Germany: the best of Europe without the crowds

Schloss Rheinstein

Ask people where they want to go on their European holidays and if they’re not heading to the beaches of the Mediterranean they’ll most likely tell you about Paris, London, Barcelona or Venice. Some may head east to Prague, Krakow or Budapest. Yet despite being the most populous European country (excluding Russia) Germany hardly ever gets a mention.

It does appear that Germany is something of a forgotten country in terms of European tourism and while the main tourist spots in the country can get crowded it is still largely ignored by the millions of tourists visiting Europe each year. I also plead guilty: I spent a few days in Germany last month and this was my first trip there for 20 years. So why should Germany be worthy of a closer look when planning a European trip?

 

Historical sights

If you like exploring castles you’ll be spoilt for choice in Germany. There’s Neuschwanstein Castle, the most famous castle of all and the inspiration for Disney’s fairytale castles (it is to here that it seems every tourist in Germany heads). But venture along the Rhein and you’ll find many more splendid castles with far fewer visitors. And these are the best type of castles – ones where you can both scramble around the ruins and explore the interior, decorated to reflect life in the building’s heyday.

Then there are the medieval walled cities along the Romantic Road in Bavaria. We visited Nördlingen, a delightful city with the wall fully encircling its perimeter. The 3km walk along the full circumference of the wall would be heaving with tourists anywhere else, yet here on a Saturday in July we barely saw another tourist as we strolled around.

Neuschwanstein Castle

The Great Outdoors

It’s easy to imagine Germany as dominated by its major cities, yet the country probably offers some of the finest hiking and cycling in Europe. Whether we were walking in the Alpine hills above Neuschwanstein or along the Rheinsteig (a long distance trail that follows the Rhein through the winelands between Bonn and Wiesbaden), we found well-marked trails, welcoming rest stops and once again, very few fellow visitors.

Nordlingen from above

Value for Money

The Euro may be used in most of Europe but having the same currency does not equate to having the same prices. Compared to most of its neighbours Germany is surprisingly cheap for the average traveller. As in many countries prices are cheaper outside of the big cities and a pizza and beer is not likely to cost you more than €10 (not that I’m recommending this as a daily diet).

Travel is reasonable too, with Deutsche Bahn offering some fabulous train tickets. Most regions have a day pass where a group of you can travel on any bus or train within that region for a single cheap fare. We paid €26 for two of us to travel freely around Bavaria (the size of Ireland). If there are more of you the deal becomes ridiculously cheap.

 

In a few paragraphs I can barely scrape at the surface of what Germany offers  and I’ll add a few of our adventures here in the coming weeks.  But as someone who was genuinely surprised at how much I enjoyed my first proper visit here, I certainly recommend anyone planning a European trip to give Germany a closer look.

 

Useful sites if you’re thinking of a German trip (I used these myself while planning):

Germany is Wunderbar – a nicely presented site full of handy tips and trivia

Romantic Road Germany – good descriptions of the many places along the Romantic Road

Easy Hiker – Michael and Marlys are hiking enthusiasts and offer some valuable information for those planning to explore Germany on foot

 

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

13 Responses to “Germany: the best of Europe without the crowds”

  1. Good shout on Germany. When I tell my friends I’m going there, I get a funny look and: “Why would you wanna do that?” I don’t think the constant German bashing in the British tabloids helps matters. But I’ve been there four times now. Really enjoyed Berlin, Munich and Hamburg – and a few other ‘hidden’ gems. Considering its strong economy, Germany is surprisingly good value-for-money (though maybe not in Munich during Oktoberfest). I’ve found the people are, generally, pretty welcoming – even to us Brits. Not sure I’ll ever appreciate the language/accent, however.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:09 pm
    • Thanks Steve. And yes, have to agree with you on the language. Put it next to French or Spanish and it’s never going to sound pretty (to my ears at least). But hey, I’ll go easy on the Germans as most folks speak excellent English – far better at any rate than my German…

      August 2, 2012 at 9:19 am
      • Yes, of course, one of the massive bonuses of the Allies winning WWII (along with all the other obvious pluses!) is that German never became Europe’s dominant language. Even my German friends – and Germans I meet travelling – confess it’s an ‘ugly language’, though, naturally, it has its supporters. I was pleasantly surprised at how well (so many) Germans speak English. They’re almost as good as the Scandinavians. A bit of a shame, as a nation, that we seem to be so useless and/or disinterested in foreign languages – even the ‘nice’ ones, like Spanish and Italian. Guess that’s one problem with English being the ‘international’ lingo….

        August 2, 2012 at 9:41 am
      • Marius Lenz #

        You wrote: “the best of Europe without the crowds
        Yet despite being the most populous European country (excluding Russia) Germany hardly ever gets a mention.”

        OK, most want to go to italy,spain,france.Yes Italy,Spain,France are tourist countries.The reason is the wether,the coast and maybe the signs, landscape and cities.The people are important to.You want to go to funny and open people.And germans are a little bit freeze and reservated to people they dont know. I think germans are funny.But friendships in germany are most friendships for life. Germans are not the worldchampions of smalltalking. And in holiday you want to have fun.

