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Travel guide to Germany’s historic cities

Regensburg, Turn and Taxis Palace.
Photo: Regensburg Tourismus GmbH

When it comes to history, few places tell as enticing or complex a story as Germany. With Roman, Celtic, French, Prussian, and dozens of other influences meeting here over the centuries, this is where the light of Europe’s past glows brightest. The 16 Historic Highlights of Germany below — most dating back a thousand years or more — will escort you to a time and place you didn’t realize still existed. What awaits your eyes are aurulent palaces, medieval lanes, and views from high church towers.

But what awaits your taste buds? Beyond the fascinating stories and preserved relics of centuries gone by, the Historic Highlights of Germany each lay claim to one or more truly special culinary delights. We’re talking heritage-rich recipes, centuries-old markets, and dozens of other sweet and savory experiences most travelers probably aren’t familiar with. It’s the perfect combination of time-honored places and time-honored tastes. Scroll down to see what we mean.

Historic Highlights of Germany

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This guide is proudly produced in partnership with the Historic Highlights of Germany.

 

— 1 —
Aachen

CHIO World Equestrian Festival
Photo: Aachen Tourist Service E.V. / A. Steindl

Charlemagne chose Aachen as his prestigious imperial residence, cementing its place in the history books. But long before that, Romans were flocking to this city on modern-day Germany’s western flank for the thermal baths. Aachen sits on one of the hottest springs north of the Alps — over 160°F, in fact — long thought to be a source of healing powers. Nowadays, Aachen’s ambiance can be found in cute cafés and restaurants, a sprawling Old Town, and its tangible medieval vibe.

Aachener Printen

Aachener Printen. Photo: Aachen Tourist Service E.V.

Historical highlight: The Aachen Cathedral. Built in 798 and found in the Old Town, it was the first German monument to be awarded UNESCO status.
Must-try dish: Aachener Printen, a cake-like biscuit often used in dishes like Aachener Sauerbraten.
Must-have experience: The Aachen Christmas Market is the stuff of dreams. It’s the biggest of its kind in Germany — good luck trying to resist the seductive smells of mulled wine, candles…and fresh-baked Aachener Printen, of course.

— 2 —
Augsburg

Golden Hall
Photo: Stadt Augsburg

Augsburg was founded more than 2,000 years ago, reaching the peak of its influence in the 15th and 16th centuries. It’s Germany’s third oldest city, and it rose to prominence thanks to two dynasties: those of the Fugger and Welser families. Their affluence and good taste left marks on Augsburg that can still be seen today in the form of artwork, palaces, and city design.

Zwetschgendatschi, Bild Cafe Dichtl

Zwetschgendatschi. Photo: Regio Augsburg Tourismus GmbH

Historical highlight: The Fuggerei. Five hundred years ago, the Fugger family built this gated community to give back. Rent cost one Rhenish gulden — or about $1 — and today, residents live here for the exact same price.
Must-try dish: Zwetschgendatschi, a plum cake frosted with sugar and cinnamon, typically served with whipped cream and fresh coffee.
Must-have experience: The interactive and hands-on Fugger und Welser Erlebnis Museum will take you through the Golden Age of Augsburg.

— 3 —
Bonn

Beethoven Memorial.
Photo: HistoricGermany.com

If Bonn is known for one thing, it’s for birthing the world’s most famous musician: Beethoven. The legend was born here some 250 years ago (this special anniversary will take place in 2020, and you can bet the city’s going to throw one heck of a party). A visit in any year will have you immersed in the history of music, strolling between cathedrals and palaces and along the Old Town’s cobbled streets.

Himmel un Ääd. Photo: HistoricGermany.com

Historical highlight: Beethoven’s birthplace can be found right in the heart of the historic town center, not far from the Romanesque cathedral and rococo-style Old Town Hall.
Must-try dish: Himmel un Ääd, aka black pudding, liver sausage, fried onions, and mashed potatoes with apple sauce.
Must-have experience: Beethovenfest Bonn. During the entire month of September, the city hosts top international orchestras, lauded conductors, outstanding soloists, famous ensembles, and upcoming young artists.

