Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany’s Most Picturesque Places
Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Cobblestone Streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber
With its medieval walls still fully intact after hundreds of years and charming cobblestone streets that look like something straight out of a fairytale, Rothenburg ob der Tauber epitomizes the romantic charm of a quintessential German town. As you stroll down its narrow lanes, it's easy to feel transported back to the Middle Ages. One of the most picturesque towns along the famous Romantic Road through southern Germany, Rothenburg oozes undeniable charm.
The town's focal point is the jaw-dropping Marktplatz, home to the Gothic Town Hall and framed by gabled, half-timbered buildings. The Plönlein is another of Rothenburg's most photographed spots, with two quintessential German buildings forming a narrow passageway begging to be explored. Wander under the fortified gates and along the 14th-century walls encircling the town for panoramic views over red-tiled roofs. The medieval St. Jakob's Church is also worth visiting for its elaborate altar by the famous woodcarver Tilman Riemenschneider.
But getting lost amid the cobblestone lanes lined with candy confectioneries and cozy guesthouses is one of the best ways to experience Rothenburg. Pop into the medieval Criminal Museum to see implements of torture from the Middle Ages or visit a traditional Christmas store to see ornaments handmade according to centuries-old traditions. Many travelers consider Rothenburg the most romantic place in Germany, especially seeing its streets lit up after dark.
Spend at least an overnight in Rothenburg to experience it when the crowds thin out in the evening and early morning. That's when you can snap that perfect photo of you standing alone in a quiet cobblestone lane that during the day was crammed with other tourists. Stay in one of the local inns with flowering window boxes and waking up to the clip-clop of horses passing on the streets below is an experience some describe as truly magical.
What else is in this post?
- Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Cobblestone Streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber
- Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Exploring the Black Forest's Charming Villages
- Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Wandering Along the Rhine Valley's Hillside Castles
- Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Marveling at Cologne Cathedral's Gothic Grandeur
- Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Strolling Through Heidelberg's Romantic Old Town
- Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle Above Hohenschwangau
- Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Witnessing Berlin's Blend of Old and New
- Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Experiencing Munich's Contrast of Tradition and Modernity
Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Exploring the Black Forest's Charming Villages
Dotted across the rolling, forest-cloaked hills of southwestern Germany, the picture-perfect villages of the Black Forest region epitomize old-world charm. With their peaked gables, flower-filled window boxes and sleepy plazas, these storybook hamlets allow you to glimpse a romanticized version of historic Germany. Wandering the cobblestone lanes reveals a slower pace, where the clip-clop of horses pulling carriages replaces the buzz of cars.
Nestled amid the dark, pine-clad mountains that give the Black Forest its name, gems like Sasbachwalden and Gengenbach offer a delightful escape from modern life. Meandering along quiet lanes reveals half-timbered houses in ice cream colors and cozy guesthouses once frequented by artists and poets. Popping into the local Konditorei, or pastry shop, for coffee and cake is a cherished tradition. Locals still don traditional garb, like dirndls and lederhosen, for special festivals.
Gengenbach boasts one of Germany's most spectacular Advent calendars, with the historic Rathaus featuring a different beautifully decorated window for each December day. Other highlights include browsing boutiques for the region's famous cuckoo clocks and visiting museums dedicated to the art of glassblowing. Nearby Sasbachwalden delights with its idyllic setting in the Ach Valley, once attracting 19th century painters capturing the romantic landscape.
Further north, Alpirsbach is celebrated for its medieval cloisters while Schiltach stuns with its half-timbered houses flanking the Kinzig River. To properly experience the Black Forest's rustic hospitality, spend a night or two in one of the family-run guesthouses. Savoring the local cuisine of hearty roasts, trout fished from the streams, Black Forest cake and excellent wines allows you to appreciate this special region.
Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Wandering Along the Rhine Valley's Hillside Castles
Dotting craggy cliffs and vine-laced hillsides along the mighty Rhine River, castle ruins tell the tale of the Rhine Valley’s strategic importance and turbulent past. These crumbling vestiges of another era allow you to vividly imagine the medieval world of knights and ladies. Wandering among these hilltop castles transports you back centuries as you take in views little changed since the days of lords and kings.
The Middle Rhine Valley boasts the highest concentration of castles in the world with over 40 lining a 65 kilometer stretch of river. UNESCO recognized this castle-studded landscape as a World Heritage site for its cultural importance. The best way to experience these riverside ruins is onboard a Rhine riverboat cruise or along the Rheinsteig hiking trail. Both allow you to fully appreciate the valley’s dramatic natural beauty and soak up castle history.
Standing on deck as your riverboat rounds each bend, another majestic castle comes into view. Cruising under the Roth Castle perched precariously on a rocky crag, you can easily envision knights standing guard. Further along, the Marksburg Castle is one of the valley’s rare fully intact strongholds. Hiking along the Rheinsteig reveals new perspectives on the clifftop ruins, like gazing up at the Castle Katz looming dramatically above the river.
Exploring the castle interiors like the 13th century Stolzenfels Castle near Koblenz offers insight into medieval life. Wandering the towers, great halls, and bedchambers, you marvel at how strategic these hilltop locations proved in controlling river traffic. Yet most castles eventually fell victim to French troops rampaging through during the 17th century wars, reminding you of the bloody battles once fought on these sites.
Local guides share legends like the heartbroken maid who drowned herself in the Rhine at Castle Rheinfels near St. Goar. Learn the violent tales behind cadaver tombs and “broken” heart symbols. Knowledgeable guides really bring the ruins to life with stories of knights and maidens both romantic and sinister.
Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Marveling at Cologne Cathedral's Gothic Grandeur
With soaring twin spires piercing the skies above the Rhine River, the awe-inspiring Cologne Cathedral represents the epitome of Gothic architecture. As one of the most famous landmarks in Germany, this UNESCO site dazzles the millions who flock here annually to marvel at its grandeur. Stepping inside the immense interior, you crane your neck gazing up at the lofty vaulted ceilings over 144 feet high.
While founded in the 1200s, construction on Cologne Cathedral spanned over 600 years before finally completed to the original plans in the late 1800s. This helps explain the remarkable unity of vision and sheer monumental scale of the structure despite the centuries-long timeline. The cathedral’s immense size becomes apparent as you circle the exterior taking in the elaborate pointed spires and flying buttresses shimmering in the sunlight.
Visiting the south tower, you huff and puff climbing over 500 steps up narrow medieval staircases to be rewarded with panoramic views across the Rhine to the Seven Mountains. Gazing out at the checkerboard pattern of commanding Gothic architecture presents a breathtaking sight you’ll long remember. The cathedral dominates Cologne’s skyline serving as an unmistakable orientation landmark seen from vantage points throughout the city.
While the cathedral suffered fourteen hits during WWII bombing raids, it remained mostly intact as a proud symbol of Cologne’s resilience. Entering the cavernous nave bathed in ethereal multi-colored light filtering through the 19th century stained glass, you can understand why locals lovingly call it “their living room.” The stained glass dazzles with deep cobalt blues and ruby reds lending an almost magical aura to the soaring interior spaces. Equally impressive are the church’s elaborate carved choir stalls featuring musical instruments and rich gold ornamentation.
Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Strolling Through Heidelberg's Romantic Old Town
With its cobblestone lanes, medieval landmarks, and hillside setting overlooking the Neckar River, Heidelberg’s enchanting old town transplants you to a bygone era. Meandering narrow alleys lined with candy-colored baroque buildings feels like walking through the pages of a storybook. It's easy to understand why Heidelberg remains one of Germany’s most popular tourist destinations. Tourists from around the world flock here to soak up the captivating romantic ambiance.
