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Things to Do in Germany

Germany offers a path for every kind of traveler, whether it leads toward the castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof, a glass of local wine in Rhine Valley, or across to Austria's Salzburg Lake District, an area synonymous with the Von Trapp family and The Sound of Music. For history buffs, stories of the Cold War abound in Berlin, and day trips to World War II memorial sites offer a somber and significant look at the past. If you find yourself in Munich in the fall it can only mean one thing: a stop at Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival, for a taste of Bavarian brews, culture, and food.
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Mitte
31 Tours and Activities

Mitte is the central neighborhood in Berlin, where visitors will find the bulk of the city's attractions, as well as many restaurants, bars and clubs. It’s the best base to explore Berlin’s historical and cultural center.

Brandenburg Gate, the only surviving city gate in Berlin, is one of the most recognizable sights in the city. It was the symbol of the border between East and West Berlin for decades and was isolated from both sides until the wall came down. Also in Mitte is the Berlin TV Tower (Fernsehturm), one of the tallest structures in Europe and therefore a great place for views of the city. It's located near Alexanderplatz, a big square in the center of the city where you'll find lots of shopping and the hub of Berlin’s public transportation system. The Reichstag Building is the seat of the German government, located just a short walk from Brandenburg Gate.

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Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)
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246 Tours and Activities

The Brandenburg Gate (or Brandenburger Tor) is one of Berlin’s original city gates, erected in 1791. It marks the entry to the Under den Linden avenue as part of the ceremonial boulevard that led to the Prussian monarchs’ royal seat.

The classical monument is topped by a chariot driven by a winged goddess, which was briefly carted off to Paris by Napoleon as booty.

During the Cold War, the Brandenburg Gate could not be accessed from East or West Germany, making it a particularly poignant symbol after reunification.

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Reichstag
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Topped with an acclaimed glass dome designed by British architect Norman Foster, the Reichstag parliamentary building is home to Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag.

The classically pedimented and columned building was built in the 1890s, and seriously damaged by fire in 1933 and subsequent air raids. In the 1990s the building was restored to host the parliament of the newly reunified Germany.

Visitors can step inside the multi-tiered glass dome and onto the roof terrace for 360 degree views of Berlin’s government district and the Tiergarten.

Take an audioguide tour to learn about the parliamentary goings on in the Bundestag and the history of the famous building. After taking a stroll, relax in the rooftop restaurant.

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Potsdamer Platz
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The huge Potsdamer Platz has been a major focal point for Berliners since the 19th century, the busy meeting point of half a dozen major thoroughfares.

Historically, the square was dominated by the enormous Potsdamer train terminal, and at the turn of the 20th century it was a major dining, hotel, entertainment and shopping hub. Potsdamer Platz was destroyed by Allied raids during World War II. Before reunification the barren area was a militarized no-go zone cut in two by the Berlin Wall; this no man’s land was one of the first areas to be breached in November 1989. Since the 1990s, Potsdamer Platz has undergone a total rebirth as the new heart and inspiring symbol of the reunified Berlin. Take in the surroundings from the Panorama Observation Deck, and seek out the only pre-WWII building, the Weinhaus Huth.

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Odeonsplatz
65 Tours and Activities

Located at the western entrance to the exquisite Hofgarten gardens, the Odeonsplatz is one of central Munich’s largest public squares, notable for its distinct Italian-style architecture. Taking its name from the 19th century Odeon Concert Hall that once stood at the head of the square (the remains of the building now form part of a government office block), the space still retains its creative streak, hosting a number of annual concerts, parades and city celebrations. At the top of the list is the Odeonsplatz Classical Evening, a grand open-air event held each July and drawing crowds of over 16,000 to watch performances by the prestigious Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and other world renowned classical acts.

Even if you don’t catch the square at its most atmospheric, the Odeonsplatz still offers a dramatic starting point to city walking tours.

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Hofgarten
36 Tours and Activities

The former court garden of the Residenz Palace, Munich’s Hofgarten was originally laid out in 1613, characterized by its mulberry tree-lined walkways, ornamental fountains and fruit orchard. A large portion of the formal gardens were restored or redesigned post-WWII, but the central pavilion survived, a domed temple designed by Heinrich Schön the Elder in 1615 and topped with a bronze figure of Tellus Bavarica, the symbol of Bavaria.

