While Germany is pretty kid-friendly – meaning in theory, there’s very little you can’t do with children here – sometimes it’s good to plan beyond a visit to the playground. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are 11 things to do when visiting with little ones.
As long as they’re not recreating a Nascar race inside, children are generally welcome in German restaurants (on a separate note, so are dogs). High chairs are commonly found even in fancier places, and while less formal restaurants such as pub or cafés may offer special menus for children, in general, German children eat what their parents do. Look out for Bratwurst (sausage), Pommes (French fries), Nudeln mit Tomatensosse (pasta and tomato sauce) or Spätzle, a sort of German mac and cheese, or Maultaschen (literally ‘mouth pockets’, aka ravioli).
Almost anything that you can do with children in Germany can be done on a family ticket, including riding on public transport. The general offer is two adults and up to three children on the same ticket, but of course, details vary from place to place. Museums, monuments and attractions are often free to anyone under 18 and always for children under 5.
Hotels as well often offer special discounts for children or don’t charge for extra bedding as long as it is used in the same room as the parents. Be sure to ask at the desk if there is a Gästekarte (guest card) available, and take advantage of free local transport and entry to local attractions
Germans love the great outdoors, and they love nothing better than taking their children with them on all but the steepest of Alpine walks. If a bracing hike deep into the woods in search of a forest pub is a bit too much of an ask, search online before your visit for ‘animal spotting safaris’ or ‘nature walks’ scaled for little legs. Geocaching is also reasonably popular even among adults. There are forest and parks either right in the middle of or very close to major cities, all accessible by public transportation.
There is no shortage of child-friendly museums in Germany. Open-air ones like Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum in the Black Forest or the Freilandmuseum Lehde in the Spreewald near Berlin are fantastic for little people who love learning about traditional culture. The Toy Museum in Nuremberg and the Chocolate Museum in Cologne are also great for adults and children alike. In Berline, the Museum of Natural History with its giant dinosaur skeletons and stuff polar bears is hard to beat, while budding tech heads will lose their little minds at the Deutsches Technikmuseum.
Cycling is big in Germany, with safe, well-signposted routes running along lakes and coastlines, through forests and up into the hills. The vast majority of bike rental outlets have children’s bikes and can recommend kid-friendly tours.
Swimming in Germany, even in the sea, is a safe and clean way to spend an afternoon. Seaside beaches are usually free of big surf and undertow, though on river beaches it pays to take care and copy locals when visiting spots on the Rhine, the Elbe or the Danube – currents there can be fast and cargo ships pass by regularly.
The water rarely gets above 21°C (70°F), though the many lakes that dot the countryside – often within reach of big cities – can get a bit warmer. The most popular lakes have changing rooms, snack huts, playgrounds, splash zones and boat rentals, but if you fancy something a little more wild and rustic, then smaller lakes are just the ticket.
A note about nudity: it is considered completely normal for children under 8 or 9 to be naked on a public beach, and also for adults to quickly change from swimsuit to regular clothes in the open air. Adults who wish to remain unclothed for longer will usually go to a shaded area or sunbathe discreetly.
Germany has a lot of mountains and though snow levels aren’t quite what they were 10 or 20 years ago, most peaks are high enough to have snow from November to May. All ski resorts, no matter the price point, have ski schools will English-speaking instructors. Families with smaller children may find resorts in the Black Forest less chaotic than the more famous Garmish-Partenkirchen etc. If the idea of throwing yourself down the side of mountain is less than appealing, there is always snowshoeing, skating, walking and, of course, the bar.
Because Germany used to be many, many small states and principalities, each with their own Archdukes and Electors in need of palaces, hunting lodges and country retreats, the country has a lot of stupendously romantic castles and palaces. Some of these, like the famous Neuschwanstein, inspired Disney films. Others, though no less wondrous, were stashed in the countryside as a private hunting lodge reserved for the inner circle. For the full experience, drive the Burgenstraße (castle road) from Mannheim to the Czech border.
If something’s worth doing, in Germany it’s worth doing smaller. Tiny engineering has two homes in Germany: Minatur Wonderland in Hamburg, and Playmobil in Nuremberg. Visit the former and you’ll be whisked along 11km (6.8 miles) of train track taking you through miniature versions of the Alps and places in Scandinavia, the U.S. and Germany; while a trip to the latter sees visitors dwarfed by life-sized versions of their favourite toys.
Miniatur Wunderland – Kehrwieder 2-4/Block D, Hamburg, Germany, +49 40 3006800
Playmobil Funpark – Brandstätterstraße 2-10, Zirndorf, Germany, +49 911 9666 1455
Many factories in Germany offer tours, particularly those that make beer, chocolate, candy and cars. It’s best to call ahead and ask if reservations are necessary for English tours, and also to bring an empty bag or two to collect all the discount loot from the factory store.
The Haribo factory in Bonn is where gummy bears were born in 1920 and today the company is the largest manufacturer of sweets in the world. BMW World in Stuttgart has special exhibitions for children and is within walking distance from the BMW factory, where anyone can go see how cars get made. The Chocolate Museum in Cologne has its very own chocolate factory and a chocolate fountain, while over near Dresden, the Meissen Porcelain factory offers tours of workshop where artists still handprint plates, vases and teapots.
If your home country is car-reliant, then taking the train with children may seem daunting. Rest assured that with toilets and a restaurant on board, as well with the chance to walk around – not to mention free tickets for children under the age of 15 – train travel as a family is as efficient as the trains’ top speeds of 300 km (186.4 miles)/hour . The fast train (ICE – Intercity Express) goes a step further with the Kleinkindabteil, a special compartment with child-size tables for drawing, a storage room for strollers and usually a changing table. Reservations are €4.50 and can be made online, at a vending machine or at the ticket counter in the station.