— 4 —
Erfurt

Merchant´s Bridge
Photo: Erfurt Tourismus und Marketing GmbH

On the banks of the Gera River, near the center of the country, lies Erfurt — an eclectic mix of every kind of architecture Germany’s practically ever witnessed. Medieval timber-framing, Renaissance houses, and a well-preserved Jewish district will make it feel like you’re actually wandering through time. And here, you basically are.

Bratwurst. Photo: Erfurt Tourismus und Marketing GmbH

Historical highlight: The Krämerbrücke, or Merchants’ Bridge, is the longest European bridge covered with inhabitable buildings (mostly shops, cozy cafés, and restaurants).
Must-try dish: Bratwurst, topped with BORN mustard (a local product) and absolutely no ketchup.
Must-have experience: Rostkultur, a giant bratwurst festival in Cathedral Square.

— 5 —
Freiburg

Freiburg Farmer´s Market
Photo: FWTM – Schoenen

Think square-side cafés, fine food, brightly colored buildings, and a laid-back vibe. Freiburg sits on the western edge of the Black Forest, and it’s a little bit of everything. The Renaissance university and Gothic cathedral are historical highlights not far from the Dreisam River, and odds are any on-foot journey will lead you to a festival or open-air event.

Lange Rote Freiburg Germany food

Lange Rote. Photo: FWTM-Escher

Historical highlight: The Freiburger Münster, or Freiburg Cathedral, is a Gothic masterpiece that dates back to 1513. Climb the 381-foot-high tower and take in the views to fall even more in love with the city.
Must-try dish: Lange Rote, a traditional sausage found at the market at Münsterplatz, or Cathedral Square.
Must-have experience: Ganter Brewery and Alte Wache House of Badish Wines both tout Wier on their menus. It’s an awesome wine-infused beer, and they’re both pioneers of this fascinating hybrid movement.

— 6 —
Heidelberg

River Neckar boat trip
Photo: Tobias Schwerdt

Heidelberg has long been a popular destination thanks to its mysterious castle ruins, its postcard-perfect Old Town, its buzzing student pubs, one of the longest car-free streets in Europe — the list goes on. The modern city dates back to the 5th century, though humans have been hanging out in the area longer than anywhere else in Europe (600,000 years). Here, history runs deep.

Student Kiss Heidelberg

Student’s Kiss. Photo: Heidelberg Marketing GmbH

Historical highlight: Heidelberg Castle. Walk up the hill to access the ruins, or just hop aboard the funicular.
Must-try dish: “Student’s Kiss” at Café Knösel. It’s a small chocolate-y cake, traditionally given as a sign of courting.
Must-have experience: Heidelberg University is over 700 years old and still an outstanding example of modern science. Check out the affiliated BODY WORLDS museum — with a focus on anatomy, sure, but also on the anatomy of human happiness.

— 7 —
Koblenz

Cable car above the Rhine
Photo: Koblenz Touristik

Romance on the Rhine is generally reserved for Koblenz. The city spans both banks of the ancient river at its confluence with the Moselle. And where there’s water, there’s history — Koblenz is over 2,000 years old. You’ll see this combination of tradition and enchantment at Stolzenfels Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and at Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, where the bird’s-eye views over the river and Baroque Old Town will put you on top of the world.

Döppekooche. Photo: HistoricGermany.com

Historical highlight: The gondola ride across the Rhine. It takes you up to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress, 400 feet above the river.
Must-try dish: Döppekooche, a savory pie consisting of grated potatoes, onions, eggs, and bacon/sausage, with cold apple sauce on the side.
Must-have experience: Koblenz Summer Festival and its annual highlight, Rhein in Flammen, or Rhine in Flames. It’s not what it sounds like — it’s actually one of Europe’s largest fireworks shows, all set over the waters of one of the continent’s most famous rivers.

