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Rick Steves Germany
By Rick Steves
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- Fully updated, comprehensive coverage for planning a multi-week trip through Germany
- Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
- Top sights and hidden gems, from the towering Zugspitze and jagged Alps to rustic villages and delicious strudel
- How to connect with local culture: Stroll through a Cristkindlemarkt around Christmas, chat with fans about the latest fussball match, or kick back in a biergarten
- Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
- The best places to eat, sleep, and relax with a Berliner Weisse in hand
- Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and incredible museums
- Vital trip-planning tools, like how to link destinations, build your itinerary, and get from place to place
- Detailed maps, including a fold-out map for exploring on the go
- Over 1,000 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
- Coverage of Munich, Bavaria, Tirol, Salzburg, Berchtesgaden, Baden-Baden, the Black Forest, Rothenburg, Würzburg, Frankfurt, Rhine Valley, Mosel Valley, Trier, Cologne, Nürnburg, Lutherland, Leipzig, Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, and more
Planning a one- to two-week trip? Check out Rick Steves Best of Germany.
Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe
Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.
I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my bus tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught millions of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.
This book offers you a balanced mix of Germany’s cities and villages. I’ve also included a taste of neighboring Austria, with side trips into Tirol and Salzburg. It’s selective: Rather than listing dozens of castles along the Rhine, I focus on the best: Rheinfels and Marksburg. And it’s in-depth: My self-guided museum tours and city walks provide insight into the country’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.
I advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of my money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.
We visit Germany to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.
Judging by the positive feedback I receive from readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.
Gute Reise! Happy travels!
Germany’s Top Destinations
Map: Germany’s Top Destinations
Planning Your Trip
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
BEFORE YOU GO
Germany is blessed with some of Europe’s most high-powered sights. It has spectacular scenery—the jagged Alps, flower-filled meadows, rolling hills of forests and farms, and rivers such as the raging Rhine and moseying Mosel. And it has hundreds of castles, some ruined and mysterious; others stout, crenellated, and imposing; and still others right out of a Disney fairy tale.
And of course there are the cultural clichés, kept alive more by tradition-loving Germans than by tourist demand. The country is dotted with idyllic half-timbered villages where you can enjoy strudel at the bakery or sip a stein of beer while men in lederhosen play oompah music. Peruse a wonderland of chocolates and stock up on cuckoo clocks.
These traditions stand at sharp contrast with the “real” Germany of today. The muscleman of Europe, Germany is the European Union’s most populous country and has the biggest economy. This land that’s roughly the size of Montana creates a gross domestic product that’s one-fifth the size of the United States’. Germany has risen from the ashes of World War II to become the world’s fourth-largest industrial power. At the forefront of human progress, Germany is a world of high-tech transportation, gleaming cities, social efficiency, and world-class museums celebrating many of history’s greatest cultural achievements.
German inventions range from Gutenberg’s printing press to Zeppelin’s zeppelins to Röntgen’s X-rays to Daimler’s and Benz’s cars to Geiger’s counter. Musically, Germany dominated the scene for more than two centuries—Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, Pachelbel, Wagner, Mendelssohn, to name a few. Germans have a reputation as profound analytical thinkers, sprouting philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, and Engels.
Medieval Nürnberg hosted Holy Roman Emperors and Adolf Hitler, while Martin Luther shook up the Church and reshaped Christianity.
Germany’s roots run deep; the southern half was ruled by ancient Rome. After Rome fell, German lands fragmented into hundreds of small feudal kingdoms, each with its own coinage, king, and castle—many of which still dot the countryside today. These lands became an important European hub for trade and transportation.
It was from Germany that a humble monk named Martin Luther rocked Europe with religious reform. Germany became a Europe-wide battleground for Protestants and Catholics in a series of religious wars.
Traditionally—and in some ways even today—German culture divides at a sort of north-south Mason-Dixon Line. Northern Germany was barbarian, is predominantly Protestant, and tackles life aggressively, while southern Germany was Roman, is largely Catholic, and enjoys a more relaxed tempo.
