Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany
Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - The Fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle
Rising majestically above the lush Bavarian landscape, Neuschwanstein Castle looks as though it was plucked straight from the pages of a storybook. This magnificent 19th century palace was commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, a shy and reclusive monarch who was famously enamored with fantasy and medieval lore. Seeking an escape from public life, Ludwig envisioned the castle as a personal refuge and tribute to the operas of his friend Richard Wagner.
Today, Neuschwanstein attracts over 1.5 million visitors annually, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. As you approach along the winding road, the first glimpse of Neuschwanstein's white towers and turrets poking through the trees is sure to take your breath away. The setting alone is spectacular, perched on a rugged cliff high above the village of Hohenschwangau with panoramic views of the Bavarian Alps.
Once inside, the sumptuous interiors live up to the fairytale facade. Ludwig spared no expense, outfitting the rooms with rich fabrics, intricate woodcarvings, frescoed walls, and dazzling chandeliers. The opulent Throne Room exemplifies the castle's over-the-top decor, with its ceremonial seats framed by twisted pillars decorated in gold leaf. Other highlights include Ludwig's lavish bedroom and artificial grotto inspired by Wagnerian mythology.
Perhaps the best part of visiting Neuschwanstein is soaking up the story behind it all on a guided tour. Learn about the reclusive king's unconventional lifestyle and obsession with fantasy as you explore the rooms he once inhabited. Peer out the same windows where Ludwig admired the magnificent Alpine scenery. Marvel at the ornate craftsmanship required to build this architectural wonder in such an improbable location.
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- Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - The Fairytale Neuschwanstein Castle
- Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Cruise Down the Romantic Rhine River Valley
- Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Hike the Bavarian Alps
- Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Stroll Through Rothenburg's Medieval Old Town
- Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Marvel at the Dramatic Saxon Switzerland National Park
- Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Wander the Half-Timbered Town of Miltenberg
- Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Explore the Charming Black Forest Region
- Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Take in the Views from Zugspitze, Germany's Highest Peak
Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Cruise Down the Romantic Rhine River Valley
Gliding past medieval castles, vineyards clinging to steep hillsides, quaint riverside villages, and the dramatic Lorelei Rock, a river cruise down the Rhine Valley is the quintessential German experience. This storied stretch of river has inspired artists, musicians, and poets for centuries with its romantic scenery and echoes of the past.
Though you could drive the Rhine Valley's Castle Road, cruising allows you to fully soak up the sights in relaxed comfort. I'd choose a smaller riverboat to navigate the river's tight bends and really connect with the surroundings. Most vessels offer open upper decks perfect for photography as well as big windows for gazing at every castle and craggy crag.
Many cruises journey between Mainz and Koblenz, where the riverscape is at its most picturesque. One highlight is the 40-mile Middle Rhine stretch treasured enough to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, vines blanket impossibly steep terraces while ruined robber baron castles and formidable fortresses loom on cliffsides and hilltops. It's a real-life fairy tale backdrop.
Other charming stops include Rüdesheim, whereSiegfried's Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum provides an auditory glimpse into bygone eras, and Bacharach, a medieval village framed by vine-covered walkways and half-timbered buildings. Stop in Miltenberg to explore its web of cobbled alleyways or take the cable car up to grand Ehrenfels Castle in Boppard.
Wherever your voyage leads, the onboard experience rivals the views. Savor fine wines and fresh fare in panoramic lounges. Watch castles drift by on the open observation deck with wind in your hair. Cap memorable days listening to a glass armonica concert or with a nightcap in hand.
Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Hike the Bavarian Alps
With rugged peaks, flower-filled meadows, and sweeping vistas, the Bavarian Alps offer some of Germany's most spectacular hiking. Lace up your boots to explore these mountains and you'll be rewarded with an exhilarating blend of alpine scenery, fresh air, and heart-pumping exercise.
One of the best spots for hiking is around Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a lovely resort town nestled in the Wetterstein range. Zugspitze, Germany's tallest mountain at 9,718 feet, looms dramatically over the area. While you can take a cable car up Zugspitze, scaling nearby peaks like Wank Mountain on foot is much more satisfying. Wind your way up through pine forest to panoramic viewing platforms overlooking the towns below. The rewarding 1,738 meter summit of Wank is only about a 3 hour hike from the village of Grainau.