Today, the Hofgarten remains one of the city’s most tranquil spots, providing welcome respite from the sightseeing trail and making a popular picnic spot for both locals and tourists. Flanked by 19th century arched arcades, the garden retains much of its Italian Renaissance style, with colorful flowerbeds, manicured lawns and painstakingly restored water features.

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Munich Residence (Residenz München)
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The former royal palace of the Bavarian monarch, the Munich Residenz is the largest city palace in Germany and is open to visitors to see its spectacularly adorned rooms and royal collections. The complex of buildings in the Munich Residenz contains 10 courtyards and the museum displays 130 rooms. The three main parts of the Residenz are the Königsbau, the Alte Residenz, and the Festsaalbau, which is also home to the Cuvillies Theatre.

Get a feel for palace life in the Residenz museum which features the collections of porcelain, silver, paintings, and classical antiquities amassed by the Wittelsbach monarchs. The Antiquarium's Renaissance collections is especially breath-taking. Step outside the elaborately decorated rooms to the beautiful Court Garden or check out the Treasury (Schatzkammer) for a display of the royal jewels, gold objects, and ivory.

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English Garden (Englischer Garten)
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52 Tours and Activities
The Englischer Garten, German for "English Garden", is one of the world's largest urban parks - even larger than New York's Central Park. Named for the English style of landscape gardening, the park is popular with locals and visitors alike who come to lounge on the meadow grass, cycle the winding paths, or even surf the man-made waterfall created by a bridge over the Eisbach stream on Prinzregent Strasse. The English weren't the only ones to have an influence in Munich's park, the Japanese Teahouse and Chinese Tower are also popular attractions in the Englischer Garten. Have a bratwurst and a beer at the Biergarten at the foot of the Chinese Tower while listening to traditional German music played by men in Liederhosen. There is another Biergarten located in the park, Seehaus, where you can also rent a paddle boat and take a spin around the lake on warmer days.
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Deutsches Museum
17 Tours and Activities

Munich’s gigantic Deutsches Museum is the kind of museum that begs for multiple visits and as one of the world’s largest science and technology museums, you could easily spend an entire weekend taking in its vast permanent collection. Opening its doors in 1925, the museum sits on a specially constructed river island, reached by bridge from the mainland.

Famous for its interactive exhibitions, inventive displays and impressive collection of artifacts, the Deutsches Museum succeeds in its quest to make science fun and accessible to all ages and interests. Exhibitions cover topics like transport, communication, energy and natural science, with interactive elements including a series of giant musical instruments to play, model coal and salt mines, glass-blowing and paper-making demonstrations and an authentic space laboratory. There’s even a Kid’s Kingdom, where a child-sized mouse wheel and a real fire engine will keep the kids entertained.

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More Things to Do in Germany

Field Marshals' Hall (Feldherrnhalle)

Field Marshals' Hall (Feldherrnhalle)

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Feldherrnhalle, or Field Marshals' Hall, is a monument in Munich that was built between 1841 and 1844. It was built in an Italian style and modeled after the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence. It is located on Odeonsplatz at the former site of one of the city's main gates, Schwabinger Tor. The monument was built as a tribute to the Bavarian army that fought in the Franco-Prussian War and features bronze statues of some of the most important generals of Bavaria. In addition there are two lions on the steps. One is growling towards the Residenz Palace, the other is keeping its mouth shut towards the church.

In 1923, Hitler supporters began an illegal march down Ludwigstrasse towards Feldherrnhalle to start a people's revolution against the Bavarian state. Police ordered them to stop, and when they did not, the police opened fire killing 16 marchers as well as four police officers. Hitler was arrested and served a short term in prison.

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Eisbach Wave (Eisbachwelle)

Eisbach Wave (Eisbachwelle)

23 Tours and Activities

When thinking of places to go surfing, Germany's landlocked city of Munich is probably not the first to come to mind. But interestingly enough, surfers have been riding the waves in the city's Isar River since the 1970s.

A man-made arm of the Isar, the Eisbach (German for 'ice brook') flows for 1.25 miles (2 km) through a large city park known as the English Garden (Englischer Garten). Just past the bridge near the House of the Arts (Haus der Kunst) art museum, the Eisbach forms a standing wave of over three feet (1 meter). Surfers have rigged the wave by building a system of ropes and planks to channel it into something so surfable, it's home to an annual surfing competition and has hosted world-class surf legends such as Kelly Slater and Jack Johnson. Travelers visiting in summer can see surfers queued up waiting patiently for their turn to shred.

