1. Walk Around the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Once it stood within a divided city, a shadow between east and west that stretched up into the sky. Now of course, the silhouette still stretches but it functions neither as a gate (it’s former function) nor blockade but instead as a tourist attraction.
It’s possible (encouraged in fact) to walk both around, under and beyond this iconic landmark. Rent a bike or hike west into the Tiergarten Park or head past the shops along Unter den Linden to reach Berlin’s other skyward landmark, the Fernsehturm Tower.
Many direct high-speed ICE and regional trains run from various cities across Germany to Berlin. It’s good to know that your German Rail Pass is also valid on the S-bahn that operates within major German cities.
2. Drinking Riesling on The Rhine
Germany’s reputation for wine has wavered a little recently but it’s beginning to make a comeback. And the scenery where the Rhine meets the Moselle makes it a journey worth taking in its own right.
Board the Rhine Valley scenic train in Mainz or Koblenz and travel to Cologne, gliding through vineyards and the serene blue-green waters of the longest river in western Europe. Then, of course, enjoy a lovely glass of crisp white Riesling!
3. Indulge in fairytales at Neuschwanstein, Fussen
If the dreamy spires and curved sides make Fussen castle look as though it’s come straight from a Disney cartoon movie, you’ve got the muse the wrong way around. The castle came first, inspiring the Disney franchise to paint all self-respecting castles in this way.
Commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria from his own personal fortune, it rises out of the trees with all the sense of majesty, and perhaps, folly of a man who pursued a sense of grandeur for most of his life before he was declared insane. Germany has many impressive castles, but none quite so fine as this.
To get to Neuschwanstein you can take a regional train from Munich (München) to Füssen, which takes just over an hour. Buses will carry you on from Füssen train station near to the base of the castle grounds. (Ride line RVA/OVG 73 in the direction of Steingaden / Garmisch-Partenkirchen or line RVA/OVG 78 in the direction of Schwangau.)
4. Sip three liquids in Cologne
Cologne is a city marked by three enjoyable liquids. Allow me to explain.
Kolsch is the light coloured beer served in bars across the city. Waiters mark a notch on your beer mat to keep count of what you’ve drunk and will keep on serving more until you end the evening yourself by covering your glass with your beer mat.
Then there’s Eau de Cologne itself, the scent that’s been produced here since 1792. Some say it has medicinal properties but, frankly, only a fool tastes it more than once.
And finally there’s chocolate, served in liquid form at the chocolate museum overlooking the mighty Dom cathedral.
5. Explore the Black Forest
Running along the southwest border with France right down to the shores of Lake Bodensee (Constance) where Germany meets Austria, the Schwarzwald or Black Forest is a magnificent sight to behold. Think spiky peaks and fresh mountain pine, clear streams and classic babbling brooks and the soft clump of boot on mossy mountain soil.
And if all that fresh air and adventure becomes too much, turn your attention to hunting down the famed Shwarzwalderkirschtorte instead: the decadently delicious Black Forest Gateau.
The finale, if you’re travelling by train, is the scenic Black Forest rail route between Offenburg and Konstanz, one of the most beautiful train journeys in Europe.
6. Taste the Cool Side of Berlin
With 175 museums, Berlin has more museums than rainy days.” So says the city itself and, yes, it’s a capital that overflows with history, traditional art and culture and a sombre look back at its political past.
But it’s also a place that bursts with design, creativity and an energetic kind of cool. It has legendary nightclubs, underground fashion houses that sell clothes by the kilo and even a cartoon museum dedicated to Currywurst.
Wander down Kastanianallee to find cafes, record shops, street art and kooky vintage boutiques. Fall in love with Berlin for its capacity for reinvention and looking towards the future, as well as retracing its all-important past.
As the favourite rally spot for Hitler’s National Socialist Party, Nuremberg has one of the worst legacies in the world. It also has one of the best: as the site for the landmark Nuremberg trials and as a pioneering base for human rights work even now.
On top of all that, the old town itself remains beautifully atmospheric. Restored after heavy bomb damage during the war, it’s now a series of criss-crossing cobbled streets with houses every colour of the rainbow.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of town next to a peaceful lake and a series of grassy meadows you can visit the Nazi rally grounds that have fallen into disrepair.
8. Just Enjoy Munich
Munich is a city that just knows how to have fun. The rest of Germany may look down its nose at it but it just doesn’t care.
Anything Munich does, it does on a grand scale. Like a beer? Why stop at one or two when you can set up giant tents, invite the whole world, keep them there for half a month and call it Oktoberfest?
Like Christmas? Why stop at a little bit of tinsel and the odd gingerbread biscuit when you can fill the streets with cinnamon-scented delicacies, wooden chalets, singing choirs and sparkling lights in one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe?
Just enjoy Munich!
An unsung hero of the north, Bremen is great for a mid-size city break. Known primarily for its strange statue of some even stranger “musicians” (a donkey, dog, cat and cockerel all perched on one another’s backs) its surprises include a whole lot more.
Check out the cool kitsch charm of the lustrously-named Schnoor district, the impressive collection at the Kunsthalle art museum and the softly-lit flagstones of the streets around the cathedral as the sun begins to set.
Even the station is worth seeing, not only for its architecture but also for the hustle and bustle that takes place underground: it’s one of the main walking routes of the city.
OK, so Germany may not have the same reputation for food as, say, France or Italy. But it’s not all Bratwurst and sauerkraut you know (and even if it was, those two are mighty fine when served with the right kind of condiment.) No, there’s the nation’s favourite Currywurst (sausage served with a curry meets ketchup sauce,) the home grown (and original) Pretzel, Knodel (dumplings) and Kasespatzle (a kind of cheesy pasta dish.) And that’s just the beginning.
At Christmas, don’t miss the special Lebkuchen – a cinnamon, often heart-shaped, biscuit decorated with fine icing sugar and all sorts of slogans.