When it comes to visiting Germany, travelers mostly stick with the big cities. Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, and Frankfurt often spring to mind first. But Germany offers so much more.
There are many superb (read smaller, cheaper, and less touristy) German cities that are well worth a visit. Here the best underrated German cities that you shouldn’t miss on your next trip.
Potsdam is just a quick train ride away from Berlin, and most of the city’s parks and palaces have UNESCO World Heritage status. The most famous sites is the rococo palace, Sanssouci, and its ornate royal park which is filled with cascading terraces, fountains, and statues.
Another must-see is Cecilienhof, a rustic palace and the site of the Potsdam Conference. It was here in 1945 where Stalin, Churchill and Truman decided to divide Germany into different occupation zones.
TripSavvy / Faye Strassle
Bremen is often associated with four animals riding piggyback – the characters from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Bremen Town Musicians”. Their iconic bronze statue sits on Bremen’s main square and is one of the city’s most photographed attractions.
But Bremen offers so much more. The city, located in the north of Germany, was once a member of the medieval Hanseatic League and holds a unique street built completely in Art Nouveau style, a medieval quarter, one of the finest art museums in Germany (Kunsthalle Bremen), and the Bremen Town Hall, one of the most important examples of brick gothic architecture in Europe.
This small town in Bavaria has a perfectly preserved and fully walkable city center that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cobblestone streets and medieval buildings are around every turn. A massive cathedral dominates the skyline and a rose garden offers views of the monastery and castle on the hill. The river runs through the city with the Altes Rauthaus on the middle of a bridge.
When you grow weary of walking through the fairy tale environment, stop in one of the city’s local taverns and try the distinct brewing stye of their famed Rauchbier, a smoked beer.
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On the banks of the Moselle River in the southwest of Germany lies Trier, the country’s oldest city. Founded as a Roman colony in 16 B.C., Trier quickly became the favored residence of several Roman emperors and was called “The Second Rome”.
Nowhere else in Germany is the evidence of Roman times as vivid as it is here. You can visit the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps, a 2nd century Roman bridge, the ruins of one of the grandest Roman baths of its time, and the oldest church in Germany.
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Bavaria, and particularly the towns of the Romantic Road, are full of charming towns. While everyone knows about Munich, its neighbor two hours to the north offers some of the best WWII history and medieval architecture in Germany.
Its Altstadt (old town) houses the famous Kaiserburg Castle, plus churches, towers, statues and fountains, and intricate half-timbered houses from that era. Walk through the bustling Hauptmarkt (central square) toward the castle at the top of the hill, stopping along the way at one of the many biergartens plus the city’s namesake Nuremberg sausage.
The city is still somewhat infamous as the former capitol of National Socialism. The planned Nazi rally grounds and the documentation center are a mandatory visit for history lovers.
If you visit around Christmas, be sure to explore one of the best Christmas markets in the country.
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Travel further east past Dresden and Bautzen (two other underrated towns you should check out) to find Görlitz on the German-Polish border.
One of Germany’s easternmost cities, elegant Görlitz has gone through boom times and down times and is currently on its way back up. It features a variety of architecture from Renaissance to Baroque to late Gothic to Art Nouveau.
Its spectacular backgrounds are picture perfect, finding their way into films like The Reader, Inglorious Basterds, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Venture into your storybook setting with a visit to Oberlausitzische Bibliothek der Wissenschaften Görlitz, one of the most beautiful libraries in Germany, or a intricate milkbar.
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Located in the southwestern corner of Germany across the border from France and Switzerland, the thriving university town of Freiburg is famous for its spas, cuisine, and wines.
The city is the gate way to the Black Forest, but before you head into Germany’s most famous holiday region, take your time and explore Freiburg. It has a spectacular Minster (cathedral), historical merchant’s houses, medieval squares, and many laid-back restaurants, wine bars, and cafes.
TripSavvy / Christopher Larson
Lübeck is an idyllic northern German city founded in the 12th century. Once part of the Hanseatic League, it is located on the Trave River and is Germany’s largest port city on the Baltic Sea.
Its red brick Altstadt (old town) has UNESCO World Heritage status with impressive city gates and seven Gothic church towers. On the waterfront, historic ships like the fehmarnbelt and the Lisa von Lübeck are moored. To get in the water, visit one of Germany’s best beaches at nearby Travemünde.
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The capital of Thuringia in the east of Germany was founded as a Catholic diocese in 742. Filled with historic townhouses, cathedrals, monasteries, and the oldest inhabited bridge in Europe, the Kraemerbruecke, Erfurt still has the feeling of a medieval university town.
The city’s most famous resident was Martin Luther, who studied at Erfurt University and lived as a monk in the Augustinian Monastery.
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Located on the border of Germany and Austria, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is the quintessential Bavarian town. Yodeling, slap dancing and lederhosen are all a feature of this German town to end all German towns. And of course there is the easy access to skiing.
Garmisch (west) is trendy and urban where Partenkirchen (east) retains old-school Bavarian charm. Above the town the majestic peaks of the Alps reach the heavens with the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, rising prominently overhead.