Flowing 527km between Mainz and Bamberg, and passing through 3 German states (Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hesse), the Main River is one of the main tributaries of the mighty Rhine River. Running through the heart of Frankfurt, the river is not only the lifeline of the city’s industrial center, but brings with it a steady stream of cruise passengers.
Frankfurt sightseeing cruises are also a popular way to take in the city’s sights, with attractions like Museumsufer (Museum Embankment), Frankfurt Cathedral, Frankfurt’s famed financial district, nicknamed ‘Little Manhattan’, and Europaturm, the city’s tallest building, all visible along the waterfront.
The Hauptmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany is the city's main square, and it is located near the Frauenkirche, the Church of Our Lady. Crowds gather here at noon to witness the clock's figures performing Männleinlaufen, or Little Men Dancing, up in the clock tower. One of the main features of the square is the Schönen Brunnen fountain with intricately detailed sculptures carved onto the sides. The church and the fountain were built in the 14th century and are important pieces of the square, although the fountain you see today is a replica. The original is held in the German National Museum for safekeeping. This is the city's main outdoor market where you can find fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, bread, flowers, crafts, and other local goods. Several cafes and restaurants are located on and near the square, and several pedestrian streets lined with stores connect with the square, making this a nice area to go shopping. In December you'll find Christmas markets set up in this square.
Housed in the oldest town house in Munich, the Beer and Oktoberfest Museum features permanent exhibitions on topics ranging from the history of beer to the Bavarian monks’ purity laws and the unique quality of Munich’s beer. As for the story of Oktoberfest, on the upper floor of the museum you’ll learn about its beginnings as a national festival for the 1810 wedding of King Luis to Princess Teresa, right through to today’s celebration — it’s the largest beer festival in the world attended by some 6 million people every year.
You’ll see photos and illustrations, exhibits of brewery and beer-related memorabilia, including original beer mugs from the early years of Oktoberfest. A 12-minute documentary on the evolution of Bavarian beer-making also plays in the small cinema. And as you make your way round the exhibits, check out the building’s original wooden beam and restored murals — they date all the way back to 1340.
The Hamburg Dungeon takes visitors on a 90-minute journey through 600 years of Hamburg's dark history. The dungeon has different areas with various themes based on real events in Hamburg's history, as well as two rides and 11 different shows performed in both German and English by live, professional actors. A visit to the Dungeon is a fun yet scary way to experience the things that were left out of the history books.
Gripping storytelling, special effects and rides bring the history to life in a way that will make you laugh and scream. Start your tour with the Elevator of Horror before exploring the Library of Dark History where shadowy figures tell the stories in the books. Experience the Hamburg fire of 1842, try to find your way out of the Labyrinth of the Lost, and see if you can survive the torture chamber. Encounter pirates and ghosts along the way, plus much more terror.
The Old Bridge in Heidelberg is a sandstone pedestrian bridge that goes across the Neckar River linking the old town on one side with the Neuenheim district on the other. It was built in 1786, and even though there were several other bridges before it in this location, it was the first one made of stone. On the city side of the bridge, there are two towers that once formed part of the city walls. They contain old dungeons which were used to hold criminals. Between the towers, you can see a plaque honoring the Austrian troops who helped defend the bridge against an attack from the French in 1799.
Another feature visitors will notice is a statue of a monkey holding a mirror. The monkey represents the idea that neither those who lived within the city walls nor those who lived outside the city were any better than the other, and that they should look over their shoulder as the cross the bridge to remember this.
The Old Heidelberg University, Germany's oldest university, was build in the early 1700s. It now holds the Rector's Office, the Old Assembly Hall, and the University Museum. The museum shows the history of the university beginning with its foundation in 1386 through today. Exhibits, portraits, and documents explain this history in three different sections. There's one about the Palatinate electors, one about the Baden era, and one about the twentieth century. In addition to the permanent exhibits, every few months there is a new special exhibit opens.
In the square in front of the building is a fountain of a lion, called Löwenbrunnen. The lion was the symbol of the Palatinate. At the back of the Old University, visitors can see the student prison, which was in use until 1914 and is now one of the most popular attractions in the city. Students could be put in the prison from two days to four weeks depending on the offense, although life there was quite comfortable.
The Brandenburg Gate (or Brandenburger Tor) is one of Berlin’s original city gates, erected in 1791. It marks the entry to the Under den Linden avenue as part of the ceremonial boulevard that led to the Prussian monarchs’ royal seat.
The classical monument is topped by a chariot driven by a winged goddess, which was briefly carted off to Paris by Napoleon as booty.