        BUT GERMANY IS NOT WITHOUT CROWDS.Germany has the 8 most international tourists in the world.OK that is in europe no.6. I think that is not bad.Berlin has the 3 most numbers of tourists after london and paris.More than rome for example.Munich is in the top10 in europe too.It has more tourists than barcelona.and the people do not want to go to Czech Republic or England. They just want to london or prague.
        Some festivals are overcrowded for example October festival or cologne carnival.Many german christmas markets are overcrowded of tourists.Maybe 10000,maybe 100000 a day.

        My question
        Andy Jarosz where are you from?
        If you are from the USA? OK they have some destinations in europe for example venice,paris,london,rome. But on the other hand.They want to see german castles,they want to drink german beer in german beerhalls.and watch heidelberg,munich,rüdesheim or want to watch berlin. New york is not the USA.It is a very small part of USA: And England is not europe.It is a very small part of europe.

        August 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm
        • Hello Marius and thanks for sharing your thoughts. My experiences are of course subjective but taken from two things – my conversations with friends, family and travel folks in the UK (where I live) about where they plan to travel. Germany is hardly mentioned. Secondly from my own limited experience in Germany, seeing how fantastic places had almost no tourists, and imagining how they would be crowded elsewhere.
          Here in the UK (and I think elsewhere) Germany has an undeserved reputation as being an unexciting destination. I’m very surprised to see that Berlin is no. 3 in tourist numbers, ahead of Venice, Rome, Vienna and Prague. Do you have a source for this figure? I’d be very interested to see the other findings. Thanks again.

          August 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm
  2. Clare Dorey #

    I’ve always loved Germany too! You can’t get much more fascinating than Berlin, with its wall, Pergamon museum and awesome traffic light signals! I also loved Munich, Stuttgart, Cologne, Schiltach, Friedruchshafen, Fussen (although the castle for me was all about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!) Great food and drink, fascinating history, beautiful scenery, very organized trains – great holiday spot!

    August 1, 2012 at 10:36 pm
    • Thank you Clare – my return to Berlin is long overdue (I spent a few days there when the wall was still very much in place) – you’ve given me some other places to explore too 🙂

      August 2, 2012 at 9:20 am
  3. Ana Mamic #

    Agree with Steve and Clare. Andy, as you well pointed out, Germany is terribly underrated as a tourist destination, but I think I actually like that precisely because it doesn’t get overcrowded. We’ve scoured all of Bavaria and the Black Forest, and the one thing that impressed me the most was how very good value for money Germany is. And the railway is to die for! When we stayed in the Black Forest, we were given free access to all regional trains, so we ditched the car for the most part. Accommodation is cheap and also excellent value, the food is great and inexpensive, the people are welcoming, lots of beautiful places to explore – what more could one ask for?

    August 2, 2012 at 10:39 am
  4. So true!

    Germany is such an amazing destination. I’ve had the chance to visit quite a few places there, all so different, yet all as beautiful. My favorite spots: Munich’s Marienplatz, especially at the hour, when the little characters on the big clock start dancing (super touristy, okay, but so nice!), and the Lorelei statue near Frankfurt.

    Great post!

    August 2, 2012 at 10:39 am
  5. Thoroughly agree. I’m in Germany at the moment (in Berlin after a few days in Munich), and the thing that strikes most is how reasonably priced everything is, even in touristy areas. Berlin is arguably my favourite city in Europe, but the others all have their merits and I love the Bavarian Alps too.

    It’s a place that doesn’t dumb down – the museums tend to be really well thought out. The transport and infrastructure is excellent too.

    I’d say similar things apply to Austria, too – another underrated spot.

    August 3, 2012 at 10:48 am
  6. Having just come back from Germany (admittedly only a day in Munich between trains, and then a sleeper to Paris), I’d agree. I’ve always found Germany a pleasant and easy to navigate place – the trains are cheap (especially in advance), the roads are fast, free and safe, and the cities are well-signposted.

    The people, too, are tremendous. I’ve never understood the myth about the Germans having no sense of humour, they’re wonderful fun and though usually speak good English are always pleased to hear their language attempted.

    The countryside is beautiful, the cities are well-ordered, pretty and very bike-friendly, and the climate is lovely.

    I think, as other commenters have said, the country suffers from an unfair reputation, and that is to the benefit of the customers who do go. I’d agree with David above about Austria, though, it’s a similarly maligned place and I thoroughly enjoyed the week or so I just spent there.

    Oh, and two final and definitive reasons why Germany rocks: beer and sausages. What more do you need?

    August 3, 2012 at 12:44 pm
  7. Carl Hendy #

    Its nice to read such glowing reports of Germany….having visited there on many occasions to see friends…..i have fell in love with this country full of history and charm…the people are very friendly and put up with my lack of understanding of their language….as in other places in Europe your eyes and basic instincts get you by the language barrier….if i have to make a choice well Berlin is my favourite….been there a few times and just feel at home there………..cheers…..

    August 5, 2012 at 4:43 am
  8. Peter (bout to quit for long term travel) #

    Totally wet my appetite for Germany now. Was planning on spending a little time in Germany and now it’s definitely locked in. Never thought of it as value for money but i guess compared to Australia EVERYWHERE is value for money!

    August 9, 2012 at 3:56 pm