Home of the ancient Germanic tribes, impinged on by the Romans, centre of the Holy Roman Empire and the focal point of 20th century conflict, Germany is a nation with a diverse history, reflected in its historic sites today.
There’s a host of top cultural attractions to visit in Germany today, and among the very best are the Brandenburg Gate, the Imperial Baths of Trier and the Berlin Wall. Other popular sites tend to include Schwerin Castle, Berliner Dom and the Reichstag.
We’ve put together an experts guide to German cultural places, landmarks and monuments with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Germany, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in Germany?
Few historic sites in Germany have such political, social and symbolic importance as the Romanesque gateway known as the Brandenburg Gate. Commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia it stood in the entrance to boulevard Unter den Linden, which led to the city palace.
Visitors from around the world come to see the Brandenburg Gate and its ornate carvings, including its dramatic depiction of Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory, driving a horse drawn chariot. Today, among other things, it is seen as a symbol of German reunification.
Amongst the largest Ancient Roman baths outside of Rome, the Imperial Baths of Trier are some of the best preserved Roman sites in Germany. They provide a startling reminder of the diverse nature of German history.
Trier was a Roman city initially established in around 15 BC and called Augusta Treverorum. By the late third century AD, when Diocletian divided the Empire and created the Tetrachy, Trier was such a flourishing and important city that it was known as the “Second Rome”. At this time, Constantius Chlorus became the emperor of the West Roman Empire and moved to Trier with his son, Constantine the Great.
From 306 onwards, Constantine began a mass development of the city, of which the Imperial Baths of Tier were a part.
The Berlin Wall ranks amongst the most iconic of all the historic sites in Germany. An 87 mile long concrete barrier between East and West Berlin, it became a symbol of the Cold War and an embodiment of the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ between eastern and western Europe.
The Berlin Wall was a matter of great controversy throughout its existence, with world leaders continually calling for it to be torn down, including John F Kennedy’s famous declaration of “Ich bin ein Berliner” and Ronald Reagan’s 1987 speech when he implored, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”.
The fall of the Berlin Wall finally occurred on 9 November 1989 and the wall was almost completely dismantled in the days and weeks that followed. Very few segments of the wall remain. The largest, 1.3 kilometer, section can be found at the open air East Side Gallery, although small sections are dotted throughout the city.
The Bruhl Palaces (Schlosser Bruhl) are comprised of the Augustus Palace and the Falkenlust Palace, built in the 18th century for the Archbishop and Elector of Cologne, Clemens August of Bavaria.
Begun in 1725 atop the ruins of a medieval moated castle and completed in 1768, Augustus Palace is considered a masterpiece of the German Rococo style, the highlight of which is its staircase by Balthasar Neumann. Augustus Palace was Clemens August’s favourite residence and, with its proximity to Bonn, was used as a government reception hall from 1949 until the seat of government was returned to Berlin.
Falkenlust Palace was constructed between 1729-1737 and served as the hunting lodge of Clemens August.
The Bruhl Palaces together with their extensive gardens are on the UNESCO World Heritage list and are open to the public as museums.
Schwerin Castle is a picturesque palace and once the home of the dukes of Mecklenburg. The history of the site itself dates back as far as 1160, with the current incarnation of the castle being built in the 19th century. Taken over by the German state in 1918, the castle would undergo yet another set of renovations in the twentieth century, following a fire.
Schwerin Castle is now both the seat of the local government and an art museum displaying pieces ranging from the ancient to the twentieth century. Some of the most important pieces at Schwerin’s museum are its seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish paintings.
The Reichstag Building started its life in 1894, when it served as the seat of the German Parliament. Designed by architect Paul Wallot during the reign of Emperor Wilhelm I, the building contained several pioneering architectural elements, including a steel and glass copula which was the first of its kind.
Wilhelm I was succeeded by Wilhelm II by the time the Reichstag was completed in 1894 and, despite this new leader’s opposition to the institute of parliament, the Reichstag survived his reign and was the site where the politician Philipp Scheidemann proclaimed the institution of the German Weimar Republic in 1918. It served as such until 1933, when a fire tore through it, damaging it severely. However, it was the socio-political consequences of this latter event which would have the most lasting effects.
The ruling Nazi party blamed the fire on communists and used the incident as an excuse to carry out a purge of any perceived traitors. The Reichstag was heavily bombed during the Second World War and emerged as a ruin, the effects of which were exacerbated by its neglect during the Cold War.
