Your full Wanderlust guide to


Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria (Shutterstock)

For a nation that shares its borders with nine other countries, it’s little surprise that Germany has depths most travellers don’t realise until they arrive. Its lands span from the shores of the Baltic Sea and medieval cities sculpted by the wealth of the Hanseatic League to the beautiful national parks of the south and fairy-tale Bavarian castles built by a ‘mad’ king. Knowing where to start can be tricky.

Beyond the urban hub of Munich and its Oktoberfest, or capital Berlin where the graffitied relics of the post-war Soviet era lure visitors, its cities are too often skipped over. Baroque Dresden, Expressionist Bremen, the canals of Hamburg and the Romanesque churches of Cologne all capture the eye and slacken the jaw in their own way. And come winter, their Christmas markets overflow with cinnamon-scented goodies – or in the case of the Mosel’s Traben-Trarbach, underground cellars packed with local wine.

The outdoors is where Germany lets loose. Trails take in everything from the panoramas of the Altmühl Valley to the Elbe Sandstone Mountains that sparked inspiration in the painters of the Romantic era, while historic spa towns warm (and charm) the bones of achy cyclists and hikers in between. And through all this greenery slip some of the great rivers of Europe, as boats and cyclists follow twisting banks through the vineyards of the Mosel or the hairpin bends and castles of the Middle Rhine.

Speaking of castles, Germany claims more castles, palaces and mansion houses (some 25,000) than any other country, with many having been preserved as museums or incredible stays still crammed with the whims of spend-thrift kings. The Rococo-style flourishes of Sanssouci Palace, built by Friedrich II, are a match for anything Italy or France can conjure.

Making the most of its gifts has been the story of Germany in recent years. Top of the agenda was rehabilitating the relics of the 20th-century industrial miracle that rebuilt its post-war economy, giving them a new life through nature and tourism. Former heavy-industry towns such as North Rhine-Westfalia have found fresh spirit in art, culture and nightlife, while the old mines of Lusatia have been returned to their prelapsarian state as a magnificent lake district. But like everything else in Germany, there are so many more examples to discover…





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When to go to Germany

German weather is at its best in summer, when it’s hot but not uncomfortably so. But this is also the time when major attractions are at their busiest, roads get clogged-up and accommodation prices are high. At least in scenic areas such as the Black Forest, there is enough space to stop you feeling too claustrophobic.

Winter can get bitingly cold, there are far fewer crowds. Germany is renowned for its Christmas markets and is pretty much guaranteed snow every winter.

Spring and autumn are ideal times to visit – the weather is mild, if sometimes unpredictable, and prices lower than in peak season.

Most of Germany’s classical music festivals are held in June. Paradoxically, Munich’s world-famous Oktoberfest actually starts in mid-September. Germany’s renowned Christmas markets are held from mid-November until early January. Check your destination’s tourist board website for specific dates.

International airports

Berlin-Brandenburg (BER), 20km; Frankfurt (FRA), 12km; Cologne (CGN), 14km; Düsseldorf (DUS), 8km; Hamburg (HAM), 9km; Munich (MUC), 28.5km; Stuttgart (STR) 14km.

Getting around in Germany

Germany is a large country, and national airline Lufthansa has flights linking up many of the major cities, but you’ll also find one of the most extensive railway networks in the world, so there is little excuse to fly. In recent times there have also been good deals on rail passes offered by national operator Deutsche Bahn (DB; to locals and travellers alike to encourage the use of its regional network, so look out for those. The InterCity (IC) and high-speed InterCity Express (ICE) trains link up big cities, with the fastest route between Berlin in the east and Cologne in the west taking around four hours.

Most major cities have an underground U-Bahn system, or trams in the centre and an S-Bahn network going out into the suburbs. For timetables and fares, see Deutsche Bahn’s website.

In the few rural areas not served by trains, buses efficiently fill the gap. It’s well worth buying travelcards for these. Germany’s roads are well-maintained. Fly-drive deals often work out cheaper than hiring cars through local agents. There are also a number of scenic drives, particularly in Bavaria, that are worth the hire cost alone, with the Baden Wine Route and German Alpine Road among the most captivating.

Cyclists are well-catered for: there are bike lanes throughout Germany and you can hire bikes from most of the main train stations and drop them off at any other participating station.

Health & safety

Germany has an excellent healthcare system. If you are an EU citizen, a European Health insurance Card (EHIC) or Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) covers you for most medical care. No vaccinations are required, though it’s worth checking your tetanus jab is up to date. In some parts of Germany there is a small risk of contracting tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease, so consider insect repellent. Tap water is safe to drink. In touristy areas in Germany, as in other parts of the world, be aware of pickpockets.