Guide to Germany’s Top Cities
From the fashion capital of Düsseldorf to the cutting-edge culture of Berlin, Germany’s top cities are as diverse as the country’s changing landscapes that stretch from the snow-capped Alps in the south to the rugged North Sea islands up high. And while you’ll find double-decker bus tours and river cruises in most every German city of size, follow our lead to delve deeper into Germany's culture and history with a tour of Deutschland’s most dynamic cities.
Often overlooked for the edgier Berlin a few hours east, Germany’s second-largest city owes its worldly maritime flair to the bustling Port of Hamburg (it’s Europe’s second-busiest, after Rotterdam in neighboring Holland). During the warmer months, ride the Frau Hedi party boat or visit Strand Pauli, a beach club on the Elbe River.
The gritty St. Pauli neighborhood, home to Hamburg’s red-light district and main bar and nightclub street, the Reeperbahn, is where the Beatles first played, at Indra Musikclub. A short walk away is Hamburg’s newest ’hood, HafenCity, where the Elbphilharmonie opera house rises from the banks of the Elbe River.
Germany’s answer to Milan, Dusseldorf is the country’s capital of couture. Hire a personal shopper (local Thekla Tillman is the best in the biz) or go it solo during a shopping spree along the Konigsallee, Dusseldorf’s version of Rodeo Drive.
Come evening, it’s all about the Altstadt, Düsseldorf’s old town (aka the “longest bar in the world”) that's home to some 300 watering holes and nightclubs. Pub crawls must include an altbier (the dark local brew) at Uerige, one of Germany’s oldest continuously operating breweries.
The capital of Bavaria, Munich is a wealthy Alps-fringed city where Bayern Munchen, the city’s soccer team, gets the fans frenzied. Watch inland surfers ride the standing waves on the Eisbach river, which courses through the Englischer Garten (“English Gardens”), Munich’s spectacular city park that spans 900 acres. Or get a bird’s-eye look at the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1972 Summer Olympics, during a roof climb.
If you’re visiting Munich in September through early October, there’s only one place to be -- the Wiesn, where all the stein-swilling and song-singing madness of Oktoberfest makes for the planet’s best party. And take a stroll along the ritzy Maximilianstraße (pronounced "maxamilian-strah-suh"), a street in Munich’s old town lined with historic buildings that today house Munich’s swankiest shops.
Berlin is Germany’s capital of fun and funky culture. With so many museums, boutiques, bars and more -- particularly in the neighborhoods of Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg and up-and-coming Neukölln -- the options in Berlin are dizzying.
After you’ve ticked the historic boxes (Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, etc.) off your to-see list, explore Berlin’s lesser-known cultural hot spots like the Bauhaus Archiv Museum, dedicated to the 20th century’s most important school of architecture, and the Deutsche Currywurst Museum, where you can learn about (and sample!) Berlin's iconic snack food. Culinary tours with Gastro Rallye through Berlin’s diverse ethnic neighborhoods is another top-eating outing.
Germany and Europe’s chief financial capital, Frankfurt has more to offer than bankers in suits and New York-style skyscrapers. Tour the remarkably well-preserved Goethe House, where Germany’s most famous writer was born and lived until 1795.
Walk along a boardwalk through the Schwanheimer Duene, one of Europe’s only inland sand dunes. And try a schnitzel topped with Frankfurt’s famous Gruene Sosse (green sauce) at a traditional German restaurant like the cozy Apfelwein Wagner.
The views enjoyed from the Heidelberger Schloss, one of Europe’s most impressive castles, is the main reason so many people head to Heidelberg on day trips from Frankfurt (50 miles away). But a walk over the city’s Alten Brücke (old bridge) that dates to the Middle Ages and a stroll past the Renaissance-era buildings of Heidelberg’s old town is just as pleasurable.
During the summer, locals sunbathe along the banks of the river Neckar, where you can gaze upon castle views. Pause for a beer and a schnitzel at the Wirtshaus Zum Nepomuk, a favorite restaurant near the old bridge.