There’s no better introduction to Europe than Germany. This is, of course, an entirely scientific conclusion, and not at all biased by my never-ending affection for the country. Even after half a dozen trips and spending a couple months living in Germany, I’m still surprised by what I’ll dig up when travelling around. Germany’s a place that always feels a little like home to me, even if far removed from my “regular” life.
With so many hidden gems scattered throughout the country, figuring out what to do in Germany in limited time is bound to bewilder and confuse. All of what you’d expect of Germany is here: fairytale castles, sunny beer gardens, mysterious forests, medieval mountain towns, and modern cities. Unfortunately, you can’t see it all. At least not without months at your disposal.
I’ve created this 10-day Germany itinerary with the time-crunched independent traveller in mind. No, it won’t cover the entire country in depth. But it will provide an introduction to Germany that will leave you wowed and wanting to explore Germany further.
Table of Contents
What to do in Germany: Beyond beer and lederhosen
Stereotypes only get you so far trying to explain why Germany is so awesome. Germany’s a curious mix of beauty, authenticity, history and grittiness that’s impossible to explain in a few short paragraphs.
When planning a trip to Germany on a time-crunch, I’d always recommend ratcheting your travel plans down to a smaller geographic area. Sure, it isn’t the size of Canada, but Germany isn’t small either. Even with the efficient German transportation system, zipping across the entire country—from north to south or east to west—is difficult without the luxury of time on your side.
On this 10-day Germany itinerary, I’ve focused on the eastern part of Germany. Many of Germany’s most popular travel destinations lie roughly along the Berlin-to-Munich axis. Focusing on this part of the country will give you the perfect taste of what to expect in Germany, showcasing everything from Mad Ludwig’s opulent Bavarian castles, Germany’s leafiest beer gardens and festive medieval towns along the Romantic Road.
At the end of the itinerary, I’ll offer suggestions on how to tweak the plan to your interests and how to take your trip to Germany (or Europe) further if you’ve got more time to spare.
No trip to Germany is complete without visiting Berlin. There’s something intangible about visiting Berlin; it always leaves a lasting impression—good or bad—on anyone who steps foot here.
Twentieth-century history fuses with the present at nearly every turn in Germany’s capital. A visit to Berlin is at once a glance at the past and a look to the future of a nation. Just don’t visit Berlin expecting a squeaky-clean tourism wonderland. Berlin’s a lived in city with less outward beauty than grit and edge. It’s become one of Europe’s best alternative cities, alive with ideas and at the forefront of ever-changing European culture.
What to Do in Berlin
Three days is hardly enough to dig into Berlin. But when you’re crammed for time on your 10-day trip to Germany, you’ll have to settle with just scratching the surface of Germany’s most complex city.
With just 2 days in Berlin and 1 day dedicated to a day trip though, you’ll still get a good idea of what the city has to offer. Just don’t blame me if you want to extend your stay in Berlin a tad longer!
Stroll down Unter den Linden
There’s no better place to start exploring Berlin than Unter den Linden. Berlin Mitte’s most famous boulevard, named after the linden trees that line the centre pedestrian path, stretches from the Berliner Dom to Brandenburg Gate.
Many of Berlin’s best attractions lie on and around Unter den Linden. Culture lovers should set aside time for the museums clustered around Museum Insel at the eastern end of the boulevard near the river Spree. Whether you want to walk through German history at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, peruse Greek & Roman antiquities at the Altes Museum or sift through Egyptian artwork and artifacts of the Neues Museum, pick up the three-day Museum Pass Berlin for €24 to save some money on your entrance fees. The private DDR Museum, an interactive flashback into East Germany on the eastern bank of the river Spree just north of Unter den Linden, is also worth visiting.
Peer into the Cold War psyche at the East Side Gallery
Flanking the eastern banks of the Spree along Mühlenstraße, the East Side Gallery is an open-air art gallery gracing sections of the former Berlin Wall. The over one hundred murals at the East Side Gallery stand as a reminder of the reunification of Germany following fall of communism in Europe.
Keep your eye out for the East Side Gallery’s most famous artwork depicting a kiss between Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, and Erich Honecker, the leader of the DDR. Don’t forget to peer past the eastern end of wall to Oberbaumbrücke, Berlin’s famous North German Brick Gothic-style bridge.
