First time visitors to Germany can be forgiven for feeling a little off-kilter. Germany’s epic cities exude an air of such ultra-cool modernity that your own home can feel hopelessly provincial by comparison. At the same time, Germany’s natural beauty and pockets of landscape that seem trapped in medieval times give you the sense of peering directly into the distant past. Germany’s rich and turbulent history coupled with its unique cultural identity makes it one of the best places in Europe to explore. Here’s a pick of five absolutely exciting things to do in Germany this year.
Journey through Thousands of Years at Museum Island
With so much history to cover, Germany couldn’t settle for a museum street or even a museum district. No, it takes a whole island of museums to showcase the riches of this country’s long past. Located in the River Spree, Museum Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the Altes Museum (built 1830), the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum and the Pergamonmuseum. All five museums were designed around the collection they house, intensifying the visitors’ sense of having stumbled through a portal into the past. Visiting one museum could take all day but, as seasoned museum-goers know, less is more when it comes to walking the corridors of history. Focus on a few key items such as the monumental, ancient Greek Pergamon Altar, the Neues Museum’s incredible collection of Egyptian artefacts, including the inimitable Bust of Nefertiti and the Alte Nationalgaleries’work by sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow.
Feel Like Gulliver at Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland
There are many reasons to visit Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland. It’s the world’s largest model railway exhibition for a start, it’s one of Germany’s premier tourist attractions and it cost an estimated $12.5 million to build. Apart from all that, though, who doesn’t love miniatures! Tucked away in the unique Gothic Revival warehouse district of Speicherstadt, Miniatur Wunderland is composed of 11km of teeny tiny railway track that takes it passengers through nine distinct regions. You can see Scandinavia, the Swiss Alps, America, Switzerland and a number of German districts in exquisitely minute detail. This miniature world is inhabited by over 260,000 people who occupy the astonishingly detailed cities and villages and watch the trains whizz endlessly by. Curiously, there’s even a miniature airport – surely everyone’s taking the train?
Sleep in a Medieval Castle in the Rhine Valley
There is something mystical and even just a little bit threatening about Germany’s Rhine Valley, the castle-dotted landscape known internationally for its production of wine. The valley, where the River Rhine slices through slate mountains between Rüdesheim and Koblenz, is thick with ancient forests. The 65 kilometres of the Rhine Valley is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and known locally as the Oberes Mittelrheintal, a name that better suits the area’s fairytale allure. Driving through the Rhine Valley you can expect to find quaint villages, Gothic churches, Medieval castles and an endless number of gorgeous vineyards. You must spend a day sampling the local wine and cheese and taking in the legends of a place that was once one of the most significant trade routes in Europe. But to really lose yourself in the landscape, tour the Rhine Valley by boat and spend the night in one of the many medieval castles now renovated into hotels.
The second island on our list, Rügen couldn’t be more different from the architectural and historical heavyweight of Museum Island in the heart of the Berlin metropolis. Rügen Island is located in the German Baltic sea and is composed of around 1000 sq km of verdant natural beauty. All of that land means a bountiful coastline and thousands of visitors each year descending on Rügen to enjoy its white sandy beaches, peninsulas and secluded bays. With two National Parks on the island, adventure-lovers visit Rügen to hike the Jasmund Peninsula and Stubintz beach forests. Rügen is also famous for being the site of Prora, an epic concrete tourist resort masterminded by the Nazi government in the mid 1930s that is now predominantly derelict.
Rügen Island’s very first bathing resort opened at a mineral spring in 1794. It’s well worth taking a tour of Rügen’s many historic seaside hotels, many of which were frequented in the 19th and early 20th centuries by famous Europeans. You can visit Rügen on a day trip from Straslund or do as Johannes Brahms regularly did and spend a few days sunbathing and splashing in the sea.
Sanssouci Park and Palace
Now we travel to the city of Postdam, home to the Kings of Prussia and the German Kaiser until the end of the First World War. Today, Sanssouci Park and the Palace it surrounds is the top tourist attraction in Postdam and a monument to the lavish lifestyle of a German monarchy that no longer exists. It was Frederick the Great who fell in love with what was a simple orchard in Potsdam where farmers grew plums, figs and grapes for wine. Finding the terraced orchard a perfect escape from the stress of leading an empire, Frederick built a magnificent palace and an extensive park on the grounds that was completed in 1747. Many extra buildings were added to the sprawling residence in subsequent years, such as the New Palace, Charlottenhof Palace and Chinese House. Yet Frederick’s original Rococo Hohenzollern Palace still stands with its period interiors impressively preserved and open to visitors. Sanssouci Palace is small by European palatial standards which gives you the opportunity to take in all the details and learn about the lives of those who once lived here. Be sure to also spend a quiet moment at the famous vineyard terrace, the spot where Frederick the Great imagined building a palace named Sanssouci, meaning ‘no worries’.
Germany has something to inspire the wanderlust in everyone, be it natural beauty, architectural treasures, historical monuments or simply a heavy stein of beer and a tasty bratwurst. So, get out there and pick five of your own!
For Reasons to Travel to Germany this Summer, click here.