Heading to Germany? Your trip is sure to take you to at least one of Germany’s top 10 cities whether you are flying into Frankfurt’s Airport, breathing in the sea air in Hamburg, or enjoying typical Bavarian gemütlichkeit in Munich. With a history spanning from tribal villages to Roman times to the disastrous events of World War II, Germany has emerged as a world power with much to see.
The country is easy to traverse by train, autobahn, or plane. Germany encompasses both the low-brow of beer and sausage to the high-brow of the finest minds like composers Bach and Beethoven to writers Goethe, Schiller, and brothers Grimm. That’s not even mentioning its world-famous Oktoberfest or magical Christmas markets.
Our list of the best cities in Germany showcases the diversity of this eclectic country. Discover the best of German cities from the most charming Altstadt (old towns) to progressive city centers.
Berlin is the capital and the biggest city in Germany. After being separated into East and West during the Cold War, Berlin was reunited in 1990. It quickly emerged as a cosmopolitan, international city beloved for its Avante-Garde art, museums, architecture, history, and nightlife.
Iconic structures like the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), Reichstag (government building), and Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church) have become symbols for the country, not just Berlin.
But despite its many attractions, it can be difficult to navigate Berlin. Our list of 10 Things Not to Do in Berlin outlines the many pitfalls. But if you keep an open mind and travel outside of the central neighborhood of Mitte, this is one of the coolest places in the world. From its multicultural street food to one-of-a-kind accommodations, Berlin will expand your definition of what a trip to Germany can be.
Berlin is also hosting some of the best festivals in Germany every year. Experience an array of cultures during Karneval der Kulturen, or the somewhat-tamed rebellion of Labor Day. At Christmas time, the city is at its most traditional with some of the best Christmas Markets in the country.
Munich is known in Germany as München. It is the capital of Bavaria and gateway to the Alps. This quintessential German city is the land of lederhosen, giant schweinshaxe (ham hocks), and Oktoberfest. The people have their own proud accents, history, and traditions. Many Müncheners count themselves as Bavarian first, and German second. This is what most people think of when they think of Germany.
The city offers first-class museums and regal German architecture like Marienplatz and its famed glockenspiel, as well as the Nymphenburg Palace. Munich is fancy, but that doesn’t mean the people don’t know how to have fun. This is also the home of favorite locations like the English Garden.
Not to be missed it the city’s world-famous beer. A beloved export, it is best enjoyed in the city; in its traditional beer halls, biergartens, or within the glorious beer tents of Oktoberfest. With more than six million visitors every year, it is just one of the beer festivals held here each year.
Thanks to its International Airport, Frankfurt is the major travel hub for Germany and much of Europe. Many travelers arrive in this modern city and pass right through, but Frankfurt is worth stopping for.
Largely destroyed in WWII, Frankfurt was the rare German city that decided not to recreate the past but emerge anew. It is the financial center of the country with its own stock market (Deutsche Börse) and gleaming skyscrapers. Its Main Tower is the only high-rise open to the public and offers unbeatable views of the city skyline as well as its namesake, the Main River.
If you hanker for something traditional in this modern forest, explore the recreated city center of the Römerberg. Home to the City Hall (the Römer) which dates back to 1405, it is bordered with quaint half-timbered houses. For the best of Frankfurt’s traditional drink, apfelwein (or ebbelwoi), cross the river into the Sachsenhausen neighborhood
Frankfurt is host to many important events and conventions, such as the International Book Fair in October. Started in 1949, it is the biggest book fair in the world.
Hamburg is the country’s second-largest city located in the North of Germany. Several waterways run through its center and Hamburg has more bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined. It boasts one of the biggest harbors in the world and still embraces its gritty, sailor past.
This is most apparent in its red-light district of the Reeperbahn. Complete with seedy bars and shops selling stripper boots, this is also a hot spot for clubs and music and the place the Beatles got their start.
The surrounding area of St. Pauli is also worth a visit. Spend time on the harbor with an early morning visit to the Fischmarkt (fish market). This meeting place for locals and tourists alike was started in 1703 and sells the freshest fish, flowers, and spices with a side of live entertainment. Nearby HafenCity has been newly built up and offers the latest in shopping and dining.
If you hanker for the classic, stick to the city center with its elegant neoclassical Rathaus (city hall) and its fine shopping street of Mönckebergstraße, affectionately known as Mö.
Cologne (or Köln), founded by the Romans, is one of Germany’s oldest cities. The soaring Cathedral of Cologne is the centerpiece with dual towers reaching 157-meters into the sky and can be seen from all over the city. Located right next to the train station, it is the first thing visitors see and they never take their eyes off it.
From here, walk through the old town and on the western shore of the Rhine River. Colorful 19th-century houses and ice cream cafes are the backgrounds for an idyllic stroll. Cologne’s art galleries and excellent museums mark every corner.
After all that walking, Cologne provides the perfect refreshment. Kölsch is the beer of Cologne. Served in endless rotation in small glasses, the people of Cologne rarely drink any other beer.