Munch down at Hackescher Markt
The old red brickwork of the Hackescher Markt S-Bahn station recalls turn-of-the-century Berlin, and provides the perfect backdrop for a hearty lunch. If you’re uninterested in the diet of Italian restaurant and steakhouses at the Hackescher Markt main square outside the S-bahn station, stroll up Rosenthaler Straße to Viet Village, a Berlin favourite for tasty Vietnamese food.
Cruise down the river Spree in the evening
Floating down Berlin’s waterways by moonlight is as relaxing an end to your day as any. The 3-hour evening Berlin river cruise starts at Märkisches Ufer, drifting through the entire city centre of Berlin along the river Spree and Landwehrkanal.
Putter alongside Berlin’s most famous architectural gems and parks including Oberbaumbrücke, Tiersgarden, Reichstag, the Hauptbahnhof, Bundeskanzleramt and Mühlendammschleuse.
Escape on a day trip to Potsdam
Of all the day trips from Berlin, none is more worthy of your time than Potsdam. The former Prussian royal capital percolates with grace, springing palaces and gardens upon you as you tread through the city.
On a day trip to Potsdam, your first stop should be Sanssouci Park, home to the stunning palaces of Fredrick the Great. Explore the park to uncover the three main palaces: mid-18th-cenutry Sanssouci Palace, the Italian renaissance-style Orangery Palace (Orangerieschloss) and the baroque Prussian New Palace (Neues Palais).
Where to Stay in Berlin
Choosing where to stay in Berlin can be challenge. Berlin is one of Europe’s most popular destinations, and the best hotels in Berlin book up months ahead. As much as I’ve pulled off seat-of-your-pants travel planning, you’ll want to snatch up Berlin hotels earlier rather than later if you don’t want to be stuck in a dive.
If you want to be close to the action, I suggest staying in or around Berlin Mitte. A good option in Mitte is the stylish Arte Luise Kunsthotel , a 10-minute walk from Brandenburg Gate. For digs in a quieter, more upscale neighbourhood, try the Andy Warhol-inspired art’otel berlin kudamm in Charlottenburg. It’s not within close walking distance of Mitte (about 1 hour by foot), but easy metro access puts all of Berlin’s attractions within reach.
How to Get to Berlin
From North America, Berlin, along with Frankfurt, is the cheapest gateway into Germany. For flights to Berlin from the United States expect to pay $450-500 return at the low end up to over $1000 in high season.
From Canada, flights to Berlin are a little pricier. I’ve flown for as little as C$550 in the past, but prices seem to have increased in the past couple years. Expect the lower end of prices to be around C$750-800 return with the higher end, like the US, over C$1000.
The first time I heard about Dresden was while reading Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five in high school. Seeing as I was reading a work of fiction, I found Vonnegut’s description of the firebombing of Dresden bewildering. As it turns out, his account wasn’t so far off the reality.
Walking in the fictional footsteps of the oddball Billy Pilgrim years later, it’s hard to believe Dresden was hardly more than rubble following WWII. Of all the ressurected cities in post-war Germany, Dresden might just be the most grandiose. The larger-than-life restored palaces and churches of Dresden Altstadt are a sight to behold as the evening sun reflects off the Elbe River. Give yourself at least two days in Dresden if you want to explore at leisure (or leave an extra 24 hours for a day trip to the Saxony hinterlands).
What to Do in Dresden
While you won’t find as many things to do in Dresden as in a bigger city like Munich or Berlin, hanging out here isn’t exactly boring. Even with just 24 hours in Dresden, you can meander in the shadows of the masterfully-reconstructed Baroque domes and palaces of Altstadt (Old Town) and explore the edgy Neustadt (New Town) without putting up much of a sweat.
Wander around Dresden Altstadt
Most of the postcard-gracing architecture in Dresden lies within Altstadt. What makes Dresden one of the most underrated cities in Central Europe is the sheer feeling of becoming so engulfed in the ageless streets of Altstadt you’ll forget what era you’re in. (Even if almost everything is only a half century old.)
On your journey through Dresden Altstadt, keep on the look out for the 19th-century Fürstenzug on Augustusstraße, the world’s longest porcelain tile mural depicting a procession of Saxon rulers. Unlike the rest of Dresden Altstadt, Fürstenzug miraculously sustained minimal damage during the firebombing.
Breathe in the view of Altstadt from Frauenkirche
Soaring over the expansive Neumarkt square, Frauenkirche imposes itself on any visitors who lay beneath in its shadows. What’s most surprising is that Frauenkirche, originally consecrated in the 18th century, has yet to reach its teens as it currently stands. For 50 years after the firebombing of Dresden, the space remained in ruins as a memorial to the Second World War. It wasn’t until 1994, shortly after Germany’s reunification, that a 10-year plan to rebuild Frauenkirche launched. By 2005, the final restoration emerged. And in grand fashion.
