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No doubt about it, Bavaria’s one heck of a beauty, filled with all the photogenic attractions that evoke Germany in an instant: time-warp castles with pencil towers; lakes of transparent Alpine clarity; extravagant buildings in ornate and swirly Baroque style; enormous tankards of foaming ale at the Oktoberfest – Munich’s festival of beer – and those half-timbered homes straight out of Hansel and Gretel. Bavaria is a traveler’s paradise, drawing millions of visitors annually to towns rich in regional heritage and cultural traditions. Are you in a Bavaria state of mind already? Here are the 10 most beautiful towns you should visit. Have a great trip – or gute Reise, as they say in Germany.
Set on an island on the eastern side of Lake Constance, Lindau is practically in stone-skimming distance of the borders with Austria and Switzerland. Made a Free Imperial City within the Holy Roman Empire in 1275, the town was, for hundreds of years, a fishing settlement along the opulent trade route between Italy and the Duchy of Swabia. Over the years, Lindau has exchanged hands between numerous political groups and nations, and multicultural influences thrive today. So, how best to explore this fine town? Simply amble around, immersing yourself in the mazes of small streets and centuries-old houses , before wandering down to the harbor for views of the lake’s Austrian shoreline.
If you fancy a proper taste of the great Bavarian outdoors, make for Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a town, as its hyphenated name suggests, created from the merging of two villages for the 1936 Winter Olympics. Both places are set against a dramatic backdrop of Alpine peaks and each retains its own character, old-world and modern respectively. Here you’ll find some of the best hikes and skiing, right next door to Munich. The area works well as part of an intinerary taking in some of the grandest palaces belonging to the enigmatic ‘Mad King’ Ludwig II of Bavaria (born 1845, found drowned in Lake Starnberg, 1886). Among the finest examples are the nearby Schloss Linderhof, Jagdschloss Schachen and, for full-on Disney-esque Magic Kingdom fantasy, the magical Neuschwanstein castle.
One of the finest vacation destinations in southern Germany, Füssen has a history spanning 700 years, and has been on the map of must-visit Bavarian places for centuries. It’s at the southern end of the tourist-loved Romantic Road, which runs for 400 km down from Würzburg, through picture-book scenes of beauty: lakes, vineyards and time-honoured half-timbered homes with window-boxes erupting in displays of floral pink. Until the demise of the industry in the 19th Century, Füssen was famed for its lute- and violin-making – take a look at some of the finest historic specimens in the town museum. Check also what’s on at The Kaisersaal: concerts are part of the Füssen’s permanent cultural repertoire. What else? The romantic old town is celebratedly lovely-looking, framed by dramatic mountain peaks and freshwater lakes. And Füssen is the place to stay for visits to Neuschwanstein Castle.
This vibrant medieval town (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) on the banks of Danube is home to an impressive assortment of historic structures spanning two millennia – it was founded in AD179, during the rule of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Danube becoming essentially the Roman Empire’s northern border. The legion camp Castra Regina, aka the “fortress by the river Regen”, where it joins the Danube, was Regensburg’s very first footprint. In AD590 it became the first capital of Bavaria, playing host to numerous dukes, kings and bishops down through the centuries. Thankfully, Regensburg was spared the tragic devastation visited up on other cities during the wars, so today, it retains many architectural head-turners that illustrate how it must have looked during its zenith. Don’t miss the Roman City Gate, or Porta Praetoria, and the 12th-Century Old Stone Bridge, with its 16 arches marching over the Danube: a triumph of Medieval engineering.
Author Hermann Hesse once wrote of this town: “If I could choose my place of birth, I would consider Würzburg,” and the moment you clap eyes on it, it’s easy to understand why. It is an upbeat university town of outstanding beauty, rippling with Baroque facades in its elevated position on a hill amid landscapes of vineyards. The history dates back to 686, when it was a Franconian duchy and a pilgrimage point. Similarly today, the scenic town has much to offer to visitors. One of the high points is the Würzburg Residence, commissioned in 1720 by the Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, who summoned architects from across Europe to build his palace. There are frescoes by the great Italian artist Tiepolo, no less. Würzburg remains one of the most prominent blossomings of Baroque architecture in Germany. Coincidentally, it is also right in the heart of the country’s wine-producing region, making it a superb place to sample local fruits of the vine – the local wine culture dates back to Roman times. Look out for Silvaner and Bacchus grape varieties, and toast your good fortune for finding this town.
With an unparalleled hilltop location along the Romantic Road, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a visual feast of medieval and Renaissance buildings that have survived the ravages of the centuries – and thrived. For obvious reasons it’s day-trip gold, with its web of photogenic cobbled lanes, its classic houses leaning together as if on a tipsy bar crawl together, and its fairytale atmosphere that attracts thousands of tourists every year. The Medieval Crime Museum (Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum) is a bit grisly but otherwise, from the opera-set fountained town view known as The Plönlein, to the Renaissance might of the Town Hall, Rothenburg is rarefied indeed. The crowds swell particularly during the summer months and the Christmas period so book a hotel night or two – that way you can savour the true spirit of this magical place after the last tour buses have sailed off into the sunset.
You couldn’t get a much-more-perfect day trip from nearby Nuremberg than Bamberg, a fascinating town with an Altstadt (old town) that , sure enough, has been anointed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It spreads over seven hills where numerous rivers and winding canals converge, as setting that explains why, repeatedly, it is voted among the most beautiful settlements in Germany. (Also one of the best places for students to live.) Bamberg’s narrow medieval streets are catnip for day-trippers, who idle away their time in its many pavement cafés, sampling local beer from its myriad city breweries. But there’s plenty of eye candy if you’re here to gain a historical perspective: the four-spired cathedral, the Baroque Residenz (residences) and the old Rathaus (town hall) will fill your Instagram feed faster than you can say “wunderbar“.
Where three rivers – the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz – meet, you’ll discover Passau: the Venice of Germany, as it’s sometimes called, is a picturesque town that has been shaped by water down through the centuries. It has always been a wealthy hub of commerce, known for trading Bohemian salt (Central Europe’s white gold), as well as its close ties to the Holy Roman Empire – a church has stood here since the fifth century. The quaint town was deemed long ago incredibly prestigious for being the largest bishopric in the land, exquisitely built by powerful princes and bishops to form the winding lanes, tunnels and grand archways, many of which still stand today. A perfect spot to visit for a day on a river cruise, Passau also appeals to avid cyclists for its abundance of long-distance routes.
The historical town of Dinkelsbühl is located in Central Franconia on the northern stretch of the Romantic Road. According to many historians, it is the best-preserved medieval town in Germany, having remained totally unscathed during the World Wars, except for a broken window in the gothic cathedral of St. George. The unspoiled townscape harks back over 800 years and is filled to the brim with striking churches, proud townhouses and timbered cottages among its many winding lanes.
Shaped by hundreds of years of history, Mindelheim is a journey of discovery in the heart of the Unterallgäu district. Located 56 miles (90 kilometers) west of Munich, it is the perfect stop on the way to Lindau. The town’s earliest history officially dates from 1365, when it came into the possession of the Dukes of Teck-Owen, but it was soon passed into the hands of the Württemberg counts. Today, Mindelheim reflects the structure of a typical medieval settlement, with its partially standing city wall, its array of churches and the town hall arranged around the market square.