This itinerary makes a clockwise circuit of Germany, from Berlin to Hamburg in the far north, south to Munich and its scenic surroundings, and finally west to the romantic town of Heidelberg and the Schwarzwald (Black Forest).
Day 1: Berlin
Germany’s capital and largest city is the starting point of your 2-week tour of Deutschland. Follow the suggestions for Berlin in the 1-week itinerary until late afternoon, then from Museumsinsel, you can walk to Friedrichstrasse, the upscale shopping street of eastern Berlin, or visit the East Side Gallery, the longest preserved section of the Berlin Wall. Or, if the day is clear, you might want to walk over to Alexanderplatz and zoom up to the observation deck of the Fernsehturm (Television Tower), one of the tallest structures in western Europe.
Day 2: Berlin
Spend your second day on the western side of the city. Head over to the Charlottenburg neighborhood for a tour of Schloss (Palace) Charlottenburg and a stroll through the palace gardens. Make your way back to the Kurfürstendamm (known as Ku’Damm), the most famous boulevard in western Berlin, for lunch or to find a cafe for Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). Stop by the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), left as a colossal ruin after the devastation of World War II. Then spend a while strolling in the Tiergarten, Berlin’s most famous park. Have something fun lined up for the evening: Berlin has three opera houses, seven symphony orchestras, cabarets, variety shows, and countless bars and clubs.
Day 3: Day Trip to Potsdam
Give yourself at least 4 hours for this excursion (take the S-Bahn), which includes a tour of Schloss Sanssouci, Frederick the Great’s rococo palace, and a stroll through the landscaped grounds. You can eat near the palace or in the charming town of Potsdam. In the afternoon, visit one of Berlin’s great museums, such as the Gemäldegalerie (Painting Gallery) or the Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum), where Germany’s Jewish life is chronicled and commemorated through art and artifacts.
Day 4: Day Trip to Dresden
On the Elbe River about 2 hours south of Berlin by train, Dresden is one of the great art cities of Germany. You want to focus your attention on the Albertinum, a vast collection of treasures accrued by Saxon rulers; the famed treasury known as the Grünes Gewolbe (Green Vault) in the Residenzschloss; and the Zwinger, a restored royal palace that is home to four museums, the most important being the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Gallery). Make it a point to see the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), which reopened in 2006 after being painstakingly restored.
Day 5: Hamburg
From Berlin, head north to Hamburg, about 1 1/2 hours by fast train. You don’t have a lot of time to see this spread-out metropolis, so sign on to two tours: A hop-on, hop-off bus tour will show off the sights and get you to some of the places you want to see, and a cruise takes you through the harbor, one of the world’s busiest, that has kept Hamburg on the map of commerce for centuries. Where you choose to spend time depends on your tastes, but top stops are the Kunsthalle, an outstanding collection of old masters and modern works, and HafenCity, a waterside quarter that has transformed the city. Come nightfall, there’s only one place to go: Anyone who comes to Hamburg must make at least one foray into St. Pauli, where the Reeperbahn, Europe’s most famous red-light district, is ground zero for salacious nightlife.
Day 6: Lübeck
A short trip from Hamburg, this port on the Baltic Sea boasts more buildings from the 13th to the 15th centuries than any other city in northern Germany—more than just about anywhere else in Europe, for that matter, since it’s said that within an area of 5 sq. km (2 sq. miles) around the Marktplatz stand 1,000 medieval houses.
Day 7: Munich
The trip from Hamburg takes fewer than 6 hours by train and is a wonderful way to sit back, relax, and watch the scenery change from north to south. With only an evening and day in Munich, you have to make some decisions about what to see. Start your explorations at Marienplatz, the city’s main square, and then head over to the adjacent Viktualienmarkt to wander through this wonderland of an outdoor market. Choose a museum you’d especially like to visit: Most visitors make the Alte Pinakothek (Old Masters Gallery) their top priority, but the Deutsches Museum, devoted to science and industry, is one of the most popular museums in the country. Stay overnight in Munich. You have innumerable ways to spend the evening in this cultural mecca: opera, symphony, pop concerts, theater, beer halls, beer gardens, and clubs.
Day 8: More Munich
Start the day with a self-guided tour of the Residenz, the gigantic “city palace” of Bavaria’s former rulers, the Wittelsbachs. You need at least 2 hours to visit the entire complex. After lunch near Marienplatz, stroll in the lovely Englischer Garten and stop for a drink or a meal at the park’s famous beer garden. There are many other museums to choose from in Munich, including Lenbachhaus, with its superb collection of German Expression art, and the Greek and Roman antiquities on display in the Glyptothek.
Day 9: Regensburg
A bit off the beaten path, this is one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities and the only one to remain completely unscathed by World War II bombings. Some 1,400 medieval buildings have survived and create a jumble of steep, red-tiled roofs above narrow lanes and lively squares next to the Danube. Spend the day here taking it easy as you poke around the Altstadt.
Day 10: Füssen
Make your way back to Munich and on to Füssen, 6.5km (4 miles) from the most famous tourist attraction in all of Germany: Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein Castle. Give yourself some leeway with time because the crowds (especially in summer) can be dense (you might want to visit the castle early on the morning of Day 11 before the crowds arrive). You can also tour neighboring Hohenschwangau Castle, where Ludwig spent his childhood. If local bus connections work in your favor, squeeze in a visit to the nearby Wieskirche (Church in the Meadow), a baroque masterpiece.
Day 11: Heidelberg
The trip today takes about 4 hours and will get you to this ancient university town on the Neckar River by mid- to late afternoon—just in time for a stroll through the Altstadt (Old Town), which looks much as it did a century ago, with a mixture of architectural styles ranging from the Gothic to the Neoclassical. Find your way up to Heidelberg Castle, a romantic hilltop ruin with a view down to the tiled roofs of the Altstadt nestled alongside the river. Back in the Altstadt, a stop at the Kurpfälzisches Museum (Museum of the Palatinate) gives you a look at Tilman Riemenschneider’s masterful wooden altarpiece of Christ and the Apostles, dating from 1509.
Day 12: Heidelberg & a Side Trip to Baden-Baden
Begin the day in the Marktplatz, the Altstadt’s main square, dominated by the Gothic Heiliggeistkirche (Church of the Holy Spirit). Cross the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge) and stroll along Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Way), a 250-year-old promenade that provides a view of romantic Heidelberg from the other side of the Neckar. Then head south to Baden-Baden, the glamorous spa resort at the edge of the Black Forest where people were getting into hot water as far back as the Roman era, when the emperor Caracalla came to soak his arthritic bones in the thermal pools. You can “take the waters” at Friedrichsbad, a 125-year-old mineral-bath establishment; the experience takes about 3 1/2 hours.
Day 13: Nuremberg
Hop on the train in Heidelberg and in about 3 hours, you’re in Nuremberg, one of the most attractive mid-size cities in Germany, where the entire Altstadt is a pedestrian zone. Squares with lovely fountains, Gothic churches, and the picturesque precincts alongside the Pegnitz River are below the Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle). Collections at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum (Germanic National Museum) include works by Renaissance great Albrecht Dürer, whose house is here, and the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände (Nazi Rally Grounds Documentation Center), housed in the former Nazi Congress Hall, provides a chronological overview of the rise of Nazism.
Day 14: Berlin
Head back to Berlin, where your tour began, to catch your flight home. The train ride from Nuremberg is about 5 1/2 hours. (Alternatively, you can fly home from Frankfurt, a little more than 2 hr. by train from Nuremberg, or from Munich, under 2 hr. from Nuremberg.)
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