An Overview of the land and destinations for the international tourist
Germany has two distinct parts: the BIG cities and the landscapes.
Both of which don't overlap as they are geographically distant. Yet each of them has contributed immensely and almost equally to my experience of Germany. Additionally, every season brings with itself a novel set of experiences of German life. Check out my blog-post on spring in Germany.
The German City
Now, German cities have something in common: they have a historic city-center with a magnificent Rathaus (townhall), at least one beautiful church and a minimum of one palace or castle in the city or on its outskirts. If the city is built around a river, like most big cities are, you will have great views: from over the bridge and along the banks. If the city is located in a valley or at the shore: hiking and a stroll at the beach get added to the list of things to do. Also, each city will have its set of famous, alternative, cosy, old and new cafes in the city-center. For the night, there will be pubs, cocktail bars and discotheques. The various activities available are listed in a comprehensible list on the local tourist site or trip adviser. For insiders, cultural insights, itineraries and a first-hand perspective, I am here to help :) :)
My personal favourites among the internationally famous big cities (home to more than 500,000 people), are Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin. During my multiple visits to Hamburg, I have always adored its feel with its port flair, the several canals making their way across the city and the beautiful residential areas. Dresden, according to me is utmost beautiful. The baroque architecture, the massive river Elbe, the streets of the old town, every corner feels like a photographer's paradise. Berlin is very touristy in the city-center, but also very spread out, with great food, loads of nightlife and not to forget the monuments. All the internationally famous big cities offer food from all nationalities: amongst them also Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Münich, Dusseldorf, Hanover and Cologne.
Cities I know inside out: Bremen and Braunschweig
Let me introduce to you the less known Bremen and the even lesser known Braunschweig (English name: Brunswick) located in north Germany. Both of them are home for me and I know almost every corner around here. I feel that they are lovely cities to live in (or even visit) when one wants to experience Germany and its culture.
And there are hundreds of other cities, towns and villages which international tourists and locals alike are unaware of. They make for excellent day or weekend trips and memorable experiences. Quite some of them are a part of my travel diaries.
Summary: Choose any place. You will surely find a things to do List on the internet. Do combine it with some Landscape Sight Seeing (or vice-versa). It is bound to turn out to be a picturesque and culturally laden experience. For further inputs, insiders and cultural insights to enrich your experience of Germany, do refer to my blog. I post twice per month.
Destinations and Nature away from the cities
If there are places nearby a city which you would like to visit, but don't know what's the best way to get there (or when google maps doesn't really show a good connection), a good place to start would be by requesting the hotel you stay at or the tourist information office of the city for information. In my experience, they have always been of great help!
Each internationally known BIG-City has some great day trip destinations its vicinity. They are well connected by bus or train. Whereas many of these gems are also located amidst beautiful landscapes: namely in the mountains and at the sea. Driving would be a better way to get to them, but at times they are approachable by public transport.
Germany has two very different seas with their own set of distinct islands: the north sea (north-west coast) and the Baltic sea (north east coast). They are popular vacation destinations for the locals. Both located in the very north. So they are closer to the big cities Bremen, Hamburg and Berlin. Each of them make for completely different experiences: from the waters, the scenery to the regional culture.
The northern coastal states of Mecklenburg Vorpommern and Schleswig Holstein (Baltic sea) have plenty of lakes, variety of Ports and maritime culture at the shore. The state of Lower Saxony, which borders the north sea is geographically very flat. You can see the horizon far far away all the way.
To the South-East are the mountains of 'Saxon Switzerland' in the state of 'Saxony'. Very approachable from Dresden.
The beautiful Alps are located in the very south in the state of Bavaria. The internationally known city closest to them is Münich. One can go hiking, visit the beautiful lakes and towns around them.
Amongst landscapes that am yet to cover personally are: The Black forest mountains in the south. The closest city to which is Stuttgart and the River Rhein Region.
Planning your Visit
Germany is quite a small nation: you can drive north to south in 9-11 hours (no traffic). Its easier to plan if you check which region do you prefer to visit. For eg. north, east, west or south.
If the cities you want to see are clustered in the north, you can calculate about two hours of transport time (car/ train) from one destination to another, within a singular state. For example, if you want to visit Bremen and Hamburg in north Germany, it will take about 1.5 to 2 hours of a train ride. If you are travelling from north to west or east, calculate about 4-6 hours of a train-ride. And north to south about 8 hours. Many destinations are well connected by public transport.
Traveling from a big city to a big city is much faster as you are either going with fast train (ICE: inter city express) or the Autobahn (expressway). The moment you go off that path, the travelling time increases due to the need of getting onto several regional trains or driving along roads in the countryside.
Making the most of it
There are many ways of experiencing Germany, depending on what you would like to look forward to. If it is your first time visiting us, I would suggest:
1. an intercity trip where you city hop (plan at least 1 week)
2. visit two cities and see the countryside nearby (plan at least 1 Week)
3. visit multiple cities and several beautiful landscapes. (then plan at least 2-3 weeks). This one I would recommend the most. See it as someone visiting your country. Do you think any person gets a feel of your country within 5 nights in a place or two?
Options 1 and 2 are plausible according to me, when you are country hopping in Europe on limited time. Then I totally understand, one wants to get the feel of the continent and not particularly that of a country.
If you have any questions or need for further information, please comment on this post below and I will try my best to include the answers, if eligible in this post itself or answer via my newsletter.
This post singularly concentrates on providing an overview of destinations and geography, in terms of planning your trip. The cultural aspect of Germany, according to me, is what makes being in Germany an utmost memorable experience. It is not included in this post, but is an inherent part of my travel diaries (blogposts listed under the category 'Germany').