Though Munich, Berlin and Hamburg are among the big city attractions in Germany, the country’s smaller destinations have a relaxing, picture-perfect allure all of their own. Here are 11 places to consider when planning a holiday that’s not so mainstream.
Regensburg has been a settlement of one sort or another since the Romans turned up in 179AD, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Whether by luck or management, Regensburg has remained untouched by war, and now functions less as a town and more like an outdoor museum, with monasteries, churches and houses of the gentry all having pride of place among its residents.
This tiny town (pronounced with a soft ‘ch’) has been going since the Celts were exploring the Moselle some couple of thousand years ago. In addition to the dozens of historical buildings nestled on a bend in the Moselle river, Cochem has the distinct advantage of being right in the middle of white wine country. The steep hills right at the river’s edge made excellent terraces, which in turn make Riesling worth the hike to procure.
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In the Cute Old Town department, there is not much in Germany that beats Quedlinburg. Equidistant between Hanover and Leipzig, the half-timbered houses have sagged with time -1200 years- but have not lost an ounce of their charm. Residents have not been shy with the paint can or the flower pot and the result is a place made for the camera, or a romantic weekend away.
The old town in the middle-German city of Erfurt is one of the most well-preserved in the country. Though it is worth a visit at any time, this year there will be special events to celebrate famous inhabitant Martin Luther and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. If religious history isn’t quite the stuff your holiday dreams are made of, then ignore the 25 churches in the city centre and have a walk to take in the beauty of the many examples of medieval, neoclassical and GDR architecture that surround it instead.
The tallest church in the world isn’t in Paris or London or Asia – it’s in Ulm, a city with a population of 120,000, situated halfway between Stuttgart and Munich. For a heady 11 years, before having the title usurped by the City Hall in Philadelphia, Ulm Cathedral was the tallest building in the world at 161.5 meters (530 feet). The city’s other claim to fame is as the hometown of Albert Einstein. Aside from that, it’s a pleasant town to spend a day going from café to café and watching the very pretty world go by.
The fairytale aesthetics of rural, unbombed Germany are difficult to resist. The half-timber Fachwerkhäusen houses, gabled roofs, cobblestone streets (be sure to wear sensible sneakers), gatehouses, towers and lovely town churches – Rothenberg, 80 km (49.7miles) west of Nuremburg, has it all. In spades. For an extra bit of magic, visit at Christmas and enjoy the twinkling lights and Christmas market.
The former capital of West Germany during the Berlin Wall years, Bonn has a thriving culture and lively bar scene thanks to its large student population and the many outdoor cafés and beer gardens. In May, the city is home to beautiful cherry blossoms and 2.5 meter (8.2 feet)-tall rhododendron bushes in full bloom, making it a must-see for any garden lover.
With tourists spending most of their time in Berlin, Munich, Cologne or Hamburg, Lübeck doesn’t get much of a look-in. The city was once an important part of the Hanseatic League, which meant it was able to trade freely and earn a lot of money without paying much tax. Some of this extra cash went into building magnificent civic buildings in the Brick Gothic style – while common in Northern Europe, this sort of building is rare in the rest of Germany. The warm glow of the red buildings at sunset is a sight to behold.
Trier is the oldest city in Germany, dating back to the first century BC. Roughly 180 km (111.9 miles) from Cologne or Frankfurt, its position right up against the Luxembourg border makes it the largest German city off the beaten path. The trip is especially rewarding for those who love Roman history, as Trier has the best preserved city gate north of the Alps, three Roman batch ruins, the original Roman court and a 2nd century Roman bridge.
The Eiffel region in the northwestern state of Nordrhein Westphalia is a bit like Tennessee or Kentucky – rural and extremely beautiful. Monschau is a small resort town 30km (18.6 miles) south of Aachen right on the Belgian border that looks as if it has been frozen in time. Visit the coffee roaster, the mustard mill and the one of the many fantastic bakery-cafés.
Germany’s easternmost city, literally across the river from Poland, is one of its most beautiful and historically, one of its most wealthy. Civic money means lots of quality building and fantastic examples of Renaissance, Baroque, late Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture remain, making the city a sought after film location (parts of TheReader, The Grand Budapest Hotel andInglorious Basterds were all shot here). Over the last millennium, Görlitz has been Polish, Hungarian, Czech and German – such a diverse heritage, combined with its architecture and forgotten outpost vibe make the city well worth the drive.