Six Cities You Should Visit on a Germany Vacation (That aren’t Berlin or Munich!)

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Romerberg Old Town Square with Justitia Statue, Frankfurt, Germany

Let’s be honest. Berlin is not some “rapidly emerging” hidden secret any more. The German capital is the place to be, from art, to nightlife, to spectacular museums, to historic sites, to an all-round great quality of life that everyone wants to be a part of, at least for a few days, especially on a Germany vacation.

It’s not as cheap as it used to be either.

Then, who can resist the beer halls and picture-perfect architecture of Munich? Bavaria’s capital is where many a North American’s idealized images of “Germany” come to life, even if it doesn’t really represent Germany any more than Texas represents the United States (and you won’t see many Lederhosen).

But if you’re an urban explorer at heart, Germany might just be your dream Europe vacation. There are plenty of cities throughout the country waiting to be unlocked, and no two are quite alike. Here are six of the best to help get your Germany travel plans started.

Hamburg

Germany’s second biggest city and its busiest port, Hamburg is the media and theatre capital of Germany, and a popular destination for German speakers seeking a cultural holiday. The weather can be *ahem* pure Northern Europe bliss, but there’s so much to do indoors, you won’t be bemoaning the rain or cold for long. Some of Hamburg’s main draws are unsurprisingly nautical, including Hamburg Port, where tour boats offer visitors an insight into the city’s biggest industry, the International Maritime Museum, and the constantly evolving HafenCity, which converts the city’s warehouses into offices, apartments, shops, museums, theatres, cafes, restaurants, and more. Overlooking it all is the newly completed Elbphilharmonie, an architectural and acoustic marvel that towers over the city. For a rowdier night out in Hamburg, take a walk down the Reeperbahn. Besides being home to Germany’s busiest ATM and its busiest police station (you make the connection), this is where The Beatles cut their musical teeth before finding fame, and local music clubs argue fiercely over where the Fab Four performed and when. Just remember, Hamburg has historically been a town of sailors, attracting all the things sailors normally like. These days, little has changed.

Related Article:
Hamburg is a City With So Much to Offer on a Germany Vacation

Hamburg town hall and Alster River at spring, Germany
Hamburg town hall and Alster River in spring

Cologne

Does the phrase chocolate museum grab your undivided attention? You should probably stop by Cologne. Situated on the Rhine, almost at the crossroads between Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, you’d think Cologne would attract more visitors. Yet Germany’s most Roman-influenced city remains sorely underrated by tourists. Don’t just pop in to see the Cathedral and then leave. Explore the city’s heritage at the Romano-Germanic Museum, admire a top notch art collection at Museum Ludwig, indulge your senses at the Fragrance Museum… and of course the Chocolate Museum (Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum), and take your time exploring one of the prettiest big cities in Germany. LGBT travellers should also try to include Cologne on their list. The city is second only to Berlin for LGBT nightlife, and many consider it one of the most progressive and open in Europe.

Aerial view of Cologne Cathedral and Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne, Germany
Aerial view of Cologne Cathedral and Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne

Dresden

In the mind of many visitors planning a Germany vacation, Dresden is a name synonymous with tragedy. But there is so much more to this eastern city than the grim history of World War 2 bombings. Some of Germany’s best collections of art and historic armaments are found in Dresden. Specifically, check out the Historic Green Vault and the New Green Vault, along with the Royal Armory, where the drama of medieval battles seems to leap off the displays. The Military History Museum is Germany’s largest, with a focus spanning over eight centuries. The so-called New Town is the part of the city that survived Allied firebombing, and the views today from the Elbe make you wonder at Dresden’s endurance, all while basking in its devotion to beauty.

Scenic summer view of the Old Town architecture along Elbe River embankment, Dresden, Germany
Scenic summer view of the Old Town architecture along Elbe River embankment, Dresden

Nuremberg

Another city with some rather dark word association, Nuremburg is Bavaria’s beautiful “second city” and a great place to experience the region away from the tourist crush of Munich. If you want total immersion in German art and culture, visit the National Germanic Museum. Nuremberg Castle, at the north of the urban core is one of the finest surviving fortresses in Europe. Nuremberg is also famous for its churches, including St Sebaldus, Church of Our Lady, and St Lawrence’s Church. Of course, the city’s name is forever entwined with Nazism’s insidious rise and the trials that brought its leaders to justice. Those interested in this history should head for the somewhat forbidding Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds, perhaps the best museum on the subject in Germany, built within the Nazis’ unfinished congress hall. Still, this past doesn’t define the modern city, and it won’t take you long to find Nuremberg’s festive side. Drop by the Toy Museum, or visit in time for the Christmas Market, which looks like a Bavarian fairy tale brought to life.

View of medieval architecture with half-timbered buildings in the Old Town, Nuremberg, Germany
View of medieval architecture with half-timbered buildings in the Old Town, Nuremberg

Frankfurt am Main

“Bankfurt” or “Mainhattan,” as visitors and Germans alike uncharitably call it, is the first city many visitors on a Germany vacation get to see, and it’s usually the first city they’re told they should leave. While Germany’s financial and transport hub isn’t quite as exciting as its other big international gateway, Munich, there are reasons to linger for a day or two in Frankfurt and see what this “front door” city is all about. Head to the Museum District for a collection of top notch museums second only to Berlin’s. There’s undeniable beauty here too, even in the shadow of the city’s skyscrapers. Wander the Palm Garden, Germany’s largest botanic garden, and tilt your head to admire the stunning red sandstone spires of the Gothic St Bartholomew’s Cathedral. Fulfill your contemporary art cravings at Art City, or if you’d rather pull up a beer and watch busy “Mainhattan” go by (without feeling the big city crush), a leisurely hour or two in The Hauptwache is sure to recharge your batteries.

Aerial view of Frankfurt with Hauptwachen on a summer day, Germany
Aerial view of Frankfurt with Hauptwachen, on a summer day

Leipzig

There are more important things than being pretty, and you don’t need cobblestone streets in every city you visit, do you? Leipzig, the second largest city in what was formerly East Germany will appeal mostly to travellers looking for the Berlin of twenty years ago. Amid the grey architecture of the Communist era, Germans low on cash but big on ideas and innovation are creating a new alternative scene filled with cafes and nightlife, free from the tourist-ready hipster sheen that has glossed over (and inflated the prices of) Berlin. While you’re searching for that scene on your Germany vacation (because it will take some digging to find), check out the sights related to Bach and the Cold War.

Aerial view of the new town hall and the Johannapark at Leipzig, Germany
Aerial view of the new town hall and the Johannapark, Leipzig