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House of the Arts (Haus der Kunst)

House of the Arts (Haus der Kunst)

15 Tours and Activities

The House of the Arts, or Haus der Kunst in German, is an art museum in Munich that was originally founded by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis in 1937. It originally housed Hitler's vision of what great German art was, and the exhibits were folk art displaying Nazi ideals. The museum's purpose has changed several times since the end of World War II, but since 2003 the museum has been dedicated almost exclusively to contemporary art. The Archive Gallery, the museum's permanent exhibition, displays art, photography, and other items that explore the museum's turbulent history.

Other exhibitions in the museum come from contemporary artists whose works include painting, drawing, photography, video, installations and more. Aside from the exhibitions, the museum also focuses on education and research. The House of the Arts holds special events, kids' and youth programs, and tours.

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Port of Hamburg

Port of Hamburg

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Trade has always been Hamburg’s raison d’etre, and today the Port of Hamburg is the largest in Germany.

The sprawling port takes up more than an eighth of the city, with around 12,000 ships a year delivering and picking up goods.

A river cruise is a good way to get an idea of the port’s size and activity, or step aboard the Rickmer Rickmers windjammer to learn more about Hamburg’s rich maritime history. The nearby Cap San Diego is another museum ship well worth stepping aboard.

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Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

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"You are leaving the American sector."

Memorialized in film and print, Checkpoint Charlie is the most famous symbol of Cold War era Berlin.

Marking the border crossing between the American Sector (Kreuzberg) and East Berlin (Mitte), only allied personnel and foreign visitors could pass through the checkpoint. Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous security point in the Berlin Wall, but for most of its life it was little more than a wooden shack and boom gates. Today a replica shed stands in the middle of Friedrichstraße.

While you’re here, drop into the Mauer Museum (Haus am Checkpoint Charlie) to learn about the history of Checkpoint Charlie, and the audacious and often tragic attempts made by East Berliners to escape from East to West.

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Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)

Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)

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The Kölner Dom, also known as the Cologne Cathedral, is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. In the 19th century, it was the tallest building in the world. Amazingly, it would take 632 years to complete.

Begun in 1248, the Kölner Dom was commissioned as a suitable place to house the relics of the Three Kings, acquired and delivered by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Construction was predictably slow, beginning with the east wing. At some point in 1473, construction came to a stop and it remained at rest for four centuries, marked by a crane that loomed over the south tower; until 1842, when a civic organization raised the bulk of the money to finish construction. In today’s dollars, the cost for finishing Kölner Dom would be over a billion dollars. Finally, in 1880, Germany’s largest cathedral was completed.

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Cologne Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum)

Cologne Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum)

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Hans Imhoff, a chocolatier and businessman from Cologne, opened the Schokoladenmuseum in 1993, after retiring from the confectionary business in 1992. The museum that bears the late industrialist's name is a paen to the product of the cacao bean, from its development and primitive processing in the New World by the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs, to modern production methods and innovations. The program discusses the role of chocolate in later South American societies and among European elite. The museum sits inside a glass-and-steel structure shaped like a ship. Inside, the tour takes visitors through the process of chocolate production from the farm to the candy store, continuing through a greenhouse where two species of cacao trees are grown and then on through the industrialization of chocolate production, including vintage advertising campaigns. Miniature machinery allow guests a closer look at the production process, and the chocolate produced by these machines can be sampled.

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Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke)

Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke)

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The waters of the mighty Rhine split Cologne in half, and the city is united across a series of seven bridges, with none more splendid than the spans of the Hohenzollernbrücke, which stretch 1,342 feet (410 meters) across the river in three great steel arches.

This spectacular city landmark is almost as famous as Cologne’s twin-spired Gothic cathedral – the largest in Europe – and was completed in 1911, with four railway lines joining Cologne to cities across Europe. German troops destroyed the bridge at the end of World War II in the face of advancing Allied soldiers but it rose phoenix-like once more in 1948. Today it is both a pedestrian and rail bridge with around 1,200 trains passing over it daily and pairs of equestrian bronzes punctuating both ends.

A curious tradition has recently grown up around the Hohenzollernbrücke; lovers affix padlocks to its sides and throw the key into the Rhine in exchange for eternal love.

