Possibly one of Europe’s most underrated countries, with a superb rail network to boot, open a map of Germany and seek out some of its most extraordinary landscapes and cityscapes.
The ever cool Berlin, traditional Christmas markets and Bierfests are well ensconced on European tourist itineraries. However, with a 2,000 year old history, 16 states or Länder to discover, the Alps, the Rhine and plenty of wine, Germany is all about wanderlust. They invented the word, after all. Step away from the cliches just a little and your rucksack, another German word, will be put to great use.
Best cities to visit in Germany
We have city guides to all the great historic places to visit in Germany. These include the eternally cool and cultural hub of Berlin, metropolitan Munich which is also capital of Bavaria and Stuttgart at the heart of the Neckar Valley and capital of Baden-Württemberg state. The northern city of Hamburg has won the title European Green Capital and is the gateway to Copenagen and Sweden by train. Cologne boasts a magnificent cathedral and, along with Koblenz, is the way into the world renowned Rhine Valley. Frankfurt am Main combines business with pleasure between its financial centre, Old Town and riverside life and Freiburg is the gateway to the Black Forest and one of Germany’s most underrated places to access freedom in nature. See also our blogs on the Best things to do in Berlin and Day trips from Berlin.
Walking trails in Germany
A lust for hiking is what Wanderlust means, and the Germans definitely celebrate their innate adoration of the outdoors with some superb trails, many of them accessible by train. There are two favourites to seek out: first, the iconic Rennsteig, an ancient 170km trail through the Thuringian Forest and Highlands, taking you along a ridge between Hörschel near Eisenach to Blankenstein on the River Saale, both with train stations.
Similarly named but very different, landscape wise, is the Rheinsteig trail, which takes you through vine-covered hills, alongside dramatic gorges and through ancient forest, all lining the great Rhine Valley for 320km. Main train stations for the Rheinsteig are Bonn, Koblenz and Wiesbaden.
Germany’s national parks
Germany’s national parks are also hiking havens but worthy of a category of their own here. There are 16 of them, the most famous being Bavarian Forest and Black Forest National Parks. The former, a veritable woodland wonderland, is best accessed from Plattling, Zwiesel or Bayerisch Eisenstein. The Black Forest is accessible via Freiburg, meaning ‘free town’ and, with over 6000km² of wild places to explore on its doorstep, freedom most definitely awaits. It is also very popular with cross country skiers and snowshoers in winter.
Another great national park to seek out is Eifel National Park, in the North Rhine-Westphalia region, a land of many lakes and rivers, with gateway train stations at Kall and Heimbach. There is an efficient shuttle bus system to the park from there. There is also a bike bus from Aachen to the national park on Sundays between May and October.
Cycling trails in Germany
Cycling is very much part of German lifestyle and, if there was a Eurovision prize for nationwide cycling trails, Germany would win hands down. You can also take your bike on trains although most cities and towns have bicycle hire facilities or, even better, offer luggage transportation services. Germany has also been way ahead of the game when it comes to electric bikes, with plenty of those to hire too.
The best cycling trail for flat, easy going but with exquisite scenery is Lake Constance (or Bodensee), with a 270km shoreline that is shared with Austria and Switzerland. The best German train station for Lake Constance is, not surprisingly, Konstanz. Other favourite flatties include the North Sea coast around Schleswig-Holstein, with the city of Kiel as its capital, and Mecklenburg’s ‘Land of a 1000 lakes’, with Schwerin as a perfect jumping off board. A family favourite is Weser River Trail with 500km to explore along the valley and through Saxon lowlands. The nearest cities to the start and end are Kassel and Bremerhaven.
Note that the North Sea Route is part of the long-distance LF1 route which goes all around the coast, and one of the most popular cycling routes in the Netherlands. For more challenging cycle routes, read our blogs on the Rhine Valley Cycle Trail, the Black Forest and the Munich to Venice cycle route.
Wine festivals in Germany
Bierfests are one thing, but wine festivals in Germany are all about slowly savouring Germany’s regional flavours. The wine is flowing in Mainz at the beginning of September, with a three day event around the Old Town and Stadtpark, and you can combine this with the Rheingau Wine Festival in Frankfurt, which falls around the same time, but lasts longer. Stuttgart’s Weindorf is over 30 years old and boasts a similar amount of open air restaurants or bars, all promoting up to 500 local varieties of wine. Just as well it is two weeks long.
If viticulture is the thing that floats your boat more than anything else, then the Golden Wine Autumn Festival which takes place in towns along the Middle Rhine, is celebrated on many river cruises. Germany is very popular for river cruises generally but, for a seasonal toast, seek out river trips from St.Goar, Koblenz, Rüdesheim, Rhens and Braubach at this time of year, all accessible by train.
Image credits top to bottom: Berlin skyline iStock ©Bluejayphoto, Rheinsteig sign painted on a tree along the trail in Germany iStock ©Mlyons, Black Forest landlauf trails ©Dennis Wegewijs, Cycling in the German Alps iStock ©Uwe Moser, old shed in Bernkastel-Kues in the Mosel Valley, Germany iStock ©jacquesvandintere
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