During the Cold War, the Brandenburg Gate could not be accessed from East or West Germany, making it a particularly poignant symbol after reunification.
The Kölner Dom, also known as the Cologne Cathedral, is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. In the 19th century, it was the tallest building in the world. Amazingly, it would take 632 years to complete.
Begun in 1248, the Kölner Dom was commissioned as a suitable place to house the relics of the Three Kings, acquired and delivered by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Construction was predictably slow, beginning with the east wing. At some point in 1473, construction came to a stop and it remained at rest for four centuries, marked by a crane that loomed over the south tower; until 1842, when a civic organization raised the bulk of the money to finish construction. In today’s dollars, the cost for finishing Kölner Dom would be over a billion dollars. Finally, in 1880, Germany’s largest cathedral was completed.
Old Town is in many ways, the heart and soul of the city. It's near the Köln Dom, surrounded by "the Ring," a ring of streets, botanical space, and promenades following the path of the old city's walls. Inside the ring and along the Rhine is a vibrant scene of bars, pubs, and restaurants. While it can get crowded, Old Town is known for its hustle and overall friendly vibe.
Tours of Old Town include tours of the Cathedral, a brewpub tour (expect to drink a lot of Kölsch), or a cruise on the Rhine. However, the best way to experience Old Town is on foot. Confident travelers may want to practice their German in this area; if you do, pay attention to speakers - Kölsch is a beer, but it's also an accent, both of which being native to Cologne. In Alter Markt Square, you'll find plenty of both, as brew pubs and bars are plentiful.
Beyond the rhythm of the bars and shops are seemingly innumerable small streets and alleys that wind through the old buildings.
The Neues Museum was built in the mid-1800s and was heavily damaged during World War II. Restoration work beginning in 2005 carefully preserved the facade and interior, while incorporating damage from war into the design, rather than covering it up. The museum opened its doors to the public again in 2009.
The Egyptian collection includes displays covering more than 4,000 years of ancient Egyptian and Nubian cultures. There are exhibits on the history of the collection and Egyptology itself, portraits of kings and the Berlin Green Head, which illustrates how sculpture progressed as an art form. Three chambers contain offerings dating from the Old Kingdom, as well as displays of tomb architecture and relief art. There is also an Egyptian library of antiquity and a section depicting ancient everyday life, the afterlife and the cult of the gods.
The Frauenkirche in Dresden was built between 1726 and 1743. Its dome collapsed on Feb. 15, 1945 during the bombings of World War II. After the war, the ruins of the church were left as a war memorial. Once Dresden and the rest of East Germany were reunified with West Germany, reconstruction on the church began and was completed by 2005. As much as possible, the reconstruction of the church followed the original plans and methods and used the original materials. The church now serves as a symbol of reconciliation.
The reconstruction of the church was supported by donations from people all around the world. In order to honor those who donated, the church set up an exhibition area, which explains what was left after the destruction and what was was needed to start the rebuilding process. The exhibit includes original documents and finds from the archeological site.
Topped with an acclaimed glass dome designed by British architect Norman Foster, the Reichstag parliamentary building is home to Germany’s Parliament, the Bundestag.
The classically pedimented and columned building was built in the 1890s, and seriously damaged by fire in 1933 and subsequent air raids. In the 1990s the building was restored to host the parliament of the newly reunified Germany.
Visitors can step inside the multi-tiered glass dome and onto the roof terrace for 360 degree views of Berlin’s government district and the Tiergarten.
Take an audioguide tour to learn about the parliamentary goings on in the Bundestag and the history of the famous building. After taking a stroll, relax in the rooftop restaurant.
"You are leaving the American sector."
Memorialized in film and print, Checkpoint Charlie is the most famous symbol of Cold War era Berlin.
Marking the border crossing between the American Sector (Kreuzberg) and East Berlin (Mitte), only allied personnel and foreign visitors could pass through the checkpoint. Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous security point in the Berlin Wall, but for most of its life it was little more than a wooden shack and boom gates. Today a replica shed stands in the middle of Friedrichstraße.
While you’re here, drop into the Mauer Museum (Haus am Checkpoint Charlie) to learn about the history of Checkpoint Charlie, and the audacious and often tragic attempts made by East Berliners to escape from East to West.
Located in the Mitte district, the Gendarmenmarkt has gone through a few name changes. After being used from 1736 to 1782 by the military for sentry duty and housing their horses, it was known as the Gendarmenmarkt. After being damaged in the war, the square was renamed “Platz der Akademie” in 1950 in honor of the 250th anniversary of the Academy of Science. In 1991, it got its original name back.
