When I’m visiting Europe, there’s nothing I enjoy more than discovering a quaint village or town that’s off the tourist trail. Whether you find them by luck or after a tip-off from a friend, visiting these towns offers a real insight into how the locals have been living for hundreds of years.
Sadly, they don’t always stay ‘hidden secrets’ as more and more people uncover their charms.
That has certainly happened to some of the lovely German towns I’ve mentioned below, however, I believe they still qualify as ‘hidden gems’ to the many tourists whose visit to Europe focuses on capital cities.
Here are five beautiful German towns and cities that I think are well worth including in your itinerary.
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Perched on the shores of Germany’s biggest lake, Lake Constance, Lindau is a delightful town and a popular summer holiday spot. At the heart of the town is the medieval Maximilianstrasse, which leads to the market square and a busy shopping precinct.
Down by the historical port you can visit the lighthouse and lion monument, stroll along the lakeside promenade or take a cruise.
With Lindau as your base, you can easily reach Meersburg, with its beautiful castle overlooking the lake, Mainau (Flower Island) or even Austria or Switzerland on the opposite shores of the lake. Legoland and the Principality of Liechtenstein are both under two hours away by car.
With King Ludwig’s famous castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau just a few kilometres away, many visitors skip the Bavarian town of Fussen but it is worthy of a visit in its own right.
Stadtpfarrkirche and the Abbey of St. Mang are two sights worth visiting in town but wandering the pedestrianised Altstadt (old town) was a highlight of my visit. The pastel coloured buildings, many adorned with beautiful frescoes, make the perfect backdrop for a stroll.
The Abbey was founded over 1100 years ago whilst the church is known for its beautiful choir and orchestra stalls.
A bit further afield, the pilgrimage church of Wieskirche, one of the world’s great rococo masterpieces, is only a 10-minute drive from Fussen in nearby Steingaden. It has been designated a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.
Back in town, there’s plenty to see in the old town, or perhaps take in the natural beauty of the nearby lakes – and there are plenty to choose from. Fussen sits on the shore of Forggensee (Lake Forgen) and Alpsee, Obersee, Mittlerersee and Alatsee are all close by.
Swimming and sailing are popular pursuits, as are day trips to the nearby Bavarian Alps, but a visit to the castles is almost a must. A horse and carriage ride to Neuschwanstein’s entrance is a novelty, or you can join the throngs of fellow tourists and walk.
Further reading: 6 fabulous reasons to visit Fussen
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
With its prime position on what is known as The Romantic Road, Rothenburg ob der Tauber oozes charm. The pretty chocolate box buildings attract tourists by the bus load so it’s wise to visit in the morning or evening during Summer to avoid the crowds.
The medieval Altstadt (old town) is encircled by its undamaged 14th century town wall. Buildings of interest include St. Jakobskirche (Church of St. Jacob), the 13th century Town Hall Tower, Siebers-gate and Kobolzeller-gate.
Standing on Plonlein, a former market place, you have fantastic views of both gates and this is regarded as one of Germany’s most popular photographic spots.
Walking tours of the town are available and are well worth the few euro. You can also do a ‘do-it-yourself’ walking tour of the old town wall which stretches about two kilometres around Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
Further reading: What to do in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Close to the borders with both Switzerland and France, Freiburg sits on the edge of Germany’s famous Black Forest. A well-known university town, Freiburg has a high population of students and academics and is a vibrant, easily-accessible town.
The city’s Munster (cathedral) is one of the oldest and most beautiful in Europe and a climb to the top of the tower will be rewarded with magnificent views.
Many other historic buildings line the medieval city, but one of the more interesting and unusual sights are the Bachle, small canals that crisscross the streets of the inner city. These were built to help fight fires during the Medieval period.
With its close proximity to the Black Forest, nature lovers are in their element. Triberg Falls, Germany’s highest waterfalls, are an easy drive from Freiburg and a popular Black Forest destination, as is Lake Titisee.
Nearby villages are bursting with cuckoo clocks to tempt the tourists that flock to the region each year.
The university town of Tubingen, about 30 kilometres south of Stuttgart, is the quintessential German town. Built along the Neckar River, the town’s narrow lanes and colourful gabled houses are overlooked by the Hohentubingen castle.
One of the town’s most popular attractions is its ornate astronomical clock that adorns the three-storey town hall. Chocolate-lovers, however, flock to Tubingen for the annual chocolART festival held each year in December.
Photographers are attracted to Tubingen for its many colourful buildings lining the Neckar, and particularly enjoy snapping away from one of the punts that traverse the river.