Wandering down the Haupstrasse, Heidelberg’s bustling pedestrian lane, offers a feast for the senses. Historic buildings house cozy cafes, decadent chocolate shops, and traditional German restaurants. Stopping for a leisurely lunch or coffee allows you to refuel between exploring Heidelberg’s cultural attractions. Don’t miss sampling the local chocolate delicacy called a “Student Kiss.”
One of Heidelberg’s most photographed landmarks is the Alte Brücke, an ornate 18th-century bridge spanning the Neckar. Strolling across this stone bridge, you enjoy picture-perfect views over the river to Heidelberg Castle perched on the hillside beyond. The Bridge Monkey statue playfully greets visitors crossing between the old town and new town on the opposite bank.
No visit to Heidelberg is complete without exploring the majestic hilltop ruins of Heidelberg Castle. The castle complex stretches over 50 acres with history dating from the 13th century. Wandering through the castle courtyards and towers, it’s fascinating to gaze out over the red-tiled roofs blanketing the hillside below. The views over the Neckar River valley from the castle terraces are simply sublime.
Back down in the old town, don’t miss seeing the Student Jail which once housed university troublemakers. Nearby, Market Square bustles as a social hub lined with restaurants housed in heritage buildings. Stop at the ornate Town Hall or visit churches like the 15th-century Heiliggeistkirche noted for its Gothic stone carvings.
Beyond the old town, a funicular runs up the hillside allowing quick access to the Philosophers' Walk lined with monuments. Strolling along this panoramic trail, you’ll soak up captivating vistas across Heidelberg’s rooftops and appreciate this city’s special setting.
Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle Above Hohenschwangau
Rising majestically above the village of Hohenschwangau, Neuschwanstein Castle seems to float in the clouds like something out of a fairytale. This 19th century palace is one of Germany’s most popular attractions, drawing over 1.5 million visitors annually. As Bavaria's most famous castle, Neuschwanstein tops many travelers' itineraries for its picture-perfect setting and fascinating history.
Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Pöllat Gorge, Neuschwanstein looks like it grew naturally from the rugged cliffsides. Approach via the Marienbrücke bridge for classic views of the castle framed by breathtaking Alpine scenery. Being jostled by crowds comes with the territory, but it's worth braving the hordes for photos of this extraordinary castle in its dramatic mountainous backdrop.
The interior of Neuschwanstein does not disappoint either with chambers elaborately decorated in Neo-Romanesque style. King Ludwig II spearheaded construction in 1869, intending it as a personal refuge inspired by the operas of Richard Wagner. The throne room and Singers' Hall dazzle with Byzantine-influenced wall murals and motifs from Wagner’s works.
Seeing Neuschwanstein gave Walt Disney inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle. Yet despite the fantastical exterior, Ludwig only spent 172 days here before his mysterious death by drowning. The unfinished interiors leave you imagining what lavish flourishes Ludwig would have added if given more time.
Nearby Hohenschwangau Castle offers an intimate look at Ludwig’s childhood home filled with family portraits and his mother’s ornate jewels. The Museum of the Bavarian Kings also profiles his troubled reign through personal artifacts. For a different perspective, hike up to the Marienbrücke early or late when fewer visitors allow photography without strangers in the background.
Alternatively, tour Neuschwanstein first thing in the morning before crowds arrive. Or splurge on a private tour to learn little-known stories from a guide without 30 others straining to hear. Savoring a leisurely lunch on Hohenschwangau’s lake afterward makes for an unforgettable day.
Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Witnessing Berlin's Blend of Old and New
As Germany's largest city, Berlin offers an enthralling mix of heritage landmarks and modern energy. Wandering the neighborhoods, you witness Berlin's unique blend of old and new at every turn. The city bears the visible scars and resilient spirit that emerged after enduring tumultuous 20th century events. Exploring today's vibrant Berlin, you gain insight into its complicated past shaping the progressive place it has become.