As a nation, Germany is less than 150 years old (“born” in 1871). Though quite young compared with most of its European neighbors, it quickly became a cultural powerhouse. Its prosperity ended in the humiliating defeat of World War I, followed by Hitler’s cruel rule and Germany’s near destruction in World War II.
Many visitors can’t help but associate Germany with its dark Nazi past. While a small neo-Nazi skinhead element still survives in the back alleys of German culture, for the most part the nation is surprisingly progressive. A genuine sense of responsibility for World War II and the Holocaust pervades much of German society. If you visit a concentration camp memorial, you’ll likely see several field-trip groups of German teens visiting there to learn the lessons of their country’s past.
At war’s end, Germany was divided East-West between the victorious Allies, and the Cold War set in (1945-1991). More than 25 years after reunification, despite billions of dollars of economic aid, the East lags behind the West, with a lower income and a higher unemployment rate.
The historic divisions in Germany, between the north/south and the east/west, are growing less pronounced as Germany becomes a more mobile society. Germans love to travel, throughout their own country and beyond. They’re cosmopolitan and outward-looking. Two-thirds speak at least one other language (mostly English). Watch out—they may know American politics and history better than you do.
Germany was a founding member of the European Union and continues to lead the way in creating a healthy Europe for the future—with peace, unity, tolerance (e.g., legalized gay marriage), and human rights as its central motivations. It has taken a tough stance on bailing out EU nations that haven’t shown fiscal responsibility, but it remains a generous country—it’s one of the world’s biggest foreign-aid donors.
Ponder Berlin’s memorials to Sinti and Roma victims (left) and to politicians who opposed Hitler (right).
The many faces of modern Germany
Looking ahead, Germany is faced with a number of challenges—none bigger than immigration. Today, more than 11 million immigrants live within its borders—more than any country except the US and Russia. Nearly 3 million are Turkish; many were Gastarbeiter (guest workers) invited by Germany to help boost its labor force. In 2015 alone, Germany welcomed more than a million refugees, mostly from Syria and Iraq. Many newcomers are Muslims—not always the easiest fit within a traditionally Christian nation.
Today, three decades after the end of the Cold War, Germany is reunited, with Berlin as its capital. Deutschland is energetic, efficient, and organized. It’s a nation of cutting-edge industry, medieval castles, speedy autobahns, old-time beer halls, soaring skyscrapers, and the best wurst. This young country with a long past continues to make history.
Germany’s Top Destinations
Herzlich Willkommen! There’s so much to see in Germany and so little time. This overview breaks the country’s top destinations into must-see sights (to help first-time travelers plan their trip) and worth-it sights (for those with extra time or special interests). I’ve also suggested a minimum number of days to allow per destination.
These four destinations give you an excellent and diverse sampler of Germany (and dip into nearby Austria).
▲▲▲Munich (allow 2 days)
The thriving city has a glorious main square and a traffic-free center, with a fun open-air market/beer garden, the Viktualienmarkt. Well stocked with sights, Munich serves up Baroque palaces, stately churches, and excellent museums on art, science, and history. This in-love-with-life city enjoys its lush parks (such as the vast English Garden) and rowdy beer halls (rowdier at Oktoberfest). Sights near Munich include a beer-loving monastery, more palaces, and most important, the sobering concentration camp memorial at Dachau. With limited time, the Bavarian Alps region and Salzburg can be done as day trips (though each merits a longer stay).
▲▲▲Bavarian Alps (2 days)
This Alps-straddling region, with Germany on one side and Austria on the other, boasts the fairy-tale castles of “Mad” King Ludwig II: Neuschwanstein, Hohenschwangau, and Linderhof. Choose among inviting home bases: handy Füssen (with a nearby spa), the Austrian retreat of Reutte (with a ruined castle of its own), and adorable Oberammergau (known for wood-carving and its Passion Play). For alpine fun, try hikes, luge rides, and a lift to the top of the towering Zugspitze, Germany’s highest point.
