Each year, tourists flock to Germany – one of Europe’s largest countries – drawn in by its natural beauty, notable cities, long and complex history and, of course, beer.
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 which is reflected in its range of historic sites today.
There’s a wealth of cathedrals, monuments, museums, and castles to choose between. From the historic Brandenburg Gate and magnificent Würzburg Residence to the Gothic Cologne Cathedral, here’s our selection of sites you can’t miss when visiting Das Land der Dichter und Denker – ‘the country of poets and thinkers’.
1. Brandenburg Gate
The Brandenburg Gate is a famous landmark in Berlin built between 1788 and 1791 which once served as a city gateway. Commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia it stood in the entrance to boulevard Unter den Linden, which led to the city palace.
The gate was reopened on December 22, 1989, in the course of the reunification of East and West Berlin, when West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl walked through it to meet East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg gate became a symbol of German reunification.
2. Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was an 87 mile long concrete barrier between East and West Berlin, 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. 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 Reichstag is one of Berlin’s most significant historical buildings, having borne silent witness to the turbulent history not just of Berlin, but wider Germany. It is also the current home of the German parliament.
Designed by architect Paul Wallot during the reign of Emperor Wilhelm I, the Reichstag contained several pioneering architectural elements, including a steel and glass copula – the first of its kind.
4. Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) is a vast and impressive gothic cathedral which took over 600 years to complete. Visible from nearly every point in the city, it is the second highest building in Cologne.
Located on what was previously the site of a Roman villa, thought to have dated back to the 4th century – as well as several increasingly larger churches – construction of the current Cologne Cathedral began in 1248.
5. Dachau Concentration Camp
Dachau Concentration Camp (KZ-Gedenkstätte Dachau) was one of the first of many concentration camps set up by the Nazis to imprison and murder certain groups as part of their campaign of genocide.
Today, the site of Dachau Concentration Camp houses a memorial to those who suffered and perished under the Nazis: expect to spend at least half a day here to take everything in and digest it.
6. Lubeck Town Hall
Lübeck Town Hall (Lübecker Rathaus) is an incredible medieval structure which began as a 13th century cloth hall. One of Germany’s most famous brick Gothic buildings, Lübeck Town Hall was added to over the centuries.
Even today, Lübeck’s Town Hall continues to serve as the city’s administrative headquarters and meeting place of the city parliament. The halls are open to visit by guided tours, a highlight being the splendid Audience Hall, decorated in the lush Rococo style of 1755 depicting the virtues of a good government.
If Holstentor looks familiar, this might be because you have glimpsed it on a German 2 Euro coin. Built in the 15th century, Holstentor (also known as Holsten Tor or Holsten Gate) was part of the medieval defences of the Hanseatic city of Lübeck and is one of only 2 of the original 4 gates of the city, the other being Burgtor.
Today, Holstentor is one of a long list of buildings included as part of the UNESCO Hanseatic City of Lubeck site. Looking like it has come straight out of a fairytale, inside this medieval gem is the city museum of Lübeck.
8. Munich Frauenkirche
A late Gothic, 3-nave hall church, the Munich Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is one of the city’s most iconic sites. Begun in 1468 over the site of an earlier church, the Munich Frauenkirche was consecrated in 1494.
However, it was not until the 16th century that Frauenkirche got its most famous additions: a pair of onion-dome topped towers. Inside, visitors can see fantastic artworks spanning several centuries.
9. Würzburg Residence
Called the ‘castle above all castles’, the Würzburg Residence in Germany was principally designed by little-known court architect Balthasar Neumann and commissioned by Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg.
According to UNESCO – for which Würzburg was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1981 – the “Residence is a document of European culture. Perhaps no monument from the same period is able to claim such a concurrence of talent”.
10. Hedeby Viking Museum
Hedeby Viking Museum (known locally as Wikinger Museum Haithabu) is a museum near the site of Hebedy, a former medieval city.
Hedeby was founded at the beginning of the 9th century by Danish King Göttrik and, with its excellent location at the neck of Jutland in what is now Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein state, it was the ideal trading port, becoming one of the most significant trade centres in Northern Europe.
One of the most striking displays is ‘Wreck 1’, which, until recently, was thought to be the longest war boat from the Viking period.