I visited Germany on several trips starting in 2000 until the present. I’m always impressed with the country’s natural beauty, hearty food, and it’s true– the efficiency of everything! Speaking of efficiency, some of my best memories in Germany involve transportation: taking a train along the Rhine and seeing the ruins of old castles dotted on the hilltops, or cruising along the perfectly-maintained autobahn. From Oktoberfest, to Christmas markets, to ski slopes and forests — Germany’s broad regional diversity means there’s always some new area to explore — and there’s still much I have left to see!
I first visited Berlin in the year 2000 and have enjoyed seeing the city develop and change in subsequent visits. One point of interest is the Checkpoint Charlie museum, located at the site of the Berlin Wall, which divided the west from the Soviet east. The gift shop sells chunks of the wall for purchase (or at least it used to) — which makes for an interesting souvenir. (Yes it’s a just chunk of concrete, but it’s also a chunk of history!) Fans of Cold War history won’t be disappointed, as there are plenty of museums and exhibits around town focusing on that period.
Another key site is the Brandenburg Gate, dating back to the 18th century– and arguably one of the most famous sights associated with Germany. The surrounding area to the east has several great shops and restaurants, as well as the Gendarmenmarkt market square, which hosts a large Christmas market. and the west side of the gate is the massive Tiergarten Park, with plenty of monuments, water features, and cafes. North of the Brandenburg Gate is the German Parliament, or Bundestag, at the Reichstag Building, which is open for tours if you sign up in advance.
A somber exhibit is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which features 2,711 stone columns of varying size, leading into a labyrinth of pathways. It also features an underground set of exhibits.
Potsdamer Place is also a hub of restaurants and activity. I last visited in 2015 and stayed here, enjoying the nearby Christmas market. (I didn’t stick around for New Years, but I hear they throw a massive NYE bash, as well!) There were large pieces of the Berlin Wall on display near the metro– worth seeing if you’re in the neighborhood.
Finally, Berlin has fabulous nightlife catering to a wide variety of tastes. I was impressed by the large number of elaborate, fabulous speakeasy bars that they had when I last visited. I’ve posted a link to some good ones here, but note that the article is about as dated as my last visit to Berlin, so I’m sure the scene has evolved since then.
The restaurant options are also fantastic and visitors won’t have any trouble finding good German fare– or international cuisine. Last time, I really enjoyed eating at the Hofbräu Wirtshaus, even though it’s a southern / Bavarian themed restaurant and a branch of the southern-German restaurant that brings fame to the Haufbräu name.
Cologne is a fabulous city and among my favorites in Germany. Owing to its namesake, the city is where cologne got its name, and its possible to buy bottles of the original scent (4711) at shops scattered around the city center.
The Cologne Cathedral is just outside the main train station– it’s a massive Gothic, cruciform structure with two spires and incredible history. While touring the inside of the cathedral, be sure to note the tomb believed to hold the remains of the Three Kings, as well as the treasury, and the nearby shrine with contributions left behind by ailing visitors over the years.
There is a large Roman History Museum adjacent to the cathedral, as well as plenty of shops, leading into the Old Market. It’s also worth strolling along the Rhine river, which bisects the city and hosts side-by-side museums on chocolate and sports (to burn off the calories from the chocolate, I suppose). (I’ve only explored the left bank, but would appreciate readers’ insights on right-bank activities!)
In terms of dining, there’s plenty of awesome traditional spots around town. In nice weather, the sidewalk restaurants in the Old Market are great. One recommendation is Gilden im Zims, which has delicious Sauerbraten. Also be sure to check out Peters Brauhaus (a classic beer hall) or the sub-subterranean / cavernous Weinhaus Brungs— both have great food and local wine. I’ve heard good things about Funkhaus Cafe, as well. Finally, just outside the cathedral is the Cafe Reichard, a traditional spot for getting coffee and pastries — it’s a great spot to get your bearings after arriving in the city.
Christmas Markets: Cologne is famous for its epic Christmas markets, each featuring its own stylized variety of mugs for mulled wine and hot cocoa. The main market is outside the cathedral and has music, food, and plenty of shops. My favorite one is a few hundred meters away, in the Old Market, which has a troll / gnome theme — including on the collectible mugs in which mulled wine is served. There’s a small trolley that connects the four main Christmas markets (Cathedral, Ghome, Angel’s Market, and Riverside), in case you don’t feel like walking. Note that the markets can get very crowded!
Kolsch: It’s worth noting that Cologne is famous for its Kolsch beer scene. In many classic beer hall restaurants, the server will come around with a circular carrier filled with tall, thin glasses of Kolsch beer (almost like a large shot glass). It’s basically assumed that you’ll want Kolsch with your meal and every time you finish one, they’ll mark a roman numeral on your coaster and automatically replace it. When you don’t want any more, just put your coaster on top of the empty glass. At the end, the server tallies up the numerals to calculate the bill.
Finally, I’ve heard Cologne features a raucous Mardi Gras celebration in February… it’s still on my list for a future visit!
I only visited Aachen one day in 2019 for its Christmas market, but I found it to be an inviting town with medieval architecture and a walk-able old city. The Christmas market is great, as well, and winds its way through the old cobblestone streets. (Keep an eye out for the boot-shaped wine mugs : ) I was impressed by the castle-like city hall, as well as the Romanesque pavilion downtown. I understand the city is famous for its thermal baths, and Carolus spa is a notable option– just north of the old city.
Monschau is a small town that borders– and has an intertwined history– Belgium, having changed ownership back-and-forth over the years. Its old city is a hidden gem, which is situated in a valley with a traditional atmosphere. The surrounding hillside also has some nice hiking paths and offers great views over the city.