Not far from Garmisch-Partenkirchen lies picture-perfect Eibsee Lake, with the jagged peak of Zugspitze reflecting in its crystal waters. Hiking trails loop the pine-fringed lake and connect to other high mountain routes. Or walk up through alpine meadows blooming with wildflowers in summer to the Eibsee Lake Mountain Hut - a traditional refuge hikers and climbers can overnight in.
The Wetterstein mountains aren't the only scenic range worth exploring on foot. The Allgäu Alps near Füssen and the Ammergau Alps around Grainau also have ample trails leading to breathtaking alpine vistas and quaint mountain huts. Or head to Berchtesgaden National Park, where the Watzmann peak rises impressively.
No matter which part of the Bavarian Alps you choose, make sure to come prepared with sturdy hiking boots, layers, sunscreen, and plenty of water. Alpine weather can change quickly. While hitting the trails solo is certainly possible, I'd recommend hiring a local guide - at least for your first mountain hike. An experienced guide can pick a route matching your ability level and make sure you stay safe. Many also share fascinating insights into the alpine plants, animals, and geology.
For an easier walk with serious "wow" factor, consider the Partnach Gorge Trail near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This flat, paved path follows a spectacularly narrow, crashing river gorge. Or walk through pastureland dotted with wildflowers to Lake Königssee, lovely Berchtesgaden National Park's pristine alpine lake.
While some trails in the Bavarian Alps cater to casual hikers, summiting rocky peaks of course requires advanced fitness, climbing skills, and preparation. But experienced mountaineers will find plenty of thrilling challenges. Many climbs can be done in a single day, while multi-day hut-to-hut treks are also possible.
Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Stroll Through Rothenburg's Medieval Old Town
Step through the towering Siegersgate and it's like you've traveled back in time 600 years. Rothenburg ob der Tauber perfectly preserves the ambiance of a late medieval Bavarian town, making it many travelers' favorite small town in Germany. Behind the photogenic walls and towers lies an utterly enchanting historic core. Wandering the mazes of cobblestone lanes, it's easy to lose yourself in the spirit of the Middle Ages.
At the heart of Rothenburg's old town lies its grand Gothic St. Jakob's Church. Climb to the top of its bell tower for birds-eye views over the sea of red-tiled rooftops below. The Medieval Crime and Justice Museum provides fascinating insight into the dark side of those seemingly quaint times, detailing horrors like torture techniques and witch hunts. Feel the chill down your spine at the graphic exhibits inside the medieval torture chamber.
Browse through antiques stores and Christmas shops occupying half-timbered buildings that are architectural marvels in their own right. Pop into a cafe for coffee and cake served by waitresses in dirndls, then stroll along the covered walkways peeking into the craft studios of glassblowers and goldsmiths practicing trades nearly as old as the town itself. As you meander, keep your eyes peeled for the quirky historical details that give Rothenburg its character, like the tiny nibble-holes cut into window shutters for cats to pass through.
Walk along the centuries-old fortifications like locals out for their daily constitutional, taking time to admire the views. Then descend into the valley below on the footpath leading to the peaceful Tauber River. On your way up the hillside, catch your breath while reflecting on how tourists five hundred years from now may one day walk the same trail and ponder the past.
Come nightfall, the old town looks lifted straight from a fairytale. The softly glowing lampposts and candles burning in silhouette in darkened windows only amplify the magical atmosphere. Find your own enchanting street or square to sip a mug of mulled wine as you take in the beauty. Let your imagination and the echoes of history transport you back through the centuries.
Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Marvel at the Dramatic Saxon Switzerland National Park
With its soaring sandstone cliffs, dense forests, and labyrinths of narrow canyons, Saxon Switzerland National Park looks like something out of a fantasy novel rather than a corner of Germany. Located southeast of Dresden along the Elbe River, this protected landscape is famous for its unique rock formations created over 70 million years ago. Wandering through the fantastical scenery, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another world.