If your preferred vice is chocolate, Cologne has the museum for you. The Chocolate Museum covers the long history of turning cocoa beans into chocolate and finishes with the most delicious of fountains.
Clearly, there are plenty of places to have a good time in Cologne but there is no reason to limit yourself. If you visit Cologne for Carnival, the party overtakes the entire city. Cologne is the undisputed Carnival king in Germany. Coming right before Lent, the whole city goes little nuts with city-wide parades, balls, and public spectacles.
Just a short distance from Berlin, Dresden is called the “Florence of the Elbe”. Known for its baroque architecture and world-renowned art treasures, it is so picturesque you might not realize about 80% of Dresden’s historic center was destroyed in World War II. Landmarks have been rebuilt to their former splendor like the exemplary Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady in Dresden), royal Zwinger Palace, and Fürstenzug (Procession of Princes, the largest porcelain mural in the world). Walk along the Brühlsche Terrasse and admire the restored grandeur.
That said, the newer sections of Dresden are enjoying a renaissance. Dresden off the beaten path reveals the younger, more alternative side of the city from a series of art-filled courtyards to the inspiration for Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five to the most exotic cigarette factory.
No matter if your interest is in the old or new, everyone can agree that a good time can be had at Dresden’s many biergartens.
Leipzig is another popular day trip from Berlin, but there are enough attractions to make it a top stop.
Located at the meeting point of three rivers, this has been the meeting point for great minds. Goethe was a student in Leipzig, Bach worked here as a cantor, and Martin Luther debated here.
Today, the New Leipzig school brings a fresh perspective into the art world. And a visit to Leipzig’s 1743 Gewandhaus Orchestra proves art is alive in this great German city. If you prefer the culinary arts, Auerbachs Keller is one of the oldest restaurants in the country and was a favorite of Goethe as well as locals today.
Besides being a center for German art and culture, the city also became famous in Germany’s recent history. Leipzig demonstrators initiated the peaceful revolution, which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Like Dresden, low rents and a rebellious spirit continue to draw a youthful counterculture. This subversive streak can be observed in its Avante-grade kabarett that pokes at standard political structures.
Heidelberg is one of the few German cities that wasn’t destroyed in World War II. This means that plenty of old-world charm fills the narrow cobblestone streets and baroque city center, epitomizing Germany’s romantic period of the 18th century.
It is one of the most picturesque destinations in Germany. Visitors enjoy stunning views from the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) that crosses the Neckar River, back at the city from the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Way), and above it all from the ruins of the once-grand Heidelberg castle. This inspiring environment allowed Mark Twain to finish his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, here.
Heidelberg has inspired many other great minds that have taken residence at Heidelberg University, the oldest university in the country. It is one of the most renowned universities in the world, but that doesn’t mean the students don’t know how to party. Heidelberg maintains a youthful atmosphere in the academic environment with great bars and restaurants and even a former student prison.
Düsseldorf is a cosmopolitan city with a playful vibe. A symbol for the city is the Düsseldorfer Radschläger (the boy who does cartwheels) and his image can be seen throughout the city on souvenirs and statues. The works of architect greats like Gehry and Chipperfield also mark the cityscape.
Düsseldorf is known for its rich art scene which has produced many greats. It is home to composer Robert Schumann as well as the Düsseldorf Art Academy, responsible for well-known graduates like Joseph Beuys, Jörg Immendorff, and Gerhard Richter.
A center for trade, Düsseldorf hosts shows throughout the year. Gallery Düsseldorf is one of the world’s biggest fashion trade fairs that takes place every January. But buyers can shop year-round on Königsallee (King’s Avenue), known as Kö by locals.
After some serious shopping, settle down with an Altbier, a German-style brown ale. It is top-fermenting like British pale ales and can be enjoyed in classic pubs like Fuechschen, Schumacher, Schluessel, or Uerige. The Altstadt (old town) has been referred to as the “longest bar in the world” with the party truly never stopping during Carnival.
Stuttgart in southwest Germany is undeservedly underrated. It is a car lovers’ dream, features modern architecture, and has some of the biggest beer festivals in Germany (outside of Oktoberfest).
Stuttgart is home to two of the greatest car brands in the world, Mercedes and Porsche. Production takes place nearby and there are world-class car museums for both companies.
The city itself has a great blend of architecture with a baroque center in Schlossplatz with the Neues Schloss (New Palace) from the early 1800s. Against the classic landscape, there are contemporary elements like staircases of metal and glass. This city had the world’s first telecommunications tower, Fernsehturm Stuttgart (TV Tower) and that still dominates the skyline. Stuttgart even has a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the buildings of famed architect Le Corbusier.
One of its most exciting structures is open to the public. Stuttgart’s public library is a haven for readers and architect fans alike. Its luminescent, state-of-the-art design is Instagram ready and it is a great service for its citizens with over 500,000 media units.