Monschau is famous for glass-blowing and tourists can stop by the large visitors center outside the old city to view demonstrations (and buy blown-glass). Monschau is also known for its strong mustards, which I highly recommend trying while in town. Finally, local bakeries make a hard-tack biscuit out of honey and flour; it’s too hard to chew, so you need to let it soak in your mouth (or soak it in coffee) and eat it slowly over a period of time.
I’ve visited Frankfurt many times over the years– both as a tourist, for work, and during day-long layovers on Lufthansa. It’s a hub of banking and industry, with a nice blend of slick modern architecture and traditional cultural charm.
I enjoy a walk along the park on the city’s Main river, to get my bearings. The Romerberg Square is at the heart of the old city and has some great restaurants and aesthetically-pleasing timber houses lined up side-by-side. The Market Hall sells good produce, and there’s plenty of outdoor food stands in the surrounding area, as well. (Note — the area by the train station is a bit sketchy.) The surrounding Old City architecture is also impressive to note as you stroll through town. This area has plenty of cathedrals (including the main Frankfurt Cathedral) and several restaurants. Fans of the writer Goethe won’t want to miss the house where he grew up, on the western side of the Old City.
North of the Old City are several modern shops and restaurants, as well as the popular MyZeil Mall— which I’ve enjoy popping into while in town. The Zeil walking street just outside is also a great place for a stroll– and features several sidewalk restaurants and cafes. To the west of town is the Opera, a beautiful structure that also hosts a very nice cafe / restaurant inside.
When eating, I recommend trying Handkäse (a hand-made cheese which is a specialty of Frankfurt), as well as the locally-produced apfelwein (apple wine), which has a nice taste (sometimes a bit effervescent– like cider) and is not too sweet.
Stuttgart is a picturesque city in southwest Germany on the edge of the Black Forest. As a major automobile hub, visitors won’t want to miss the Mercedes-Benz Museum (to the east) or the Porsche Museum (to the north).
In the center of town is the Schlossplatz with the palace of the same name in the background. Another notable attraction is the Kunstmuseum— in a large square glass building, with several floors and a cafe (you won’t miss it!) The nearby Schillerplatz is at the heart of the historic city (think cobblestone, shops, and cafes). In the old city, I enjoyed the Confiserie Selbach chocolate shop. There are several great beer halls serving up traditional fare, as well.
Mrs. Yakpacker and I just visited Ulm last week as part of a regional trip — and it was a great city! The Ulmer Munster cathedral features the world’s tallest spire– which is possible to climb and offers fabulous views over the city — but beware– it’s a long slog up a continuously-spiral staircase! The City Hall has several historic frescoes painted on its exterior walls, and sits at the center of the old city. We ate at Barfüßer die Hausbrauerei Ulm, which has great hearty fare and brews alike. Outdoor seating make it an especially pleasant experience.
The Daunbe river cuts through the city, separating Baden-Wurttemberg from Bavaria. There is an island in the middle of the river with restaurants, but we didn’t get the chance to go there (next time!) North of town is the Wilhelmsburg Fortress.
Munich is possibly my favorite city in Germany — not only is it in the gorgeous Bavaria region, but it has plenty of charm, great food… and Oktoberfest! This is the place to go for huge pretzels, sausage, massive steins of beer, and oompa-music.
Marienplatz is at the center of town and is a hub of energy. The Frauenkirche cathedral is the famous two-domed church in the center of town, and a landmark of Munich. The city center also features a castle and an Egyptian Museum (I never got the chance to see the latter). Further south, the Vienna Square technically forms the old city market square, but really, both sides of the Isar river have a traditional feeling. North of the city is the massive, sprawling English Garden, which contains lakes, monuments and restaurants.
To the west of town is the Nymphenburg Palace and the adjacent carriage museum– accessible by city tram– and well worth the visit! This is a site not to be missed!
Be sure to visit the famous Hofbräuhaus restaurant in the center of town. People from all over flock to this place, which has great food and brew. The tables are shared, with broad wooden-benches, making it a great place to mingle with others and share travel tips. I especially like the Hefeweizen (and if you can find it, the dark version- Dunkelweizen).
There are several other smaller, more local, and delicious beer halls around town, such as Augustiner (a personal favorite) — so don’t miss those!
If you’re planning to go to Oktoberfest, it really is a blast! There are several festivities and events that take place throughout the month of September (and early October), all on a schedule online. Each major beer producer has its own (enormous) tent, with live music, food and brew. I went to the Augustiner, Löwenbräu, and Paulaner tents — all were fabulous. If you just want to pop into a tent and stand / grab a beer, that’s possible, but you’ll sometimes have to wait in line to get inside. If you want to reserve a table and get food service, you’ll have to book well in advance. (Food consists of half chicken, sausage, and hot pretzels.) Fortunately, some of my friends booked a table — so I did that experience one day, and the tent-hopping experience the day before. Both days were incredibly fun! We topped off each day by riding some of the (serious, grown-up) amusement park rides scattered throughout the festival grounds. Everyone is happy and in good spirits — I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t encounter any altercations or issues during my entire time there, despite the copious amounts of beverage being consumed by all.
Pro Tip: Buy Lederhosen (men) or Dirndl (women)! Most people were wearing them and I felt a bit out of place having not bought some. It’s a better value if you get them online in advance : )
If you fancy strong beer, consider going to the Strong beer fest, in springtime — it’s basically like Oktoberfest, but with strong boch beer. I’ve been told it draws more of a local crowd and is a lot of fun!