4 of the Most Charming Historic Towns to Visit in Germany
The amount of things to do in Germany amazes me.
In one country (it’s only slightly smaller than the state of Montana), you have the world’s largest festivals dedicated to beer, wine, and the world’s oldest brewery.
But more than that, then there’s all the fascinating history, fairy-tale architecture, and vibrant cities and towns.
On all accounts, Germany is a near-perfect destination to explore.
All the history you read about in books, easily accessible by plane, train, and yes, the autobahn.
Just don’t make the mistake of sticking to the same the ol’ tourist route. While Munich and Berlin definitely deserve a spot on your itinerary, there’s a long list of incredibly fascinating German cities you shouldn’t overlook.
Exploring these towns are well worth the add-on. Rich in history, easy on crowds, this is where you get to experience the heart of Germany.
Ready to discover some unique destinations in Germany? Read on.
Rostock – Warnemünde
I had never heard of Rostock – Warnemünde before my historic highlights trip to Germany. But if you are an avid cruiser, you might have!
Located on the Baltic Sea and a 2.5 train ride from Berlin, it’s a vacation hotspot for locals with gorgeous beaches and beautiful cobbled streets winding through this fishermen’s village.
But beyond that, Rostock – Warnemünde encompasses many things that make Germany a top travel destination.
Rostock offers incredible Brick Gothic architecture. St Mary’s Church boasts an amazing astronomical clock, Rathaus (the town hall), Neuer Markt, and the picturesque lighthouses are all landmarks you don’t want to miss. Each one retains its medieval charm, transporting you into the town’s 800-year old history.
Fan of the beach chair? I mean who isn’t. They were first originated in Warnemünde by Wilhelm Bartelmann.
Recreate a scene from one of your favorite old movies in one of these retro beach chairs. There are about 60 of them lined up, ready for lounging.
Now, I know you’re probably wondering, why are these two cities lumped together? Well, hundreds of years ago, Rostock bought Warnemünde to maintain access to the sea.
Today, you can catch a 45-minute ferry or a 25-minute train between the two towns and explore both to your heart’s content!
- Where to Stay: The Radisson Blu (a firm favorite that never disappoints!)
- Where to Eat: The Blue Donkey aka Blauer Esel and, if you have time, the lunch at Teepott in Warnemünde (try the Fischbrötchen!)
One palace, two palaces, three palaces… wait there’s more!
Home to over 20 palaces and palace-like buildings, all within walking and biking distance. Potsdam was historically the weekend and vacation destination for the social elite.
Only 25 minutes (via train–noticing a trend here?) outside of Berlin, do as the late Soldier King, Frederick the Great, did and enjoy the slower change of pace and beautiful scenery of the city.
You must, you must, you must stop by the Sanssouci Palace and Gardens. A UNESCO World Heritage Site made famous by Frederick the Great is a standout, “sans souci” literally translates into “without cares,” which is the feeling that Frederick the Great was going for when he created the palace and grounds.
Other notables include the Brandenburg Gate, Luisenplatz Square, Memorial Lindenstrasse, and the Dutch Quarter (a walkable area in the City Centre).
Then there is Potsdam’s film scene. Did you know it’s home to the second-largest film studio in Europe!? Babelsberg has produced major blockbusters, including The Pianist, V for Vendetta, The Bourne Supremacy, and Inglorious Bastards.
If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Hollywood A-listers while exploring the town!
When it comes to things to see and do, Potsdam has plenty. Make it a day trip from Berlin if time is tight, but I suggest staying at least a few days or for the weekend.
Coming to Erfurt is literally like stepping back into medieval times and experiencing what Germany was like when kings and Prince Bishops ruled the land.
It’s likely you’ve never heard of Erfurt before, so allow me to introduce you to one of the most charming German towns.
Hands down, one of my favorite experiences in Erfurt was The Merchants’ Bridge. Local artists and merchants (picture chocolatiers and puppet makers side-by-side) have shops here, making it the longest series of inhabited buildings on any bridge in Europe.
Must visit merchants:
- Martin Gobsch in his retro workshop where he brings puppets to life.
- Goldhelm Schokolade, home of the famous bridge truffle and small-batched chocolates.
- Thueringer Local Speciality Shop, filled with beer, wine, mustards, and all local delights.
- And just off the bridge there is BORN Mustard. This 200 year old company is the place to go for mustard tastings and gifts.
Continuing on in Erfirt. Another impressive building? The Old Synagogue. It comes with a “treasure” dating back to the 1200s (and only found in 1998).
Other standouts include the Petersberg Citadel and the Augustinian Monastery. It’s here where Martin Luther started his theological journey – pretty amazing, right?
For a dose of more recent history, I highly recommend visiting The Memorial and Education Centre Andreasstraße. A former stasi prison, the museum opened in 2013 as a memorial to repression and resistance during the GDR dictatorship. The exhibitions focus on the inmates’ experiences, what life was like in Germany, and the events that led to the Peaceful Revolution and German reunification.
Erfurt is honestly such a fascinating city and should be high up on your list of German towns to visit. They even have spring and summer concerts in by the
- Where to Stay: Dorint Hotel
- Where to Eat: Zum Güldenen Rade – don’t leave without trying the Thuringian Dumplings!
Würzburg is a 1000-year old city that boasts all the charm of the Romantic Road. Located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, expect nothing short of architectural wonders, world-class vineyards, and a laid-back wine country vibe.
For all my fellow oenophiles out there, Würzburg is famous for its mineralic dry wines, most notable the Silvaner grape. If you have the time, visit a few of the vineyards and sip your way through their delicious vintages.
My personal favorite wine farm was BuergerSpital Weinstuben. They have a bottle of wine dating back to the 1500s!
But it wouldn’t be a historic highlights tour of Germany without some exceptional architecture. The Würzburg Residence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site also known as the “palace of palaces.” Built by Balthasar Neumann for the Schönborn family, it’s one of the most ornate Baroque palaces in Germany.
Apparently, one can even rent an apartment in the palace. Something I found just fascinating! Can you imagine calling a palace home? What those walls must have seen!
Another prominent landmark in Würzburg is the Festung Marienberg (Marienberg Fortress). Its origins date back to 1000 BC!
Of course, a visit to this town wouldn’t be complete without enjoying some local wine, catching up with friends (or fellow travelers) on the Old Bridge. You might even notice that it seems similar to the famous bridge in Prague. One could say that they may have influenced each other. But the Old Bridge in Würzburg is so much cooler because of the wine scene!
As they say… Zum Wohl!
- Where to Stay: Best Western Premier Hotel Rebstock
- Where to Eat: Backöfele, a traditional Franconian Gasthaus, serves up ample portions, and their dessert, Kaiserschmarrn, is a must-try.
Getting Around Germany
Throughout this trip, I took over a total of 13 trains!
After hopping on and off so many, I feel confident in giving it my stamp of approval. It’s an amazing way to get around Germany and experience slow travel in comfort.
If you’re in the mood to splurge, go, first-class, all the way. To get the best prices, book in advance, and don’t forget to reserve your seat before boarding. Head to RailEurope to get tickets for the DB Deutsche Bahn.
And if you’re worried about not speaking German and taking the wrong train, don’t worry! I had no issues finding a local who could speak English, and everyone was super helpful.
This trip was in partnership with Germany Tourism and Historic Highlights of Germany. Be sure to visit their sites for more information on planning an upcoming trip to these beautiful, historic German towns.