From Medieval Castles to Sandy Beaches, Here’s Your Guide to Germany’s Must-See World Heritage Sites

by  Andrew Eames | Dec 4, 2023
Sponsored by  The German National Tourist Board

Here’s a question: What does a medieval castle where Martin Luther translated the Bible, a water supply from a city as old as the Holy Roman Empire, and a massive seabed that you can walk across all have in common? Answer: They’re all German UNESCO World Heritage sites

Wartburg castle rises proudly from the forests of Thuringia, most famous for housing Martin Luther, a central figure of the Reformation. In the second, 15th-century watercourses still rush past the world’s oldest social housing project, the Fuggerei, in the city of Augsburg. And when the tide goes out, the Wadden Sea allows you to walk six miles across the seabed while exploring 10,000 different species of flora and fauna.

©DZT/Florian Trykowski

These are just some of the amazing 52 Germany UNESCO World Heritage sites. Each with it's own story to tell, and it's own reasons to visit. From spas and museums, discover the best itineraries for your trip to Germany!

For travelers looking for rest and relaxation, there’s the Wellness Route. Starting in Frankfurt, it sets off south to highlight Baden-Baden and the traditional spa towns around the Black Forest before ending up in the foothills of the Alps. The route’s nine UNESCO World Heritage sites include the 1,000-year-old Speyer Cathedral, one of the most magnificent Romanesque buildings in Germany, set amongst the vineyards of the Rhineland Palatinate.

From Speyer, the Wellness Route heads to the shores of beautiful Lake Constance.  Shared between four countries, the lake's German side is lined with winemakers and spa hotels. The UNESCO World Heritage site on Lake Constance is the monastic island of Mainau, which boasts three Romanesque churches. 

©Adobe Stock/Harald Schindler

The journey ends in the town of Füssen, just down from the Pilgrimage Church of Wies, which features a breathtaking interior and beautiful ceiling frescos. Füssen also happens to be the main hub for the magnificent Neuschwanstein Castle, the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle and a must-see for anyone visiting this part of Germany. 

On the Industrial Culture Route, travelers can take a journey back in time to discover the birth of innovative technology. Starting in the city of Stuttgart, the route makes its way north to the port city of Hamburg, famous for its waterside brickwork warehouses and the Elbphilharmonie, a dramatic concert hall whose glass top is shaped like a wave. Along the way, it highlights seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, including “the world’s most beautiful coal mine” — Essen’s Zeche Zollverein. 

©Stuttgart-Marketing GmbH (SMG) /Jean-Claude Winkler

Also along this route is Völklingen Ironworks, a tangle of chimneys, smelters, and pipework that has been reinvented as a visitor attraction and a venue for concerts and art exhibitions, and Augsburg’s aforementioned water management system, whose various channels still meander through town. 

Perhaps the most pre-eminent of the eight themed routes is the Cultural Route, which highlights 10 exceptional UNESCO sites. Beginning in Frankfurt it heads southeast through key historical cities in northern Bavaria, before hitting Wartburg and ending in Quedlingburg on the edge of the Harz Mountains. 

These key cities are destinations in their own right. The first is Würzburg, whose massive showstopper of a palace, the Residenz, is like a German Versailles, with its beautiful marble and marquetry, and stunning mirrors and frescos. Then comes Nuremberg, with its imperial castle, the former home of painter Albrecht Dürer, and its fabulous Christmas market. It's also where the landmark post-war Nuremberg Trials were held: Their location, in courtroom 600 of the Nuremberg Palace of Justice, is now infamous.

©Quedlinburg-Tourimus-Marketing GmbH/Nico Reischke

Nuremberg’s neighbor is Bamberg, a river-straddling city that is the spiritual home of German beer, richly endowed with downtown breweries. This was also once an imposing seat of the Holy Roman Empire, and fascinates visitors with an imperial Residenz and cathedral.

The last destinations on this route are Wartburg Castle and Quedlinburg. Wartburg sits on a hilltop above the small town of Eisenach and is where Martin Luther took refuge and translated the bible from Greek to modern-day German. Quedlinburg is a half-timbered town on the southern flank of the Harz Mountains, whose round-shouldered peaks are famous for their legends of witches. 

©DZT/Florian Trykowski

Also not to be missed is the Wadden Sea, which allows visitors to walk across the seabed out to the island of Neuwerk. While Neuwerk is ideal for day visits, other East Frisian islands — a string of low-lying, grass-topped sandbars stretching out in a loose net over Germany’s North Sea coast and famous for their bike routes, spas, and immaculate beaches — can also easily be explored. 

Meanwhile, at the other end of the country, the Erzgebirge (aka the Ore Mountains) is UNESCO-registered for its former mining communities. Its now-defunct mine working installations are worth a visit, and a lot of the former miners have turned their hand to woodcarving. Now villages like Seiffen are producing handmade figurines, particularly for the festive market. This means that, in Seiffen’s multiple showrooms and workshops, it’s Christmas all year round!

Want to experience Germany's rich culture and many UNESCO World Heritage sites for yourself? German airline Lufthansa is adding new flights and new cities to its already robust lineup of international destinations. Next spring/summer, for example, new Seattle to Munich, Raleigh-Durham to Frankfurt, and Minneapolis to Frankfurt routes mean more non-stop Lufthansa flights from the U.S. to Germany than ever before.

Andrew Eames is a travel writer and author who runs a website about Germany. His most recent book, “Blue River Black Sea,” traces the course of the Danube from its source in the Black Forest.

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