9 must-see sites in Germany
Germany has soared onto the traveler's radar in recent years with its incredible mix of dramatic landscapes, vibrant cities and historic landmarks. In celebration of this dynamic country, we're profiling nine of its must-see sites and attractions.
1. Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
A symbol of Germany's reunification, Brandenburg Gate provides a spectacular gateway to Berlin, one of Europe's most dynamic and historically rich cities. Modeled after Propylaea in Athens' Acropolis, the gate was unveiled in 1791 as a celebration of the city's status as Prussia's capital, known originally as Friedenstor, “the Gate of Peace." Its history since has been rather tumultuous, but when the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989, it became what it was always intended to be: a symbol of peace and unity.
2. Cologne Cathedral
Though Cologne can't claim to be Germany's most picturesque city, it does embody a spirit that justifies the local slogan of "Köln ist ein gefühl," or "Cologne is a feeling." That feeling is one of liberal-minded freedom and unashamed hedonism, so it's not surprising that it offers some of the best nightlife in all Europe. And then there is the history. Roman walls dating back to 38BC emerge unannounced as you explore the city, a reminder of its past before you finally find yourself staring open-mouthed at its most famous structure, Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), a Gothic masterpiece and UNESCO World Heritage Site so vast and intricate it took seven centuries to complete.
3. Frankfurt's Römerberg
Frankfurt is known as a high-powered conglomerate of steel and concrete skyscrapers, but at its heart lies the Germany of your imagination. Head for Altstadt — Frankfurt's old town — and you'll find yourself in the Römerberg, the city's most picturesque square. Home to Römer, the city hall since the 15th century, it was here that President John F. Kennedy addressed the crowd during his historic visit in 1963. With their stepped gable facades, the buildings here transport you back in time to what feels like a film set. It's a lifetime away from the hustle and bustle of the modern city that surrounds it.
4. The Black Forest
The setting for countless Grimm Brothers' fairy tales, the Black Forest takes its name from the dark, oppressive canopy of evergreens looming above the forest floor — fertile ground for big bad wolves, you might imagine. In truth, you're more likely to uncover great adventures than wolves in here, for the Black Forest is a vast expanse of hills and valleys, rivers and forests, ripe for exploration on foot or by bike. En route you'll discover some of Germany's most charming small towns dotted throughout the landscape, offering half-timbered houses, luxurious spas and a slower pace of life.
5. Neuschwanstein Castle
Schloss Neuschwanstein is a fairytale castle in southwest Bavaria that served as the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle — a creation that has to be seen to be believed. The vision of 'mad' King Ludwig II and built between 1869 and 1886, Neuschwanstein was designed to be the King's personal fiefdom, a vast turret-topped edifice climbing high into the sky. "There will be several cozy, habitable guest rooms with a splendid view of the noble Säuling, the mountains of Tyrol and far across the plain," he enthused.
6. Berlin's Museum Island
On a small island in Berlin's Spree River sits the city's Museumsinsel – Museum Island – a collection of five grand buildings that house the city's finest works of art. Built between 1824 and 1930 and lauded as Berlin's ' Louvre on the Spree' and 'Acropolis of the arts,' Museumsinsel is in itself one of Berlin's finest works of art. Afforded UNESCO World Heritage Site status since 1999, it takes you on an archaeological journey covering the cultures of Europe and the Near East over six thousand years. In a city awash with history and culture, this qualifies as truly unmissable.
7. Bavaria's Allgäu Alps
Spread across 150km in the south of Germany, Allgäu is a land of rugged Alpine peaks, lush green forests, vast lakes and clean Bavarian air. Blessed with thousands of signposted trails that run at altitudes to suit all, this is a hiker's and rambler's paradise. A proliferation of small villages, spas and health retreats en route make the region well worth exploring at length. Those with more energy can add in canoeing, paragliding and, from December until April, skiing and snowboarding. While other mountain ranges further south are higher, none are as dramatic as the Allgäu Alps.
8. Berlin's Wall
No visit to the capital city would be complete without a tour of its infamous wall. Sadly there's less of it to see than you might imagine. Once stretching 155km, the Berlin Wall completely cut West Berlin off from East Berlin during the post-World War II period. It stood from 1961 until 1989 and today only about 2km remains, with the longest and best-preserved stretch being the East Side Gallery, so named for the murals added by international artists. Though East and West have since merged into one, signposted walking and cycling tours will guide you back along the former border's route.
9. Munich's Oktoberfest
Attracting some 6 million visitors each year for the last decade, Munich's legendary Oktoberfest is an event worth traveling serious air miles for. What claims to be the world's largest folk festival began in 1810 as a five-day celebration of the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Since then, five days has become a full two weeks, but the same spirit of revelry remains: Oktoberfest is a chance to eat, drink and be merry, while you feast on oversized sausages, spit-roasted ox and enormous steins of Munich beer. Expect a headache, but also memories that will last a lifetime.
