Alternative German city breaks: 9 cities to visit after Berlin

By Jaymi McCann

19 October 2022 | Updated 9 November 20236 min read

A medieval arch bridge with half-timbered shops and houses in a variety of colours in Erfurt

Everyone knows Berlin is the centre of European cool. With its hip neighbourhoods, all-night clubbing, and fast-paced energy, it's perfect for a German city break. But venture out of the capital and you'll find a plethora of destinations full of history, culture and nightlife.

From Frankfurt to Erfurt, here are nine of the best alternative weekends away in Germany.

1. Frankfurt

Frankfurt may be better known as a business centre, but don’t mistake it for stuffy. The Altstadt (Old Town) was reconstructed after being bombed in the Second World War and is the site of Römerberg, a square that hosts an annual, and very famous, Christmas market. In the summer months, sip a glass of local wine and watch the weddings emerge from the town hall.

Head up the Main Tower for panoramic views that stretch from the old town to the skyscrapers of the business district along the River Main. The Frankfurter Stadtwald (Frankfurt city forest) is how the locals get into nature. Join them on a stroll under a canopy of trees or climb the viewing point to see Frankfurt’s skyline set against the woodland.

At night, the Sachsenhausen neighbourhood comes alive with restaurants and bars. Try local delicacy Grüne Soße, a green sauce that's poured over meat, eggs or potatoes.

2. Cologne

Cool coffee shops, bustling brauhauses, and a complex and compelling history… Cologne is the stuff weekend breaks in Germany are made of.

Flattened almost entirely during the war, this city on the Rhine has a lot more going for it than its tragic history. Of course, you cannot miss its famous UNESCO-listed cathedral, which survived the bombings and remains an incredible monument to gothic architecture and German engineering. Walk across the Hohenzollern Bridge for the best view.

The pretty Altstadt is home to colourful gables, the Kölner Rathaus, the oldest public building in Germany, and twelve medieval city gates that are still in use. If art and architecture is your thing, head to Rheinauhafen to see crane houses, or the Ludwig Museum, which is home to world-class art.

3. Bremen

This northern city is small but perfectly formed. Stroll along the Weser river promenade and be sure to visit the Marktplatz, which has a Christmas market each year. Bremen Cathedral dates back to the 11th century, and the 15th-century Schnoor Quarter is a maze of quaint squares, cobbled streets, and cafes.

Don't miss the adorable Town Musicians of Bremen statue (remember to rub the donkey’s legs) and the Burgerpark, where locals go on a sunny afternoon. If you’re interested in history, head to the u-boat Bunker Valentin and witness the scale of the war machine.

4. Dresden

Set deep in Saxony, Dresden isn’t the most obvious city break destination in Germany. It's perhaps best known for having been destroyed in the war, but the Renaissance and Baroque buildings that created its Altstadt have since been seamlessly rebuilt. The beautiful Frauenkirche in the Neumarkt quarter dominates the skyline, while Dresden Cathedral is a must-visit.

Cross the Augustus Bridge and head to the Neustadt district, where you'll find the Neustädter Markthalle, a lovely spot for lunch, and the Alaunstrasse, which is full of boutiques, bars, restaurants and quirky architecture.

5. Baden-Baden

So good they named it twice! Roughly translated as ‘Bath-Bath’, Baden-Baden was founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago around healing hot springs. You can take advantage of the thermal waters at the modern Caracalla Spa or historical Friedrichsbad.

Situated in the south-western Black Forest, Baden-Baden isn’t technically a city, but it is surrounded by beautiful hiking trails and vineyards, making it the perfect spot to appreciate Germany’s nature.

At night, try the 200-year-old Casino Baden-Baden, located in the belle epoque Kurhaus, for an old-world gambling experience you don’t often find anymore. Sometimes called the real Casino Royale, enjoy the James Bond atmosphere and indulge in a martini or two.

6. Nuremberg

Nuremberg might be one of the prettiest German cities, but it's not all style over substance. Dating back to the medieval period, you can step back in time at the 12th-century Kaiserburg castle, by exploring its cobble lanes or trying local delicacy rostbratwurst, which traces its origins way back to the 14th century.

The Germanic National Museum is the country’s largest museum of cultural history, or if you’re interested in more modern history, the Memorium Nuremberg Trials explores how prominent Nazis were tried and convicted in 1946.

7. Munich

In the heart of Bavaria, Munich has long been a draw for city breakers, and for good reason. Millions flock here for Oktoberfest, the annual beer festival that sees sales of dirndls and lederhosen skyrocket in the autumn months - but there is plenty to see all year round.

Start at the Marienplatz for the grand town hall, then head to Viktualienmarkt, a daily food market, and grab Weisswurst, a traditional Bavarian sausage that is perfect with a stein. This is definitely the place to try Germany’s favourite tipple too, with beer houses on every corner, including the famous Hofbräuhaus.

If you like to try something more adventurous, give river surfing a go. The most famous wave is on the Eisbach River, having attracted surfers for the past 40 years. It's not suitable for beginners, but it's still fun to watch.

8. Lübeck

Sitting near the border with Denmark, this is the most northerly city on our list. Its entire historic centre, which is surrounded by water and packed with Brick Gothic architecture, is UNESCO-listed. Don’t miss the Holstentor Gate, the Salzpeicher salt cellars, and the poignant broken bells of St Mary’s Church, which remain where they fell after being bombed in 1942.

Be sure to try some Lübeck Marzipan, which is afforded the same EU geographical protection as Champagne, at the Niederegger boutique and museum. Lübeck is also famous for its fish, which comes from the Baltic and North seas.

9. Erfurt

This small city in the heart of Thuringia is known for the dozens of towers that dominate its centre. St Mary's Cathedral and the Church of St Severus are most notable, but Erfurt’s cobbled lanes are made for finding medieval marvels. The Merchants’ Bridge, or Krämerbrücke, is the longest series of inhabited buildings on any bridge in Europe, while Petersberg Citadel is an extensively preserved Baroque fortress.

Its grand Fischmarkt square reflects the wealth of a city that sits at a crossroads for traders from around Europe, and is wonderful for people watching.

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