▲▲▲Salzburg (1-2 days)
Just south of the German border, the Austrian city of Salzburg is a musical mecca for fans of Mozart and The Sound of Music, offering S.O.M. tours and concerts in Baroque churches, along with riverside promenades, grand gardens, and beer gardens. The picturesque old town—with winding lanes, shops, and Mozart’s birthplace—is surrounded by hills laced with trails and topped by a sky-high fortress. Near Salzburg is Berchtesgaden (in Germany), with serene alpine scenery and Hitler’s mountain-top retreat.
Marvel at Munich’s Residenz; enjoy snowy Neuschwanstein Castle; make friends at Ehrenberg (Austria); ride a luge in Bavaria.
▲▲▲Berlin (2-3 days)
Germany’s vibrant, sprawling capital features world-class art and history museums, the Brandenburg Gate, trendy nightlife, leafy boulevards, striking modern architecture, and remnants of the Berlin Wall, which once divided the city and country. Thought-provoking memorials and museums throughout the city commemorate the many victims of World War II. Near Berlin are Potsdam’s palaces and the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Explore Berlin’s courtyards; stroll Salzburg’s elegant streets; pay homage to Berlin’s symbol of reunification—the Brandenburg Gate.
You can weave any of these destinations—rated ▲ or ▲▲—into your itinerary. It’s easy to add some destinations based on convenience (if you’re heading from Frankfurt to Munich, Rothenburg is on the way), though some farther-flung places (like Hamburg) can merit the journey, depending on your time and interests. Germany’s excellent train system brings everything within reach; most destinations in this book are within a two- to four-hour ride from Frankfurt’s airport, a popular arrival point with its own train station.
▲Baden-Baden and the Black Forest (1-2 days)
Baden-Baden is a tourist-friendly resort, offering two kinds of bath experiences (sedate and lively), a riverside stroll, and a grand casino in a small-town package. With a second day, delve into Black Forest sights: the university town of Freiburg, the cozy village of Staufen, and forested hills rife with hikes, folk museums, cute hamlets, and cuckoo clocks.
▲▲Rothenburg and the Romantic Road (1-2 days)
Rothenburg is a well-preserved medieval town full of half-timbered buildings, small museums, fun tours, and cobbled lanes surrounded by walkable medieval walls. With extra time, explore the Romantic Road’s scenic route through the lovely countryside and time-passed towns of Dinkelsbühl and Nördlingen.
▲Würzburg (half-day to 1 day)
This university town is home to the impressive, fun-to-tour Residenz palace (with manicured gardens and a dazzling Baroque chapel), a hilltop fortress, atmospheric wine bars, and a bridge that’s perfect for strolling at sunset.
Germany has storybook villages like Bacharach, medieval festivals in Rothenburg, fine wood carving—a German specialty—in Nürnberg, and skyscrapers in Frankfurt.
▲Frankfurt (half-day to 1 day)
The country’s bustling banking center, with a skyscraping skyline, gives you a good look at modern Germany. Rebuilt after World War II, Frankfurt has a charming old town (Römerberg), riverside parks, and a string of museums across the river. It’s also a major transportation hub, with an international airport and major train stations.
▲▲Rhine Valley (1-2 days)
Steeped in legend, the mighty Rhine River is lined with storybook villages capped by imposing castles. Good home bases are cute Bacharach and St. Goar (with the best castle, Rheinfels). A thoroughfare since ancient times, the Rhine Valley is easy to explore by boat, car, bike, and train.
▲▲Mosel Valley (1 day)
This sleepy meandering river, near the Rhine Valley, harbors wine-loving cobbled towns, such as handy Cochem and tiny, quaint Beilstein. Nestled within a forest is my favorite European castle, Burg Eltz, which feels lived in, because it is. Farther west is Trier, easy to add for Mosel fans.
