It was a €15 Paris to Cologne special discounted ticket which first got me to Germany. A cheap ticket I couldn’t refuse even though I had no desire to visit Germany. I had avoided visiting for the longest time as I had it in my mind that Germany was boring.
Germany is not boring.
That first visit was back in 2007. I got around over the years and have now stepped in every big city in Germany. Cologne and Stuttgart became regular weekend getaways when I lived in Paris. I’d visit Berlin at the drop of a hat and considered moving there. I fell in love with the snow in Hamburg and I still rate Dresden as the most beautiful city in Germany.
Not all Germany cities are made alike. They are different in unexpected ways, each with their own ‘personality’ shining through. This quick guide is designed to match you up with the German city which fits your style and personality.
However you like to spend your travels, Berlin has you covered. If you’re going to Germany you can’t miss it. Well you can, I did at first, but why would you? You have all the famous sights like the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, and the East Side Gallery plus world class museums on Museum Island.
That’s all well and good but for me Berlin is all about the neighbourhood vibes. Berlin is for chilling out at Tempelhof Park on a rare sunny day, recovering from a night out at a hipster burger joint, sipping on a flat white in Kreuzberg, or having brunch in Prenzlauer Berg.
Adam’s guide to Berlin sums up everything you need to know about visiting the coolest city in Europe.
While Berlin screams hipster and cool, Hamburg doesn’t need to, it just is. Hamburg is much like Berlin with its neighbourhood vibes but without the pretension. Schanzenviertel and Karolinenviertel are the places to be for cafe hopping, bars, boutique stores and everything that goes along with that. Or you can get some peace sailing on the Alster. Hamburg somehow manages to be hipster, upmarket, and unpretentious all at the same time.
Most tourists associate beer with Munich but my mind always goes to Cologne. It’s hard to take a walk along the Rhine when it’s lined with tempting beer gardens serving the locally brewed Kölsch. It’s best to give in and join them or at the very least sip away your afternoon with an Aperol Spritz. Whatever you chose to do there’s no rush. Cologne is laid back, easy going, fun, and simply the most chilled city in Germany. There’s also a massive cathedral you might want to check out.
People from Munich are better than everyone else, wealthier, and more sophisticated. And they are arrogant snobs who look down on others. What? Ok, before anyone gets upset those are not my views but I’m surprised by how many times I’ve heard some version of those statements. I’m sure it’s a result of the friendly (or not so friendly) rivalry between German states but I do find it funny how these stereotypes stick.
Personally I can’t get enough of Munich and find the people to be lovely. Munich is great for shopping, eating, drinking, and visiting the Christmas markets, which to be fair mostly consists of shopping, eating, and drinking.
Business. Banking. Boring. That sums up Frankfurt doesn’t it? Well, yes and no. There’s a bit of that going on but there’s also the historic Romerberg district, a beautiful Opera house, fun neighbourhoods Bornheim and Nordend, the most modern skyline in Europe, and a crazy number of high-end sports cars cruising the streets.
Frankfurt is a modern city and I suppose the ‘least European’ of Germany’s cities but if you’re looking for castles, half-timbered houses, and other notable sights you can use Frankfurt as a base to explore Wiesbaden, Bacharach, and there are plenty of points of interest in Heidelberg.
Dusseldorf is a little harder to define. It has a long standing rivalry with Cologne, their beer drinking neighbour situated an hour down the road on the Rhine. The city is chock full of breweries and the ‘longest bar in the world’ so this is the place to go for the ultimate pub crawl.
Surrounded by vineyard covered hills, it’s not surprising Stuttgart is all about wine rather than beer. Drink up while enjoying the elegant streets and squares in the most underrated city in Germany. As home to both the Porche and Mercedes-Benz museums, Stuttgart is a fantastic destination for car lovers. Don’t miss taking a day trip to Tuebingen to see one of the most unspoilt old towns in the country.
Bremen has such a small town feel. I only found out it’s a big city of over 500,000 after I left. Aside from being a UNESCO site, I’m not sure why people rave about it. Bremen doesn’t have the fun atmosphere of Berlin or Hamburg or the laid back feel of Cologne, but it a great overnight stopping point if you’re road tripping through Northern Germany.
Dresden’s old city and skyline is a baroque open-air museum. From Bruhl’s Terrace on the Elbe River you can see the Frauenkirche, Opera House, Zwinger Palace, Hofkirche, and other masterpieces. Dresden is all about culture and history. No other city offers better museums and no museum beats the fascinating treasures at the New Green Vault. Christmas in Dresden is one of the best times to visit.
Nuremberg has the highest number of half-timbered houses of any big city in Germany. Full disclosure, I just made up that stat but I’m pretty sure it’s true. Along with the rows 15th and 16th century half-timbered houses, there’s the Imperial Castle, a beautiful fountain named the Beautiful Fountain, the eerie Nazi Party Rally Grounds, the most visited Christmas market in the world, and a sausage protected under European law.
That sums up Germany’s biggest cities. They’re all unique and interesting in their own ways, with surprisingly distinct cultures and cuisines, and all offering different experiences for travellers. All of these cities make great city breaks but you could also string a few together for a road trip, even a winter road trip if you don’t mind the cold.6