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East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

64 Tours and Activities

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the East Side Gallery was the result of what remained. It is longest segment of the Berlin Wall that is still standing and the world’s largest open-air gallery, showcasing over 100 murals over 1.3 kilometres along the Mühlenstrasse, which is parallel to the River Spree. Artist interpretations are a mix of optimistic and political statements.

Some of the more famous and most photographed images on the wall include a boxy East German Trabant car that appears to burst through the wall called “Test the Best” by Birgit Kinder; and “The Mortal Kiss,” a fraternal communist kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German boss Erich Honecker. Many of the images became weathered from taggers and tourists adding their own graffiti to their favorite pictures on the wall. In 2009, forty of these works of art were restored.

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King's Square (Königsplatz)

King's Square (Königsplatz)

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Königsplatz was initially built to serve the urban notions of King Ludwig I, who wished to integrate culture, administration, Christianity and Bavarian military in one massive green space. The king opted for a European Neoclassic style based on the Acropolis in Athens. He even had two museums built in the same style; first was the Glyptothek, where he could house his sprawling collection of Greek and Roman sculptures, and second, the Bavarian State Collection of Antiques, which contains Greek, Etruscan and Roman artifacts. King Ludwig I also commissioned the Propylaea, an imposing and austere gate which served as a memorial to his son, the Bavarian prince Otto of Greece.

Despite this architectural and urban prowess, the square is now infamous for being the place where the Nazi party held marches and mass rallies during the Holocaust. In fact, the national headquarters of the Nazi party, the Brown House, was located on Brienner Straße just off the square.

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Museum Island (Museumsinsel)

Museum Island (Museumsinsel)

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Located on the northern tip of Spree Island, Berlin’s Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is an ensemble of five world-renowned museums. In 1830, King Friedrich Wilhelm III commissioned the construction of the Royal Museum - now the Altes Museum - to allow the general public to view the royal art treasures of Germany. The idea for the island was devised in 1841, when Friedrich August Stuler wanted to create a cultural center, which later became Museum Island.

Almost 70% of the buildings were destroyed during World War II, where the collections were divided between East and West Berlin. Since 1999, the museum has been the only architectural and cultural ensemble that was honored world heritage status by UNESCO.

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Berlin Victory Column (Siegessäule)

Berlin Victory Column (Siegessäule)

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Standing 67 meters (220 feet) high and topped with a 35-tonne gilded figure of Victoria – the Roman goddess of victory in battle – the Berlin Victory Column was inaugurated in 1873 to commemorate Germany’s (or Prussia, as it was called then) victory over Denmark in the Danish-Prussian War of 1864. Lovingly nicknamed ‘Golden Lizzie’ by Berlin locals, the sandstone memorial was designed by German architect Heinrich Strack and sits on a red granite base adorned with columns; it originally stood in Königsplatz, which is today’s Platz der Republik. In the run up to World War II, the column was moved to the center of the Tiergarten park as part of Hitler’s plan to rebuild Berlin as the grandiose capital city of the Third Reich.

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Marienplatz

Marienplatz

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Marienplatz serves as Munich's city center with a variety of historic town hall structures and shopping markets. At the center of the square, the Mariensaule, the column of St. Mary, exhibits a statue of the Virgin Mary and the "four putti" symbolizing the city's triumph over war, pestilence, famine, and heresy. Visitors flock to Marienplatz at 11 am, 12 noon, and 5 pm each day to watch the famous animated Glockenspiel (carillon) in the New Town Hall made of 43 bells and 32 figures. The best views of the show can be found on the top floor of the Hugendubel bookstore and the Cafe Glockenspeil.
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Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

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The notorious wall that divided Berlin for nearly 30 years was erected by East Germany at the height of the Cold War in 1961. The barrier isolated West Berlin within a heavily armed barrier of double concrete walls and gun turrets and was constructed to stop disaffected East Germans escaping to the west; it was part of a strictly enforced military fortification that separated communist East Germany from capitalist Europe.

Guards patrolling the wall’s watchtowers and mined "death strip" were ordered to shoot East Berliners attempting to escape to the west, and increasingly the wall became a canvas for protest murals and memorials.

With the thawing of relations between east and west and the downfall of communism in Poland, the Czech Republic and other central European countries, the Berlin Wall was ceremonially torn down in November 1989 with the world’s media as witness.

Sections of the wall remain as permanent reminders of the days when Germany was split.

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