Germany is filled with must-see attractions, including 41 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Two thousand years of German history includes picturesque castles, historical cities like Weimar, sky-scratching cathedral spires, and the entire half-timbered altstadt (old town) of places like Bamberg or modern additions such as the Le Corbusier Houses in Stuttgart.
With this many world-class sites, you might have trouble deciding which to visit. Here are the top 11 UNESCO sites in Germany you really must see.
The Upper Middle Rhine Valley or Mittelrheintal is a picturesque road along the river Rhine. Stretching from Koblenz to Bingen, this route has been traveled by everyone from Roman soldiers to many trundling tourist buses.
It is a stunning region of sparkling waters, charming vineyards and craggy cliffs. These natural attributes are enhanced by numerous medieval castles and medieval old towns. If you prefer to see the town by the water, there are numerous Rhine river cruises from Bacharach, Braubach and Koblenz.
Among the many highlights along the Mittelrheintal:
- Deutsches Eck in Koblenz- At the intersection of the Moselle and the Rhine, the "German Corner" is topped by a massive statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I on horseback and riverfront promenade.
- Burg Rheinstein - Once a romantic summer residence for Prussian royalty, this spectacular castle overlooks the river.
- Bacharach - One of the best preserved medieval towns in Germany. Walk the 600-year old city wall, have a meal at Altes Haus and stay overnight in the Castle Stahleck Hotel.
- Rüdesheim - Visitors can enjoy unparalleled views of the Rhine Gorge as well as a cable car directly to the Niederwald monument.
- Burg Rheinfels - Built in 1245, this castle is full of towers and labyrinths.
The oldest city in the country, Trier, also holds the best Roman monuments in Germany. The city was founded in 16 BC and still features Roman sites like:
- Porta Nigra
- Dom und Liebfrauenkirche (Cathedral and Church of our Lady) - Holds the Holy Robe, the garment said to be worn by Jesus when he was crucified
- Konstantin Basilika (Constantine Basilica)
- Roman Baths - Largest surviving single-room structure of Roman times
- Römerbrücke (Roman Bridge)
After walking the ruins, replenish with wine from the nearby Mosel River vineyards or a Roman dish from one of the many Trier restaurants.
Besides these year-round attractions, the Mosel Musikfestival (Moselle Music Festival) is a highlight every December.
It's not all historic buildings for UNESCO Sites in Germany. This area on the North Sea represents a unique tidal basin ecosystem. It is the largest unbroken system of mud flats in the world with seagrass meadows, sand dunes, and endless beachfront.
The locals are also quite interesting. Harbor seals and porpoises populate the area, as well as an average of 10-12 million migrating birds that pass through each year.
The best time to visit is in October for the Migratory Bird Days. There are guides offering biking and walking tours plus excursions by boat and bus. Cameras are out and there are workshops, photography classes, and exhibitions to improve your skills.
Würzburg was founded over 1,000 years ago by the Celts and has profited from being at a crucial intersection. Just an hour outside of the busy Frankfurt Airport, the city is also well connected by freeways and railways.
There are fascinating old buildings and museums and a stunning Baroque palace. It is also a lively university town with 30,000 international students enlivening the nightlife and keeping the city fresh.
Chill out after a day of sight-seeing with Franconian wine in the uniquely bolbous Bocksbeutel bottle as well as hearty local dishes.
Berlin's 3 UNESCO Sites
- Museuminsel (Museum Island) - An intense concentration of world-class museums on an island in the middle of the city. River cruises exult its virtues like clockwork with visitors on land bombarding its five world-class museums throughout the year.
- Potsdam - Filled with baroque splendor and a magnificent palace and gardens, Potsdam is the site of the former summer residence of Prussian King, Friedrich the Great. Schloss Sansoussi (literally translates to "without worries") palace offers some of the fantastical grandeur not always found in gritty Berlin. Its gardens are as spectacular as its many buildings and can be explored for free. Also be sure to visit Schloss Cecilienhof, the site of the 1945 Potsdam agreement.
- Modernist Housing - Siedlungen der Berliner Moderne are an unusual pick for a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but display what mighty changes the city has endured and even led throughout the ages. These six subsidized estates from 1919 show what a progressive place the city is socially, politically, and architecturally.
Extending from the Slovakia and the Ukraine, this site is collectively known as the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany. The forest provides an example of post-glacial biological and ecological evolution of terrestrial ecosystems. The impressive beech trees reach a height of 150 ft (50 meters) with trunks up to 6 feet (2 meters) around. Some of these trees are 350 years old.
Cologne's gothic cathedral is one of Germany's most important architectural monuments and the third tallest cathedral in the world. It boasts the highest church spires ever built (fitting for a building that took more than 600 years to build) and is one of the only buildings in Cologne that survived WWII.
Visible from most places in the city, the best views of the city are from its spires. Ascend the south tower to see the world from 100 meters and up 533 steps. There are guided tours and they are held several times a week. Note that it is not acceptable to explore the main hall of the Cathedral during masses or services.
The Old Town Regensburg has almost 1,000 individual, historic buildings. Sites range from fine merchant houses to patrician palaces, but the medieval ambiance of the town itself is the real attraction.
- Porta Praetoria - The northern gate was erected 2,000 years ago by the Romans.
- Steinerne Brücke (Stone bridge) - Cross the Danube on this 850 year old marvel.
- Dom St. Peter or Regensburger Dom (St Peter's Gothic Cathedral) - Emblem of the city.
- Reichssaal - Located in the historic Town Hall, this dates back to the 13th century and was where the German emperors held their imperial assemblies.
Welterbe Grube Messel is considered one of the most important sites in the world for understanding the Eocene period (that is between 36 million and 57 million years ago). Located about 30 minutes away from Frankfurt (with an easy base in Darmstadt), this old quarry and almost landfill has yielded over 40,000 astonishing fossils from mammals to reptiles to birds to fish.
The site mostly looks like a pit, but it was once a volcanic lake surrounded by a tropical forest. You can explore the site fully with information from the visitor’s center (entrance is 10 euro; 10:00 - 17:00). Most talks and tours are in German, but there is some English info and the staff is helpful.
Rammelsberg is a mountain range in Lower Saxony that was an important source of silver, copper, and lead. It is the only mine working continuously for over 1,000 years, though it closed in 1988.
Like so many caves in Germany, it is a visitor attraction as well as a UNESCO heritage site (together with Goslar's Old Town). The site now includes the Upper Harz Water Regale,[Walkenried Abbey and the historic Samson Pit and the Rammelsberg Museum and Visitor Mine provides an excellent overview of the site's significance.
The old town of Bamsberg is entirely protected, from its numerous breweries to its many charming half-timbered houses over the river. Nicknamed the "Franconian Rome", this Bavarian city has one of Europe’s largest intact old town centers. Its early medieval plan and winding narrow streets are the holy grail of fairy tale Germany.
But the city is more than just a gorgeous still life. Universität Bamberg brings in over 10,000 students and the nearby US Army Base has around 4,000 members meaning there are nearly 7,000 foreign nationals that reside here. It is a thriving, international city with loads to enjoy from medieval castles to biergartens built into each of its seven hills.