One of the park’s most spectacular sights is the Bastei Bridge, which arches dramatically over a deep gorge. The views of spiky pinnacles jutting up alongside the Elbe far below are breathtaking. Reaching the bridge involves a pleasant 1.5 hour uphill hike through the woods, past odd-shaped formations with names like Virgin’s Spring or Rudolph’s Stone Wall. The panorama from the top is well worth the effort. Just take care on the bridge itself when admiring the scenery, as there are no railings along some sections.
For even more stunning cliff-top vistas, make the steep 90-minute trek to the Göschwitz outlook. Peer down vertiginous rock walls while hawks circle below your feet. The sheer scope of the landscape stretched out before your eyes is an unforgettable sight. Or walk along the Malerweg “Painter’s Way” trail, aptly named for its Instagram-worthy views.
To fully experience the park’s sandstone realm, venture into the narrow gorges slicing dramatically through the rock. A little imagination goes a long way here—one passage is even aptly called “Honeymoon Gorge.” Tall canyon walls tower overhead as you stroll along wooden boardwalks built just above the gurgling streams below. Shaded fern-filled passages open into sunlit clearings overlooking the Elbe.
While hungering for even more incredible vistas? Consider climbing one of Saxon Switzerland’s rocky peaks, like the Zirkelstein. Ropes, ladders, and other aids along the protected routes make the summits accessible even to novice climbers willing to push their limits. Just make sure to only attempt climbs within your abilities—as well as with a guide if needed. The rewards of gazing out over the alien sandstone world from on high are exhilarating.
Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Wander the Half-Timbered Town of Miltenberg
Tucked along the Main River’s banks between Frankfurt and Würzburg lies the charming town of Miltenberg. With its maze of cobblestone streets, medieval half-timbered buildings, and ancient city walls and towers, Miltenberg transports visitors back to the Middle Ages. While not as famous as Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Miltenberg offers a similarly atmospheric old town and small town vibe without the crowds. The peaceful ambiance is ideal for leisurely wandering, admiring the historic architecture, and soaking up over 750 years of history.
A leisurely stroll through Miltenberg soon makes it clear why the town’s scenic Altstadt historic district earned protected status. Many of the ornate half-timbered structures lining the streets date back to the 15th through 17th centuries. The elaborate carved and painted facades reflect the prosperity Miltenberg enjoyed during its heyday as a trading hub. Market squares that once bustled with medieval commerce now tempt you to linger with cozy cafes and biergartens. The narrow cobblestone lanes conceal other architectural gems like the Baroque Rathaus town hall and the late Gothic St. Jakobskirche church.
Climb the belltower or steps of the medieval defensive towers punctuating the Altstadt for panoramic views over Miltenberg’s sea of gabled rooftops. Strolling atop the intact medieval walls surrounding the Altstadt makes it easy to envision scenes from centuries past. Peering over the red-tiled roofs, church spires, and timbered facades below, the days of knights and maidens almost feel palpable. The view downstream of the Main River’s gentle curves disappearing into vineyard-blanketed hills only adds to the old world idyll.
While the historic charm is enough reason alone to visit Miltenberg, the town also offers more than mere sightseeing. Quaint shops sell whimsical cuckoo clocks, steins, and nutcrackers—perfect for bringing some Bavarian flair back home. Savor schweinshaxe and local Franconian wines at a traditional wirtschaft tavern, or indulge your sweet tooth at a bakery. Miltenberg also hosts fun fairs and festivals, like the Michaelismarkt craft market in September.
Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Explore the Charming Black Forest Region
Nestled against the French border in southwest Germany, theBlack Forest region enchants visitors with its cuckoo clocks and cherry gateaus,rolling hills and forest-fringed lakes, medieval towns, and time-honored traditions. Thisstorybook corner of the country promises adventures from high mountain peaksto unexpected underground worlds.
One of the easiest ways to soak up the Black Forest’s charms ishopping between its ridiculously cute towns. Quaint Alpirsbach entices with itsromantic timber-framed houses huddled along a babbling brook. Shops sell thetown’s famous beer and smoked ham beneath medieval facades painted with colorfulmurals. Nearby Gengenbach charms with its pink tower, while scenic Triberg isknown for its supersized cuckoo clocks. Everywhere you’ll find carvedgables, flower boxes bursting with red geraniums, and locals in traditionaldress.