If you go
Eric Rubens (@erubes1) is a MileagePlus member based in Southern California. He is a photographer/videographer who loves meeting new people and traveling the world.
When planning a vacation, one of the first steps is picking a theme. If you're in search of mountains, many look to the Rockies, Swiss Alps, or Dolomites. If a tropical vacation is desired, Hawaii, Mexico, or the Caribbean may be calling your name. There are so many beautiful destinations in this world, but is it possible for one of them to be blessed with incredible mountains, picturesque beaches, and some of the best wildlife viewing in the world?
Cape Town is one of the few places I've found that seems to have it all. With the iconic Table Mountain and Lion's Head rising out of the city, there are hikes leading up to majestic views down the African coastline. The beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay are some of the most incredible beaches on this planet. If wildlife peaks your interest, there's Boulder's Beach, home to one of the only land-based penguin colonies in the world. Did I mention the safari is a short trip away? Add in an exchange rate that is very favorable and you have all the makings of a trip you'll never forget.
Camps Bay Beach
Planning a trip to Africa for the first time can be both intimidating and a bit challenging. I found very few of my friends or family had been, which made my voyage to South Africa even more exciting. Cape Town is home to a hip urban scene, a vibrant melting pot of culture, and jaw dropping landscapes that'll make you wonder why you didn't visit sooner. There's no city quite like it, and this list of top things to do will make sure you maximize your time in the Mother City. Several theories exist regarding the origin of Cape Town's nickname as "The Mother City." Some say it can be traced back to the beginning of the city's history as a trading hub in the 17th century, or its status as South Africa's first metropolis. But many locals have their own theories – one running joke is that it takes nine months to get anything done in the very laid back city.
View from the top of Table Mountain
#1: Take a hike or tram up to the top of Table Mountain
This iconic mountain rising from the city is arguably home to Cape Town's best views. The 2 to 3-hour hike to the top makes for a fun activity if you're up for it. Otherwise, take in the view from the aerial cableway, complete with 360-degree rotating floor and running every 5 minutes from the base. Once up top, there's plenty of walking trails, souvenir shopping, and food and drinks. Table Mountain is known for the blanket of fog that rolls over the peak, so weather at the top can change quickly. Make sure to check the weather before heading up and bring a jacket, since the wind can be intense!
Penguins at Boulder Beach
#2: Visit the penguin colony at Boulder's Beach
Even though it's an hour or so drive from the city, visiting Boulder's Beach and its nearly 2,000 penguins is an unforgettable experience. Watching the penguins lounge on the beach and come in and out of the waves makes for some incredible pictures and a unique encounter. You can also swim in the nearby waters and will often come face to face with members of the colony.
#3: Wake up for a sunrise hike up Lion's Head
One of the most bucket list-worthy activities on a visit to Cape Town is catching sunrise atop Lion's Head. It's a challenging hike and not for those with a fear of heights, but you won't soon forget the view from the summit. If you're willing to scramble and make your way up the final ladders, 360-degree views of the city await, and the sunrise over the city is one for the ages.
#4: Explore the Cape Winelands and the beauty of Constantia
South Africa has some of the best vineyards in the world. Even though the towns of Franschooek and Stellenbosch get the majority of the press, nearby Constantia is home to the oldest wine estate in the country, Groot Constantia. Its proximity (just 15 minutes from the city center) makes it perfect for a day trip. The city sightseeing "Hop-On Hop-Off" bus tour has a purple line that connects through this region, so getting here is easy! If wine tasting isn't your thing, the Alphen Trail is a beautiful trek through the countryside and sure to put you in a relaxing mood.
Chapman's Peak Drive
#5: Take a road trip down Chapman's Peak Drive
One of the most beautiful drives awaits just south of Cape Town. Carved into the cliffs and winding along the ocean, this road between Hout Bay and Noordhoek offers majestic views of the coastline. Just make sure to keep your eyes on the road since the sheer beauty can be distracting!
#6: View the diversity of flora throughout Kirstenbosch Gardens
The flora and fauna of South Africa is some of the most diverse in the world, and no place showcases it better than Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Tucked along the slopes of Table Mountain and widely recognized as one of the most impressive gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch is home to over 7,000 species of plants. The newly completed Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway allows you to walk above the tree line. If you visit in summer, try to make one of the Sunday concerts in the gardens, which are a hit with locals and visitors.
V & A Waterfront
#7: Shop your heart out along the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Known as one of the biggest tourism hubs of the city, the always bustling V&A Waterfront is home to many of Cape Town's finest restaurants, shopping, and the launching point of many tours. There are countless ways to spend your time here, but make sure to stop by the V&A food market, where over 40 vendors sell gourmet street food from around the world.