— 8 —
Lübeck

Old Town
Photo: Reinhard Kruschel

A city gate, Gothic towers, and brick-lined streets make up the remarkable silhouette of Lübeck, and perhaps that’s why its entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was a major port hundreds of years ago (the “Queen of the Hanseatic League”), and its importance can still be felt today simply by wandering its medieval streets.

Luebeck Germany Historic Cities

Coffee at Niederegger. Photo: Niederegger

Historical highlight: The Hansemuseum. Lübeck was a member of the historic Hanseatic League, and the interactive museum is a fantastic way to explore this bygone world of wealth and power.
Must-try dish: Labskaus, a mix of meat, fish, potatoes, onions, and beetroot, traditionally served with fried egg and gherkins.
Must-have experience: Lübeck’s 875th anniversary party, happening in 2018. Locals will be opening their doors for visitors to experience Kaffeeklatsch — coffee, cake, and a good chat.

— 9 —
Münster

Principal Market
Photo: HistoricGermany.com

Merchant houses stand cheek-to-cheek along the Prinzipalmarkt. A Baroque palace houses a buzzing university. Thirty museums bring art and culture to the forefront of the city. Though Münster is certainly medieval, it vibrates with a modern energy, its notes of the past retained and repurposed, not housed behind glass doors.

Altes Gasthaus Leve. Photo: Ralf Emmerich

Historical highlight: The city center’s “Baroque Island,” largely made up of centuries-old buildings designed by Johann Conrad Schlaun.
Must-try drink: Altbier at the brewpub of Pinkus Müller, founded in 1816. It’s now officially the last of its kind in Münster.
Must-have experience: Seeing Prinzipalmarkt transformed into an open-air dining room, 300-foot-long table and all.

— 10 —
Osnabrück

Churches in the old town of Osnabrück
Photo: Detlef Heese

Known as the “City of Peace,” Osnabrück has seen its fair share of history — it’s nearly 1,300 years old, after all. That said, with 22,000 students walking the streets and plenty of industry, Osnabrück feels decidedly modern. But that’s only on the surface: Its rebuilt Old Town and Marktplatz remain at the heart of it all, and the high gables of the old merchant houses showcase the ancient city’s true story.

La vie Tasty Kitchen Pop Up Osnabruck Germany

La Vie Tasty Kitchen. Photo: Restaurant La Vie

Historical highlight: Osnabrück is where the treaty to end the 30 Years’ War was signed, and every year there’s a parade to commemorate this event.
Must-try dish: Vegetables — kale in winter, asparagus in summer.
Must-have experience: “Tasty Kitchen” is a pop-up restaurant designed by one of the best three-star chefs in the world. (You just have to know where to find it!)

— 11 —
Potsdam

Sanssouci Palace
Photo: HistoricGermany.com

If Potsdam were to be summed up in two words, they’d be palaces and parks. Schloss Sanssouci, Schloss Cecilienhof, the magnificent St. Nikolaikirche (Church of St Nicholas), and the impressive Museum Barberini are all must-stops in this Baroque town, though just the architecture of the houses in the city center will stop you in your tracks, too.

Bornstedter Buffel

Bornstedter Büffel. Photo: HistoricGermany.com

Historical highlight: Schloss Sanssouci (Sanssouci Palace), the summer residence of Friedrich the Great, and its English gardens.
Must-try drink: Bornstedter Büffel, a home-brewed beer available at Krongut Bornstedt, or Bornstedt Crown Estate.
Must-have experience: The Potsdam Walking Food Tour. You’ll explore the sights (including the famous Dutch Quarter) while trying scrumptious Brandenburg specialties.

— 12 —
Regensburg

UNESCO World Heritage Regensburg
Photo: Regensburg Tourismus GmbH

If you want a taste of what life was like between the 11th and 13th centuries, head straight to Regensburg. The city was the heart of German culture in the Middle Ages, and its remaining long lines of merchant houses, high towers, narrow streets, palaces, and squares make it the UNESCO World Heritage Site it is today. Look a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that its buildings are now chock full of trendy bars, boutique stores, and family-run businesses.