Reconstruction followed and was completed in April 1999. It now houses the current German parliament, the Bundestag, and also acts as one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions. Guided tours are available, but must be booked in writing well in advance.
Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) is a vast and impressive gothic cathedral which took over six hundred years to complete.
Located on what was previously the site of a Roman villa, thought to have dated back to the fourth century as well as several increasingly larger churches, construction of the current Cologne Cathedral began in 1248. There was already a church on the site, but when the relic known as the Three Magi was brought there, it was felt a larger church was need to accommodate the hordes of pilgrims to the site.
Due to its enormous size and elaborate nature as well as a series of interruptions including the arrival of French Revolutionaries, Cologne Cathedral was only completed in 1880.
Today, Cologne Cathedral is home to a wealth of important ecclesiastical art, the highlight of which is the Shrine of the Three Magi (or three Kings), thought to contain the skulls of the three wise men.
Despite having been bombed during World War II raids, Cologne Cathedral has survived and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, revered for being a remarkable example of a gothic cathedral. Visitors can also enter its treasury for more religious relics or climb its tower for great views of Cologne. Guided tours are available by appointment.
Cologne Cathedral features as one of our top German Visitor Attractions.
The Basilica of Constantine or “Konstantin Basilika” in Trier in Germany is a remnant of this city’s prominent Ancient Roman history.
Once the place where Emperor Constantine the Great would meet and greet audiences, the Basilica of Constantine was part of the development of Trier undertaken by the emperor from 306 AD. At the time, Trier, then Augusta Treverorum, was the capital of Rome’s Western Empire and the home of Constantine the Great.
In the fifth century, the Basilica of Constantine was destroyed by invading Germanic forces, but now stands restored. This is partially due to the fact that it was incorporated into a seventeenth century palace and then served as an army barracks. In 1944, the Basilica of Constantine was renovated and it is now used as a church.
The Basilica of Constantine is one of this city’s many Ancient Roman sites and part of its UNESCO World Heritage listing. It is apparently the largest single Ancient Rome room to stand intact.
Be sure to look out for the optical illusion created by the window sizes of the Basilica of Constantine, which make it look even bigger than it actually is.
Worms Cathedral (Wormser Dom) also known as the Cathedral of St Peter is a Romanesque cathedral in the German city of Worms. A sandstone structure with distinctive conical towers, Worms Cathedral was constructed in phases throughout the twelfth century and mostly completed by 1181.
In fact, the present Worms Cathedral is not the first to be built on this site, a previous, smaller version having existed as early as the seventh century and a further incarnation built in the eleventh century. This second version of Worms Cathedral was famous for being the burial site of the Salian Dynasty, a medieval German royal line of Holy Roman Emperors. This Salian crypt can still be seen at Worms Cathedral.
In 1792, when French revolutionary forces captured Worms, Worms Cathedral was used as a storage facility and stables. During World War II, the building was damaged by air raids, but survived. Worms Cathedral features as one of our Top Tourist Attractions in Germany.
Checkpoint Charlie was an important crossing point in the Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989.
The Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie were prominent symbols of the Cold War. At the time, West Berlin was controlled by the American, British and French forces and East Berlin by the Soviet Union.
In a bid to prevent the ongoing migration of East Berliners to the west, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin erected the Berlin Wall, closing off East Berlin from the rest of the city.
Checkpoint ‘C’, nicknamed Checkpoint Charlie based on the NATO phonetic alphabet, was the only place where Allied forces were allowed to cross the border and, at its location at the junction of Friedrichstraße with Zimmerstraße and Mauerstraße, was also the most visible checkpoint along the wall.
Checkpoint Charlie was made up of a watchtower and barriers erected by the Soviet forces, while the American forces originally had only a temporary wooden shack followed by a temporary metal structure.
Checkpoint Charlie was the site of many stand offs between the Soviet and American forces, including the October 1961 dispute over the checking of the travel documents of US officials, which culminated in both sides amassing tanks at the checkpoint.
However, it was the tragic death of attempted East Berlin escapee, Peter Fechter which attracted mass protest and some of the most poignant imagery of the time. The teenager was shot by Soviet guards as he tried to flee to the West and lay dying in the no-man’s land between East and West Berlin before the world media.
The original Checkpoint Charlie is housed at the Allied Museum in Berlin-Zehlendorf, but the site now displays a replica where the original once stood as well as information about the era. Nearby is a small private museum about the checkpoint called ‘Haus am Checkpoint Charlie’.