In 11 1/2 years living in Germany, we have managed to see and do a lot. Not as much as we would have liked as we spent more time leaving Germany than traveling around Germany. While we never made it to big cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne etc., we certainly saw a lot more of the smaller, quainter towns in Germany. We’re bummed we didn’t get to see more of the larger cities, but at the same time, we are not really big city kind of people, thus they were never really at the top of our to-see list. Nonetheless, here are my top 10 favorite towns in Germany!
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So few places I’ve visited will come in number one in my heart. Heidelberg had a profound impact on my life, as it was the first time I not only lived abroad, but lived on my own. I studied abroad here at the University Heidelberg from 2007-2008, made some wonderful international friends I’m still in contact with today and experienced my first ever Christmas Market. The Heidelberg Castle was my backyard as I lived directly below it, directly in the historic city center. My love for Heidelberg will be life long, despite the mass tourism that has taken over the town, and will be one of the main reasons why I moved back to Germany in 2012. Now it’s one of my favorite places to play tour guide when I meet friends there.
Like Heidelberg, my adopted German hometown of Regensburg changed my life. I had never heard of it before I landed a job here, teaching Business English. I came for a visit to explore the town to make sure I’d like it, and it met all of my requirements: a cathedral or castle (it has both!), a bridge and a body of water and it needed to feel historic. It was everything I could have imagined and more. Not only was I lucky in where I landed, but I was lucky in love too. Who knew that moving to the small town of Regensburg, I’d find the love of my life, some 6,000 miles away from where I grew up!? I discovered myself here, became independent and now I’m returning to the US a different woman than the girl I was when I arrived. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived in one place since before university and I made a home here. Thus, I’ve been here 11 1/2 years and because I know how blessed I have been to live here, I’ve been here far longer than intended as it’s so hard to leave such a beautiful place!
After visiting my first half-timbered town, Rothenberg ob der Tauber, my love of charming half-timbered towns became an obsession. And while we have visited our fair share of timber framed towns, Wernigerode, in the Harz Mountains, is one of my favorite. While Rothenberg ob der Tauber is a stunning town, and I DO love it, the mass tourism kills it a bit for me. Wernigerode on the other hand, is littered with timber frame houses and a main square dominated by one of the most beautiful city halls in Germany, thus making is one of my absolute favorite half-timbered towns in Germany! Best of all, I get to take a miniature replicate of the city hall home with me that I bought at the Christmas Market!
One of the quaintest, un-touristy towns in Germany I’ve ever been to, Idstein is one of Germany’s best hidden gems. As an easy day trip from Frankfurt, we decided to stop and were rewarded with how charming this town is! We felt like we were one of the only tourists in the town, though it’s certainly popular with German motor bikers who live for the thrill of biking the backroads and jumping from one town to the next. Not only is the entire town practically one half-timbered house after another, but there are quirky little details to this town that I just loved, such as the Crooked House leaning a little bit too much and the “Fright Heads”, found on many corners of houses to scare of any evil demons.
We are not particularly fond of big, bustling cities, unless it’s London. However, Nuremberg makes the list as one of our favorite cities to visit in Germany, just an hour away from us. Nuremberg is our favorite town for date night, a movie and dinner. It’s home to the largest movie theater in Germany, though you’d never know it since most of it seems to be underground. Nuremberg is also home to one of our favorite restaurants, a casual and delicious Irish Pub which makes great Fish’N’Chips. And unlike Munich, I find Nuremberg to be a much more beautiful city center with historic medieval walls surrounding a part of the town, many large churches and the Kaiserburg perched above the town.
One of the very first half-timbered towns we had visited in Germany, Monschau‘s quaint charm beguiled us with its beauty. As an easy day trip from Aachen, along the German/Belgian border, we found ourselves once again like one of the only tourists in the town, though it had a beautiful little tourist train. Deep within the Eifel Mountains, this little town survived both World Wars and was practically forgotten about, thus preserving its historic beauty. Though there isn’t much to do here, we did have a good time meandering around and trying their historic mustard.
For years we had wanted to visit Meissen, another of Germany’s hidden gems, though we unfortunately canceled the trip multiple times. We finally managed to make it, though sadly it would become our last holiday in Germany before we moved back to the US, however, a great one! We fell in love with Meissen, the historic town renowned for being Europe’s first porcelain city and home of the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory. This quaint little town, an easy day trip from Dresden, fell into ruin under the ownership of the former USSR before East Germany reunited with West Germany. Thankfully though, this town was beautifully restored and made it on to my bucket list.
During the Covid years, every one was itching to get away from large cities to avoid contact with people. Going on holiday anywhere was hard, but once things started to open up again, especially in the warmer months, we chose to visit the island of Rügen, in Northern Germany along the Baltic Sea. We figured after months of sitting in our homes, most people would be heading for more luxurious and popular beaches, especially in Italy. We chose to finally go north, at the peak of summer when the weather was expected to be the best. We had a lovely holiday, stayed in a castle hotel and soaked up the rays while lounging on iconic Strandkörbe and visiting the beautiful Sellin Pier. There are many things to do in Rügen and we thoroughly enjoyed our holiday there and were rewarded with few tourists!
The atmosphere in Würzburg is what makes it one of my favorite cities in Germany! As the capital of the Franconian wine world, Würzburg is littered with one weinstubl after another, with several wineries with beautiful and historic wine cellars worth visiting. The best part about visiting Würzburg is the wine culture of drinking a glass of wine on the historic Alte Mainbrücke. Though Germany is quite open with drinking in public, it’s so much more relaxing and enjoyable beneath the gaze of the Marienberg Fortress off in the distance.
One of the most unique towns to visit in Germany, sat upon the tip of a peninsula at the convergence of three rivers, Passau is a beautiful small town to explore. Though it may be tiny, it packs a punch full of amazing things to see and do, despite the bad luck the town experiences whenever Germany has too much rain. Passau is home to one of the most beautiful cathedrals with an impressive organ. One of the best things to do in Passau is to hike up (or bus up) to the Veste Oberhaus which offers some of the most stunning views of a small town I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing!
As I sit here and think back on the more than a decade I’ve been in Germany, I’m a bit sad we didn’t visit more places in Germany. So often, when you want to go on holiday, you go far and beyond and while we did see a lot of places in our backyard, a predominately in southern Germany, I wish we could have managed more in northern Germany. But I know one day we shall likely return to Germany, so perhaps we will live in a different part of the country.
I am blessed that many of these towns I had the pleasure to visit more than once, so I’ve had the chance to explore them a bit more in depth, making me fall in love with each of them more and more. Each of these places were unique and impressive in their own way and all of them I highly recommend anyone to visit any one of these towns!