Historic Sausage Kitchen Regensburg Germany

Historic Sausage Kitchen. Photo: Regensburg Tourismus GmbH

Historical highlight: The Thurn & Taxis ancestral castle, a monastery-turned-chateau residence.
Must-try dish: Bratwurst and Sauerkraut served with Kipferl (a dinner roll with caraway seeds) and sweet mustard from the Historic Sausage Kitchen — the oldest sausage kitchen in the world.
Must-have experience: Attending the Regensburg Sausage Seminar, where you can try your hand at making your own Bratwürste or Weisswürste.

— 13 —
Rostock

Harbor panorama
Photo: HistoricGermany.com

Rostock was built by water (and beer and herring). Once one of the most important members of the Hanseatic League, the town’s enviable history has now turned it into a true port city — waterside resorts, sailing regattas, marine flair, and beach culture define this medieval-meets-urban spot.

Fresh fish specialties Rostock Germany

Fresh fish specialties. Photo: HistoricGermany.com

Historical highlight: St. Mary’s Church and the astronomical clock, built in 1472.
Must-try dish: Herring, flounder, or cod — roasted, stewed or smoked.
Must-have experience: Hanseatic Days 2018, June 21-24. Artists from 16 countries will gather to celebrate the city’s 800th anniversary.

— 14 —
Trier

Porta Nigra
Photo: HistoricGermany.com

Trier has its hand in Romantic, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque history — the city dates back to the age of emperors and the height of the Roman Empire: 16 AD. Walk through its Roman monuments, the Trierer Dom (Trier Cathedral), Liebfrauenkirche, and into the picturesque Hauptmarkt, but know that you’re not finished until you’ve topped it all off with a stop at one of the local vineyards.

Wine steaks at Deutschherrenhof Trier

Wine steaks at Deutschherrenhof. Photo: HHoG / Ron Stern

Historical highlight: The Porta Nigra, a beautifully preserved Roman fortified gate, built around 180 AD.
Must-try dish: Vintner’s Steak, marinated in a special Riesling sauce, grilled over vine stock and charcoal, served with homemade potato casserole, salad, and a glass of Riesling.
Must-have experience: The Rheinisches Landesmuseum, a treasure trove of Roman artifacts.

— 15 —
Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden Farmer´s Market
Photo: HistoricGermany.com

Two thousand years ago, the Romans discovered hot springs underneath what would become the town — and 19th-century resort — of Wiesbaden. With this dash of geological luck, the city sprouted up grand hotels, casinos, and exclusive districts packed with villas, mansions, and delicate, tree-lined boulevards. Aristocrats gathered here by the thousands, and its noble legacy remains today.

Kunder Chocolaterie Wiesbaden

Kunder Chocolaterie. Photo: HHoG / Steve Cozort

Historical highlight: The Kurhaus Wiesbaden, one of the oldest casinos in Germany.
Must-try dish: Kunder chocolates, some of the finest in all of Germany, are made here.
Must-have experience: Visiting Henkell, Germany’s largest sparkling wine producer, and getting nearly lost in their seven-story-deep cellars.

— 16 —
Würzburg

Marienberg Fortress
Photo: CTW / Thomas Linkel

Founded over 1,000 years ago, Würzburg has had time to become a little bit of everything — it’s one-half UNESCO World Heritage Site (replete with galleries, museums, and medieval architecture) and one-half vibrant metropolis, housing nearly 30,000 students and taking on a younger, more modern identity. The views from Old Town, Marienberg Fortress, and the Old Main Bridge, however, are not of two parts — they’re all amazing.

Blaue Zipfel Wuerzburg Germany

Blaue Zipfel. Photo: CTW / Andreas Bestle

Historical highlight: The Würzburg Residence, an incredible Baroque palace that contains arguably the most beautiful staircase in the world (leading up to the world’s largest painting, the famous Tiepolo Fresco).
Must-try dish: Blaue Zipfel, pork sausages slowly simmered in water, vinegar, onions, carrots, leeks, bay leaves, and juniper berries.
Must-have experience: The Bavarian State Horticultural Show, complete with themed gardens and a walk through the lives of the pioneers of flight.
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