▲Trier (half-day to 1 day)
On the banks of the Mosel, Germany’s oldest city has a fun market square, a huge cathedral, a fine archaeological museum, and massive Roman monuments such as the Porta Nigra gate and the basilica.
▲Cologne (half-day to 1 day)
Busy Cologne, on the Rhine River, has a spectacular Gothic cathedral looming over its train station, making it a rewarding, quick stop that’s especially convenient for train travelers.
The city’s engaging museums—from Roman-Germanic to art (old masters and modern art) to chocolate—may entice visitors to stay longer.
▲▲Nürnberg (1-2 days)
This city has an engaging old town (rebuilt after World War II), a famous Christmas market, a variety of great museums, and haunting reminders of its Nazi past (the Nazi Documentation Center and Rally Grounds).
▲Lutherland (1-2 days)
Martin Luther made an impact on each of these places: the charming university town of Erfurt, where he spent his youth; Wartburg Castle, where he hid out from the pope’s goons; and Wittenberg (with the most Luther sights), where he taught, preached, and revolutionized Christianity.
▲Leipzig (half-day to 1 day)
This rejuvenated city, which was once the derelict “second city” of East Germany, has wonderful Bach and Cold War museums. The city is architecturally drab, but has a classic café scene and the trendy Karli restaurant-and-nightlife zone.
▲▲Dresden (1-2 days)
The art-filled city, midway between Nürnberg and Berlin, offers exquisite museums (with the Green Vault’s Saxon treasures), Baroque palaces, a pleasant riverside promenade, and the landmark Frauenkirche church, symbolizing Dresden’s rebirth after the notorious WWII firebombing.
▲Hamburg (half-day to 1 day)
The big port city is awash with history and museums—from emigration to World War II to the Beatles. Its harbor tour is fun, its harbor boardwalk is inviting, its architecture is avant-garde (Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall), and its nightlife is Las Vegas-style. Hamburg makes an easy stop between Germany and Denmark.
Pause for a coffee break in Dresden’s museum complex, and relax on a harbor tour in Hamburg.
Planning Your Trip
To plan your trip, you’ll need to design your itinerary—choosing where and when to go, how you’ll travel, and how many days to spend at each destination. For my best general advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and more, see the Practicalities chapter.
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
As you read this book and learn your options...
Choose your top destinations.
My recommended itinerary (see the sidebar on the next page) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in 21 days, but you can adapt it to fit your own interests and time frame.
My itinerary is heavy on half-timbered towns. But if a little cuteness goes a long way for you, spend less time in smaller towns and more time in the bigger cities, which offer more sights and nightlife.
If you love to go a-wandering, you could easily spend a week in the Bavarian Alps area, touring castles, hiking, luge-riding, and spa-soaking. The region is easier by car, but doable without.
If rivers lined with castles, vineyards, and charming villages appeal to you, the Rhine and Mosel would fill a good week, including a day trip to Cologne for its stunning cathedral.
For beer hall fun, raise your glass in Munich. Wine connoisseurs enjoy Würzburg, the Rhine, and Mosel. For spa relaxation, Baden-Baden is your best bet.
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- "[Rick Steves] laces his guides with short and vivid histories and a scholar's appreciation for Renaissance art yet knows the best place to start an early tapas crawl in Madrid if you have kids. His clear, hand-drawn maps are Pentagon-worthy; his hints about how to go directly to the best stuff at the Uffizi, avoid the crowds at Versailles and save money everywhere are guilt-free."—TIME Magazine
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- "[Rick Steves'] neighborhood walks are always fun and informative. His museum guides, complete with commentary about historic sculpture and storied artworks are wonderful and add another dimension to sometimes stodgy, hard-to-comprehend museums."—NBC News
- On Sale
- Dec 20, 2022
- Page Count
- 1040 pages
- Rick Steves