Admission into Frauenkirche, to marvel at the intricate and airy interior, is free, but ascending to the dome for 360-degree views of Dresden will set you back €8.
Marvel at Dresden’s finest architecture at the Zwinger
It’s hard to believe that the Zwinger still exists. Like much of Dresden Altstadt, what you’ll see here isn’t original. Yet somehow by 1963, less than 20 years after almost complete destruction in 1945, the Zwinger was back swinging in grand style.
There’s no doubt the Zwinger is Dresden’s finest architectural moment—and that’s clearly saying a lot. Built in Roccoco (Late Baroque) style, the Zwinger long ago shed its use as a orangery and festival grounds to become the most popular museum complex in Dresden.
Art and culture fans should pop into the Zwinger’s Old Masters Picture Gallery, a collection of 15th- to 18th-century European art; the Dresden Porcelain Collection, an exhibition of mostly East Asian fine porcelain artifacts; or the Royal Cabinet of Mathematical and Physical Instruments, Germany’s primer getaway for proud geo- and math nerds. (If you want to save on admission to Dresden’s museums and get free public transportation, pick up a Dresden Welcome Card before you go.)
Explore the gritty Dresden Neustadt
If you dipped your toes into Berlin’s Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain, you’ll have an idea of what awaits you in Dresden Neustadt. Unlike the now unbattered Altstadt, Neustadt is Dresden’s untamed wild. Not that danger awaits around every corner. Let’s just say it’s a little rougher around the edges with an artsy and creative vibrance that makes it ever so fun to explore.
While Altstadt was levelled in WWII, Neustadt and its 19th-century architecture stayed intact. In this weird case of misnomers, New Town is actually older than most of Old Town! (Surprisingly, not as uncommon in Europe as you’d think.)
To catch a glimpse of Dresden’s quirky side, wander along Neustadt’s Alaunstraße and Görlitzer Straße, keeping an eye out for the Kunsthofpassage, a series of courtyards springing with artisan shops, tea shops and wine bars. What ever you do, don’t leave Dresden Neustadt without tasting the award-winning currywurst at Curry & Co. (Louisenstraße 62).
Where to Stay in Dresden
Central Dresden is compact and easy to navigate by foot. Whether you decide to stay in Neustadt or Altstadt, there’s a good variety of hotels in Dresden catering to every budget.
Many of the best hotels in Dresden are in Altstadt. Two great options are Swissôtel Dresden Am Schloss and Steigenberger Hotel de Saxe . Both hotels are stylish, offer spectacular views of Altstadt and are within close walking distance of the main tourist sites.
How to Get to Dresden
The most convenient direct IC and EC trains between Berlin and Dresden, take just under two hours to just over three hours. Unless you’re on a tight budget, avoid the slow regional trains that will steal the better part of your day in transit. For convenience and to save money on fast train travel, I’d recommend picking up a German rail pass .
For more flexibility on your 10-day Germany itinerary, consider renting a car . By car, the trip to Dresden from Berlin should take about 2.5 to 3 hours with traffic. (Add more time if travelling during the summer when road construction in Germany gets a little out of hand.)
Although nearly every Germany itinerary for beginners skips Nuremberg, I decided to include it for one reason: Nuremberg is the perfect place to base yourself for exploring the northern Romantic Road.
Even if you’re not travelling with your better half, waltzing along the Romantic Road is a must for first-time travellers to Germany. The Romantic Road’s best medieval towns, with their winding cobblestoned streets lined with traditional timber houses, seem straight out of a fairytale, frozen in time.
What to Do in Nuremberg and along The Romantic Road
Exploring Nuremberg is worthwhile, but for the quintessential medieval Germany experience, you’ll need to get out of the city. Far easier than travelling the Romantic Road by public transportation is to rent a car . You’ll save yourself a ton of time, operate according to your own schedule, and avoid backtracking with a car.
Road tripping along the northern Romantic Road
Start your trip along the Romantic Road in Würzburg, the northernmost destination on the road. Würzburg isn’t the most painstakingly-restored German town, but its Marienberg Fortress and Würzburger Residence make it worthwhile to throw into your itinerary. Don’t leave Würzburg without picking up (or at least sipping on) some of its famous Franconian wine.