Of course, the Black Forest’s namesake woods beg to be exploredtoo. Choose from thousands of miles of hiking trails threading through shadyfirs and ancient beech groves straight out of a fairy tale. At Lake Mummel,pause on the shore to admire the emerald water with the mist-veiled HornisgrindeMountain in the distance. Or climb to mountain lakes like the Seebuck, where astunning panorama unfolds below.
The Black Forest is also dotted with mineral spring spa townswhere you can soak in thermal baths or sample the mineral waters just asvisitors have done for centuries. Cozy Baden-Baden has elegant colonnadedbuildings and an Old World air, while historic Bad Wildbad’s springs tumblespectacularly down rocky cliffs.
No visit to the Black Forest is complete without paying homageto the region’s most famous dessert. Black Forest cake layers chocolate spongecake with whipped cream and sour cherries between each moist bite. Savor aslice at a konditorei pastry shop like Café Schäfer, which uses the original1887 recipe. Or visit the German Cake Museum near Freudenstadt to learn aboutthe cake’s evolution.
Of course, keeping an eye out for cuckoo clocks is a must whenexploring the Black Forest region where they originated. At shops like Schonach’sGerman Clock Museum, you can even watch demonstrations of how artisans handcarve each intricate component.
For an underground adventure, take a tour of former silver minesoutside scenic Freudenstadt. Slip through dark passageways alongside guides inminer’s garb as you learn about the perilous work. Kids especially love riding arail trolley deep into the mountain and panning for gems.
Castles, Rivers, and Mountains Galore: The 10 Most Picturesque Places in Germany - Take in the Views from Zugspitze, Germany's Highest Peak
At 9,718 feet, Zugspitze proudly wears the crown as Germany's highest peak. While you can take a relaxing cog railway ride or cable car to the summit, ascending under your own power delivers far greater rewards. Stand on Zugspitze's rooftop and a world of superlatives materializes at your feet. Skirting along the Austrian border, this iconic mountain serves up jaw-dropping Alpine panoramas spanning four countries.
Hardcore mountaineers flock to Zugspitze for the challenge of scaling its sheer rock faces dotted with metal pegs, ladders, and cables. The classic route up the east face passes the remains of a crevasse from a 1965 avalanche that claimed ten lives. Reach the top after the lung-busting six hour climb and it's only you, the view, and a profound sense of personal accomplishment.
For a less death-defying summit experience minus the ropes and climbing gear, take the Alpspitze Ferrata. This "iron road" secured by rungs and rails follows a steep knife-edge arête. While exposed, the ferrata offers breathtaking vistas at every turn without highly technical moves. Just don't look down towards the valley 2,000 feet below! Reaching the pinnacle leaves my heart racing every time.
Hiking from Eibsee Lake is the picturesque alternative to summerting Zugspitze. The six-hour round trip ascent follows a rocky trail up through fields of wildflowers and past quaint mountain huts and chalets. Panoramas open up at the Knorr hut before you clamber the last bit over boulders to the cross marking the summit. You'll return to Eibsee on wobbly legs but spirits soaring.
They say on a clear day, views from Zugspitze stretch into four countries. Roll out a picnic blanket on the flat summit and soak up the 360° bird's-eye panorama. Look north across Bavaria's patchwork farmland towards Munich. Southeast, craggy peaks puncture the landscape in Austria's Kitzbühel Alps. The Swiss village of Bernina Pass glistens in the distance. Peek west into the Allgäu Mountains' forested slopes. Scan the horizon for other fabled Alpine giants like Austria's Großglockner.
Watch the light gradually fade during a Zugspitze sunset and this masterpiece of nature takes on watercolor hues. Linger until stars pierce the darkening canvas overhead. Nowhere else lets you feel so immersed in the majesty of the Alps while still enjoying a cold German beer and bratwurst. It's the perfect perch for introspection as you reflect on adventures past and dreams still ahead.