The Gendarmenmarkt is arguably Berlin’s most magnificent square. It is best known for the triple architectural force composed of the German and French cathedrals (Deutscher und Französischer Dom) and Schinkel’s Konzerthaus (concert hall). The ‘domes’ refer to the domed tower structures erected in 1785 by architect Carl von Gontard were mainly intended to add stature and grandeur to the two buildings. Some of the most high-end restaurants, businesses and hotels are located around the Gendarmenmarkt, especially around the streets of Charlottenstrasse.
With its many green domes, the baroque Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) is the city’s largest church. The classical building was built in the mid-1700s, and was extensively restored following bombing during World War II.
Audioguide tours provide in-depth information about the building’s history and artworks. Highlights include the Hohenzollern Crypt, with its royal tombs, and the monumental pipe organ. The centerpiece of the building is the soaring dome, with its stained glass and mosaics. The original dome was destroyed by Allied bombs, and its restoration was particularly painstaking.
The notorious wall that divided Berlin for nearly 30 years was erected by East Germany at the height of the Cold War in 1961. The barrier isolated West Berlin within a heavily armed barrier of double concrete walls and gun turrets and was constructed to stop disaffected East Germans escaping to the west; it was part of a strictly enforced military fortification that separated communist East Germany from capitalist Europe.
Guards patrolling the wall’s watchtowers and mined "death strip" were ordered to shoot East Berliners attempting to escape to the west, and increasingly the wall became a canvas for protest murals and memorials.
With the thawing of relations between east and west and the downfall of communism in Poland, the Czech Republic and other central European countries, the Berlin Wall was ceremonially torn down in November 1989 with the world’s media as witness.
Sections of the wall remain as permanent reminders of the days when Germany was split.
Standing 67 meters (220 feet) high and topped with a 35-tonne gilded figure of Victoria – the Roman goddess of victory in battle – the Berlin Victory Column was inaugurated in 1873 to commemorate Germany’s (or Prussia, as it was called then) victory over Denmark in the Danish-Prussian War of 1864. Lovingly nicknamed ‘Golden Lizzie’ by Berlin locals, the sandstone memorial was designed by German architect Heinrich Strack and sits on a red granite base adorned with columns; it originally stood in Königsplatz, which is today’s Platz der Republik. In the run up to World War II, the column was moved to the center of the Tiergarten park as part of Hitler’s plan to rebuild Berlin as the grandiose capital city of the Third Reich.
The huge Potsdamer Platz has been a major focal point for Berliners since the 19th century, the busy meeting point of half a dozen major thoroughfares.
Historically, the square was dominated by the enormous Potsdamer train terminal, and at the turn of the 20th century it was a major dining, hotel, entertainment and shopping hub. Potsdamer Platz was destroyed by Allied raids during World War II. Before reunification the barren area was a militarized no-go zone cut in two by the Berlin Wall; this no man’s land was one of the first areas to be breached in November 1989. Since the 1990s, Potsdamer Platz has undergone a total rebirth as the new heart and inspiring symbol of the reunified Berlin. Take in the surroundings from the Panorama Observation Deck, and seek out the only pre-WWII building, the Weinhaus Huth.
The former court garden of the Residenz Palace, Munich’s Hofgarten was originally laid out in 1613, characterized by its mulberry tree-lined walkways, ornamental fountains and fruit orchard. A large portion of the formal gardens were restored or redesigned post-WWII, but the central pavilion survived, a domed temple designed by Heinrich Schön the Elder in 1615 and topped with a bronze figure of Tellus Bavarica, the symbol of Bavaria.
Today, the Hofgarten remains one of the city’s most tranquil spots, providing welcome respite from the sightseeing trail and making a popular picnic spot for both locals and tourists. Flanked by 19th century arched arcades, the garden retains much of its Italian Renaissance style, with colorful flowerbeds, manicured lawns and painstakingly restored water features.
Königsplatz was initially built to serve the urban notions of King Ludwig I, who wished to integrate culture, administration, Christianity and Bavarian military in one massive green space. The king opted for a European Neoclassic style based on the Acropolis in Athens. He even had two museums built in the same style; first was the Glyptothek, where he could house his sprawling collection of Greek and Roman sculptures, and second, the Bavarian State Collection of Antiques, which contains Greek, Etruscan and Roman artifacts. King Ludwig I also commissioned the Propylaea, an imposing and austere gate which served as a memorial to his son, the Bavarian prince Otto of Greece.
Despite this architectural and urban prowess, the square is now infamous for being the place where the Nazi party held marches and mass rallies during the Holocaust. In fact, the national headquarters of the Nazi party, the Brown House, was located on Brienner Straße just off the square.