About 45 minutes away from Würzburg, you’ll find yourself in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, whose timeless Altstadt is perhaps the most famous and best-preserved medieval old town in Germany. The town can become inundated with tour groups in high-season. To avoid the bulky crowds, you’ll want to set off early to Rothenburg ob der Tauber from Würzburg.
From Rothenburg ob der Tauber, continue along the Romantic Road to Dinkelsbühl and Nördlingen. Both of these well-preserved town centres are worth exploring to take in their ancient churches and medieval half-timbered houses. And with a fraction of the tourists that you’ll encounter in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, you’ll be able to enjoy Dinkelsbühl and Nördlingen with ease.
Take a tour of Nuremberg Old Town
If you only have 24 hours in Nuremberg, you’ll want to focus on exploring the old town. Even if you’ve rented a car, Nuremberg Old Town is best explored on foot as parking and navigating the one-way and pedestrian streets can be a challenge.
Start your exploration of Nuremberg with a climb up to the city’s most famous site, Nuremberg Castle. It’s not often you’ll find such an impressive fortress in the middle of a city as big as Nuremberg. While the castle itself is interesting, it’s the views of Old Town from above that make the trek so worthwhile.
The Castle Quarter (Burgviertel) to the south of Nuremberg Castle is the perfect introduction to Nuremberg’s medieval history. Saunter down the pedestrian street Weissgerbergasse and Obere Krämersgasse for traditional German half-timbered architecture or down Füll off Sebalder Platz for typical medieval stone buildings.
Where to Stay in Nuremberg
There’s a good selection of hotels in Nuremberg catering to all budgets. Staying in the Altstadt, there’s hardly a more convenient location place to stay than Sorat Hotel Saxx Nürnberg . Not only is it within close walking distance of the best Nuremberg attractions, the hotel is located right beside Nuremberg’s famous Christmas market. If you’re visiting during the magic of the holiday season, you’ll be set!
How to Get to Nuremberg
From Dresden, expect trains to take about 5 hours to get to Nuremberg with a change in Leipzig. Renting a car and driving the route between Dresden and Nuremberg will cut off some time from the trip. Bank on about three and a half hours with traffic.
While Munich might lack the complexity and depth of Berlin, Germany’s second biggest city is about the simpler pleasures. Walking around Munich’s heart, fuelling up at leafy beer gardens and brew pubs, scaling up Gothic church towers, and peeking into regal palaces and galleries, is the German urban travel experience you’ve been waiting for. And let’s not forget the chaos of (nearly) everyone’s favourite festival on the Theresienwiese, Oktoberfest.
What to Do in Munich
Don’t think Munich is all about beer-swilling German dudes in lederhosen. I’m not going to lie and say that you won’t encounter it. This, of course, is Bavaria, the source of countless pop culture German stereotypes that apply far more to this corner of southeastern Germany than anywhere else in the country.
Choosing to visit Munich isn’t just about spending time in the city but using it as a base to explore Bavaria further. With only three days in Munich, you’ll have to be crafty with your travel planning. If you have a couple extra days and want to experience more of Munich and Bavaria, there are plenty of interesting day trips from Munich you can fill your schedule with.
Explore Altstadt Munich
Conveniently, many of the best Munich attractions are located around the Altstadt (Old Town). Start off in Marienplatz, home to the stunning neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). Time your visit for 11am when the Glockenspiel, a century-old clock, reenacts the story of Duke Wilhelm V’s marriage and a performance of the “cooper’s dance.”
A block southeast of Marienplatz, climb the tower of Peterskirche for an incredible panoramic view of Old Town Munich. On a clear day, you can peer as far off as the Bavarian Alps, creating a magical vista of Munich for your photo collection.
Other places to seek out in central Munich include Frauenkirche, Munich’s most famous church with its twin domed towers; Viktualienmarkt, a two-hundred year old market; and, of course, the world-famous Hofbräuhaus München.
Sip a beer in one of Munich’s famous beer gardens and brew pubs
Don’t end at the kitschy Hofbräuhaus for getting your fill of Bavarian beer. Munich’s best beer gardens and brew pubs aren’t always the most convenient for tourists. Fortunately though, they’re spread all around the city. This is Munich after all! No matter how to you choose where to stay in Munich, you won’t be far from enjoying a great Münchner beer.