In the Mitte district, the iconic Brandenburg Gate provides an imposing symbol of Prussian power. Yet the famous landmark took on new meaning after standing isolated along the Berlin Wall during the city's Cold War division. Passing through the 18th century gate today, you emerge onto the bustle of Unter den Linden showcasing Berlin's revival.
Nearby on Museum Island, world-class institutions like the Pergamon Museum offer a treasure trove of antiquities contrasting with modern buildings across the Spree River. Wandering through the maze of the Holocaust Memorial's solemn concrete slabs, you reflect on the terror of the Nazi era that once gripped Berlin. Then you look up to see the contemporary Chancellery Building across the street signifying the seat of today's democratic German government.
In the hip Prenzlauer Berg district, lovingly restored townhouses show off Art Nouveau facades underscoring historic Berlin. Yet sprinkled among the 19th century buildings are independent boutiques and some of Berlin's hottest restaurants exemplifying the eclectic neighborhood's 21st century personality.
No place better encapsulates Berlin's cultural diversity than the Mauerpark on Sundays. Street artists showcase creativity against the striking backdrop of the Berlin Wall's remaining graffitied stretch. On summer weekends, locals of all ages flock here to enjoy open-air karaoke andmimosa brunches in the grass.
Many travelers cite the East Side Gallery as the prime spot to grasp Berlin's complex 20th century narrative. Strolling past the 1.3 kilometer stretch of original wall covered in colorful murals, you visually absorb the city's divided past. Interspersed informational placards provide context on the wall's history from construction in 1961 to eventual demolition in 1989. The images and texts underscore the importance of freedom that Berliners regained so recently.
Castles, Cathedrals and Fairytale Towns: Exploring Germany's Most Picturesque Places - Experiencing Munich's Contrast of Tradition and Modernity
At first glance, Bavaria’s capital Munich appears to embody old-world Germany with its Baroque palaces and historic beer halls. Yet behind the façade of tradition, Munich reveals itself as an unexpectedly progressive and cosmopolitan city. Exploring Munich’s neighborhoods, you’ll discover an intriguing blend of heritage and innovation at every turn.
Wandering the Altstadt, Munich’s charming historic core, it’s easy to feel transported back to the 18th century. Framed by the antique spires of the Frauenkirche and Neues Rathaus, the pedestrian streets invite lazy strolling between sites like the lively Viktualienmarkt. Pop into a traditional Wirtshaus restaurant to sample Bavarian specialties washed down by locally brewed beers. But don’t be fooled by the quaint exterior. Many restaurants mix modern flair with time-honored recipes, much like the city itself.
Venture to the grand Englischer Garten on a sunny day, and you’ll find locals embracing the innovative practice of “naked sunbathing” started in the 1970s. Yet just across the park stands the steel-and-glass BMW headquarters, epitomizing Munich’s role as a global industrial powerhouse.
The striking Munich Olympic Park provides another lens into the city’s evolution. Transformed from the 1972 Olympic grounds, its sleek sports arenas and undulating tent-like roofs offer a modern counterpoint to historic sites elsewhere. Today the complex hosts concerts and cultural events, including the annual Tollwood Festival showcasing international performers.
No neighborhood embodies Munich’s cultural clash better than hip Glockenbachviertel. Centered on charming Gärtnerplatz, the area charms with its shabby-chic mix of everything from art nouveau townhouses to indie boutiques to cutting-edge nightlife venues. Grab an Aperol spritz at a trendy sidewalk café neighboring an old-fashioned Biergarten filled with regulars knocking back liters.
Many travelers cite the BMW Museum as the quintessential stop to grasp Munich’s dual character. The retrospective showcases how the company evolved from a WWI-era aircraft engine factory into a global auto brand pioneering innovations. Yet the exhibits also profile BMW’s continued connection to its Bavarian homeland through sponsoring everything from the Munich Opera Festival to FC Bayern Munich.