If Europe is the center of classical history, then Germany is its core. This is a country with baroque and Romanesque influenced cities and acres of forest that seemingly goes on forever. Germany is the country that inspired Grimm’s Fairy Tales and its towering castles, and timber villages only show that further. This is the land on which Hansel and Gretel tricked the wicked witch; where Little Red Riding Hood visited her grandma and Rapunzel threw down her hair. There are many things to do in Germany, all of which are unmissable. Really, who needs Disney World?
Cologne is one of the largest cities in Germany, and the town itself dates back 2,000 years. It's also the Rhine region's cultural hub, with more galleries per square mile than anywhere in the world except for New York City. Most importantly, Cologne's unreal skyline is dominated by the Gothic towers of Cologne Cathedral. The Cathedral is the third-tallest in the world and the beacon of why the Catholic Church dubbed Cologne a "Holy City." You can visit the Cathedral throughout the year as it opens at 6 am on weekdays. Visitors can also take a guided tour across its roofs which provides incredible panoramas of Germany's warmest city.
When you close your eyes and picture Germany, chances are you're not expecting to see a beach vacation. However, all of this should be put to one side as soon as you feast your eyes on the spectacular Rügen Island. As well as being the largest island in the country, its Baltic coastlines are dominated by soft, white sandy beaches and steep chalk cliffs. Inland, there's a whole enchanting countryside to explore as well as resorts and spas that rarely get too crowded. If you like camping, there's also always the chance to take in the glory of the night sky from one of 16 organized sites on the island. Truly, if you want a beach holiday that's unlike anything else, Germany will fill that void.
In the 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Berlin has reclaimed what was once a barrier used to divide the city. What remains now stands as a testament to overcoming a shadowed history, bringing people together rather than tearing them apart. Is there a better way to unite people than with art? Probably not, and the East Side Gallery has risen to notoriety because of this. This open-air gallery is set on the remnants of the wall and consists of a series of murals and paintings from artists all over the world. As it stands, the gallery is a monument to the fall of the wall and peacefully overcoming all differences. As far as Berlin goes, it's definitely a must-see.
If you give yourself time to picture a fairytale castle, what you might unknowingly picture is Neuschwanstein. Probably because the Disney Castle and Hogwarts were actually modeled on it. This enchanting 19th-century palace sits on top of a hill in the middle of a Bavarian forest. It's understandably one of the world's most famous castles, but also has more to offer than just its look from afar. Keen visitors can stay in the small village of Hohenschwangau which surrounds it and then venture up to the castle for a guided tour. That being said, even the village offers its fair share of things to do, including an annual traditional Christmas market.
Once upon a time, Rothenburg was the second-largest city in Germany. Rothenburg ob der Tauber - literally meaning 'above the Tauber River - is a dream town. It's picturesque, preserved medieval streets are like something out of 'The Pied Piper of Hamelin' or 'Rumpelstiltskin.' Understandably, they've made the small town a haven for tourists in the thousands, with everyone searching for a piece of its magic. Regardless of this, simply setting foot on the old cobblestone will be enough to give you that. For a less-touristy Rothenburg, book a hotel overnight and explore the town after the sun sets. Before that, climb to the top of the town hall to see the town in all its glory, horses, carriages, and all.
Berlin's Brandenburg Gate is one of the city's most iconic and astonishing sites. Though steeped in wartime history, Brandenburg has seen almost as much as the city itself. It also serves as yet another symbol of the post-Cold War, reunified Germany. The gate was built in the late 18th Century and since then, has stood tall over the now vibrant city. If you visit Berlin during the summer months, you can learn pretty much all there is to know from the gate. However, if you visit for the New Year, you'll be able to join all of Berlin in a huge street party surrounding it. Fireworks, live music, you name it!
Another spot in Berlin is what's known as Museum Island, or Museumsinsel to Germans. Based on a small island in the middle of the Spree River lies a unique collection of museums and galleries. The five glorious, neo-classical museums that call Museumsinsel home house millions of treasures from the entire span of human history. Even if you're not keen on going into any of the museums, you can still opt to take a picnic over to the island where you can sit and admire the surrounding architecture. However, museum-lovers will be in heaven: its museums have everything from Ancient Egyptian artifacts to works by the best of the impressionists.
Sanssouci Park in Potsdam is often referred to as being the Versailles of Berlin. Looking at photographs of it, you'd also believe it. Seeing it for yourself, however, is an experience that no words in the English language can describe. The park surrounds a sprawling, formerly royal palace, the grounds of which occupy almost 300 acres of land. As well as its main palace, Sanssouci is also the location of several smaller palaces and pavilions including the Chinese House and Orangery Palace.
Note: If you'd like to visit more than one of the locations, it might be worth getting a pass to visit them all.
Of course, Germany has its own fairy tale route. It seems only fair, given how much of the country inspired so many of those stories. On the Fairy Tale Route, you can trace the footsteps of the Brothers Grimm through bewitching forests and enchanting towns. The route spans over 300 miles from Hanau to Bremen. Seeing the same sights that inspired so many tales is equally inspiring to those who visit. After all, the route has more than 20 castles, a medieval fortress, and waterfalls that never seem to end. Simply rent a car and invite magic into your passenger seat.
The Black Forest is a huge region in southwest Germany. Lying just on the border with France, its dense, evergreen forests also had a hand in inspiring the Grimm Brothers. The forest is mystical, mythical, and the experience of a lifetime. Its mountainous landscape is haunted by small, quaint villages and idyllic towns dotted throughout the region. Each town also has its own thing to offer its visitors, from the vineyards of the Badische Weinstrasse to the lakeside strolls of Titisee. The Black Forest is a marvel in all seasons, and its romantic gem is truly Heidelberg.