university beginning with its foundation in 1386 through today. Exhibits, portraits, and documents explain this history in three different sections. There's one about the Palatinate electors, one about the Baden era, and one about the twentieth century. In addition to the permanent exhibits, every few months there is a new special exhibit opens.
In the square in front of the building is a fountain of a lion, called Löwenbrunnen. The lion was the symbol of the Palatinate. At the back of the Old University, visitors can see the student prison, which was in use until 1914 and is now one of the most popular attractions in the city. Students could be put in the prison from two days to four weeks depending on the offense, although life there was quite comfortable.
That St. Paul's Church (Paulskirche) was one of the first buildings to be rebuilt post WWII says a lot about its importance. The landmark church is not only a center of worship; it also played a significant role in Frankfurt’s history, serving as the seat of the 1848 Frankfurt Parliament, the first freely elected German parliament.
Inaugurated in 1880, Frankfurt’s Old Opera House (Alte Oper) was among Germany’s elite opera houses during its 20th-century heyday. Left in ruins after WWII, it finally reopened in 1981 and is now one of the city’s leading concert venues, hosting around 300 classical and popular music events throughout the year.
The baroque Protestant St. Michael's Church (Michaeliskirche) is a Hamburg landmark. Its famous clock tower soaring above the city roofs has been a beacon for sailors since the 1680s.
The copper dome and gold clock of St. Michaelis’ 132-meter (433-foot) tower rises above a network of tiny alleys known as the Krameramtswohnungen, lined with half-timbered almshouses from the 17th century.
Take a guided tour of the tower for views over the port of Hamburg from the observation platform, and visit the crypt for a historic tour.
The Old Stone Bridge in Regensburg, Germany is a medieval bridge that was constructed in a Romanesque style in the mid 1100s. It crosses the Danube River connecting the old town to the Stadtamhof, and for more than 800 years, it was the city's only bridge across the river. For several centuries, Regensburg was a major center of trade and government due to this bridge because it was the only crossing over the Danube between Ulm, Germany and Vienna, Austria.
Visitors today can see 15 arches on the bridge, although there once was a 16th arch. Three towers were once connected to the bridge, but one was damaged by ice and torn down in the late 1700s and another was damaged during the war in 1810 and torn down. One tower remains, the Schuldturm, on the city side of the bridge, and it is now a museum. On this tower you can see two clocks and a painting depicting the 30 Year Battle. Although vehicles were once allowed on the bridge, it is now a pedestrian and bicycle bridge.
At the height of the Cold War in 1961, socialist East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as an imposing concrete barrier that divided Berlin's eastern and western sides for nearly 30 years. In 1989, toward the end of the war and the fall of East Germany and communism in Europe, the wall's demolition began, thus reunifying Germany. Today, sections of the wall remain as permanent reminders of the days when the country (and Berlin) was divided.
A somber yet striking memorial stretching over a 4.7-acre (1.9-hectare) plot in the center of Berlin, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Denkmal für die Ermordeten Juden Europas) was opened in 2005 to remember and honor the some 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
The Regensburg Cathedral is the most important church in the city and is dedicated to St. Peter. It is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Regensburg and its two tall spires can be seen from all around the city. It is one of the best examples of Gothic church architecture in Bavaria. Though a church was once at this location since the year 700, the one that you see today was completed in the early 1300s. Over the centuries the cathedral underwent several renovations including the addition of Baroque elements.
On the north side of the cathedral you can visit the Bishop's Palace, which is now the Treasury Museum. The square to the west is called Domplatz. The west portal of the cathedral is decorated with arches, canopies, and several sculptures depicting scenes from the bible. Nearly 100 images of St. Peter can be found both outside and inside the cathedral. Visitors can also admire the large number of detailed stained glass windows that have managed to survive since the Middle Ages.
With the majestic Harburg Castle looming on a hilltop above the scenic River Wörnitz and a cluster of half-timbered buildings that appear plucked from medieval times, the sleepy town of Harburg entices many Romantic Road travelers to pull over. It’s impossible to miss the castle from the roadside, and with its backdrop of forested hillsides and fairytale turrets reflected in the waters below, it’s a magnificent photo opportunity.
Exploring the 11th-century castle is the main highlight of a visit and it’s possible to tour the castle house, chapel, ballroom and dungeons, as well as taking in the views from the guard towers. After visiting the castle, cross the old stone bridge into the small town of Harburg and wander around the maze of medieval lanes, stopping to admire the grand Town Hall on Rathausplatz, where the town’s annual Christmas market is held, or escape into the surrounding countryside, where there’s a network of hiking and biking trails.
Built in 1120, Imperial Castle of Nuremberg (Kaiserburg) was once a residence for kings of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite suffering damage over the years (especially during WWII), the castle has been carefully restored to showcase its original Gothic and Romanesque architecture.
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