Germany is a wonderland for children. There are castles and real life fairy tale locations for the princess set, as well as world-class skiing, hiking and cycling for the active family, not to mention city museum trips and rollercoasters aplenty. Here’s our guide to the best vacations in Germany for kids.
Rhine cycle trail
The Rhineland has such a hold on the German imagination – think Goethe, Hesse, Schumann and practically every 19th century bildungsroman – that it is no wonder UNESCO designated 120km (75 miles) of it a World Heritage Region. Some 40 castles and palaces line the river, while Loreley rock – a feature of countless poems – still stands proudly. The cycle trail covers 1,233km (766 miles) on mostly flat ground, following the river from the south of France to North Rhine Westphalia.
Snaking its way from Kiel in the northwest to Fehmarn Island in the northeast, the Baltic coast cycle trail is all about sandy white beaches, steep cliffs and breathtaking views. Shallow bays are great for an afternoon swim to cool off and gorgeous islands and peninsulas along the way will keep your memory card full to bursting.
You can hardly turn around in Germany without bumping into a castle. The best known to visitors is Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, the inspiration for the Disney castle. Across the lake, King Ludwig II had his summer home, Hoheschwangau. Both castles can only be visited by appointment with a guide. Visits in summer should be reserved in advance.
If that sounds a bit too intense, have a look at the Castle Road, a 1,200km (746 mile) route from Mannheim in the west to Prague in the east. There are more than 70 castles along the route, so kids can follow the trail of emperors, princes and knights
Germany has more than 6,200 museums covering every topic imaginable. Some, like mustard, may not be so interesting for small children – or anyone for that matter – but others like the Deutsches Museum in Munich and the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin are paradise for children and adults alike. Both Berlin and Munich have museum districts, so they’re both good places to base a museum holiday from.
The Natural History Museum in Berlin has the world’s largest dinosaur skeleton and other extinct animals like the world’s oldest bird and a Tasmanian tiger, alongside a T-Rex called Tristan.
The German Museum leaves dinosaurs and paintings behind and focuses on science, technology and astronomy. The Experimental Workshop allows children and adults to explore physics and other science disciplines with their hands.
The fairy tale trail (Deutsche Märchenstraße) is a 600km (373 mile) route between Bremen and Hanau focusing on the stories of the Brothers Grimm. The trail passes through four nature reserves and cities like Hanau, Steinau, Marburg and Kassel. Along the way, you can stay in places like the 14th century Sababurg Castle – the Sleeping Beauty Castle – where four-poster beds, a garden full of pink roses and portraits of the Brothers Grimm make this castle hotel the perfect place for fairy tale-obsessed kids. Every Sunday there is a live performance of Sleeping Beauty, as well as scavenger hunts in the garden.
Germans love going out in “the nature.” For many, walking up the side of an Alp is the only way to spend a holiday, as fresh air is considered essential for good health and spiritual restoration. Since most Germans have children, it follows that there are plenty of places to experience the outdoors in a way that is fun for kids.
The Erlebnispark Tripsdrill Natur-Resort between Stuttgart and Heidelberg offers 77 hectares of wilderness park ready for kids to explore. Stay in a treehouse or frontier wagon and listen to sheep, wolves and animals howl through the night. If you want something a little different, there’s also a rollercoaster.
In the Black Forest, home of the cuckoo clock and various other terrifying Gothic artefacts, lies Burg Colmberg, the place where in 1860 the concept of walking holidays was invented. In the interim, the Black Forest has turned into a sort of an outdoor holiday adventure playground with more than 23,000km (14,292 miles) of walking trails, 250km (155 miles) of ski slopes, and 8,000km (4,971 miles) of mountain biking trails.
If that’s a little too active, try a guided walk on the Witchelpfad, a newish trail where children follow clues a mile into the forest in search of a capercaillie bird. Or Spasspark, where small children can ride giant tires down a fake hill and go to town in a bouncy dome.
The Hasenhorn Coaster is a 2.9km (1.8 mile) track that allows older children to hurtle down a hill on a go-cart without the risk of serious injury.
Kieler Woche (ships)
Every June since 1882, thousands of sail boats and tall ships have descended on Kiel, a city in the north of Germany, for Kieler Woche, the largest sailing event in the world. During Kieler Woche, 4,000 sailors from all over the world race 800 boats in over 50 classes, ranging from tiny single-sailor dinghies to massive yachts. Boats are cool, but so is the Spiellinie at the Krusenkoppel, Germany’s biggest cultural children’s attraction. It’s a huge kids’ wonderland, with a full slate of activities for children of all ages along with ample space to run, tumble, hammer and explore. Oh, and a pirate ship.
If forests or cycle paths don’t provide the thrill per minute your children require for a successful holiday, consider one of Germany’s many amusement parks. There’s Europa Park, a few kilometres from the French border in southwest Germany, Phantasialand in Cologne, Heidepark in north Germany nearish to Hamburg, Belantis Theme Park just outside Leipzig and Hansa Park in Lübeck.
Younger children might like Legoland, halfway between Munich and Stuttgart, Playmobil Funpark just outside Nuremburg, or Ravensburger Spieleland near Lake Constance.
Hamburg’s Miniature Wonderland, meanwhile, is the world’s biggest smallest thing, where 11km (6.8 miles) of train track take visitors through miniature versions of the Alps, Scandinavia, the U.S. and a good mix of places in Germany. Great care (and $12.5 million) has been taken to get the details exactly right.