Germany is often sought out by travellers for its famous Christmas markets, stunning landscapes or the music scenes in Berlin or Frankfurt. But it also has plenty of awe-inspiring buildings that have earned UNESCO World Heritage status and are worth a trip alone, as they offer a deep dive into the country’s history and architecture. Here are some of the sites you won’t want to miss.
A masterpiece of Gothic architecture, Cologne Cathedral is the most visited landmark in Germany, with an average of 6.5 million tourists touring it each year. The cathedral is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful – some even claim it beats Notre Dame in its grandeur – and the intricacies of the stained glass windows are sure to captivate. Purchase a ticket to the cathedral’s crypt to discover its hidden treasures, or climb through the spires on a winding spiral staircase to see spectacular views over the city.
Aachen Cathedral is one of the oldest cathedrals in Europe, and was the first site in Germany to gain UNESCO World Heritage status in 1978. The building is considered to be a symbol of the unification and resurgence of Western Europe after the end of the Roman Empire. Its construction was ordered by Emperor Charlemagne, who was buried there in 814. The most notable design details are on the impressive cathedral doors with its bronze-casted lion head knockers; according to legend, they are said to hold the thumb of the devil inside them.
A beautiful baroque palace in southern Germany, the Würzberg Residence is an artistic masterpiece surrounded by beautiful manicured gardens and natural landscapes. Built in the 18th century by a team of international artists, sculptors and architects, it was the former residence of Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, and incorporates design influences from Germany, France and Vienna, which combine to create an imposing and enchanting property, in both structure and decoration.
Among the earliest examples of 18th-century Rococo architecture in the country, the Castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust in Brühl span several buildings connected in the idyllic gardens of the Schlosspark. The sprawling gardens were designed by Dominique Gerard who was inspired by French taste, and the swirling foliage is best viewed from the palace terrace. It also doubles as a concert venue in the summertime.
One of the only remaining examples of a Baroque court theatre, the opulent Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth has been extensively restored. It reportedly took some 70,000 hours of work and investments of €30 million to bring it back to its former 18th-century glory and is well worth a visit to marvel at the decadent interiors, which are enchantingly over the top.
Just a short train ride from Berlin, Palaces and Parks of Potsdam and Berlin is a collection of buildings and landscaped gardens that became recognised as a symbol of unity and the diversity of European history. 150 exceptional buildings and an expanse of parks and botanical gardens created over two decades are stunning showcases of Prussian royalty, with specific care for the natural environment. Sanssouci Palace, in particular, which was created by King Frederick II in the 18th century, was hoping to rival Versailles Palace in its opulence, and it’s difficult not to absorb its lasting grandeur. Stop here for Instagrammable views and a learn a bit about Germany’s past rulers.
Dating back to the 13th century, Naumburg Cathedral is an outstanding example of Medieval architecture and a renowned landmark of the late-Romanesque style in Germany – not to mention, a notable sacred cultural monument from the European High Middle Ages. Designed by the unknown German architect nicknamed the “Naumberg Master”, it contains a three-part crypt, a statue of St Elizabeth of Hungary and a treasury vault where you’ll find manuscripts, sculptures and altars.
Swiss-French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, widely known as Le Corbusier, was a pioneer of modern architecture. The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier is a selection of 17 buildings that represent his outstanding role in 20th-century architecture, some of which are in Germany: specifically the Villas at Weissenhof Estate and Unité d’Habitation of Berlin. The former is a striking collection of workers housing units built as part of a 1927 exhibition of Modernist housing, and it’s easy to see how the experimental design became a benchmark for urban housing across the world. The latter (also known as Corbusierhaus), is a 1958 building that serves as a colourful representation of the modernisation of Germany.
Representing the development of civic autonomy and sovereignty in the Holy Roman Empire, the old town hall in Bremen and its associated statue of military leader Roland were built in the early 15th century, but later renovated in the early 17th century in Weser Renaissance style. In the 20th century, a new town hall was built next to the old one, both of which survived bombardment in World War II. The hall’s interiors are lavishly decorated, reflecting the prestigious merchants and leaders that once frequented the venue. Symbolically, the beautiful stone of Roland stands proudly outside of the town hall, to symbolise the former power and independence of the city.
Ready to discover natural heritage landmarks and masterpieces of human creativity? Visit worldheritagegermany.com for routes that showcase Germany’s 46 UNESCO World Heritage sites.Starting and finishing near an international airport, the trails will introduce you to natural wonders, innovation, industrial heritage and more.