Although it's less celebrated as a tourist destination than Italy, France or Spain, 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.