President’s Day weekend is coming up, which means a lot of Americans living in Germany will be looking for cool places to visit. This year, Bill and I will be going to the Czech Republic for the long weekend. Last year, we went to France and had an absolute ball! We do love going out of the country when we have the chance.
But what if you don’t want to leave Germany? What if you face a situation like Bill did a couple of years ago? He had to renew his passport, so leaving Germany wasn’t a good idea, since he had to send his documents to Berlin. What do you do when you can’t leave the country, but still need to get out of the Stuttgart area? Well… that is what today’s blog post is all about. Here are a few of my favorite German destinations, at least so far.
Before I get started with my list, bear in mind that I am by no means claiming to be an expert on Germany. There are still some areas I haven’t yet visited. Moreover, even if I were an expert, I don’t think anyone wants to read an exhaustive list. I need to save subjects for future posts, too. So… this is just a short list and hopefully some folks will find it useful for planning purposes. I’m not ranking them in any particular order. These are just places we liked and would love to visit again (and have in a couple of instances).
Believe it or not, that castle is now a youth hostel.
Like cute towns? Interested in medieval history? Enjoy the Rhine? Want to get out of Stuttgart, but not spend days on the road? Consider a trip to Bacharach. Bacharach has the distinction of being the very first German town I ever visited in my lifetime. It was my first stop on a monthlong train trip I took in August and September 1997, when I was on my way back to the States from Armenia, where I lived for two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I remember landing in Frankfurt, figuring out the train, and landing in this beautifully preserved town. The first thing I did after checking into lodging was go out and buy a new pair of shoes.
Bill and I had a chance to visit Bacharach again in 2014. It was the last place we visited on our last space A “hop”. I’d been talking it up for years. It lived up to the hype, too. We ended up having a very special experience with Germans there… and that was also when I told Bill that I had a very strong feeling we’d be moving back to Deutschland. I just had this strong premonition that he’d wind up getting a job in Germany. Sure enough, six weeks later, we were packing our bags to move back to Stuttgart. Needless to say, Bacharach remains one of my favorite German towns. You can enjoy the Rhine by boat and visit all the cute towns in the vicinity. I’m kind of Jonesing for another trip there myself.
Regensburg is the second German city I ever visited in my lifetime, again on that 1997 trip. I happened to get off the train there simply because I felt like it. I knew nothing about the town and how beautiful it is. I only spent one night in Regensburg in 1997, but Bill and I visited again for President’s Day weekend in 2015 and I got to see even more of this lovely town in Bavaria.
It’s only a short trip away by train before you can visit Dom St. Peter in Regensburg.
Regensburg is also a well-preserved medieval city. In fact, I remember when I first saw it over twenty years ago, I thought of it as “stereotypical Germany”. I half expected to see dirndl clad ladies and lederhosen clad men dancing around in the main square. Indeed, I did see people in Trachten there. It is Bavaria, after all. If you visit and you like sausages, be sure to visit the historic Wurstkuchl, which is perhaps the oldest continuously running public restaurant in the world. An added benefit is the beautiful view you’ll have of the Danube River.
Bill and I visited Trier in May 2012, when we took our very first space A “hop”. Bill had told me about Trier, a city that has several well-preserved Roman structures, like the Porta Nigra gate. Trier is very close to the Luxembourg border, so if you visit there, you can easily take a quick trip to Luxembourg, or perhaps to France or Belgium, which are also close. Trier on its own is also a very nice city to visit, especially if you love churches. I still have wonderful memories of touring Trier’s own Liebfrauenkirche.
Porta Nigra in Trier.
Bill and I only just visited Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber last month. We’d been wanting to go there for years. Now that we’ve been, I can see us going back. It’s a comparatively short drive from Stuttgart to get to this fabulously preserved medieval city in the Franken part of Bavaria. You can truly lose yourself in the charm of this cool little town, surrounded by walls and buildings that date back hundreds of years. Yes, it’s a bit touristy, but if you go in the winter, it’s likely you’ll get more of a hometown feel for the place. Prices will probably be lower, too.