A couple of my favourite beer gardens in Munich are the Augustiner-Keller (Arnulfstraße 52), Biergarten Viktualienmarkt (Viktualienmarkt 9) and the Biergarten am Chinesischen Turm in the Englischer Garten. Bad weather? Try the beer halls at Paulaner Bräuhaus (Kapuzinerplatz 5) and Augustiner Bräustuben (Landsberger Straße 19) for some good beer and classic Bavarian grub in a traditional setting.
Swoon over Mad King Ludwig’s Bavarian castles
Nothing in Germany will leave you more in awe than King Ludwig II’s fairytale Bavarian castles. Hemmed in by the Bavarian Alps and thick greenery, Ludwig’s three masterpieces—Hohenschwangau Castle, Neuschwanstein Castle, and Linderhof Palace—are but a couple hours from Munich and make for the perfect day trip.
You’ll need to rent a car if you want to get to all of them in one day. Although public transportation to Füssen, the major town closest to Hohenschwangau Castle and Neuschwanstein Castle, is convenient, getting to Linderhof Palace is a bit of a challenge without your own wheels.
If you want the full Mad King Ludwig II experience, start off driving from Munich towards Füssen. King Ludwig II spent his childhood at Hohenschwangau Castle, the first castle you’ll encounter off the main road to Füssen. It wasn’t until after 1864, when Ludwig became king at the age of 19, that his crazy idea for building the nearby and far more famous Neuschwanstein Castle surfaced. He never saw its completion.
Meanwhile, King Ludwig II set to work on another project. Linderhof Palace, located 15 minutes from Oberammergau, was the only building project the Bavarian king saw to fruition. Built in Late Baroque (Rococo) style among the deep Bavarian woods, Linderhof Palace has an entirely different feel than the Füssen area castles.
Linderhof Palace was King Ludwig II’s favourite palace, and where he spent the last eight years of his life. The interior’s as extravagant as you’d expect from a king’s final refuge. The real eye-opener at Linderhof Palace though are the well-manicured gardens, set among the shadows of the Bavarian Alps. Be sure to check out the grotto where Ludwig would hole himself away for hours on end to reflect.
Where to Stay in Munich
Compared to other cities in Germany, hotels in Munich are pricey. Finding a room under $150-175 within the city centre can be tough.
Right next to the Hauptbahfhof, the stylish Aloft München offers great value for central Munich, especially if you can catch a room sale.
Alternatively, if you’re okay with staying further from the centre, you’ll save quite a bit on your Munich accommodations. The brand-new Leonardo Hotel Munich City South in Obersendling is just a 20-minute bus ride (or 1 hour walk) into central Munich, and half the price of comparable rooms in the centre.
How to Get to Munich
The fastest intercity trains jet between Nuremberg and Munich in just over an hour. Trains leave frequently throughout the day from the early morning hours until about 11:30pm.
Driving isn’t quite as quick. Expect the car journey from Nuremberg to Munich to take two hours or more with traffic.
10-Day Germany Itinerary Tweaks
- Visiting at Christmas? Don’t forget to take in Germany’s famous Christmas markets! Several of the cities listed in this itinerary—Berlin, Munich, Nuremberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber—host famous Christmas markets.
- Are you a travelling as a couple? Skip Dresden and continue on from Munich to the Rhine Valley. The romantic Rhine Valley is one of the best destinations for couples in Germany. Visit the quaint towns of Bacharach, Koblenz, Braubach or Sankt Goar, and enjoy the fine Riesling wines from the Middle Rhine growing area.
Beyond Germany: Taking Your 10-Day Germany Itinerary Further
- Can you hear the Sound of Music? Waltz on to Salzburg, Austria. The hills are alive just a couple hours away from Munich in the Austrian city of Salzburg. Hang around Mozart’s hometown, let some delectable Mozartkugeln melt in your mouth and enjoy the scenery of one of Central Europe’s finest cities.
- Need a little more classic European architecture? Swing back towards Berlin via Prague. Everyone knows Prague is one of the most beautiful cities on earth. Why not swing back through the Czech Republic via Austria to check it out? Hit up the town of Cesky Krumlov along the way.
- Craving the mountain air? Slide into Switzerland via Zürich. In only 3.5-4.5 hours from Munich you’ll find yourself in beautiful Zürich, Switzerland’s biggest city. From here, it’s not much of stretch to experience the rest of compact Switzerland.
- Looking for a little Gallic soul? Hop over to France via Strasbourg. You won’t notice a vast change crossing over to Strasbourg from Germany. The beautiful Alsatian city is the perfect mix of Germanic and French cultures and the perfect place to start exploring France from Germany.