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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.