#8: Make your way to the Southern tip of Africa
If you're up for an adventure, take a trip to The Cape of Good Hope. You'll most likely encounter penguins, baboons, and who knows what else along the 1.5-hour drive. The weather can be very unpredictable, so make sure to check it before making the trip south. While there, visit the lighthouse and if you're hungry grab a bite at the appropriately named Two Oceans Restaurant.
#9 Take a tour of historical Robben Island
Even though the prison has been shut down since 1996, a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Cape Town's most popular tours. Tours take around 4 hours including a ferry ride to the island famous for housing Nelson Mandela for 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.
-Use the "hop on hop off" bus for an easy guided tour of the city. The route takes you to many of the best spots throughout Cape Town and allows you to explore at your own pace. Buy tickets ahead of time to save on fare!
-Cape Town has some incredible boutique hotels and bed & breakfasts. My favorites are: Tintswalo Atlantic, 52 De Wet Luxury Boutique Hotel, and Derwent House Boutique Hotel.
-Make sure you don't carry too many valuables on you if you're walking around at night. Although beautiful and mostly safe, there is still a good amount of opportunistic crime throughout the city. Always pay attention to your surroundings.
Opinions expressed by the author are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of United.
Planning a Caribbean vacation around hurricane season isn't necessary if you head to Dutch-affiliated Curaçao. The southernmost of all Caribbean islands — just off Venezuela's coast — is rarely even grazed by hurricanes. It also has an ideal tropical climate with average winter highs in the 80s (and water temperatures to match) and only about one inch of rain a month.
Curaçao will be more accessible beginning December 7, 2019, when weekly nonstops begin from New York/Newark on United Airlines. The new seasonal service on 737-700 aircraft makes Curaçao the 21st Caribbean island destination for United, which already flies to the other two nearby "ABC islands" — Aruba and Bonaire. Why choose Curaçao? Because like the island's famous blue liqueur, it's colorful, exotic and appealing.
Jet lag won't be an issue for Americans flying to Curaçao because it's in the same time zone as New York. Nor is it a long flight — about five hours nonstop from New York/Newark. Upon arrival you can take a taxi, rental car or hotel shuttle from Curaçao International Airport to your accommodations — a resort (reserve early), boutique inn, vacation house or B&B. Most are in Willemstad, a coastal city only five miles from the airport.
Forts above the port
Straat Curaçao Getty Images/iStockphoto
The historic city center and harbor areas of Curaçao's only city of Willemstad are designated as a UNESCO Heritage Site, mostly for the 17th to 19th century Dutch colonial architecture of the houses and forts. The houses are painted a rainbow of bright colors in the Caribbean tradition, and the city is packed with forts — Fort Amsterdam (built in 1636), Fort Beekenburg (1703), Fort Nassau (1797) and Fort Waakzaamheid (1803). All four offer stellar views and are free to visitors.
On the waterfront
Curacao colorful houses Getty Images/iStockphoto
Along with forts, the harbor area is home to the oldest continuously operating synagogue (and museum) in the Western Hemisphere, an African art museum that tells the story of the slave trade through West African art and artifacts, and a maritime museum. These visits can be followed by a tour and tasting at the Curaçao Distillery, where you'll see how the peels of the native Laraha bitter oranges are turned into curaçao liqueur.
Snorkel from the sand
Two people snorkeling off coast of tropical island Getty Images
The chief allure of this 38-mile-long island is, of course, the ocean. Besides sunbathing at any of the dozens of powder-sand cove beaches, you can wade right in and snorkel in the turquoise, bathlike sea, usually around 80 degrees. Visibility is up to 100 feet, a snorkeler's dream. More adventurous types can snorkel or dive from day boats that head to prime diving sites like the Mushroom Forest (mushroom-shaped coral), Blue Cave and several shipwreck spots. There's also a nice aquarium on the shoreline where marine life is seen up close in their natural habitat —from land or aboard a minisub that dives 1,000 feet.
Curaçao is a convenient tropical destination for Americans because U.S. dollars and credit cards are commonly accepted, English is widely spoken and no visa is required. But the local culture and cuisine are still exotic enough to be intriguing with local specialties like stewed iguana and cactus soup served in restaurants and from food carts in Willemstad.
If you go
One of our most treasured events of the year is here – Fantasy Flights! Our Fantasy Flights bring holiday cheer to children in need by taking them on a special trip to the "North Pole." Each station creates a North Pole with care, in preparation for all the children who will soon be there…
Our participating stations this year are HNL (Honolulu), FRA (Frankfurt), CLE (Cleveland), DEN (Denver), IAD (Washington Dulles), LAX (Los Angeles), SFO (San Francisco), MCO (Orlando), ORD (Chicago O'Hare), GUM (Guam), EWR (New York/New Jersey), NRT (Tokyo-Narita), PHX (Phoenix), IAH (Houston), MCI (Kansas City) and SAT (San Antonio).
Please stay tuned for stories, photos and more from these magical events. #UAFantasyFlights