Just one part of the wall that surrounds beautiful Rothenburg. Yes, I’d say this town is a must see for any Americans posted in Germany. Be sure to stop by the Criminal Museum, too. You’ll learn a lot.
I promise I have seen areas other than Bavaria and the Rhine. I just really like Passau, which I think gets overlooked a lot. I visited Passau in 1997 and then again in 2008, for my 36th birthday. Passau is a beautiful city in and of itself. It’s also very conveniently located near the Austrian and Czech borders. Passau is also a great place to visit if you love music, since St. Stephan’s Cathedral has the distinction of having the second largest pipe organ in the world. You can take in a concert and enjoy a cruise on the confluence of three rivers: the Inn, the Ilz, and the Danube. Then, you can take day trips to nearby Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic or Linz, Austria. When we visited, it happened to be just in time for Cesky Krumlov’s excellent Five Petalled Rose Festival. Everyone was dressed in medieval garb. I thought I had stumbled into a theme park!
Pipe organ in gorgeous St. Stephan’s Cathedral. It sounds as amazing as it looks.
Bill and I visited beautiful Dresden in November 2008. We were there in honor of our sixth wedding anniversary, which included stops in Bolaslaweic, Poland, and Prague. Our first few nights were spent in this gorgeous city that used to be part of East Germany and remains absolutely stunning. You can take a cruise on the Elbe, walk to the top of the Frauenkirche and get a view of the city, or enjoy some really wonderful cuisine. Dresden is especially nice at Christmas time, when it’s time for the Christmas markets.
A night shot of the lovingly restored Frauenkirche, which was reassembled after it was bombed by U.S. forces. We also visited nearby Zwinger Palace.
You’d prefer a big city? I highly recommend a visit to Hamburg. Bill and I went there in January 2015 and enjoyed a leisurely long weekend in this northern German city that boasts more bridges and canals than Amsterdam. Hamburg is rich in culture with plenty of theaters and museums, as well as lots of street art to see. And if you are in the mood for debauchery, you can head to the Reeperbahn district of St. Pauli, where things get plenty gritty. If you’re up for an early morning, you can visit the fish market and maybe even catch live music (which was what we did). Or you can go shopping; Hamburg boasts some great places to drop some euros. It’s definitely a different vibe from down here in the south and you can get there in about an hour if you fly.
No women or men under age 18 in the Red Light district…
I think I like Hamburg even more than Munich, which is also a fun but expensive and very touristy place to visit. I also like it more than Berlin.
And finally, there’s lovely Heidelberg, which is just up the autobahn from us here in the Stuttgart area. Bill and I went there in October 2008, when it was still home to many U.S. servicemembers. We had several friends who were there with the Army, so we went up to visit them. Sadly, Heidelberg’s U.S. installations closed in 2013 and were handed back over to the German government in 2015. It was great to visit there to see what used to be a major Army hub when the Army was still there. However, Heidelberg itself is a gracious city and boasts nearby Schwetzingen, which has a peaceful palace and park. I remember how absolutely gorgeous the area was in the fall and I want to go back… maybe now because it’s no longer crowded with as many Americans.
Heidelberg is a quick and easy drive from Stuttgart, as long as there aren’t any staus. And there’s plenty to see and do there. Heidelberg Castle alone is well worth the visit. Afterwards, visit Vetter’s for some hometown brews.
Schwetzingen Palace in Schwetzingen, just next door to Heidelberg.
I’m sure I’ll be making a sequel for this post because I can think of plenty of other German towns I’ve been to and loved… and some I’ve just noticed and want to visit and write about. For now, I hope readers have enjoyed this list… and it gives some folks some food for thought for trips. Each of these destinations are great for a long weekend and in combination with visiting other cities.